1. innocent railway 2. welsh eggs for easter
3. easter cupcakes 4. tawny owl woodcut
5. luna 6. spring iris
7. a little windowsill herb garden 8. st david’s day welsh cakes
9. spring in blue 10. calton hill
11. march snow on the pentlands near flotterstone 12. dog graffiti
Finally some sun. Last week we took a trip out to Cramond Island, a walk that depends on the tides. When the tide goes out, you can go straight out to the island, but you have to make sure you head back before the waves come back and cut you off. Walking across the wide sands with the tide far out at either side of you, you feel like Moses, or a King Canute who wasn’t all mouth and no trousers.
And there’s an ice cream van on nice days. And a pub. It’s just outside of Edinburgh, but once on top of the island’s hill you can see the countryside for miles.
(More on my little black and white companion, pictured above, to come soon.)
The walk was a kind of tribute to summer, which all of a sudden (after the recent snowfalls) feels just around the corner. In the pub afterwards I poured two small bottles of Diet Coke into one glass, extravagantly summery. But I wore a scarf, too, as a compromise.
Last week, I learned that we don’t have enough words for ‘sea monster’. In fact, we don’t even have one. In the English translation of the Jonah and the Whale story, we usually translate the Hebrew ‘דג גדול’ as ‘whale’, when actually it’s closer to ‘big fish’. In Icelandic, they have several words for sea monster, one of which is ‘storfiskar’. Which sounds appropriately terrifying.
Anyway, I learned all this because I was asked to spend a week at Cambo, just outside St Andrews in Fife, working on translating some poems from a range of European languages. It was a workshop run by the Scottish Poetry Library (who blogged about it here) and Literature Across Frontiers, and it culminated in a showcase reading and discussion at StAnza poetry festival over the weekend. The other poets on the workshop were Magnús Sigurðsson from Iceland, Ifor Ap Glyn from Wales, Matilda Södergran from Finland (via Sweden), and Arvis Viguls from Latvia.
Now, the thing about Cambo is that is is overrun with snowdrops. They are very beautiful, and they are everywhere. They run all through the woods and the gardens and then even into the house in the form of quilts, biscuits, paintings and souvenir tea sets. It is, quite literally, snowdrop central.
And there are pigs, too, because apparently once snowdrop season is over the pigs root through the woods and churn up the soil, perfecting the growing conditions for next year’s crop. I had no idea, until now, that pigs and snowdrops were such pals. Nature! It’s a funny old thing.
It was an atmospheric environment for workshopping poetry (not least because there wasn’t any mobile phone signal in the whole place). But there were beaches, and long foggy days, and bowls of hot soup for lunch and sturdy fish pie for dinner. We had amiable arguments over breakfast about how to translate a Latvian metaphor for a plough, and moments of joy when Magnus told us that the Icelandic word for ‘avalanche’ translates literally as ‘snowflood’, which matched the local plantlife pretty well.
Everyone had also brought a sample national drink from their home country to share. I was quite fond of the Welsh sweet blackberry mead, and the Finnish peppermint spirit was… strong, and zingily memorable, let’s say.
And then to StAnza, where we got to make our own poetry biscuits (see above), hear plenty of readings, see intricate dresses with poetry embroidered into the fabric (broadcasting poems through tiny speakers in the lace whenever the wearer moved), and have our faces blown off by the freezing sea wind.
StAnza is always this gloriously awkward mix of discussion, rushing around town in the cold, fleeting conversations with your poetry heroes between events and promises to catch each other later, boozy nights of cake and slams, and being surrounded by the strangest people you’re ever likely to meet (poets).
I hope our event went well; discussion of poetry in translation was certainly interesting to us, but I hope we managed to get across just how much richer your understanding of poetry from other languages can become when you think hard about what translation means for voice, for ownership and just for cold, hard word definitions.
Literature Across Frontiers is an inspiring project, helping to connect poets from different countries, languages and continents to spread their work across the world, and I’m really grateful to have been a part of it. And to have seen so many snowdrops. Though I think I’ll be planting some crocuses at home for next year, in the interests of balance.
what will people say?
I noticed the above windowpane etching at the Inverleith House gallery, at the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh last week. I don’t know why it’s there, or what it means. It didn’t seem to be part of the exhibition and it was easy to miss. But it was a treasure to find on a walk last week, following the Water of Leith along towards Dean Village.
