The Lane to Hell

We found the lane to hell on a beautiful day in May.

Carved out of the earth by thousands upon thousands of pairs of feet and hooves, and countless twists of wheels, Hell Lane near Symondsbury, Dorset, is one of many ancient holloways hidden in the patchworked countryside of southern England. One of many, and one of the best (although as a local, I am very, very biased).

We started our journey to Hell Lane at Symondsbury Estate, the sun shining bright and the world bursting with flowers and colour and the promise of lots of lazy summer days ahead. We made our way through the estate, through the chocolate-box village, and up along Shutes Lane. Step by step, the lane transformed from pretty country path to a lush subterranean, otherworldly scar.

Plumes of feathery ferns nodded as we passed and late bluebells speckled the verge, hiding in the shade. All around was painted with a thin veil of bright, spring green. The air was still and quiet and cool, filled with ancient memories.

Carvings bloomed in the weathered walls; some plain, some whimsical, others intricate and haunting. Stony faces peered out from the earth, so many it was hard to shake the feeling of being watched along our way.

Webs of tree roots crisscrossed through the ground and clawed along the air. Ivyfalls framed the way ahead, blooming and spilling down towards the path.

Hell Lane, holloway in Symondsbury, Dorset.

The path lead upwards and slowly the world melted back to the cosy, traditional countryside of Dorset.

We took a left towards Colmers Hill. Sheep stared as we wandered passed, their faces as stern as the one’s carved along Hell Lane just metres away, but thankfully not as spooky. They chewed and baaed and scattered as we picked out our way across the grass. Sometimes, we baaed back.

The walk to the top of the hill was steep, but the view was worth the achy legs.

The descent back towards Symondsbury was much kinder on our legs, and the snip-snip of sun-baked grass brushing on our boots replaced the chorus of baas from the climb.

Back at the estate, we were greeted with a very cute and friendly face.

Well, what trip to hell would be complete without a meeting with a horned and hoofed creature along the way?

Booktography

I have taken a lot of photos of books over the last few years. Some of them bad, some of them good, and some that I’m actually really proud of.

I love books (surprise, surprise). And I love photography. So a combination of them is a match made in heaven for me. My booktography style has evolved over the years, mostly through trial and error and chance. I’m sure it will continue to shift and change in the years to come, but there are things I’m consistently drawn to when I take photos and I thought it might be interesting to share them.

My favourite thing to utilise is light and shadow. I don’t think you can beat natural light for pictures, which means I end up taking most of my photographs outside. And taking most of my photographs outside has resulted in me becoming (perhaps worryingly) obsessed with the shape shifting silhouettes of the plants (and other random things – lawnmowers, tables, a passing cat) by the paving slabs in my garden. It means I’m at the mercy of clouds and rain (living in England means I’m at their mercy a lot a lot), but I kind of like the ephemeral nature of it and maybe also the tiny adrenaline rush of getting a good shot against all the odds (what can I say, life is short and you’ve gotta live it on the edge).

find my review here.
find my review here.
find my review here.

Sometimes (so so many times) the weather just won’t play ball and I’m left to hunt down interesting backdrops that compliment the cover I’m shooting. This can be surprisingly hard and often means I have to edit the photos to within an inch of their lives to fix things like lighting issues and colour clashes – which isn’t my favourite thing to do, but the results can be unexpectedly good. And sometimes it’s actually really fun to mess around with filters, saturations, and contrasts. I can end up with ten different versions of the same photo, which then leaves me with the tricky, but also kinda fabulous, dilemma of picking which one to use.

find my review here.

I tend to take photos on both my phone and my camera. I like having copies on both to fall back on (I’m not sure what disaster I think will happen, but it makes me feel better so I’m sticking with it). Sometimes, though, the perfect shot (shadow, cat, pretty background) presents itself when I only have my phone to hand – the photos never turn out quite as clear, but I’d rather get a nice photo than lose the opportunity. You can edit an okay quality picture, you can’t edit one that doesn’t exist in the first place. (Note to self – remember this when it comes to writing.)

the devil and the dark water on a deck chair in the sunshine

Because I err on the “take lots and pray one of them is good” side of photo taking, I have lots of book pics that never get used. I photograph pretty much every book I read, but I don’t post about anywhere near all of them which makes for a lot of images that never see the light of day. And although that might not be super efficient of me, it’s kind of nice to have a visual scrapbook of my reading list to look back on. And hey, one day I might want to include the book in a list-style post so who’s the efficient one now? *tries to look like it was the plan all along*

Every photographer needs an assistant now and again, and I’m lucky to be able to count on my cats to come to the rescue should it look like I need help with a photo. They’re on hand to make sure I get the purrfect angles and lighting, although it’s pawhaps suspicious how often this help coincides with breakfast/dinner time.

And, sometimes, even the chickens like to get involved.

Here’s to many more book photos, and to trials, errors, and chance.

Do you take photos for your blog? What are your favourite techniques? Has your style changed over the years?

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.

