Monday, 28 March 2011

Cherry blossom

I planted this cherry tree a few years ago to brighten up the view from my office window. Despite being in not very lovely soil, and in the path of the north wind, it's grown a treat and this week it has sprung again into blossom - one day there are mere hints of buds, the next it's smothered in ridiculously overdone pink froth. The blossom will only last a week or two - or until a strong wind blows - but while it's here I love it. (And shan't chop it down despite the advice of a sensible but boring gardener who says it's going to get too big, and is beautiful for such  a short time it doesn't earn its keep - who said beauty has to be long-lasting?)

One of the greatest joys is the way that passers-by respond to the tree. A father picked up his small toddler and put his face right up to the blossom so he could feel it - the toddler was overjoyed and crowed so loudly that I looked up from my desk to see who was outside. Later a family came past on its way to see the steam trains - the dad was fixated on the trains and marched ahead, but the children stopped short and made him come back to admire the tree. As I said - who says beauty has to earn its keep?

Sunday, 27 March 2011

I've been thinking about being away from home, and why I've  found it so stressful over the last few weeks. Partly it's about rhythm - I'd be away for a couple of days, then back for three, then away for a day, and then back, and on and on for almost four weeks. I guess I never felt settled because I kept being on the brink of setting off again. I'm definitely not cut out to be a nomad.

But it's also about daily rituals - looking out of the kitchen window to see the colour of the sky when I make the morning tea, walking round the tile path to the bins at the front, checking the pond for frogs, noticing the newly arrived water boatmen. I even miss gazing at the unscenic view of the road outside when I can't think of the next word. That's probably why I took the picture above of the shadow of my office chimney with smoke coming out, seen from my desk. I was also putting off thinking of that next word, of course.

When I've lived away from home in the past I've always wanted to root myself quickly, to find a favourite shop to buy bread in, an evening walk up the hill to look at the view after work, people to meet up with for coffee ... It's not objects, particularly, that I miss. I lived out of suitcases quite contentedly when I spent months in France and Spain as a student - and it's even easier to take something of yourself away now, with ipods and laptops and mobile phones - I lugged a two-foot long radio cassette player to Spain on the train when I was 20, and a mountain of tapes made by my boyfriend. I still have them - all that Joy Division, A Certain Ratio, the Smiths, and a whole tape of 'bloody soppy songs' I made him compile. And it tooks weeks for letters to arrive from home, and I only spoke to my parents by phone after a long queue in the main post office in the city centre for a public booth, and after handing over huge amounts of pesetas, so that didn't happen often. So being away from people now seems easy - they're always within reach by mobile or email.

No, it's being home that I miss, being in the place where I fit, where I can wander out into the garden with a cup of tea in my dressing gown, and then hug the family before they leave for work and school.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Old smokey

Today's my first day back at my desk after what feels like weeks on the road - a slight exaggeration, if I'm honest, as I've been to-ing and fro-ing, and have been home quite a bit in between trips. But the thing is that for the past month I've had no more than a couple of consecutive days at home - quite a shock to the system for someone who gets excited at the thought of a trip into town for coffee. Anyway, today I'm home - I took this picture of my bag finally arriving back in my office to mark it. But just as I clicked the shutter my woodstove decided to pump out great gouts of smoke - no idea why, but I've had to open all the windows to clear the air, and have a rather more atmospheric shot than I meant.

I've no time to relax, of course - I've mountains of writing to do as a result of these trips. As soon as I've finished this post, and made a cup of coffee, I'll get to work before it all falls out of my head.

Better get to work!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Proof I'm not perfect

Salt sent the proofs for The Best British Short Stories for me to check - hugely exciting to see my story there, and only slightly less so when I spotted a typo on the first page which I'd missed when it was first printed in the Warwick Review. Still, at least I found it before they printed the book - it's due out on 15 April, more details here

I also had to check my biog in the back of the book - a pretty quick job as it's so short: "SJ Butler is a freelance writer and editor living in Sussex. 'The Swimmer' is the first short story she has published." Alongside the lists of novels, collections and illustrious magazines everyone else has published in, it looks a little sparse! Still, I'm thrilled to be alongside people like Hilary Mantel and Adam Marek, both of whom I've seen at the Small Wonder festival at Charleston and admired from afar.

Adam Marek read an utterly beautiful story about a father and son at Small Wonder last year, quite unlike the surreal stories in 'Instruction Manual for Swallowing'. I haven't seen it published, and in a way that's one of the joys of the festival - just occasionally we hear a story that feels as though it's being read once in its life, for us alone. Michel Faber read one he'd written specially for the festival, which he told us he didn't plan to publish, and it's still quite clear in my mind, all the brighter for not being written. Mind you, I'd love to read it and experience it again.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Blossom's egg

It's Shrove Tuesday so we'll be having pancakes tonight. Luckily the hens are back in lay so we have a plentiful supply of eggs - mostly thanks to our super hen Blossom, a pure white beauty who is always on the loose seeking out greener pastures, but returns to lay an egg every day - and hers are the largest and whitest, though she's the smallest hen in the flock.

I have to admit that though I love to eat our eggs I can only do so if I don't think closely about the fact that our hens lay them in perpetual and fruitless hope of rearing chicks. We've no cockerel so Blossom, Sue and Hayley will never hatch an egg. Do they realise? Do they mourn their unfulfilled motherhood? 

To overcome my guilt I thank the hens every day they lay, and admire the perfection of each egg I collect. Is it enough, or should I eat only nuts and berries? Hmmm, I think I'm too fond of pancakes, omelettes, sponge cakes, and fried egg sandwiches.