In which a small creature creates a medium amount of havoc…

I cannot remember a time of my life when I have not been afraid of spiders. Some of it is learned behaviour (I do after all have a mother who moves the furniture to hoover underneath on a regular basis so nothing with 8 legs can lurk underneath and creep out to surprise her at night), and some of it is an entirely rational (as far as I’m concerned) hang-over fear from humanity’s early days when spiders were as big as houses and angrier than a thwarted toddler.

You have seen the most recent King Kong film, haven’t you? See? Big Spiders. BIG. HUUUUUUGGGGEEEE. I rest my case.

Anyway, mostly these days, I manage to sit on my fears as now I’m the only adult in the house, ergo, the only person to remove said creatures. I ignore the ones in corners, chat to the spindly ones (in the hope that by being friendly, they won’t eat my face whilst I’m asleep) and have gone so far as to usher out into the garden the bigger-than-I-wish-to-cohabit-with ones, rather than reaching for the hoover and holding the nozzle with my very fingertips.

But what I really really draw the line at is finding them crawling into my cleavage. Specifically, crawling into my cleavage when I’m in a rather important meeting with Historic England and an archaeologist. So lo, when it came to pass that last Friday, I was nodding my head sagely and saying “hmm, yes, raft foundations…gable end…etc”, I felt something unusual in that direction.

Looking down, I see a spider about the size of my thumbnail (which I consider to be a considerable size in an arachnid) heading southwards. With great presence of mind, I turn to look in the direction of a particularly fine example of Tudor timber-framing, and swiftly reach in to pluck the fearless creature from my regions, flinging it away, hopefully far away.

However. I am not entirely sure I’ve got the little blighter. I cannot rummage around in there to check. I couldn’t be sure I’d managed to grab it. In fact, I’m not entirely if I didn’t just squash it against myself and now have spider goo on me.

But, professional as I am, I control the rising hysterics and continue with the meeting. All the while my internal monologue sounds like this…

“Yes, yes, I can see the need for a full building condition report…there’s a spider in my dress…a heritage statement is indeed a good thing…there’s a spider in my dress…yes, of course we can go and investigate the attics…there’s a SPIDER in my dress…oh, the cellars too, why not…there’s a SPIDER in my DRESS…that’s been a really useful discussion…FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS SACRED, THERE IS A FUCKING SPIDER IN MY DRESS…”

Finally the people left, I indulged in a mini-meltdown in the privacy of my own office and, when I got home, utterly failed to find the creature, which, I’ve no doubt, is now regaling its many-legged friends with tales of the giant fingers ruthlessly plucking it from its new resting spot and flinging it callously to the ground. I hope they buy it many pints of fly beer, or whatever they drink.

So far, my friends have singularly failed to buy me a restorative pint…

PS I tried to find an image of said King Kong spider but the images that came up on a Google search frankly gave me the wiggins, so you’ll have to imagine it. Plus, I hate it when people drop a spider image into a blog or twitter post, so I couldn’t do it. Have a Monty Python one instead. You’re welcome.

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Spring is (nearly) Sprung

I’m back in my own home after two weeks looking after my parent’s dogs whilst they celebrated 40 years of being married in Cuba (say what you will, they celebrate in style). After losing mine at the beginning of this year, it was a bittersweet experience but I relished the chance to get my boots muddy walking and laughing at their antics. Much as I love my cats, they do not chase tennis balls or rush to the door when I get home.

Next weekend, I’m taking myself off to London to visit an old friend: we’ll do the one cultural thing (visiting the Grant Museum to see the Glass Jar of Moles), and then devote the rest of the weekend to drinking, eating and drinking some more before I catch the train home the next day. I did request dancing but he looked terrified at the prospect, so I suspect that’s not on the agenda.

To tide you over till I return with tales of daring-do (i.e. I got on the right train at the right platform without looking up, realising I’m at the wrong one and having to perform the Mad Dash of Panic across the station), here’s a Sunday Summary for you:

Oh hooray, it’s March! There are catkins, the promise of bluebells, crocuses under trees and a different smell to the air. And a beautiful article by Robert MacFarlane (still my favourite nature writer) about the unusual words we have to describe the natural world. Now I just have to find a way to use ‘clinkerbell’ in conversation. Warning: contains the information that bluebell is a less used word than block-graph. I don’t think I’ve ever read a sadder statement.

