Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Category: stuff (Page 1 of 5)

Photo of straw bales in a field

Season’s End

Tomato seedlings in pots

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I was very small, my favourite place in the world was Dad’s greenhouse. It was an old-fashioned, timber-framed Alton, and I remember it as a place of endless dry warmth, with the cat asleep under the cucumber plants, and air that smelled of paraffin and Jeyes Fluid and long drowsy days.

In the greenhouse were rattling canes and balls of twine, a resident spider, dusty jam-jars full of plant labels and pencils that did double-duty as makeshift dibbers. Thompson & Morgan seed packets, sacks of John Innes No. 3, stacks of seed trays that it was my job to rinse out with the hose at the end of each season so they could be used again next year.

Under the potting bench lived big clay pots that were too heavy for me to lift but if Dad turned one upside-down for me, made a perfect stool from which to watch, with that grave solemnity possessed of four year old girls, the gardener at work.

It’s from Dad that I get my love of growing things. I was helping him plant seed potatoes, onion sets and runner beans before I went to school. He taught me the difference between male and female flowers on the cucumbers, how to remove the side-shoots from tomato plants, and, when I was old enough to be trusted with the small, rusty but still very sharp greenhouse scissors, how to tie the plants in to the canes.

Afterwards we’d troop back to the house for tea with my fingers all yellow and smelling of tom-cats (if you’ve ever grown tomatoes, you’ll know exactly what I mean). That tea often included home-grown new potatoes, carrots, peas or string beans from the vegetable patch: plant to pan in maybe 10 minutes – take that, Bird’s Eye! On the table would be a vase containing sweetpeas, or heady roses, and after dinner the peelings and spent flowers would be taken to the compost heap at the bottom of the garden to start the cycle all over again. Dad was an organic gardener long before it became fashionable.

Tomatoes on the vine

Image courtesy of zdiviv at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I got a bit bigger he’d sit me on the tall stool at the potting bench and get me to prick out seedlings to pot up. In those days he grew everything except the cucumbers from seed: tomatoes, bedding plants, trays and trays of them that I’d water and patiently inspect each day for the first green shoots. Alyssum and marigolds for the borders, salvias, lobelia and petunias for the hanging baskets and planters.

Looking back, I can understand why he got me to do it: my Dad has hands like two pounds of butcher’s finest sausages – you’d never think he was quite a pianist when he was younger – so my small, nimble fingers were able to handle the tiniest plants with ease, and I had a strong young back and patience to spare.

In the autumn I’d help to harvest the apples – old English varieties, like James Grieve and Cox’s Improved – and then Mum and I would make batches of apple sauce, and crumbles and Eve’s pudding. Autumn was also the time of the chrysanthemums; whenever I smell that woody, spicy scent, I know that summer is over for another year.

Every child should get earth under their fingernails from time to time, and understand where their food comes from. Not out of a packet, or a cellophane-wrapped tray from Sainsbury’s, but out of the ground, off a plant. Some of my favourite memories are from Dad’s garden: leaning on the handle of a fork to lever up a potato plant and seeing the earth crumble around the pale pink-eyed King Edwards underneath; picking raspberries off the cane and cramming them into my mouth, warm and unwashed, with the taste of summer bursting on my tongue.

Apple blossom photo

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The apple and plum trees are long gone now, as are the roses. Dad’s getting on in years as well, and can’t manage the heavy digging for potatoes and the like, but he’s on his third greenhouse, and still carpets his garden with colour every year – though these days he buys micro-plants in vast trays and grows them on, rather than nurturing them from seed. He still grows his beloved chrysanthemums, and every other year or so sends me onto the internet to source just the right kind of greaseproof paper bags he needs to tie over the developing buds on the outdoor varieties to protect them from the rain.

I’ve never had the time or the land to have a vegetable patch or a greenhouse of my own, and lately my poor health has made it unlikely that I ever will. I can’t express how much I regret that. I miss those quiet hours of just me and Dad and the simple pleasure of things that grow. I miss them with a sharp sad pain that they’re gone and will never come again.

Or maybe I just miss being a kid, when we had proper summers that lasted forever and I had all the time in the world to enjoy them.

Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore — Virgil

Featured image © Daniel Gilbey | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Thinking stones

Stone eggs

A dozen eggs

I’ve always been the sort of person who cannot resist picking up small, interesting objects. Conkers, for instance. Shells on the beach, sea glass, striped or colourful pebbles. Last year, we had some shingle delivered for a landscaping project in the garden, and straight away I was poking through it for pieces that begged to be picked up and examined more closely. Round blackish stones that resembled musket balls, or fragments of golden flint like splintered toffee.

Sometimes it’s the colour that attracts me, or just a shape that fits my hand. Smooth and sun-warmed, with a pleasing curve; some objects practically ask to be stroked, cradled, their outline traced with a fingertip whilst my imagination runs riot. I’ve been like this since I was a kid, and the compulsion to touch these things is very similar to the grasping reflex of a small child. It’s purely instinctive.

A piece of carnelian

Tumbled carnelian

When I was growing up, a family friend was into rock tumbling as a hobby, and gave me a bag of mixed stones: amethyst, jasper, carnelian, agate and the like. I was fascinated by the shapes and colours; I saw landscapes in them, archipelagos and forests, sunset clouds and deep, silent pools. I knew the names of the different types of stones, and could tell anyone who asked that Apache Tears were actually volcanic glass, you know.

Thirty-five or so years on, long after the original tumbled stones were “put away” (parent-speak for “thrown out”), just writing about them has got me looking up the prices of rock tumblers and grit online. The appeal of cool, smooth stones in my hands, with patterns that tell stories, is as strong as ever.

