Dear December, nineteen to twenty-two: lumiere.

Tuesday, December 22

It's the winter solstice today, so: the shortest day and the longest night of the year. I'm sitting by the window just now and I can tell you: it's pretty dark out there. The solstice also signals that autumn is over and winter is here. It has officially arrived. If it’s anything like last year, I know it’s going to be cold. Cold, and dark, and rainy, and biting. I’ll need to stock up on hand-cream. I should really buy an anorak. The underbellies of my fingernails will no doubt soon be filled with frost from the windscreen, my fingers stinging from the spray of the can, the click and shake and the ice dissolving.

But even so, I can’t help letting out a small sigh at the thought of it: Thank God, that’s it. The worst of the darkness has been now (...right?) Light will be coming back. It might take a while, yes. The sun will continue to disappear mid-afternoon. My breath will turn to cloud on my walk into uni and there will be days where not even steam from the bath will be enough to melt the shiver in my bones. At times, the idea of ‘anything other than this’ will seem impossible. I know that. I know it. It's been like that all autumn. I’m bracing myself. 

But even if it comes slowly, inch by inch, it is coming. The darkness has been: the light is coming back. It will come back. (These are words to repeat on heavy days: It will come back. It will come back. It seems dark now, but light will come back.)

Related to light: these (slightly fuzzy iPhone) pictures are from the Lumiere Festival in Durham back in November which I've been meaning to post for a while.  I was there for a weekend, giving my first ever (joint) conference paper (on 'fostering originality in student writing') at the National Association of Writers in Education conference ...and this quite, quite breathtaking festival of light happened to be taking place in the city at the same time. I’ve never seen anything like it before: both beautiful and eerie. Moving light installations all along the river, projections beamed onto the side of the cathedral and castle walls, double decker buses lit from the inside, street benches glowing. It felt like we’d stumbled into a city under enchantment.

Snatches from the weekend: walking round the streets and along the river in the dark - rain hammering down, seeping through my hat into my hair - but not feeling afraid. My heart in my throat. Moving images – stars, numbers, planets, stained glass figures – sliding up and down and along the sides of the cathedral. Standing on the grass, mud underfoot, eyes wide, and music surrounding us: so loud and drumming and achingly beautiful that I could feel it inside my veins. 

Sitting on a pew inside the cathedral for a few moments, arching my neck back, back, back to stare at the light lines moving, twitching, above our heads. Sitting quiet. Discordant choral music playing underneath the squeaking of boots and wet jeans slapping together as the crowd moved closer, forward, forward, towards the alter with gripped iPhone cameras. (‘How does it make you feel?’ Looking up at the light. Holding my breath, the lines shivering. Unsure how to put it into words. ‘Unsettled, I guess. Uneasy? There’s something kind of unsettling about the movement, isn't there?').

‘Do you want to light a candle?’ Thinking of Paris*, but unsure what to pray. Back outside and following signs for ‘fog this way’. Rain catching in the light, putting on a show itself. Twinkle lights strung up along the water's edge and then: the Fogscape. Fog pouring down the hill on the other side of the river, pushing through the trees, spilling onto the water, stretching closer and closer towards my shivering fingers like a spell had just been whispered. 

(*the conference and Lumiere took place over the weekend of the Paris attacks - and also the weekend my grandfather passed away - which made the rain feel more chilling, and the light seem more important.)  

Song a day 

Saturday’s song: The Wisp Sings by Winter Aid. Sunday: Believe by Mumford and Sons (though I've actually been listening more to Only Love but can't find a good version online. Buy it). Monday: In Dreams by Ben Howard. Today: Allegri's Miserere (part of which was played during the festival.

p.s. // Technical question: I'm testing out changing the font on the blog. What do you think of this? I've been trying to figure out an alternative for 'Courier' for years... but all other fonts seem either too big or small for blogspot (and I can't figure out how to adjust size to anything between 'normal' and 'large' on here). Comments appreciated below or you can send me a note on my facebook page.

Dear December, nine to eighteen: if life hadn't got in the way.