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This great article in the Independent reignites the debate around free museums. A much needed one as cuts to the arts means museums are still hemorrhaging staff and resources. Dame Liz Forgan referred to the sale of museum collections as “selling the family silver to buy a sandwich”; once collections are gone, sold into private hands, they are gone for good. Ed Miliband’s “free museums for all” hyperbole is so much piss and wind if he’s not going to promise to undo the damage the cuts have caused.

A lovely exhibition at my friend’s gallery featuring the work of Welsh artist, Aneurin Jones: wonderfully evocative of a landscape and people that are changing and altering every year.

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Today, the Teen and I packed away the television and started our two week trial of living without it. Mainly because I realised she pretty much already was (AS exams, stuff on tumblr being more interesting, etc etc) and since Wolf Hall had finished (all hail to the superlative Mark Rylance), I had no interest in switching it only to watch repeats. I can waste my time far more productively than gawping at a re-run of the Big Bang Theory.

This may be more difficult than the time I gave up smoking. Or sugar.

A lengthy but utterly brilliant interview by the Paris Review of PD James.

And, in case you haven’t visited it yet, the fantastic Standard Issue is well worth losing a lunchtime over. It’ll make you laugh, promise.

Have some French cats with attitude till I get back (hopefully, a bottle or two of Cuban rum to the better).

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Daydreaming

Of getting the paint out to create yellow-hued doors and splashes of sunshine.

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Of wading through warm shallows with red painted toes and time on my side.

Tuscany’s Elba Island is home to many gorgeous beaches, but Sansone might just top the list.                                                                                   (Tuscany, although I don’t mind finding myself somewhere equally nice. Never let it be said that I’m fussy.)

Of the day this book is available in paperback; I won’t be leaving the house until I’ve finished it.

Of silly-but-awesome kitchen equipment that will make me smile as I ladle out yet another warming and wholesome soup.

Nessie Ladle

Of a garden filled with daffodils that nod and dance, rather than mud and grass and muddy grass.

William Wordsworth, please do the honors:    I wander'd lonely as a cloud  That floats on high o'er vales and hills,  When all at once I saw a crowd,  A host, of golden daffodils;  Beside the lake, beneath the trees,  Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.  [...]  They flash upon that inward eye  Which is the bliss of solitude;  And then my heart with pleasure fills,  And dances with the daffodils.

Of finally finishing my crochet blanket. This may take a little longer than March to arrive. Especially when pesky cats keep me company.

Of wandering around this exhibition with the Teen who, I feel, should always be encouraged to reach for the moon.

Of Amsterdam. My head is full of Amsterdam and planning my first ever solo holiday. Scary and exciting and new.

Colorful Amsterdam, Netherlands

As we approach the arse-end of the year (February – ugh, I loathe February and it’s misleading hints of spring) and I tire of casseroles and stews and trying to find new ways with pearl barley, I need to be reminded that sunshine, birdsong, blossom on the trees, some other vegetable than swede and fewer than 4 layers of clothing before I leave the house is just a few short weeks away.

(Images found on pinterest via 1. homestoriesatoz.com; 2. cntraveller.com; 3. animicausa.com; 4. panoramio.com; 5. gutenberg.org; 6. pinspopulars.com)

Sunday Summary

A quick round up of things that have happened, caught my eye, made me smile, or just set me thinking.

A course in which I learned to make a proper, museum-grade tissue paper scrunchie (yes, there is a proper technique which ends in a scrunched wad of tissue paper that doesn’t unravel) and pad out a mannequin.

This way of dealing with worries that otherwise keep you up at 4am – and some gorgeous Grand Canyon pictures to boot.

This incredible jewellery designer from the State. Being a practical romantic, I’m very taken with her designs. Found on Pinterest (yes, I am on there under my occasional-shop name of Poppycorkhill).

