starry starry night.

Friday, December 13

This is one of my favourite things about Christmas: the star blanket over Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow.

(Nevertheless I'm in denial about it being mid-December. I should really start getting gifts soon...) 

sending letters to strangers.

Wednesday, December 4

I took part in Oh Comely’s November Care Package Swap Project a few weeks ago. Oh Comely - in case you haven't heard of it - is a quirky magazine with the motto 'keep your curiosity sacred’ (words to live by, I think.) It’s full of beautiful natural-light-filled photographs, illustrations, interviews with interesting people, recipes, and articles on what could be called 'extraordinary ordinarinesses'.  

I came across it in WHSmith one afternoon about three years ago and remember writing in my journal about how finding it had ‘reignited my enthusiasm for, really.’ (More than could be said for the “read all about how two mildly famous people lost weight and here’s some free lip-gloss” sort of women's magazine.)

So yes... the swap-box project. The idea was simple: you were paired up with a stranger, you put together a box of surprises for each other – including one.) something personal, two.) an inspiring snippet, and three.) a wintry treat – and then you popped your box in the post and sighed a happy sigh of creative achievement. Lovely.

Here’s what I put in mine:

-  A nice pen (Uni-Ball Eye Rollerball, black ink, fine tipped
-  Some teabags (assorted varieties) 
-  Clipper Fairtrade Hot Chocolate (plus marshmallows)
-  A few tealights (to brighten the grey skies) 
-  A copy of Winnie the Pooh (and a letter, written with evangelical fervour, detailing why this is a book that deserves to be read*) 
-  An envelope full of inspiring quotes 
-  A Toblerone 
-  A recipe for Courgette Soup that we make every year at Christmas (given by a dear family friend) 
-  A playlist
-  ...and some crocodile socks (or maybe they were alligators. I'm not sure). 

Putting it all together was quite joy-inspiring. I find writing notes and making things with my hands calming. Therapeutic, even. 

As a writer, quite a lot of my time is spent fiddling over phrases and paragraphs that don't ever seem to come out right... so it's satisfying, from time to time, to be able to create things that look exactly the way I want them to.

And it was fun pulling out my old typewriter (although, thank the Lord for word processors for everyday writing).

My own parcel, from my stranger, came through the post the other day. He sent me his favourite film, a collection of little rubber ducks, some sweets, lyrics from a Mumford and Sons song and a few other little things.

Jolly good fun. 

*A note on my note on Winnie the Pooh: in my experience, most people haven't read it. They either didn't realise it was a book, or they they think it'll be just like the cartoon. It's not! It's profound, it's beautiful, it's hilarious, it's ironic. It's wonderful. And if you, reader, haven't read it: go now and do so. You won't regret it.

Morning Fog

Friday, November 29

I found this today (by Brittney Lee, an artist for Disney) and loved it. Enjoy! (Her blog is: here). 

I really am jealous of other people's talent sometimes...

forbidden music.

Thursday, November 21

It’s late when I leave the library tonight. By the time I finish writing and gather my notebooks together – stuffing them inside my backpack – the moon is out, the streetlamps are on, the campus is quiet. Pulling my scarf close to my skin, I hurry along the street, towards the coffee-shop where I’m meeting a few classmates to discuss a literary journal we're putting together.
It is freezing. A woman waiting at the bus stop in front of me tries to light a cigarette. She shields the flickering flame with her cupped hand until - a flash, a flash – it’s lit. The smell of smoke winds towards me as I turn the corner, heading down the hill towards George Street. Red and white lights from cars speed past. Their reflections bounce onto, and then slide off, the black walls of the building on my right.

Men's voices, a little way behind, on the other side of the street, start shouting – swearing at each other. Instinctively, my fingers fasten around the phone in my pocket. I start to walk faster, trying heat up. But this air is icy. From the train into Glasgow this morning, I noticed snow on the mountains, and now my knuckles are stinging. My nose is stinging. My neck.

It’s because of this – the cold, the creepiness, the dark etc – that, when I see the lights are still on in the building beside me, I move towards the door and – pushing it open, my wrists clicking a little with the weight – slip inside. Warm air on my cheek. Dim yellow light. The door swings shut behind me, muffling the sounds of the street.

This building – I start walking again, slower now, not feeling such a need to rush – joins into one of the oldest buildings in the university. I walk past the front desk – it’s empty – down a small flight of stairs, through a set of double doors, and I’m here: the Royal College. 