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…

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!

little things

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that 2020 has been all about revelling in the little wins. It’s been about celebrating the tiny nice things that have oiled the news-rusted cogs of each day. Sometimes, it’s simply been clinging on to delicate rays of light at the end of unexpected tunnels. And lockdown 2.0 in the middle of a rainy English autumn has only heightened that need (for me, at least) to find the good in the often bad and sometimes ugly.

This post is in honour of some of those random little things that have been my delicate rays of light.

In no particular order, they are…

watercolour clouds. Fluffy, wispy, and wavy; low, heavy, and menacing; in pretty purples, peachy oranges, pastel pinks, shining golds, glittering silvers, and grumpy greys. Clouds at this time of year certainly know how to keep us all guessing what their next moves will be. Which isn’t always ideal, but it is often nice to look at.

jumpers. I love summer, but being reunited with my jumper collection makes my heart ridiculously happy. I just love wrapping up in oversized knitwear, snug as a bug. If you need me anytime in the next six months, you’ll find me hiding in a cocoon of wool.

singing Fleetwood Mac around the house. My family and neighbours might not appreciate me doing this, but I appreciate me doing it so there. Songs to be particularly careful of when they start to play include: Isn’t It Midnight (my favourite), Gypsy, and – of course – Everywhere. Tbh though, no Fleetwood Mac song is safe from my vocal butchery.

bake off. Ah god, the Great British Bake Off brings so much joy to my 2020 wearied soul. It’s comfort TV at its absolute best. Although, did anyone else find watching all the bakers mess up the making of brownies during chocolate week worryingly distressing? FREEZER JUICE! *suppresses eye twitch* Freezer. Juice. I just can’t. *cries*

fresh sheets. Clean sheet day is my favourite day of the week. I love being snuggly, I love being squeaky clean – the match is made in heaven. Sweet dreams are made of this.

watching hair tutorials gone wrong on YouTube. I lay the blame for this obsession entirely at Brad Mondo’s door. It’s such a waste of time, but I can’t seem to stop and I kinda don’t want to stop. It is worryingly addictive witnessing people melt off their hair with bleach, and it somehow makes the worries of the world melt away too…

new music. Old favourites keep my soul cosy, but new finds keep my ears happy. I’m one of those annoying people who has no preferred genre, I just like what I like when I hear it and I don’t think internet algorithms and cookies know quite what to do with me. I’ve been on a new finds roll recently, and one of the tracks from this roll is Loom by Olafur Arnalds and Bonobo. I love it. And how b.e.a.utiful is this video?!

old photos. I love the nostalgia, I love the embarrassment, I love seeing how much clothes/hairstyles/make-up/tech has changed, I love the little stories behind each one… I can’t get enough. And they don’t even have to be my old photos. Vintage/antique photographs make me wonder about lives I’ll most likely never know anything about, and are great for inspiring story ideas.

chocolate. Chocolate makes pretty much every list post I write, which is probably a sign that I need some serious help… but I don’t actually want to recover from this addiction so there. *sticks out chocolate coated tongue*

putting on socks fresh from the radiator. I cannot recommend this enough. It is SUCH a toasty warm feeling and makes for VERY happy feet. If there’s only one thing that you take away from this list, let radiator socks be it.

reflections. One of the few good things about rain is that it makes great puddles, and great puddles make great reflections. And I love a great reflection. What can I say?

eBay. Lockdowns and the reduced opening hours of a lot of local charity shops have made second-hand shopping sprees rare for me this year, but eBay has been a great substitute fix. Which leads me onto…

dressing up. Lockdown boredom has resulted in me reaching to my wardrobe to brighten up quieter days on (a lot) more than one occasion. Sure, sometimes the visual results of my “pick the sparkliest, floweriest clothes I can find” attitude are questionable but it makes me happy so I’m not really fussed if I offensively clash a pattern or two.

wild time. Spending time in nature makes painful days bearable, and already good days even better. Most of my favourite memories from this year involve blue skies, trees, the sea, and/or flowers in some way. And although autumn and winter make outside time a little more tricky, it’s nothing a good piece of knitwear and a hot chocolate can’t fix.

boooooooks. I’m not even going to explain this one. My love will never die. ❤

So, those are a few of the very random things that have been seeing me through the harder moments of autumn 2020. How about you? I’d love to know what little things have been bringing you joy in all of this year’s strangeness…

story time

My mum found this old photo of my brothers and I the other day and I can’t get it out of my head. It makes me smile. It makes me full of memories. It makes me miss dungarees, even though I’m not the one wearing them in the pic. It makes me embarrassed (I mean, who thought a pudding bowl hair cut on an already super round face was a good idea? How could you, Mum?!). It makes me wonder what dramatic events were unfolding in the story to provoke such an anxious expression from me (clearly it was a nail-biter). It makes me wonder what dramatic events were unfolding in real life that resulted in all the family (minus Dad) gathered around a book for a photo. It makes me grateful that I grew up with parents who took the time to read to, and make up stories on the spot for, me and my siblings. It makes me realise books have been my world, forever. And it makes me realise that I wouldn’t want it any other way, forever.