The incredible ad for This Girl Can had me smiling and secretly singing Missy Elliot to myself all weekend. Even the Teen thinks it’s a pretty cool thing … and she’s a discerning judge.

That I will get in my own way when I’m doing yoga. But I don’t care. Even if my vision is momentarily blocked for half of the session.

That there is nothing, but nothing, as satisfying, morale-boosting and happy-making (albeit shallow) than buying a pair of jeans a size smaller than you needed a month ago.

That when returning to crocheting my ripple blanket (as seen on Attic 24) after my wrist injury, I really should read the pattern again. Will I be redoing the past 6, slightly off-kilter rows? No. No I will not.

My friend and I may have just created #MannequinMonday. A celebration on Twitter of truly astounding (and hilarious) museum mannequins. This needs to be A Thing. Cue misappropriation of Manic Monday by the Bangles.

Working my slow way through the Penelope Fitzgerald biography. I’m not sure she and I would have got on but her strength and intelligence is awe-inspiring. Finished The Bleeding Heart by Marilyn French. A feminist classic that still contains food for thought in its depiction of a year long love affair that brings truth and passion to its protagonists.

That a week on trustfunding.org will make you squiffy-eyed and reveal an incredible amount about the vagaries of human nature. So many trusts, so many random conditions.

That it is possible to go for a country walk without a faithful dog accompanying you. Possible, but oddly lacking. It was good to get my boots muddy again though.

Next week: I become a qualified first aider! Certified to tell you to stop making a fuss, t’is merely a flesh wound. My staff are looking pale already.

**photos from a recent walk along the Greenlink to a hitherto unknown community orchard, full of carved benches, stone lined ponds and twisty apple trees. I do love a community orchard.**

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A Momentary Diversion to the Dark Side

Oh hello Halloween! In the course of a random rambling conversation recently, I mentioned that Halloween is my favourite of all the festivals. ‘Why,’ asked my companion and gave me a long suspicious look, no doubt imagining that I cavort around Samhain fires, conjuring up spirits and generally indulging in my witchy goth side. Note: it is perfectly possible to be witchy without being goth, and to be goth without being witchy. As it happens, I am neither, I just really like Halloween.

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I like mist clinging mournfully to overwrought Victorian gravestones. I like bats and churchyards and owls. I like the moon to be full and gravely shining down as I stand in the garden at midnight. I like peculiar fungi cropping up out of the ground overnight. I like my Mexican Day of the Dead bunting, and my model of Death cooking eggs. I like giggling in the wrong places at Hammer Horror films (the corsets! the makeup! the involuntary twitching of corpses!) but I’ll run a mile if you show me a modern horror film, or anything with zombies*.

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No, I don’t trick or treat, I don’t throw huge parties, nor relish the opportunity to paint my face green and frighten the neighbour kids. I don’t read the tarot, gaze into a crystal ball or hold seances. Although if you want to do all those things, I’m not going to stand in your way.

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I love Halloween because of the ritual I’ve developed around it, sitting at home, safely full after a good meal, sipping red wine and reading from my favourite gothic novels. Yes, there is a dish of salt by the front door alongside the dish of water, the candles are lit and I’ll think of the people I loved who aren’t here anymore. Sometimes, if it’s been a tricky year, I’ll write something on a piece of paper, then burn it.

“I saw the Count lying within the box upon the earth, some of which the rude falling from the cart had scattered over him. He was deathly pale, just like a waxen image, and the red eyes glares with the horrible vindictive look which I knew too well. As I looked, the eyes saw the sinking sun, and the look of hate in them turned to triumph.” Dracula by Bram Stoker

So, however you choose to celebrate it this year, surrounded by mini sugar-hyped monsters, seriously closeted in a seance or by ignoring the whole damn thing, sitting in the dark and hoping no one rings your doorbell, have a happy Halloween! I’ll see you on the other side.

*Zombies are my irrational phobia and they are bloody everywhere at the moment.

** legend has it that touching the pointing finger of this statue will give you nightmares. Sadly her finger has been broken off for as long as I can remember, so I haven’t been able to test this. And I wouldn’t anyway. Just in case.

