afresh

Well, it’s been a while.

I wrote my last blog post in the depths of a lush, green spring last year and now somehow it’s January 2022 and warm, sunny days surronded by bluebells and blossom and ivy feel like a distant dream from another universe. Lots has happened between then and now. I’ve started writing and stopped writing so many posts in the time that’s passed – my drafts folder is embarrassingly full. And although there’s part of me that wants to patch over the cavernous hole of time and words on my blog with a post to match the size of that gap, there’s also a part of me that just wants to draw a line under the last seven months and start afresh.

So, here’s to a 2022 filled with happiness, growth, and words words words.

escape to the chapel

The gridlocked cars on the other side of the road stretched in a long, shimmering, heat-hazy line and I couldn’t help but smile a cheeky smile.

The road on our side was clear.

They were bound for the Weymouth beach, we were destined for a chapel in the woods.

I feel the draw and pull and spell of the sea in my blood pretty much every day and I know I am incredibly lucky to live so near the coast, but on a sun drenched UK Bank Holiday weekend you won’t find me anywhere near the sand. Last weekend, my heart wanted lush green leaves and light dappled bluebells and pretty bird song and burbling streams and old chapel ruins with ivy spilling down the walls and a wash, a wave, a shiver of peace through my veins.

And, at St Luke’s Chapel near Abbotsbury, that is exactly what my heart got.

After getting a bit lost due to me mixing up St Luke’s Chapel on Ashley Chase with Chapel Coppice in Abbotsbury (it was the nicest and prettiest lost I’ve ever been), Patrick and I eventually made it to the right woodlands (thank you to Bellenie’s Bakehouse for the directions and the yummy pasties).

The road to the walking track was twisty and bumpy, but stunning. We parked up when we got to the end of the public road and set off to the chapel on foot.

Shaggy grass, patchworked across the hills, rippled in the wind. Branches of gnarly trees, knotted from a lifetime of sea breezes, pointed us on our way. Constellations of salt-misted bluebells twinkled beside the path as we walked by. Canopies of leaves shimmied above our heads and showered our feet with dancing shadows.

It felt like heaven.

The chapel was bigger than I’d expected. It was beautiful and peaceful and eery; a muddle of brick, statues, and gravestones haunting earth, ivy, and trees.

And the quiet.

It was the sort of hush that sinks into your bones and untangles all the noise in your head and all the worry in your heart. We only saw one other pair of walkers the entire time we were there, and that was when were almost back at the car. For most of the journey, we had only the cows in the fields beside the path for company.

We were so close to crowds and crowds of people but so, so far.

And the traffic on our journey home? Well, the universe got me back for my cheeky smile as we’d zoomed passed the morning’s traffic jams…

Only in Dorset.

bye bye Pippin

You may have noticed there’s been a blog name change.

It’s a decision that’s been months in the making. I always thought I would want to write under the name Pippin, always thought it helped me to shake off my every day world and focus, always liked how it connected me to a time before I felt self-conscious and anxious about every little thing, a time when getting things Goldilocks-perfect didn’t matter, when I could just try and experiment and see where things led without having an existential crisis.

Now, I don’t think I want to shake off my every day world. I want my every day world and my writing world to be the same. I want them to complement each other and grow together.

So I’m shaking off my childhood nickname and stepping into my real life name shoes – Joanna or, most commonly, Jo.

It feels a little bit weird, but it’s a good weird.

So it’s bye bye to Pippin.

Although Pippin is still most definitely my spirit hobbit…

spring things

Oh, hey there!

*waves*

Sorry it’s been so long. I’ve been hibernating. And reading. And writing. And thinking about writing (more than actually writing, woops). And just generally muddling on through this weird time.

Spring is well and truly blooming here in the UK and its arrival always sparks a shift in me. Things feel lighter, brighter, easier in my heart. My head feels clearer. Possiblities seem to blossom, grow. The year stretches out ahead like one big adventure. And all this blossoming and adventure and growth has got me thinking about some of the things I want to do this spring.

