Tracks, trails and paths

North Yorkshire, Walking

In my last post, we took a walk through my village. Over lockdown, and the weeks and months afterwards, I came to know our local paths more intimately than I would ever have imagined. But I came to see them through fresh eyes, enjoying the changes of season: the difference between a walk taken at dawn, at midday, at sunset. A sunny walk: a snowy walk: a rainy walk: a windy walk. Walks with bluebells: walks with poppies: walks in mud.

Here, for the Which Way Challenge, are some local paths and byways.

Following last week’s Lens-Artists Challenge, when we were encouraged to dip into a new challenge or two, I think I’ll give Monday over to just that – for a while anyway. I’ll revisit the challenges that were new-to-me then, as well as revisiting older favourites.

Double Dipping into some new challenges

Blogging challenges

This week, for the Lens Artists Challenge, Tina has invited us to explore other blogging challenges, and ‘double dip’ by featuring them here. The Challenge World is a varied and eclectic one where you’re bound to find something that suits your interests: a good place to start is with Blogging Queen Cee’s comprehensive list of challenges for wordsmiths, photographers – anyone who blogs regularly.

So I’ll start with Cee’s own Flower of the Day challenge, because yesterday I saw my very first snowdrops of the season, still tightly budded, but bringing hope and positivity that spring is on its way.

I spotted them when I was on my way to the village to post a letter. North Stainley has three (three!) duckponds – Water, water everywhere, for Jez’s challenge of the same name, and I passed them all, seeing some of the resident water life while I was at it.

Three ponds, three housing estates for ducks, geese, moorhens, coots …

When we moved here in 2014, all Yorkshire was gripped by Tour de France fever, because the organisers had chosen our very own county to begin that year’s race. Traces of North Stainley’s celebration still remain near the local postbox, situated on the wall of the disused petrol station: perfect for Marsha’s Photographing Public Art Challenge.

I don’t remember exactly which roads were on the cyclists’ route. But this road near Kettlewell is pretty typical: and suitable for the Which Way Photo Challenge.

Let’s end our day with an understated winter sunset. Hammad Rais calls for these for his Weekend Sky Challenge. Well, I took this shot on a Saturday, so perhaps it’ll count, even though I’m showing it midweek.

I had fun exploring just a few of the challenges I’ve never, or rarely participated in so far. Who knows, I might be tempted to join them again. Thanks Tina, for pushing me into this!

A January Haiga

Poetry, Walking

This year, no route march.

Instead I’ll wander, breathe, gaze …

Enjoy the moment.

I should explain. For some time now, I’ve joined in Rebecca of Fake Flamenco’s monthly poetry challenge. It’s a challenge indeed, especially for strict amateurs like me, because every month she invites us to try a different poetic form on the announced theme. This month, it’s a haiga. It’s new to me, and perhaps to you. Here’s what Aha Poetry says: ‘Haiga is a Japanese concept for simple pictures combined with poetry, usually meaning haiku‘.

So what you see above is my first effort, on Rebecca’s chosen theme of time, personal development and change. Many of you know that last year I challenged myself to walk every day, and get the miles in – 1500 miles to be exact. It was fun, and helped keep me fit. This year though, I don’t want to do it again. I still want to walk every day (said she, looking out at a grey and rain-sodden garden). But instead of getting my head down and pounding the tracks and pathways, I want to slow my pace and savour the moment: take pleasure in discovering the new in views that have perhaps become over-familiar in these all-but lockdown days.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas …

Barcelona, Catalonia, Festivals

… my true love gave to me

Twelve Caga Tiós …

Hmm. Thirteen here. Ah well: one for luck.

