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Santa Claus and the Salmon

So, here we are. January 1, and Christmas, in our house at least, has been stashed back in the attic. These days, I don’t much enjoy Christmas. Hardly a bauble-shattering revelation - and tempered, of course, by the acknowledgement that the festive period is a truly difficult time of year for countless people, putting my own mild discomfort into perspective. Festive spirit seems to have eluded more of us than usual this year, which is hardly surprising, with everything that’s going on in the world. I expected to feel pure relief as I packed away our affectionately-named ‘Crap 70s Yellow Tree’ (it cost a tenner from Argos but looks cheaper than that), yet I was actually a little wistful. Perhaps this was a ghost of Christmasses long-past, when the dismantling of what was then the most magical time of the year caused genuine dismay. We had a silver tinsel tree, back in the actual 1970s. Oh, how it filled me with pure joy! It was the prettiest, sparkliest tree in the world, bedecked with starlight and jewels. And then, of [...]

By |2023-01-07T19:13:21+00:00January 2, 2023|Comfort Reads|10 Comments

Comma, full stop.

I'm sitting in a clearing, in the woods at the top of the hill. Other than a flash of white or grey among the branches, I can’t see the birds, but I can certainly hear them. Birdsong forms an arc around me. There is no breeze, and it is unseasonably warm. An almost balmy day in mid-November. What a treat! Albeit a guilty one: it’s not okay for it to be this warm on the cusp of winter. As a human with utility bills to pay, my perspective is tinged with relief at being able to delay putting the central heating on. It’s becoming a cliché to talk about that, isn’t it? I'm so fortunate to not have to choose between heating and eating. But still, most of us must tighten our purse strings. These are such difficult times. As I picked my way along the meandering path to the clearing, an insect bumped right into my cheek. I imagine it was startled to encounter a face on its flight path. Not many people walk this way, although there are [...]

By |2023-01-03T12:42:16+00:00November 28, 2022|Comfort Reads|4 Comments

Swimming

Photo by Anna Sullivan on Unsplash When my physiotherapist first suggested that swimming would be the best exercise for me, I shrugged, and sighed. “Yeah, I know, but I really hate swimming.” At that point, I wasn’t desperate enough to submit to all the attendant unpleasantness: the cold shudder as buttocks meet water when you get into the pool, strangers’ hairs crawling over slimy tiles in the showers, the baffling ineffectualness of towels in a changing room environment, leaving your skin so sticky that you have to crowbar yourself back into your jeans… Some months down the line, however, I was feeling so sludgy and lacklustre from lack of exercise that swimming seemed like… not the worst idea. Particularly when a dear friend offered to go with me one day a week. After one session, I was hooked. Now, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, shortly after 8am, you will find me at the Splash leisure centre. I saunter in with the air of entitlement that befits a direct debit-paying member, nonchalantly swipe my card through the turnstile, drop [...]

By |2022-12-02T15:25:51+00:00October 19, 2022|Comfort Reads|6 Comments

The bearable lightness of being

I am sitting in my living room, on a hot August day, with the window wide open to let in the morning air before the heat becomes chewy and oppressive. Stretched out on her side at my feet, my dog is softly snoring. Every minute or two, somebody walks past, and I catch snippets of conversation, or simply observe their gait. There goes a muscular young man in a tight gym vest, singing to himself, loose-limbed, swaggering with a barely-contained energy that could erupt into dance at any moment. Here comes a rangy, shirted office worker, shoulders hunched, head down, propelling himself forward with jerky, angular movements. At least, I assume he is heading off to work, with his laptop-sized backpack. There's the occasional grumble of an engine, the clanging of a manhole cover as the wheels pass over. I revel in the gentle, tepid breeze on my face and arms. Flinch at the harsh rasp of a moped. Bella snores through it all. A wood pigeon calls from the top of a chimney. The song of other birds filters [...]

By |2022-12-02T15:27:06+00:00August 12, 2022|Comfort Reads|10 Comments

Grandma’s bowl

  Grandma’s bowl is a deep, rosy pink. Exuberant yellow, mauve, and blue crocus flowers adorn the rim and the hollow. On its bottom is the maker’s stamp, Maling, Newcastle on Tyne - which means nothing to me. What captivates me about Grandma’s bowl is its opaline lustre. Its surface is alive with reflected light. And memories. It was by far the prettiest object in my grandparents’ rather spartan, sepia-toned living room, where its colours were jarring against the palette of brown, beige, and nicotine stains. Grandma used to keep her keys and bits and bobs in it, along with the odd humbug. In the same way as the scent of Pear’s soap, Grandma’s bowl conjures up not her ghost, but her flesh-on-bones presence; if I gaze into it, I can give myself over to believing that all four-feet-ten-inches of her are standing right there beside me. Grandma… Why do the words dart away from me like speckled, cunning fish when I try to describe her? How could I have spent so much time in her company - getting under [...]