I want to…

read twelve books. Books just had to feature somewhere so here they are right at the top. One for each week of spring is my kinda pace. And, so far, I’m on track to meet this target…

watch twelve new (to me) films. Apart from when I’m reading and writing, I tend to get quite restless when I’m sat still, so watching a movie (unless it’s really, really good) can sometimes feel like torture for me and my wriggly legs – which means watching them is not very high on my list of things to do in my spare time. But films – the good, the bad, and the ugly – are great storytelling lessons so I want to watch more. I think it will be good for my writing, if not my legs. (On track with this one too!)

be a good plant mum. Historically, I have been worryingly bad at looking after plants but I am DETERMINED to get the hang of it this year. So far, I’ve managed to keep alive a spearmint, a peppermint, and a holly fern; regrow two supermarket pak choi from their bases; and start off quite a few seedlings. It turns out that remembering to water and checking the weather forecasts for frost are surprisingly simple and effective ways of not killing off plants. (Who knew?) Slowly and steadily, my fingers are getting greener…

yoga four times a week. I love yoga and always feel better after a session – but it is sooooo tempting, as with most things worth doing, to put off doing it until the evening, until tomorrow, until I feel more energetic, until I have a bit more time, until, until, until ad infinitum. I want to be more consistent with my practise this spring and stretch myself (pun fully intended). I’ve been steadily working my way through Yoga With Adriene‘s videos on YouTube since the beginning of the year and can definitely recommend them for practising at home.

start project for baby nephew. I’m going to become an auntie in July and I am so excited! ❤ My sister has already knitted a blanket and my mum is sewing a quilt, which means I’m very far behind in the “welcome to the world” crafting game! I need to get a wiggle on and come up with some ideas…

go camping. As much as I feel very lucky to live where I do, I also feel very much like I need to escape where I live. After the last few months, I want to explore and I want to spend as much time outside as possible. Camping seems like the best answer to both these wants. And it’s bank balance friendly!

go paddleboarding or canoeing. I think I was a mermaid (okay, maybe a whale) in a previous life because I am obsessed with the sea and rivers (and having too many baths) and finding excuses to spend time in/on/by them. Most of the time, I’m boring and just go for a swim but this year I want to be more adventurous. I last went paddleboaring in September, but haven’t stepped foot in a canoe since I was eleven. Either activity in the next few weeks would happily tick the “find an excuse to be in/on the water” list…

take part in a litter pick. We’re lucky to have loads of beautiful coastline and countryside in Dorset, which means we get a lot of visitors in the spring and summer – and, unfortunately, some of those visitors leave more than just footprints. Last year, I got angry; this year, I want to actually help.

make a recipe folder. I loooove cooking and baking (and eating) but I’m so disorganised with recipes. I want to keep better track of new finds and old favourites, plus it feels like a great excuse to get crafty. I’ll be the one in the corner surrounded by glitter glue…

What have you been getting up to so far this spring (or autumn!)? What have you got planned?

falling in half-love with three books

I’ve been struggling to write about the books I’ve read recently and it’s made me feel like a complete book blogger failure (despite the fact that there is no one right way to blog about what you love). I think the reason I’ve struggled so much is because I have had wildly mixed feelings about my last few reads. They’ve all had moments in them that have made me go “wow!” and others that have left me knotting my eyebrows together in confusion. Basically, I’ve fallen in half-love with each of them – and half-love feels a whole lot more difficult to explain than head over heels love. But here goes…

rest and be thankful by Emma Glass. Rest and Be Thankful follows the quietly falling apart Laura, a paediatric nurse in London, as her interior and outer worlds slowly collapse shift after shift after shift. It’s a poignant book, packing a huge punch of sadness and strangess and desperation into only 135 pages. The writing is almost psychedelic as it unfurls the kaleidoscope of Laura’s exhausted and breaking mind, which made it both beautiful and infuriating to read.

“We are cotton buds sucking up the sadness of others, we are saturated, we are saviours. We absorb pain, too thick with mess to notice that everything around us is drying up and growing over. We will wake up one day in a wasteland, surrounded by the crumbling bones of those who loved us and waited for us to love them back. We did not forget but we were too busy being useful. We will crumble next to them but it will take forever, we will sit amongst the piles of dust alone.”

