My favourite weekend activity is to go for a long walk through the city, admiring Amsterdam’s beautiful architecture, looking in shop windows and, best of all, walking down new streets I’ve never walked down before.
In fact, this kind of wandering is my favourite activity to do anywhere. I’ve travelled a fair bit now, though I’d hesitate to call myself a seasoned traveller, but I’ve travelled enough that I’ve come to feel wary of the things you’re supposed to do when you visit a place.
I was recently listening to an episode of the podcast Happier, my not-so-guilty guilty pleasure. Every week the hosts of the podcast, Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft, offer a “try this at home” and in this particular episode their “try this at home” was to write a manifesto. Gretchen Rubin has written a number of manifestos, including a happiness manifesto, a habits manifesto and a podcast manifesto.
The podcast episode inspired me to look at other manifestos and to start developing my own manifesto.
The week before last I took part in #dearwritersautumn16 – a collective effort to write more and offer encouragement to other writers. It was organised by Éireann Lorsung, a writer and poet who runs MIEL publishing and Dickinson House in Belgium. This summer I had the pleasure of spending a lovely day at Dickinson House, writing and sewing and meeting its furry inhabitants.
My partner and I spent the last two weeks cycling through Europe – specifically, we cycled from Prague to Budapest, via Vienna. Outside my familiar milieu of Amsterdam, work and chores, time seemed to stretch. The two week gap between finishing work and today somehow feels looser, as though time were a straight line that suddenly became a puddle.
In my bedroom at my mum’s house there is a cardboard box filled with my journals. Over the years I’ve filled (or partially filled) at least 40 notebooks. I started keeping a journal when I was 9 and my grandma bought me a page-a-day diary with a floral patterned cover. Perhaps I would have started a diary at some point regardless, but that diary catalysed my love affair with journaling and I’ve never stopped since. I don’t write in my journal everyday. At times I go months without writing a single word, at others I write two or three times a day.
I get asked that question a lot, especially by Dutch people – even by the Dutch person who is supposed to be teaching me Dutch. At this point I have a set of pre-prepared answers I can rattle out: because I think it’s rude to live in a country and not make an effort to learn the language; because despite repeated assertions from Dutch people that everyone here speaks English, everyone in fact speaks Dutch; because I’d like to be able to understand the announcements on the train; because I thought it would help me find a job. All of these reasons are true, but at this point I don’t think they are the reasons that motivate me to keep trying.
I’m fascinated by sense of home. I’m not sure why but I often find myself feeling overwhelming nostalgic for moments and places where I have felt that sense of being at home: the living room of my childhood home, the dryer is on and the windows are fogged up; it’s autumn in St Andrews and there are leaves in the sea; the smell of coal fires filling the air on cold Cornish nights; summer evenings at Wollaton Park. I even sometimes feel anticipatory nostalgia for Amsterdam. Seemingly small things, like fogged up windows, can take us back to a particular time and place, tying us to that moment. Continue readingA home out of this world
For some reason, my boyfriend and I decided that the end of the summer would be a good time to finally get started on the balcony. In fact, we’ve been meaning to do something about it for the past year and a half, since we moved into our apartment. It’s a great balcony. It’s really spacious and instead of looking out onto a road, it faces onto a courtyard. There’s just one problem: other residents had got there before us. Pigeons. Continue readingThe war on pigeons
I’ve just finished reading Rebecca Solnit’s brilliant and expansive cultural history of walking, Wanderlust. In her book Solnit charts the history of walking from its contested evolutionary history, to the English country garden, and from John Muir to American suburbia. Continue readingOn Wanderlust and walking
I’m reading a collection of essays at the moment called Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. The essays explore the various aspects of the reading and writing life, such as: how to marry someone else’s books, messages on flyleaves, You-Are-There reading, the pitfalls of being a compulsive proofreading and plagiarism. However, I particularly enjoyed the essay ‘Never Do That To A Book’ about how people treat their books.