Vanishing May

Where oh where has the last month gone? Days merged into weeks, alternately spent running around like a badly-executed chicken, or spending so long on the sofa with a book that my backside developed a sofa-shaped groove.

Sometimes I’ve done nothing more strenuous than wander around with small hammer and nails in my hand for hours on end, hanging the occasional picture but mostly just reveling in the feel of carpet under bare feet, after so many years of floorboards, and the gradually dawning notion that this place is mine for the time being.

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Sometimes I’ve read for hazy stretches of time, floating off into different worlds on the words: Possession, Offshore, Nothing to be Frightened Of, Cider with Rosie, Under Milk Wood, Miss Pym Disposes, Gossip From The Forest. Right now I’m on Lady Hester Stanhope (the next time someone calls me ‘difficult’, I’ll hand them a copy of her biography. Actually, scratch that, I shall take a copy and throw it at their heads) and an Agatha Christie – some escapism before I start on Country Girl.

I’ve supported, helplessly and pathetically at times, from the sidelines as my daughter fought her way through GCSE’s. She was still fighting on her 16th birthday but managed to be diverted from her goal (don’t anyone dare say GCSE’s have got easier) by the sight of my massive cake decorating fail. Not as epic as the Year of the Doughnut, but nearly. This is the Year of the Zombie Apocalypse Cake. Alternative title: When Dracula Had A Birthday.

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Mourned the passing of Maya Angelou. My first introduction to her work was I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, which so captured me that I read all of her others. My wonderful A-Level Eng. Lit. teacher (thank you, Ms. Hobbs) then used her works as a springboard to launch me off in the direction of Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison. Invaluable, thought expanding reads that shattered my cosy white English mind. Gove is a dangerous idiot who I wouldn’t let prescribe a book for my dog, let alone a generation of school children. This government really does excel in fuck-wittery.

One area I’ve neglected is my crafting ways. Nary a knitting needle, embroidery thread or shiny silver needle has been held in my hands. This should change at the weekend when I take a Crochet for Beginners course. I am determined that this stupid one-handed knitting technique won’t bloody beat me (as it has in the past) and one day my entire family will be on the receiving end of granny-square blankets – I can hear their grateful cries of joy already. Possibly need to stop referring to it as ‘stupid one-handed knitting’ though.

Spent a gloriously sunny afternoon at Compton Verney, wandering around the Moore/Rodin exhibition. Two seemingly very different artists who were linked by their passion for exploring movement within the human form. Gorgeous, tactile sculptures that, sadly, people can’t touch. I can understand why, but don’t the curves of a Henry Moore demand to be stroked?

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June. Oh flaming June. It’s already 9 hectic days in, and after my week off, I shall be launched straight back into it with a decision from HLF that will dramatically alter my working life for the foreseeable future. I am fighting the temptation to run far far away.

Instead, I shall go and listen to the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain: was lucky enough to catch them at a recent performance in our local cinema. Funniest. Performance. Ever. Luckily for our neighbours, I decided that the uke, whilst being an instrument of surprising versatility, is not one I’ll ever learn. Instead, I’m content to listen to them rework Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush into a Yorkshire folk song. You are very welcome.

 

They all fall down

Oh where to begin, where to begin? The fact I can even think about beginning is thanks to the blue sky above my head – what a big relief that is. I think all the rain and mud may have broken me at some point between the upteenth washing of the dog’s paws and my slipping down and cutting my hand on some rain slicked barbed wire.

Still, this has been the kind of winter that leads to more than a few comedy fallings. The landscape has been littered with prone figures, pulled over by their steady-on-their-paws dogs, or by the incautious placing of a foot on the ground. From the straight forward feet-from-underneath slip where you find yourself staring at the sky, to the hugely funny arms-windmilling fall forward, via the whoa-whoa-arrgghhh skidder trying desperately to gain purchase. It seems my fall of choice happens in the middle of an oblivious trot-along broken by the sound of a small shriek, a heavy thud, and a loud ‘for FUCK’S sake!’