Poppy wanted to make sure I got the best possible angle…

jamaica inn by Daphne Du Maurier. Jamaica Inn was my third foray into the literary world of Daphne Du Maurier in the last nine months and was, unfortunately, my least favourite of the three (first place goes to My Cousin Rachel, second goes to Rebecca). It follows the tale of twenty-three year old Mary Yellan as she is sent to live with her reclusive – and, as she will discover later, notorious – Uncle and Aunt at the lonely, foreboding, moor-bound Jamaica Inn after the death of her mother. I half loved, half hated the book. I really resented some of the rambling passages and Mary’s in depth dwellings of doom, but also had to admire Du Maurier’s evocative writing, its rooted sense of place, and Mary’s feistiness. It just didn’t quite chime with me.

“Strange winds blew from nowhere; they crept along the surface of the grass, and the grass shivered; they breathed upon the little pools of rain in the hollowed stones, and the pools rippled. Sometimes the wind shouted and cried, and the cry echoed in the crevices, and moaned, and was lost again. There was a silence on the tors that belonged to another age; an age that is past and vanished as though it had never been, an age when man did not exist, but pagan footsteps trod upon the hills. And their was a stillness in the air, and a stranger, older peace, that was not the peace of God.”

ponti by Sharlene Teo. I have a habit of ordering secondhand books online on an whim and then forgetting that I’ve ordered them, which is a little bit worrying but mostly great – it’s like getting a surprise present from the postman (except for the fact that I technically knew about it and that I payed for it myself. But, oh well). Ponti was one of these “unexpected gifts” courtesy (ahem) of Royal Mail. The book threads across three timelines, following the messy relationships between a bitter mother, a lost daughter, and a bewildered best friend as they blossom and wither and unravel – together, then apart. Sharlene Teo beautifully captures the tortured nature of close female friendship as teenagers and the pain of motherly/daughterly rejection, reverence, and contempt. I connected most to the timeline set in 2003, probably because of the pop culture references that made me feel kinda old (the fact that 2003 is eighteen years ago is still blowing my mind) and brought back a lot of memories. And I really enjoyed getting more of a feel for Singapore, it’s made me want to visit someday. But the writing bothered me – it had a tendency to veer from brilliant to burdened, back to brilliant, back again to burdened, all in the space of a page which meant that it never felt like it fully flowed. The book is littered with similes – some are beautiful, some I really wish had been edited out. Having said that, I will be keeping an eye out to see what Sharlene Teo writes next.

“I’m a bad person because I haven’t let go of how she crumpled me up like a ball of paper my whole life, and now that she’s gone I don’t know how to get the creases out.”

Have you read any books that have left you in half-love? What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think of them?

ready steady colour

The last ten months of lots of staying in has meant lots of finding things to keep busy at home – ideally things that don’t involve staring forlornly at the ceiling or climbing up the walls. And colouring fits that keeping busy bill pretty much perfectly.

If, like me, you’re not massively into colouring books but still want to have a go, I’ve found a few *free* printable colouring pages that are too pretty not to share…

Examples of printable colouring page designs by Emma J Shipley

Looking for a walk on the mystical and wild side? Then look no further than Emma J Shipley’s beautiful printables. I absolutely love the ‘Lynx’ and ‘Zambezi’ designs (which are shown in the photo above).

Are you Moomin crazy like me? You’ll love these illustrations.

Calling all Disney fans! Crayola have some fun designs, from Snow White to the adorable Grogu.

Looking for a more antique and unusual vibe? Check out the #ColorOurCollections initiative, set up by the New York Academy of Medicine. Museums and libraries from all around the world have created colouring pages using art and illustrations from their collections. There are loads and loads of really interesting designs to choose from!

I love this vintage fan colouring page by The Fan Museum in London. Liberty have some gorgeous and intricate designs here. And if you’re an Emma Bridgewater fan, you’ll love these three pages.

Happy colouring!

things to love about january

January isn’t my favourite month. Every year, it feels like a slog; a time to be endured rather than enjoyed. And January 2021? Well, a still raging pandemic and a UK wide lockdown are just the icky icing and mouldy cherry on top of an already pretty rubbish month cake.

But oh well.