Saturday, December 19

Dear December,

Hello! I'm 
still here. Though I'm going to sleep very soon because it's quite late. I will get back to writing more regularly. Promise. In the meantime though, here are three things I might have written about if things hadn't been so busy the past week and a bit: 


I might have written about the afternoon I tried on jeans in GAP. My current pair have scuffed knees. After trying a few pairs on (none of them fit), the weight of the week made the idea of heading back out into the rain and starting to think about dinner too heavy. So I just hung out for an extra ten minutes, sitting on the changing room floor, curtains pulled shut to my right, legs stretched out in front of me (the soles of my socks touching the soles of the socks in the mirror), head resting back against the wall: listening to other customers moving about and feeling vaguely disenchanted with the music in the store (‘All I want for Christmas is you...’ ‘It’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together...' ‘It’ll be lonely this Christmas...’). I'm not a Scrooge, but Christmas music can have this way of making you feel very small if it catches you at a funny moment, don't you think? 


Or I might have written a longer post about looking through old photographs in my Grandpa’s house last Wednesday (sitting with my duffle coat on the whole time because the heating had been switched off all day). Feeling very weird being in his living room without him there with us, sitting on the end of the sofa bemoaning something or other and cracking puns (‘Are you all right?’ ‘Just down the one side. Heh heh.’)

There are boxes by his window. The pictures have been taken down off his wall. There are gold hooks sticking out of the wallpaper. His shoes - thick, black, comfort-fit - are still sitting by the sofa. (I couldn’t stop looking at his shoes. Glancing away and then glancing back. The laces were splayed out across the wooden floor. I couldn’t stop looking at them, the thought occurring: did he not have his shoes with him? Did he leave the house in his slippers?) 

It's been a month now. We were there so my Dad could sort through papers, so I could pick out something from his cabinet to keep: a little crystal swan maybe, or a bowling club pin. By accident we came across the handful of old polaroid-type pictures of my dad and uncle when they were little. If that’s to be my last time in his house – sorting through those photographs, laughing at the 70's hairstyles – I guess it was quite a nice evening to end on. (The time before that, rain was bouncing off the roof and we were all dressed in black, huddled in the hallway, waiting for the cars come and take us to the church. The gaping front-door let cold air wrap round our ankles.) 


I could maybe have written about standing in my sister’s kitchen on Tuesday there, trying to artistically smear lemon icing onto the gingerbread cookies she’d made while I was sleeping, and thinking that this – the fact that here I was: standing in my pyjamas in her kitchen, being watched by the 217 cats she and her fiancĂ© own*, the sound of her and our (tall) little brother playing Guitar Hero in the next room – 'this' is one of the things I’m most grateful for this year. This. Us. If I’m uncertain of who or what I am in other areas of my life, I’m so glad I get to be ‘sister’ to those two. 

(Note: *slight exaggeration. There are only three cats.) 

A song a day:

I won't link ten songs, because this post is already quite long. But here are three: I came across 'Shut Eye' by Stealing Sheep yesterday and quite liked it; I actually quite like this cover of 'Lonely This Christmas' by K.T. Tunstall, even if it is a bit of a downer; and I've found the words of 'Pieces' by Amanda Cook quite powerful the past few months... if I could live like I believed them, I think things would be rather different.) 

Pictures by: Julie Morstad

Dear December six, seven, eight: they didn’t believe it wasn’t butter

Tuesday, December 8

I think I confused a few commuters this morning by eating yoghurt out of an old butter container. (Butter carton? Butter tub? Unsure of the exact name for this butter-holding-receptacle. Anyway, I'd washed it out because it's a good size for transporting things. And ps. isn’t tub a funny word?).

It was Greek yoghurt with honey which meant it was quite thick and creamy with the faintest golden hue. It did look a bit like butter, it’s true. I didn’t let their sidelong glances deter me though (to be honest: there was only one other person on the bus, and she was reading a book). I tucked in.

(Once I got the thought into my head though that ‘this actually does taste a bit like butter’, it was hard to get that thought out. I even feel like I can taste it now, hours later – salty, chilled, creamy – on the curve of my tongue. 