It’s not a straightforward route. Some of the signs are a bit Lewis Carroll.
I mean, which would you rather? Follow the river, or avoid the steps? We chose to follow the river because it sounded more optimistic and romantic. But it turned out that path actually ended in a disused industrial scrapyard and we had to turn back. So I’m not sure what kind of meaningful life message you should draw from that.
Quite a lot of the Water of Leith path is industrial, or a bit of a wasteland. It’s not a verdant oasis all the way along, by any means. But it has its moments.
And then a cut through the Botanics, pausing the admire the world’s largest hedge. Apparently.
I dunno, what do you think? Personally I reckon I’ve seen bigger.
I don’t want to jinx it, but… I think it might be spring.
After getting lost, walking up some steep hills and steps, short of breath and even shorter of temper, we eventually made it to Dean Village. It was once a cluster of watermills, but the industry’s gone, leaving a bundle of mismatched old buildings behind.
The name comes from the old word ‘dene’, which means deep valley… and, well, you definitely notice the ‘deep’ part when you’re coming back up. Or, more accurately, your legs and lungs notice, if you are me.
We found the above in Dean Cemetery, a place where the dead attempt to outdo each other for eternity with their fancy graves. This looked like a winner to me, but lots of them had engravings of the deceased’s face on the headstone and their earthly occupation – eg ‘ANATOMIST’ – written in big letters underneath.
They were almost all from the nineteenth century, which was apparently not such a good century for humility in Edinburgh.
Millstones? What a walk for a cold, bright morning right at the thin end of February. And, something I didn’t expect: Edinburgh talks to you as you go along, giving you things to think about, written into the windows and walls. It’s actually fairly chatty, for a city.
Definitely going to start spelling ‘onlye’ like that.
I am now notorious in the Netherlands. Well, at least in the part of the Netherlands where people read poetry magazines. Every girl’s dream. The lovely Susan Ridder has written an article for the Dutch poetry magazine Awater about female Scottish poets, and has even translated several Scottish poems into Dutch, which is pretty damn impressive if you ask me.
I’m in humbling company in the feature, which also shines a spotlight onto the great Jen Hadfield, Ellen McAteer and JL Williams. I ran a few of the sentences containing my name through Google Translate just to check they didn’t say anything like, “And Charlotte is, frankly, a ridiculous person whom we only asked to be involved in this magazine as a joke, and to throw the genius of the real poets included into sharper relief.”
Thankfully they seemed to come up clear.
My face! And one of my poems, in DUTCH!
It’s a really beautiful magazine. I’m glad to have a copy, and not just so I can take it round to my parents’ place and thrust it under their noses, demanding a hit of parental pride while eating ten slices of my mum’s lemon drizzle cake.
I don’t think the feature is available online but if you are ever near the Netherlands, then I heartily recommend you seek out a copy. I’ve never been there, but it strikes me as a country with newsagents on every corner, each stuffed to the rafters with well-designed, highbrow poetry magazines featuring me. I’m considering relocating.
ETA: Ellen McAteer has now put the full article online here!
It’s finally happened. The people of Edinburgh have found something they love more than deep fried Mars bars. And it’s even stickier.
But doughnuts taste so GOOD. Last week Krispy Kreme opened its first ever Scottish store, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. I can’t remember the last time something in the city was hyped so much – free doughnuts were given out on street corners in the lead-up to opening, and on opening day itself there were super-long queues and traffic tailbacks of up to a mile around the shop.
And on its first day of trading, the brand new Krispy Kreme ‘doughnut theatre’ store took £60,000 of people’s money. I mean. You could buy a flat for that.
Doughnut hours begin at 7am. So this morning we set the alarm early, picked up a couple of bleary-eyed friends and drove deep into the West of Edinburgh in search of some breakfast sugar. I’m not sure we’ll have a tooth left between us by the end of the day.
We did keep wondering why they’d chosen to build it at Hermiston Gait, at least half an hour’s drive from central Edinburgh. Maybe it’s an American thing? Driving out of town to a big retail park to buy doughnuts. Those crazy Americans. Incidentally the store is also a drive-thru. (It is quite painful for me to spell ‘through’ like that, but apparently we must).
I’m not sure it is the kind of place to which you would make a weekly trip. That’s probably just as well, given that the last thing Edinburgh needs is a spike in its obesity rates… delicious though it would be.