In an effort to combat a bout of the January blues, I had a sit down with a notebook and a cup of tea and brainstormed some things to love about this month.

sales. I really don’t like the mantra of “shop till you drop” but I really do like saving money. So if I can pick up some bargains and those bargains are actually things that I need, or are actually things that will make me smile and bring me sustained happiness, or are things that will bring a smile to someone I love’s face, then I’m all in favour. Sale me up!

ice cold tap water. Maybe this is just me, and I get it’s a bit weird, but I love being able to pour a glass of super cold water straight from the tap. Who wants lukewarm when you can have ice cold without having to put any effort in?

it’s named after an ancient Roman god. Although quite a few months are named after Roman gods/goddesses, Janus was the only god to have been blessed with two faces. Having two meant that he could look into the past and the future all at once, which is a skill I think we all wish we could share sometimes. He was the god of beginnings, transitions, journeys, passages, gates, doorways, and time. Here’s to Janus! *raises a glass*

hot chocolates. Cold weather means that the calories in cups of hot chocolate go on a well earned holiday to somewhere sunny and warm (this is totally science*) so you can have as many as you like without fear at this time of year. I think they go to the Maldives (maybe the Seychelles?) for the winter months, but it’s not important where the calories go it’s just important that they really, truly** go. More people should know. Spread the word.

*maybe

**possibly, perhaps

layers. Thermals, knitwear, leggings, fluffy socks, coats, gloves, scarves – there’s so much to wear and I actually kinda like it. I basically look like the Michelin man every time I leave my house at the moment, but I’m at peace with that.

days getting longer. The sun is rising a little earlier and setting a little later every day here in the Northern hemisphere and that’s something worth celebrating! Slowly and steadily, spring is on its way.

snowdrops. I love snowdrops. They’re so pretty and dainty and magical. They brighten up the grey-brown world of winter with pearly seas of whiteness when they appear and for that reason alone I will always love them. They’re arrival also means that daffodils and crocuses and bluebells and blossom aren’t far away. For such teeny tiny flowers, they pack an almighty punch of hope.

Snowdrops on the Kingston Lacy estate, Dorset.

mini eggs and hot cross buns appearing in the shops. Everyone else is probably fed up with chocolate and carbohydrates after Christmas, but I’m really not. Easter is coming! *claps with childish excitement*

hibernation. Hibernation is basically government approved this year! Although I desperately, desperately want to leave the house more than once a day and desperately, desperately want to be able to see all the people I love – don’t we all *cries* – I’m also trying to make the most of this enforced downtime. Rest and relaxation is much needed by all of us after the year we’ve had.

vaccines. This is a very 2021 specific reason to love January, but I had to include it because knowing that there’s an end in sight to at least some of this madness in brings me so much happiness. My Grandma had her first Covid-19 vaccination yesterday and I actually did a little jiggly wriggly dance of joy when I heard the news. I can’t wait for my parents to have theirs and I’m excited for my turn when it comes. It feels like hugs are on the horizon!

What do you love about January? Do you like, or dislike, anything on my list? What’s keeping your spirits up this month?

sister act

I think we can all agree that the last ten months have been relentlessly weird, frequently upsetting, and pretty fucking exhausting. (excuse my language.) Inevitably, we’ve been locked down for a third time here in the UK and although it’s scary – weirdly, I’m finding this one scarier than the ones before – it’s for the best.

*closes eyes, tries to think only of sunshine and rainbows and baskets filled with kittens*

To get me through lockdown part three, I’m trying to remind myself of some of the things that helped me feel better during the first. And top of the “feel better” list is my sister (she deserves a medal for putting up with me) and, specifically, all the weird conversations we had over jigsaw puzzles back in March and April. When I was feeling organised, which wasn’t very often woops, I kept a note of some of the stranger snippets we (somehow) came up with and rereading them brought a much needed smile to my face.

Here are a few of the random things we said during Lockdown: The Original…

on homemade wine. ‘It definitely warms the oesophagus.’

on women’s troubles. ‘I felt like a fat dragon yesterday. Today I feel great.’

on not wanting to be distracted from completing a puzzle section. ‘Wait! Fish assembly is going on here!’

on Frida Kahlo puzzles. ‘The monobrow piece is going to be the best one to find.’

on puzzling in general. ‘With that section I just sort of jabbed pieces at it and hoped for the best.’

on memories. ‘Ah, the great crumble debacle of 2019.’

on panic buying. ‘I just felt like we needed a cauliflower in the house.’

on mangoes. ‘This is Mildred the mango tree.’

on death. ‘I accidentally murdered Mildred.’

on redemption. ‘My avocado is coming up! That slightly heals the pain of losing Mildred.’

on tough love. ‘I’ll stop mocking you when you start singing in tune.’