And if that was not enough contact with the brown stuff, I decided to take up pottery too. Every other week, I now take myself off to this place (gods, how I love this place), sit at a wheel and throw pots. With greater or lesser success – lesser, on the whole. But its an activity that doesn’t involve computers, application forms or being in charge. The clay is most definitely in charge. Plus, I’m forced to talk to people. Yes, that’s right – I deliberately took up something that means I have to socialise like a normal person. The clay is most definitely in charge there too.

A Victorian Music Hall night where I got to pull out all the bits of lace and lawn cotton I’d managed to gather over the years (a surprising amount), and then stick them about my person like a deranged 19th Century magpie. A visit to see Rodin’s The Kiss at Cheltenham Art Gallery – I was actually far more moved by the delicate watercolours of Edward Wilson, Scott’s fellow Polar traveller. Although by any standards, that really was a big Kiss.

And books! A few superlatively great books saw me through February’s brutal regime:  Gossip from the Forest by Sarah Maitland; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (there had to be a Bronte); Gaudy Night and Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers. I have so many new ones piled up but Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is a treat I’m savouring at the moment.

I leave you, for now anyway, with this little tune: it makes me smile every time I hear it. Do wish someone had bunged him a bit of money for a better video though. Stop animation perhaps – like a Bagpuss reel?

Edit: on the request of my fellow blogger and vintage lover, Abby, here is a photo of me in my Victorian get up. My head anyway. Because I was taking it and it’s tricky to get more than my head in due to my arms not being particularly long. Yep, I took a selfie. I’d be ashamed but, damn, my hair looks good.

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It seems that I have reached a milestone. No, not in age – that’s still a year or so ahead of me – and I wouldn’t mind but nobody thought to tell me that this milestone even existed so I couldn’t prepare myself. Gird my loins, as it were, for the barrage that suddenly hit once Christmas 2013 had finished. It seems that there is a specified amount of time you are allowed to be single before this question comes up: “So have you thought about internet dating?”

I heard that question five times between the dreg ends of 2013 and the bright newness of 2014. At first, it being a new phenomena to me, I was dismissive of the idea but touched by their concern for my emotional welfare – not that I think internet dating is necessarily any good for anyone’s emotional welfare, regardless of what the shiny people at Match.com would have you believe.

On the third occasion, however, I was annoyed so turned myself round and round physically, desperately clawing at my (holey) jumper. “What are you doing?” Looking for my sell-by date – I think they must have stamped it on my arse at birth.

By the time questioner number four came along, I was ready with a big, dramatic “OH NOOOOOO!! I shall become an Old Maid!!!” exclamation uttered in tones of shocked Victorian spinster. In the high street. Because if you’re going to be ill-mannered enough to ask me a question like that in public, I am going to make a scene.

It was perplexing, this sudden interest in my life, as though I’d reached a some kind of deadline that caused a banner (invisible to me) to pop up above my head saying “quick before she re-virginates herself, get her dating again, she’s had long enough”. Was I supposed to be showing signs of morphing into Bridget Jones, weeping into my chardonnay, cooking things with blue string and generally running around in just my pants getting into ‘hilarious’ escapades? I loathed Bridget Jones – the book and the film – and have no intention ever of singing 80s power ballads.

However, as Sara Maitland put it in her wonderful article in the Guardian recently “if you tell people enough times that they are unhappy, incomplete, possibly insane and definitely selfish, there is bound to come a cold, grey morning when they wake up with the beginnings of a nasty cold and wonder if they are lonely rather than simply ‘alone’.”

And so it came to pass, dear reader, that sometime between the fourth and the fifth, there occurred an unusual occurrence. I did wake up, conduct my usual morning check on my faculties and, surprise surprise, found myself lonely. That’s a peculiarly hard sentence to write, the word feels almost humiliating. This is mainly because I’ve never really been lonely before (yeah yeah, I know, lucky old smug me). There are a number of reasons for this: child at an early age, boyfriend/fiancée/husband ditto, close family – I’ve usually greeted days and nights on my own with pleasure at being alone. And that’s the key. Being a self-sufficient little sod, I’ve been alone, and happily, but not lonely.