A side note on butter: I am trying to be frugal, living by myself in the city and all. It’s a practice run for my possible future as a poor writer in a leaking garret somewhere, surrounded by dozens of cats (only please, Lord, no cats. I had a nightmare the other week that my flatmates got kittens. An actual nightmare). It turns out though, if that is to be my life, that garret will have to be well stocked with Lurpak Slightly Salted and Twinnings Earl Grey (preferably decaf) because I’m apparently a butter and tea snob and these items are non-compromise-able. (Confession: The number of items on my ‘no compromising grocery list’ does seem to be growing somewhat, which makes me worry slightly about what kind of person that makes me.) 


I had plans to write something slightly more profound today: but there are still 23 days left in December ...and I really just wrote this post for the title (badoom tsh). On a food related note though, you should read this fantastic essay on celery by A.A. Milne. 

Song a day:

Sunday: The End of the Affair by Ben Howard (I've been listening to Ben Howard a lot this year - and, like I was saying about Dustin Tebutt's music, I suspect when I listen to him in the future I'll be able to hear this year in the sound of his voice - but for some reason I only just realised he has more than one album. This is from 'I Forget Where We Were') 

Monday: When the Leaves by Ingrid Michaelson (for something vaguely Christmassy).

Today: To Build a Home by The Cimematic Orchestra (because I listened to it while I was waking up this morning).

Dear December, four and five: hashtag Storm Desmond.

Sunday, December 6

Let’s be rather British and talk about the weather. (NB: I wrote this on Saturday but seemed to fall asleep before clicking: publish. Thus the 'yesterdays' and 'last nights' that don't quite match up...)

While I was waiting for the traffic lights to change yesterday evening, I saw a red umbrella blow straight out of a little boy’s hands. It was broken and twisted inside-out, the fabric rippling and sodden wet and absolutely no use to him as a rain–shield any more – but he was trying to keep a tight grip of it even so when the wind whipped it from his slippery fingers and dragged it away down Renfield Street.

I have always wondered who those people are that abandon their umbrellas on the pavement. ‘Litter louts.’ ‘Lazy folk who can’t be bothered walking an extra five steps to the bin.’ On wild days, Glasgow’s streets are littered with them: broken, twisted umbrellas. Black ones. Pink ones. Hello Kitty ones. Ones with stripes. They always look a bit to me like dead spiders: legs bent but still twitching. Only, now I wonder whether most of those umbrellas aren’t in fact abandoned by people of questionable character. Maybe they’ve just been stolen by the weather. ‘Quit messing around with that brolly, fool, and let me run down your face. Let me tangle your hair. Let me slip into the gaps between your sleeve and your wrist and make you shiver. Feel alive!’ 

I got rather up close and personal with the elements myself last night - on my walk back to Queen’s Street Station a few hours later after dinner. I was (foolishly, yes) wearing a coat without a hood. I had forgotten my hat. The ribs of my umbrella had snapped earlier. By the time I turned onto Buchanan Street I’d given up struggling to keep my hair dry with my scarf and, for the first time all day, I let my shoulders unknot themselves and gave in. The rain slid down my face. My shoes were flooded. ‘Oh stuff it, it’s dark and I’m not going to meet anyone I know at this time of night anyway*. Bring it on. "Be thou me, impetuous one!" It’s only water.)’

(*I did actually run into someone I knew though, ha. What are the odds? A familiar figure walking up the street towards me through the rain. It could have been a rather beautiful filmic moment if I hadn’t looked so much like: this <-- click the link.) 

So yes. I got utterly, utterly drenched (and we - the three of us in this little flat - have stayed bundled up inside all day today). When my flatmate had a cup of tea waiting for me coming in through the door last night, I could have cried with gratefulness. 

Song a day:

Friday's song: Pool House by Dustin O'Halloran because I was listening to it while I was working, and listen often when I'm writing. It's from the film 'Breathe In' which is one of those lingering kind of films that is on the one hand kind of beautiful (in terms of the cinematography, the music, the natural feel of the acting, the subtlety) and on the other hand is kind of devastating and unsettling (it's about things spiralling out of control, about a dangerous idea that should stay just that). 