The next few weeks will be tough – just thinking that this will last until at least the middle of February makes my heart sink so, so low – but I am really looking forward to finding out what nonsense Sarah and I will come up with over a fresh round of puzzles…

Double trouble, way back when. The last ten months have seen our faces revert to these expressions a worrying number of times…

What’s bringing a smile to your face this January? What are your happy (or, happyish) original lockdown memories? Have you got any tips/plans for this one?

my favourite reads of 2020

Well, what a year. There’s so, so much I want to say about it, but also nothing left I have the heart or energy to say. All I know is that I’m really, really tired and I’m looking forward to sunnier times ahead.

Reading – as always – has kept me sane this year.

These are five of my highlights.

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey.

the mermaid of black conch by Monique Roffey. Normally, I can’t pick a definitive book favourite – but this is the year of normal going out the window and I can safely say I have a favourite read from the passed twelve months. I thought that The Mermaid of Black Conch was beautiful and strange and utterly bewitching.

(you can find my original review here.)

one hundred years of solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. This book is the definition of weird and wonderful. It’s a force of nature and, at first, I wasn’t sure that I could survive its unrelenting madness – but its madness is magical and sparkling and brilliant and it was unputdownable once I was in the zone.

(you can find my original review here.)

piranesi by Susanna Clarke. This short tale about a peculiar young man living all alone in a sinister, labyrinthine house left me haunted, in the way that only a good book can.

(you can find my original review here.)

the salt path by Raynor Winn. This book follows the emotional and geographical ups and downs of the author and her husband’s trek along the South West Coast Path after they are made homeless. It’s a raw account of hitting rock bottom and rebuilding a life from what’s left. And, if you’re anything like me, it’ll give you seriously ithcy feet as you read it…

mudlarking by Lara Maiklem. I got lost in the sludgy Thames mud from the safety of my sofa with this delightful and treasure-filled book. Maiklem shines a light on the secretive world of mudlarks and on the hidden histories of London found within the objects they unearth. It was quirky and unendingly interesting.

Here’s to a happy and healthy new year!

piranesi to the rescue

Can you tell from the recent radio silence here that I may have suffered from a bit of a reading slump?

May have meaning 100%, absolutely, definitely.

*looks sheepish*

I was in one of those moods that made it impossible to settle on a genre/author/subject/book length; one of those moods where my mind fluttered from thing to thing, worry to worry, upsetting news story to upsetting news story, chore to chore, sparkly idea to sparkly idea – all without really getting anywhere.

But respite from this brain fog came – not a moment too soon – in the form of a wonderful, mysterious, and labyrinthine hardback from Susanna Clarke (author of the equally wonderful, mysterious, and labyrinthine Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell).

‘I almost forgot to breathe. For a moment I had an inkling of what it might be like if instead of two people in the world there were thousands.’

Piranesi – our peculiar, fastidious, and naïve, but utterly charming, protagonist – inhabits a world of strange and deadly tides, avant-garde statues, warped time, confusing omens, complex corridor mazes, and mindboggling rooms. He lives alone in this bizarre world, with only weekly(ish) meetings from an elusive man known simply as “The Other” to keep him company. He is uneasily content with his fragmented universe – but everything Piranesi thinks he knows about life, everything he religiously catalogues in his journals, everything he thinks keeps him safe, is thrown into disarray by the arrival of “16”.

I thought it was a beautiful book. Every page was infused with a quiet melancholy and delicately twisted mystery that haunted me not only as I was reading it, but inbetween readings too. And emotions that follow you around and play on your mind between reads are always a good sign with a book.

If you loved Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, you’ll love Piranesi. I think too, even though they’re very different, Piranesi would make a great gateway book for anyone who is intrigued by Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell but is daunted by the prospect of committing to 1000 pages (god knows, I was).

And if you’re just a little ol’ book blogger in the middle of a two month long reading slump? Well, it’s the sort of book that’ll fix that too.