They gave us hats and everything.
1. unstoppable combo. watch this space for baking updates… 2. spring! kinda!
3. remembering my grandmother 4. a cake by sean
5. wings necklace from tatty devine, a gift from my sister 6. the royal mile in wintry sun
7. a puppy came into the office! 8. office leaving drinks
9. new-old books 10. nutella crepes at yellow bench
11. pork and roasted cauliflower 12. oh comely
That’s Charles Dickens’ very own desk. You can’t have it, sadly, and neither can I, because it sold for £433,250 at auction in 2008. That’s a little over my desk-buying budget. And my house-buying budget.
I’m about to be using my own desk lots more, so I’ve been thinking properly about the space I use to work from home. Pinterest is helpful, as it’s chocker with dreamy, idealised home offices, though they’re all broadly similar: reclaimed pine against white walls, an industrial metal lamp and quirky vintage desktop accessories, the scene awash with cool morning light.
Pinterest desk via MaiSpy
A thorough Pinterest search shows you some questionable hipster gems but also the building blocks of the elegant office. These seem to be a solid wooden desk, a really decent anglepoise, and some kind of chair that sums up your status anxiety (hand-reupholstered vintage armchair or faux-leather ‘executive’ swivelling monstrosity? Take your pick; I won’t judge).
But the real gold, the payload, the milk and honey of desk inspiration for bookish people comes in perving over the workspaces of literary heroes. Writers’ desks can be glorious. This is where Charlotte Brontë wrote, for example:
Obviously it’s been gussied up by some well-meaning museum curator so not absolutely authentic, and I like to think that Charlotte would have been a little neater in the way she arranged her papers. She strikes me as quite a neat writer. Something her desk has in common with Dickens’, though, is the angled writing surface. Why don’t we do that any more? It must be quite a lot comfier.
I like that whoever has arranged the papers has included a piece of paper with ‘BOOKS’ written on it in big letters, in case Charlotte sat down to write and forgot what her end goal was supposed to be.
This is Thomas Hardy’s desk. Nice artful clutter.
Thomas Hardy’s desk, via Chrisbj
Note the excellent blotting paper, too. I can still remember the smell of the blotting paper on my grandpa’s desk, and getting into trouble for spilling ink onto it, to see how quickly it was soaked up. There’s not much need for blotting paper in a modern home office (have you ever tried blotting a laptop?) but for some reason I still want some.
All these writerly desks are covered in very pretty, old accessories, but I’m aware that if I covered my own desk in similar paraphernalia it would look like a museum exhibit rather than a working office space. Thomas Hardy’s magnifying glass would have looked state-of-the-art to him.
It’s a bit of a challenge to balance beautiful objects with modern practicality (a brand new book stand isn’t quite as pretty as Hardy’s magnifying glass), but ultimately I think the best desks are ruthlessly functional. Jane Austen leads this way of thinking – her desk is surprisingly spartan.
Anyway. I’ve spent enough time talking about my desk fantasies. What about you? Where do you work or study? Do you even need a desk? Virginia Woolf famously didn’t need to be comfy to write, as she apparently wrote standing up. This is awe-inspiring for me because I can barely make a cup of tea standing up.
’All the world’s a desk.’ - Hilary Mantel
Just before my university pals headed back down South, we went for a brisk walk in the Pentland Hills. One of my favourite things about Edinburgh is how much the city is part of the landscape, and how quickly you can feel as if you’re in the middle of the countryside. Even in the centre of town, Arthur’s Seat jumps out of the buildings like an exclamation mark, and the hills are just to the south of the city.
This was a very muddy walk. We actually had to abandon the route we were going to take because it was about 80% slush (and 20% sheep poo), and there were large rainclouds plotting on the horizon. We clambered up the side of a hill instead.
Witness the mud. That’s George in the picture above, skipping deftly over the worst of it.
January is all about muddy walks, exercise and freshness. It’s a new year! The world is out there to explore, in all its rainy, boggy glory. And afterwards you can tell yourself that you’ve really earned your pint by the fire. Perfect.
Happy New Year! I spent my Hogmanay in Edinburgh with friends from university, who came up from around the UK to sample Scotland’s delights. We went up Calton Hill to watch the fireworks, light sparklers, drink wine and sing songs. It was pretty awesome.
Have a wonderful 2013!