I have also felt unhappily alone before now, marooned and isolated, during the big split, but nothing like this. A to-the-bone, deep aching loneliness that left me gasping and shaking and (sigh, okay, I’ll admit it but only to you, alright?) crying at 3am sat up in bed with my head pressed against my knees, whispering “no no no stop it, stop feeling like this right now“. This state of affairs lasted about four days and I could have done a number of things to stop it. I could have fled to my family (in fact, if my Mum reads this, she’s going to be furious that I didn’t); I could have visited friends but couldn’t bring myself to invade their happy family time yet again; I could have packed everything up and hoicked myself off somewhere else for a day or two.

In the end, I chose to sit there, turning this new feeling over in my hands, subjecting it to a microscope gaze and demanding to know it’s reasons for visiting me. It was, apparently, just my turn. I’d been running for long enough from it – and I had run hard over the last couple of years. Time to feel it, even if that meant wandering around for almost a week feeling as though I was watching the world through a glass observation screen, unable to interact.

“So be lonely…Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience.” Elizabeth Gilbert.

So I sat with it and made my map, and not just because feeling lonely had turned me into an evil tempered shrew fit for nothing other than sitting on her map and feeling fucking sorry for herself, but because I needed to get through this Myself. By the time Questioner #5 sat down next to me and asked, over a game of scrabble, my answer was still no. Because even loneliness is survivable and being lonely on your own is infinitely better than being lonely with someone else.

However, we did then spend an hour or so thinking up the only truthful profile information I would ever be able to put up:
Eats more cake than she should – will punch you in the throat should you ever try to take it from her.
Wears clothes with holes in them and/or poor attempts at darning because she likes them and would no more part from them than she would throw the cat out.
Will correct your grammar. Even in public.
Opinionated, bossy, stroppy and plate-shatteringly hormonal.
Veers heavily on the side of ‘artfully dishevelled’, passing frequently over deep into the territory of ‘through a hedge backwards’.
Responds to the question “What are you reading?” with the words “a book” and will not elaborate.
Talks through films. And tv programs. Sometimes while standing in front of the telly because she was only passing through the room and doesn’t actually want to watch this.
Watches far too much Poirot and Murder, She Wrote.
Has a look that will freeze volcanoes when pissed off or when you’ve been unutterably stupid – colleagues call it her Medusa Look – she is really quite proud of it.
Will not play demure and order merely a salad in a restaurant, will order chips. And eat them. And then try to eat yours too.
Will expect you to be understanding of her phobias of both spiders and zombies and will expect you to make it your lifelong mission to protect her from both.                              Doesn’t so much laugh as cackle. Loudly.
Won’t share last Rolo.

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PS. Bette Davis is completely and utterly my heroine so if being an old maid means being Bette Davis, I happily submit to my fate.

There is Treasure Everywhere

Things I like right at this very moment:
Foggy, frosty, sun-bursting, purple-sky mornings
Getting to wear my red beret again (best £12 I ever spent)
The mournful hoarse, high pitched cackle of crows. Crows cackle, magpies rattle.
Two hot water bottles in my bed at night
The return of my king-size 13.5tog duvet from its summer storage and the bedding to go with it
Butterfly wings winking up at me from crusty dusty piles of bark:
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Candles in the windowsill
Sundays spent listening to Radio 4 while I make soups and stews and the occasional cake
A moon so bright I don’t need a torch
Discovering a new group with spine-tingling sounds: folk ghost stories amplified by tin cans and string with a name to chill: the Crows’ Bones
Offerings left on gravestones:
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The fuggy huffy warmth of a herd of small brown cows just waking up
Toe-crampingly cold evenings outside with my daughter trying to get the telescope to work and then warming up afterwards with hot chocolate
Frost etchings on the landscape
Patches of colour everywhere:
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Raw early morning air with a hint of leaf mould and bonfire
Needle-felting fantastical creatures
The smell of my wax jacket
Clearing bookshelves and finding this again:

I always want to feel like that.

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