We’re still in Barcelona you see. But we could be anywhere in Catalonia or Aragon. And we’re still with the scatological. Caga Tió  is a log. A log with special powers. He’s a poo log, who excretes presents. Children must look after him well before Christmas, feeding him with dried beans, bread or orange peel. But when the festival arrives, they must beat him, hard, until he produces their presents. Whilst beating him they might sing this song:

We’re leaving Christmas behind now. In Barcelona, and Spain generally, things are just hotting up. Tonight, the Three Kings will progress into town, and tomorrow, extended families will get together to exchange presents, in memory of those Wise Men who toiled over field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star to bring gifts to the infant Jesus. (Well. It’s Covid Time. No more than 10 in a family group this year)

Cabalgata de los Reyes: 5th January 2019

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas …

Barcelona, Catalonia, Festivals

I only planned to tell you about the tenth day of Christmas, but Susan of London Senior took the view that I’d started, so I ought to finish too. So here we go: it’s a little rude, but don’t blame me …

If you visit Catalonia at Christmas time and take a look at any crib scene, there at the back, somewhere behind the infant Jesus will be a figurine – a caganer – squatting down doing A Big Job, a Number Two: choose your own euphemism. The message seems to be that we are all sisters and brothers under the skin: mighty or humble, rich or poor, old or young, we all have the same kinds of body – and bodily functions, so get over yourself and don’t give yourself airs and graces. All are Equal in the Sight of God.

These photos were taken a few years ago. The roll call of Those in Charge seems to have changed a bit – can you spot Gordon Brown here? But you’ll see someone you recognise, I’m sure.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Eleven sh***ing caganers …

Six Degrees of Separation … in January

Books and reading

‘On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.

Six Degrees of Separation Kate W

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles begins this month’s chain. I plunged into this novel full of hope for a delicious escapist read in the F. Scott Fitzgerald mode: and at first I wasn’t disappointed. Our narrator is Katy Kontent, and she’s full of witty and clever descriptions of the New York world she inhabits and its cast-list. I was happy to involve myself in her life, and that of her friend Eve, as they negotiated their working lives as secretaries, and their social lives, mainly spent in up-and-coming jazz clubs. Where, one evening, they meet rich, winsome Tinker Grey. And it’s at this point I began to lose a little interest. The characters didn’t develop, least of all that of Katy herself, who alludes to her humble origins but never explores them. The plot itself introduced a range of characters who didn’t move the story along, and generally conspired to lose me, though I read to the end willingly enough, hoping that the warm feelings with which I’d begun this novel would return. They didn’t. This was an amiable read with the makings of a great one, and I’m not against giving Amor Towles another go.

Where next? I struggled a bit, then came up with not so much a chain as the spokes of a wheel radiating from Towles’ book.

All my books this month have a female protagonist, and my first link features a woman, Rósa, who might have had things in common with Katy if their circumstances hadn’t been so very different. In The Glass Woman, by Caroline Lea, we’re in 17th century Iceland, and can feel its chill, its landscape, its folk and religious history in the pages of the story. Young Rósa rather precipitately marries Jón, the leader in a distant village, to ensure her ailing widowed mother some security. Here she is deliberately isolated by her controlling husband, who is a widower. No spoiler alerts here, but tensions rise as her isolation increases, and as her childhood sweetheart appears on the scene. A cleverly written novel, in which Rósa’s unease, and her increasing inability to keep a grasp on what is real, and what the product of a fevered and frightened imagination keeps the reader guessing.

My next heroine also labours under a – in her case misplaced – sense of duty. Oyinkan Braithwaite‘s My Sister, the Serial Killer was a quick read, an easy read, and at no point did I think of not finishing reading this story. But – and perhaps I’m not entering into the spirit of things here – a story in which the writer’s sister gets into a routine of killing her boyfriends, while the writer colludes with her deception just left me cold. The short sharp chapters, and the action which jumped hither and thither kept my interest, as did the back story of a controlling, brutal father. But in the end, it was a slightly distasteful read as far as I was concerned. I don’t think I get dark humour … 

And so to Madame Bovary of the Suburbs, by Sophie Divry. Definitely no high drama in this one – not even an unexplained death or two. Born to loving parents in the French provinces, our heroine does well at school, university, marries a kind man, has an affair which comes to an end, and she gets through the rest of her working and retired life looking for something to engage her. In many ways a wry portrait of twentieth century middle class life, it’s also somewhat depressing. Which seems to be the point. Life is absurd, why bother? seems to be the message. Not for nothing was this Madame Bovary descended from Flaubert’s original.

