thing 18: ‘kissing the joy as it flies’: a bluebell wood

Like Bach, wild swimming and my sister’s home-made blue cheese and mushroom pizza, spring soon exhausts my superlatives, so I’ll simply go with Hopkins and say that ‘Nothing is so beautiful as spring’. On a day like this, who could possibly disagree?

I discovered this tiny nature reserve only last year—a friend recommended it—and by the time I got there the bluebells were already on the wane. Ever since, I’d been looking forward to this spring and (read more…)

thing 17: a long weekend, part (ii): ‘out over our own fathoms’: Charney Manor

‘Think it possible that you may be mistaken’. This is the final sentence of number 17 of the Quaker Advices and queries (a key text in Quakerism). Is there anyone, anywhere, any time (pass the Martini!) who couldn’t benefit from sitting with that idea for a while?

Here I was, arriving from Oxford at Didcot Parkway on the way to a Quaker Enquirers’ course at the splendidly-named Charney Manor. I was emotionally exhausted after the morning’s encounter with lost youth, and physically exhausted after having a run (flatter than Kendal, but muddier also), wandering round town for miles, and lugging a large backpack whose hipbelt, I discovered too late, was no longer operational. And friends, there’s a lot of train stuff at Didcot Parkway. I mean, a LOT. What with that, and (read more…)

thing 17: a long weekend, part (i): ‘the days of wine and roses’: Oxford

‘They are not long, the days of wine and roses.’* This is, unfortunately, true. The hours of wine and rowdies, however, can feel very long indeed. Welcome to Coach A, the Quiet Zone.

I was sharing the carriage with approximately 743 On-Train Revellers—memory may have distorted this slightly—and was feeling hot-flushy, claustrophobic and overwhelmed. All the usual signs were there: a commitment to noise and Having A Good Time, standing in the aisle, heavy daytime drinking coz-we’re-on-holiday, a lot of very loud laughing (often with a (read more…)

thing 16: ‘the deep breath burning’: learning to run

… and I don’t mean in some metaphorical sense. It’s not an image for being efficient, or moving through existence effortlessly and with ease. Nope. It’s actual running. I know. You couldn’t be more surprised than I am.

When I was at boarding school we had to do these things called Standards, which basically meant that everyone with the requisite complement of limbs had to “do” every athletics event—track, field and (read more…)

thing 15: ‘a magic made by melody’: a gig

Stripping off with a bunch of other people, variously familiar to me, in the chilly, cramped vestry of some hitherto-unknown church. Dressing for Saturday Night in modest, full-length black, then perching on a chair in an unheated church hall, eating squashed sandwiches. All the ingredients of a perfectly normal weekend for me.

I’ve been singing in choirs since I was about 7 (not continuously, obviously), and this has frequently involved doing gigs in (read more…)