Saturday's song: Jump for my Love ...because I came across this clip from Love Actually again this morning and it made me laugh (and is exactly the kind of thing that would happen to me). 

Note: Pictures by Japanese illustrator Rie Nakajima (I can't find  central website to link you to, but I found these pictures: here.) 

Dear December, two and three: begin again.

Friday, December 4

Dear December,

Well, it’s only the third of December and I’m already behind with this little project. I’m not going to start with an apology though (‘so very sorry for not writing – haven’t had a minute – have been grading and emailing and I’m editing a magazine – had to catch the train and had dishes to do and it was raining all day and my feet got wet – the ideas weren’t coming and I can't get unstuck and there are bombs dropping elsewhere and my coat didn’t have a hood and there’s too much bad news and the Christmas shoppers were out shopping and –‘) Nope. No excuses. Cut out the muttering. I’ll just begin again tomorrow. 

In the meantime, here are the two songs from the 2nd and 3rd for you to listen to (I'll be posting a song a day - not necessarily Christmas related - and thought I'd put the actual videos on here for once rather than just the links even though the first video is a wee bit ugly - I find Santa mildly terrifying...)

One.) Father Christmas by The Features (which I heard for the first time on Wednesday during a slightly surreal Christmas-themed writing group. Among other things, we all wrote a list for five minutes of things that would go in our Christmas wish book if we had one – ‘the hat that I lost last year (the only hat I ever loved), Pablo Neruda’s ‘Odes to Common Things’, a time-pausing function on my iPhone, new jeans, a plane ticket, some blue sky, ‘to feel myself beloved on this earth’, the ability to find out in advance whether ‘x’ will be a waste of time or not, a pillow that does my hair in my sleep ... etc.’).

Two.) Home by Dustin Tebutt, purely because it was playing in the background of Tinderbox in Paperchase while I was in there earlier and it's a good song. I’ve been listening quite a lot to his music this past year (in particular 'The Breach' this summer/spring when the sky took until midnight to set, and ‘Silk’ this autumn when I listened to it in the dark to try and wake myself up). I feel more than certain that when I stumble upon his music again a few years from now, I’ll click on play and – in seconds – be able to taste this whole year. 

Bear playing a banjo picture by the lovely Julianaa Swaney.

Dear December: a whipped cream sky

Tuesday, December 1

I've been half-thinking for a while that I might write a 'Dear December' series on here, to nudge myself back into writing more often. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll know that I did something like this in July. I posted something - a thought, an observation, a poem - almost every day. Going into the summer, I was feeling quite restless: a bit unsure of where I stood with a number of things, a bit too caught up in my own head. 'My plan is to root July back in the ordinary details of the here and now,' I wrote in June. And the way I did that was through writing (because writing, as I'm always saying, is less to do with words than it is to do with seeing.)

Anyway... I'd like to do that again. This has been a very difficult autumn. It's worn me downeach week some new lesson in what loss looks like (feels like, sounds like, tastes like, smells like. In real terms: loss looks like 47 cold sausage rolls*)I'd quite like to lift my eyes again. So I'm just squeezing this post in very quick while it's still the first of the month to say: 'Hello December, month of strung lights and cinnamon air. I'm going to write to you. I'm looking forwards to your glow. Please be a good one. Whether you are or not though, I'm making a pact with myself to try and notice you.'


1. *I'll maybe explain that (the 47 sausage rolls) in another post. 

2. This picture is from earlier this afternoon when my brother and I sat cross-legged on the floor by the lounge window and watched the clouds for a bit. He thought they looked like fire. I said: 'They look a bit like whipped cream.' (I came home yesterday afternoon for a visit, and haven't quite seemed to make it back to my Glasgow flat yet. Tomorrow! As good as it is to be "independent" and closer and everything, I love home the best.)

3. To mix(tape) things up, I'm going to post a song every day this month that I've been listening to or liking. Today: Evan and I were listening to 'Hooked on a Feeling' by Blue Swede while in the kitchen making peanut butter cookies (and accidentally setting the microwave on fire. My bad.)
by mlekoshi