Even with the leapday, February ends tomorrow and I’ve essentially failed to blog for the whole month. It seems a matter of moments since it was January, and the weather was weirdly mild and all major deadlines and events were ages away.
I had my usual winter excuse of illness for pretty much the first half of the month, so that didn’t help. For a week I was feeling utterly pathetic. I was even too tired to read for a while (I know – I could hardly believe it either). I did (slowly) read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, which I’d been attracted to in a charity shop because I’d enjoyed The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and this novel was about comic book creators. Wonderfully written, set largely during the second world war (and just before and after), it has some bleak moments but also delightful oddness and humour. And it’s full of excitement about the possibility of comics, which had me itching to get back to work on a couple of half-finished comic ideas.
Brainstorming and planning for both the York Festival of Ideas (storytelling with Alice, like last year) and the Chapel FM Writing on Air Festival has been limping along, with rehearsals planned and notes scrawled. I’ve also had a new review up at The Bookbag (1930s Italian crime fiction reprinted). You see, although I’ve been quiet I haven’t been totally inactive.
March will be more obviously active, with some book reviews here and at The Bookbag, and possibly some musings on the EU referendum depending on how much I feel like alienating the apolitical (or indeed non-European) parts of my readership.
Snow has come to town this last week, and so far it has stayed. Looking out of my window is like looking into a fairytale; the trees are caked and bowed, the distinction between path and flower-bed lost. There is a frisson of excitement to the morning commute. Will I get to the station in good time, without falling? Will the train be delayed? Will it run at all? Will a passing van going too fast on the main road splash me from waist to ankle with brown slush?
Routine is turned upside down. People are getting the bus because they can’t get the car safely to the main road. Or they’re driving to work because the train’s cancelled. Walking the kids to school because the school bus can’t get through. Hiking boots are called upon, and jumpers not usually considered fit for work are brought into play. Men turn up for meetings in suits, ties, and green wellingtons.
It is at these frayed edges of everyday behaviour that stories form. They crystallise like the winter ice and are just as delicate. Gaze upon them, admire them, memorise their shape. Paint pictures with words and share that frisson of excitement around.
Winter’s arrived a bit early round here, and we’re blanketed in snow (OneMonkey’s parents are more like buried in snow, living so near the coast). It looks magical, and the world’s muffled as it only ever is when it’s snowy, but I’m too cold to write! I have so many layers on it’s ridiculous and we’ve had endless hot drinks all weekend but it’s not that comfortable staying still for very long, which means reading and writing aren’t attractive ideas, particularly at my bureau which is next to a large window. I’ve been doing housework to keep warm (no really, I have), turning story ideas over in my head all the while. From the point of view of photography, or possibly story inspiration (and certainly for peace and quiet) the weather’s fabulous, but I might have to break out the fingerless gloves and my purple pashmina if I want to sit down and concentrate on writing.
Recent weather in England (and as everyone knows, we’re all fascinated by weather, here) has been unseasonably cold, though I feel somehow that it shouldn’t be seen as unseasonable, given that we’re in the depths of winter. It’s gone beyond a reminder of more traditional half-remembered winters from my childhood, and has now entered the realms of the strange and slightly horrifying. The kitchen sink refused to drain yesterday evening; OneMonkey has recovered from the outside pipe an artifact like a scholarly ice-core from a BBC archaeology programme, stratified with tea dregs and washing-up water. No doubt this will happen again before the temperature finally rises towards Spring.
Buses and even trains have been disrupted this week, with the working day enlivened by the comparison of travel disruptions and the discovery of who has or hasn’t made it in today. Temporary alliances have been forged on station platforms, surrounded by men with pinstripe suit trousers tucked into green wellingtons, and women with hiking boots incongruous beneath impractical suit skirts. Dress codes have faltered under an onslaught of chunky knitwear.
I have always delighted in snow and I’m still enjoying this novelty (partly because I didn’t have to deal with the frozen pipe), the crunch and squeak of the snow underfoot, the hundreds of photo opportunities and the sheer beauty of the softly unfamiliar landscape. My feet are cold, my hands cracked despite thick gloves and handcream, and the travel disruption is frustrating, but I’ll make the most of the silent whiteness while it lasts. Before long we’ll be back on track, grey and soaked with drizzle, dark and drab and usual again, building fond memories out of melted snowmen.
Unless someone moved the Pennines while I wasn’t looking, I probably live about as far away from the sea as it’s possible to get in England (though don’t quote me on that, I was even worse at Geography than I was at English Literature). Not only have I noticed a strangely high number of Save the Lifeboats car-stickers this weekend, but I was innocently wandering through the market on Saturday afternoon when OneMonkey asked if I’d seen the donkeys. Turning towards the jingling noise I saw a man muffled up against the cold, leading half a dozen donkeys, one or two of which had a small child perched on their back.
Donkey rides. Through a crowded market. In November. Maybe there’s a tenuous Bethlehem connection there, but more likely it’s to do with the bringing forward of seasons. With Christmas goods appearing in the shops by August, traditional summer activities need to be brought forward as well, and while you’d be mad to go on a northern beach at this time of year, it’s marginally more pleasant inland. Yet another idea to add to my storybank.