By |2022-12-02T15:27:31+00:00May 24, 2022|Comfort Reads|4 Comments

A dog walk

Ah… Ginger pom-pom dog approaching, we’d better wait here where the pavement’s wide. Bella, it’s very rude to lick your lips like that, it’s not a snack. Leave… Leave … Good girl. A young couple up ahead, very young, pausing, looking at the view. Young love. Will they still be together in thirty years? Three weeks? The girl, woman, casts her eyes downwards as we pass. She doesn’t look unhappy, just not happy either, as if I’ve caught her midway through a small agony of indecision. Glasses. Pale skin. Long, mousey hair and long, mousey skirt. The boy, man, has dark straggly hair, his faded jeans sit low and loose. They draw closer together, almost imperceptibly, as we pass. Claiming the space between them. The breeze lifts my unbuttoned coat as we round the corner, cools my face, feels nice in my hair. Beyond the rooftops, in the slanting fields, a solitary cherry tree foams white against green. Such bravado. At once vulnerable and defiant. A Range Rover growls by, making me flinch. Smoked windows, bodywork glinting oil-black. The shadow [...]

By |2022-12-02T15:28:03+00:00April 26, 2022|Comfort Reads|8 Comments

Joris en de Draak

“Well, they’re going to have to inject me with enough sedative to knock out a rhino. There’s no way I’ll get in that scanner otherwise.” “It won’t be any different to the tunnel on that ride in Holland…” “What? You mean that godawful rollercoaster? There was no tunnel on that!” “Of course there was! We were in it when the photo was taken!” “Well, how would I know?! I had my eyes shut!” Actually, I had my eyes shut for the entire ride. It was, categorically, the most ghastly experience of my life. Apart from that time when, with two small children in my charge, I was suspended above the French Alps in a halted, solitary cable car, screeching ‘Aidez-nous!!’ at the tree canopy… Or that time in the tatty hotel in Ibiza when we got trapped in a tiny lift, with a sizeable German family and a finite oxygen supply… Or, indeed, that time I got vertigo after climbing to the top of St Paul’s Cathedral with my Dad and, having flattened myself like a starfish against the domed [...]

By |2022-12-02T15:28:45+00:00March 19, 2022|Comfort Reads|2 Comments

Sempervivum

It’s been nearly three weeks since I posted any writing to the blog. I have been working on a piece but, as if dragging a sack of gravel, I’m struggling to get it over the finish line. Ironic, as the subject is quite light! Like the writing, today each of my extremities feels at once heavy and light. My son is off school with a second dose of covid in three months. Since the first bout, in November, he has been easy prey for every passing pathogen. Understandably, he is feeling fed up, as he coughs, splutters, and sneezes, launching spike proteins at me and the dog, who is spending her days concertinaed on the sofa beside him. She must now be a four-legged, pot-bellied petri dish. Although my latest lateral flow test assures me otherwise, I am pretty certain I have caught covid too, as I have symptoms that mirror my son’s, and transferring the laundry from washing machine to tumble dryer just now has left me feeling like one of those wobble-necked felted dogs that used to nod [...]

By |2022-03-04T11:49:33+00:00March 1, 2022|Comfort Reads|4 Comments

A very peculiar politeness

One recent afternoon, in the pay & display car park next to my favourite book shop, I was merrily depositing surplus 5-pence pieces in the ticket machine, feeling more and more pleased with myself the closer I got to my fifty pence target. We can all relate to the disproportionate relief of purging a purse or wallet of those low-value coins that you never get around to spending in the corner shop because, being British, you have a horror of being tutted at or, more woundingly still, eyerolled by your fellow citizens in the queue. I was a tantalizing fivepence away from the prize of a parking ticket when the machine, like an unwilling toddler at dinnertime, simply refused to swallow a penny more. I kept offering it alternative, tastier 5p’s, but it was having none of it and, in the end, vomited the whole lot back out at me, triumphantly declaring the transaction cancelled (machine-speak for “now naff off”). Aware that somebody was waiting behind me, I stepped back and invited him to chance his luck with the mulish [...]

By |2022-12-02T15:29:43+00:00January 1, 2022|Comfort Reads|13 Comments

Merry Ex-mas

I spell Xmas with two exes. Friends invariably find my Christmas arrangements extraordinary. Both my son’s father (from whom I am long divorced) and my ex-partner (from whom I separated two years ago) spend the two days of 'Christmas proper' at my house. My ex-husband no longer lives locally. Our son was very young when we separated, and it became a verbal contract that, for as long as he wished, he would not be denied Christmas with both parents. The days of Sean rising before daylight to rip open and summarily discard Santa’s bounty may now be gone, but this family time still matters to him. And so, our atypical Christmases continue. We are able to do this because my ex-husband’s new partner is admirably accommodating of his desire to spend Christmas with Sean. My ex-partner, with whom I now enjoy a robust if frequently fractious friendship, remains single like me, so can choose to still spend December 25th with us. Crucially, he has always got on well with my ex-husband. In fact, his presence can help keep the atmosphere [...]

By |2022-12-02T15:30:33+00:00December 29, 2021|Comfort Reads|4 Comments
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