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.
I woke up this morning at 6, looked out the window, saw a white sheet of cloud across the sky and contemplated going back to bed. I forced myself not too. For a long time I’ve been wanting to get up early and go walking in the city. I had a romantic idea of what it would be like: the morning sun pooling on the old canal houses and in the trees that line the water, steam rising from vents down winding alleyways, shopkeepers lifting shutters and setting out tables, the smell of bread baking in the air, people on balconies with hot mugs of coffee, and a profound sense of peace and calm before the rush of the day begins. Continue readingOf gibbons and unexpected things
Last weekend I went back to Manchester for a few days. Spending time back home is always a slightly disorientating experience. Both going to Manchester and coming back to Amsterdam, I’m confronted by just how different the two cities are. There are the obvious things like the language, the way people dress, and the architecture. And then there are the differences like never seeing homeless people in Amsterdam, but always seeing several on the streets of Manchester. It was also disorientating to wake up on Friday morning to see a map of the UK swathed in blue, when I had been hoping for a very different outcome. All weekend and for days afterwards I felt a sense of sadness and disbelief whenever I remembered that the Conservatives are still in power. Continue readingElections and directions (or lack thereof)
A few years back I came across an article by Paul Graham called ‘How To Do What You Love‘. I’ve read it periodically since then and every time I seem to take something new from it. On the most recent reading, the bits about prestige seemed to stand out to me. Graham writes:
What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world. When you can ask the opinions of people whose judgement you respect, what does it add to consider the opinions of people you don’t even know? Continue readingOn writing and prestige