Anyway, as I got a bit older, I discovered marble eggs. They were, at the time, A Thing in home décor, usually displayed in a bowl turned from the same kind of stone. To me, they were just bigger, heavier versions of the tumblestones of my youth, so naturally I started collecting. Not indiscriminately; I only selected those specimens whose patterns spoke to me, for want of a better description. They resonated with me in a way I could never adequately describe, without sounding like some kind of New Age harnessing-the-power-of-gems fruitloop.

While visiting an old schoolfriend in Plymouth, I ended up in a fascinating little shop in the Barbican, called Odd ‘n’ Interesting. They had a whole bunch of worked stones, semi-precious and mineral eggs, geodes and so forth, though I couldn’t tell you a thing about the rest of their stock. All I remember is the stones. That was where I found this solid tiger’s eye egg, and I knew the instant I saw it that I had to have it. Had to – never mind the price. This stone wasn’t just resonating, it was ringing like a damn tuning fork, in a manner of speaking. So home with me it came.

Tiger-eye egg

Seriously, this photo does not do it justice.

Tiger’s eye is what’s called a chatoyant stone, because the bands of lustre caused by inclusions in the material resemble the shimmer in a cat’s eye. Even its flaws are endlessly fascinating. The egg-shape is also pleasing to hold, to roll around in your palm like baoding balls: not too small, not too large. I kept it on my desk because it was beautiful to look at and I couldn’t stop picking it up, and gradually it became a kind of meditation object. Something to keep my hands busy whilst I was thinking (it also stopped me biting my nails). And lo, the thinking stone was born.

For the record, I don’t subscribe to all that healing-with-crystals malarkey. I don’t believe there is anything mystical about this stone that will grant me deeper insight or bring balance and harmony to my life. I just know that it’s beautiful, and that handling it is soothing, especially when it’s warm – it has some interesting thermal properties, I have to say: even in winter, it’s never completely ice-cold. Make of that what you will.

So that’s my thinking stones, and another peek into what passes for my mind. I never promised it was going to make sense.

 

A long short story

For those of you who don’t follow me on social media, here’s the full story of the day I said farewell to an old friend, one who’s had my back, quite literally, for over twenty years.

I’m talking about TH. TH was there with me throughout my IT career. TH was in my wedding photos. TH even accompanied me to London to meet my agent for the very first time as a newly-minted authorial entity. But all good things must come to an end, and the time had come for me and TH to part ways.

If you haven’t met me, you’re probably wondering what I’m wittering on about. Ladies and gentlemen: meet The Hair.

 

Me with long hair

Me and TH

Me and The Hair were kinda like Foul Ole Ron* and his Smell, in the sense that The Hair was really the rock-star in our relationship. Never self-effacing, it always took up two seats on the plane and had a tendency to make people stare. It had Personality.

Unfortunately, The Hair also had some bad habits. It choked at least one vacuum cleaner to death. It could commit actual bodily harm just by turning over in bed, and as for the shower drain, let’s not even go there *shudder*.

It was also becoming increasingly difficult to manage in terms of my MS: on most days I couldn’t stand for the 30-40 minutes required to wash and comb it. When I could manage it, I had to have no plans to walk anywhere afterwards for at least half an hour. The weight gave me headaches, and when it was wet it actually was heavy enough to affect my balance.

So something had to give. What gave was this:

My ex-braid

Yes, really. I measured it.

That’s 33 inches, y’all. THIRTY THREE. INCHES. OF HAIR. It hadn’t been cut since 2009, when I had these photos taken.

So what’s left? Not a lot. Here I am now, all shorn like a li’l lamb.

Me with my new short hair

Baaa.

My husband had never seen me with hair this short; when we met, some 17-anna-bit years ago, my hair was already past my waist. Amazingly, he’s still talking to me.

Do I miss it? A little bit. I used to love it all freshly curly, when I could toss it over my shoulder – swoosh! – like the girl in the shampoo commercial. However, when you have a long-hair perm, it takes something approaching a geological age to grow it out so you can go back to being curly-girl-in-a-shampoo-commercial again, and curly-girl doesn’t last long.

The vacuum cleaner, however, doesn’t miss The Hair at all.

 

* obligatory Terry Pratchett reference. Bugrit.

Incentivisation, I haz it

New books receivedToday brought me a modest haul of new books, these being the only ones I could remember from my missing-presumed-lost/recycled/eaten by dust-bunnies “Books to Buy” list. I have made myself a promise that I will not so much as crack the covers until THE DRAGON HOUSE is packed off to my editor.

Since I like reading about as much as I like breathing, I’d better crack on, eh?

I tweeted a picture of this lot as soon as I unpacked them, but for reasons known only to themselves HTC have seen fit to pair their phone’s pre-loaded Twitter client with bloody Yfrog, which has an unspeakably ill-formed splash page and does horrible things to image sizes, hence this post.

I really need to get my arse in gear and sign up with Tumblr or summat for those social-media-on-the-go moments. I am *such* a technophobe. Also too busy Actually Doing Stuff That Keeps The Lights On Around Here, which is likewise responsible for my lack of:

  • blogging regularly
  • self-promotion
  • updating the website
  • learning Scrivener
  • redrawing the map for the Wild Hunt Universe
  • getting a haircut

I don’t know how my fellow writers manage to do all this and hold down a day job.

 

 

New look website

Under construction signI thought it was about time I overhauled the look of the website and integrated it properly with the blog. So over the weekend I moved the whole shebang onto WordPress, with the assistance of copious quantities of wine and swearing.

Bear with me for the next few days as I continue to tinker (most especially with the newsletter settings, as I need to import the mailing list from Another Place) and iron out any remaining gremlins.

It’s been a while since I had to do this sort of stuff for a living, so there’s bound to be something I’ve forgotten somewhere. If anything doesn’t work, give us a shout, okay?

 

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