From provincial France in the decades preceding this one to present day provincial England, and Carys Bray‘s When the Lights Go Out. Though very readable, this didn’t equal Bray’s The Museum of You for me. The subjects: eco-aware Emma versus eco-warrior husband Chris feel rather overdone now. Chris learnt to be a warrior during his now-rejected fundamentalist Christian childhood, and his warriorship consists in being a prophet of doom, rather than in action. We’re meant to find him tedious, and we do. We’re meant to like busy, community-minded Emma, and we do. We’re meant to feel wry sympathy with the Emma and Chris as they parent their teenage children, and deal with Chris’s interfering-in-a-humble-way mother. So it’s an engaging enough read, but one in which I didn’t fully involve myself.

Now we’re off to Spain, and Mercè Rodoreda‘s In Diamond Square. It must be me. This book regularly appears in lists of ‘must read’ Spanish books, and it failed to engage me.  I nearly gave up at the half way point, but persisted. This is the story of a young woman living in Barcelona who marries her husband after a short courtship. It’s the story of his domination of her, of the birth of their two children, of his going off to fight in the Civil War, and of the years after the conflict is over. Although Natalia, the heroine, writes little about her feelings, these are at the core of this story. What she experiences about the pigeons that her husband introduces into their attic. What she notices about the employers for whom she cleans. What she notices in the grocer’s shop. The smells – of the streets, of the pigeons, of death. I’ve a feeling that my experience of reading this book may change over time and that this is a book I may consider re-reading. Just now, I rather wanted to get it over with.

I’ll end with a book I read over a year ago, and one that’s not a novel – Emily MaitlisAirhead. Not a memoir, not a biography, but a series of bite-sized vignettes about the life of this successful newscaster and interviewer. One who prepares carefully, but flies by the seat of her pants. One who researches, but seizes the moment. One who knows what she wants from an interview, but who will allow happenstance to take control. This is a real insight, wittily written, into the high-octane life of a political journalist. It’s fairly exhausting reading, so what it’s like to be part of her family, I can’t imagine – we learn only a certain amount from reading between the lines of this book. An interesting, well and amusingly written book. Recommended to those of us who keep up with current affairs. 

So there we have it. A series of women whose abilities to make life choices are constrained in most cases by those closest to them. We’ll make an exception for both Katy Kontent and Emily Maitlis, both of whom play by different rules. And did you notice? Emily Maitlis likes the Carys Bray more than I did 😉

Next month? One of last year’s must-read books, which I haven’t yet read: No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood.

My Year in Walking … and in Books

Books and reading, Walking

We’re almost at the end of 2021. Christmas has come, but not yet gone (the Twelve Days of Christmas), though Team Spain departed yesterday, leaving a big hole in the lives of two very debilitated grandparents who had long forgotten how exhausting a delightfully energetic eleven month old could be.

It’s time to review the year- two bits of it anyway.

I kept my resolution to walk every single day, whatever the weather – a promise that will not impress the dog owners among you, who have no choice in the matter. I reached one target, then another, and have finished the year with more than 1536 miles (2473 km) under my belt and still one walking day to go. I’m quite pleased.

I walked, sometimes in company…

… or alone …

This isn’t me. I don’t do selfies.

… at times accompanied by a Virtual Dog ..

… or other curious onlookers …

Back at home, I kept my promise to myself not to let Lockdown Lassitude interfere with my reading, as it had in 2020. I didn’t precisely set goals, but I aimed to read far more literature in translation, and more non-fiction that wasn’t Nature related. I managed that too. Here are the 101 books I read, as recorded in Goodreads

https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2021?ref=yyib21_strip

My top reads of the year?

Cal Flyn: Islands of Abandonment; Nadifa Mohamed: The Fortune Men; Javier Marias: Berta Isla; Ingrid Persaud: Love after Love; Douglas Stuart: Shuggie Bain

My header photo illustrates walking and reading combined: a stroll along the Regents Canal, where you’ll find a floating bookstore with, if you’re very lucky, a musical interlude as well. This isn’t a photo from 2021. Perhaps such treats with be part of my life again in 2022.