Stone staircases, marble tiles, stained glass windows, peeling wallpaper – this building has always been my favourite in the university, because of the stories it seems to whisper at. If I go down enough levels, if I take the right turnings along its labyrinthine hallways, I know I can leave the building on the ground floor. That’ll take me out to George Street, and keep me out the cold for a while. Brilliant.

I start heading down a long corridor lined with dark blue lockers. My shoes squeak as I walk. The lights seem duller than usual. I glance behind me, biting my lip. Usually there’s the sound of footsteps in this building, the conversation of cleaners, the odd “mad-scientist”-looking lecturer darting about in a white lab coat. But – I check the time on my phone – the place is deserted. I’m starting to wonder whether I’m even supposed to be in here this late when, all of a sudden, I hear something. I stop walking. I listen, frozen to the spot.


There is music coming from a room close by. I hold my breath, trying to catch the sound. Piano music. It keeps stopping and starting. Someone seems to be practicing. All thoughts of ‘am I allowed to be in here?’ vanish as curiosity takes over. Where is it coming from? I start walking again – my heart beating a little faster – moving in the direction of the song, following its sound. It leads me along a narrow corridor and up to an enormous wooden door.

I tiptoe closer, vaguely aware that if someone were to catch me, to open the door suddenly and - blinking, furrowing their brow - find me, lingering here, I would be stuck for words. I wouldn't know what to say, how to explain myself... 

I put my ear close to the wood. It’s definitely coming from inside this room. The door is ajar, and I peek through the crack, trying to see inside. I can’t see much: a high ceiling, a balcony, wooden floors, long rows of desks laid out. It looks like it’s set up for an exam. In fact - a memory triggered - I think I had a Victorian Literature exam in this room a few winters ago. But I can’t remember there being a piano in the room. I still can’t see it. The musician remains hidden.

I stay here, in this dark hallway, for quite a while. A line of yellow light slipping out from the doorway, landing on my shoe. A warm glow growing inside my chest. I stand here, just listening. Just being.

When I head back out into the night, I can’t seem to stop smiling. The cold doesn’t seem so biting. The dark a little less ominous. I can’t put my finger on what it is about this small discovery that has made me so happy. But that’s how I feel. Happy. Quite inexplicably happy.

It feels as though I’ve stumbled across something important. Something beautiful. Something secret.

(*p.s. A tiny clip of the music is meant to appear above these words. If you're reading this on mobile, find it by clicking: here. 

Pictures by Yelena Bryksenkova. The dreaminess in her pictures kind of links in with the words...)

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watching Ivy read

Saturday, November 2

I recently came across a description at the start of one of Carol Shields’ short stories. It made me pause, and remember why I love her writing. (A bit of context: in the story, the narrator and his wife, Ivy, are flying over the Rocky mountains. She is reading a paperback, and he is wondering wondering whether he should interrupt her, to show her the view out the window...)

In a purely selfish sense, watching Ivy read is as interesting as peering down at those snowy mountains. She turns the pages of a book in the same way she handles every object, with a peculiar respectful gentleness, as though the air around it were more tender than ordinary air. I’ve watched her lift a cup of tea with this same abstracted grace, cradling a thick mug in a way that transforms it into something precious and fragile. It’s a gift some people have.'
~ From ‘Fragility’ by Carol Shields, in Collected Stories (2004). 

Read some of her stories, if you haven't already. I am continually surprised by them. In the best sort of way.

(This picture was taken a few weeks ago in Inverness, in a quirky coffee-shop/bicycle workshop called Velocity. I was 'up north' visiting my friend, travelling about on trains, note-taking for story-research purposes - and I stopped in here a few times for coffee and space to write).

wild dreams of achievement

Monday, September 30

‘ occurs to me that there is a proper balance between not asking enough of oneself and asking or expecting too much. It may be that I set my sights too high and so repeatedly end a day in depression. Not easy to find the balance, for if one does not have wild dreams of achievement, there is no spur even to get the dishes washed. One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being.’
~ from May Sarton’s ‘Journal of a Solitude’ (1973)

I came across this passage this afternoon and oh yes, I know what she’s talking about.  

I’ve started studying again, this time as a postgraduate student (I’m doing* a Creative Writing Master of Research: quite exciting). I’ll need to learn how to make realistic writing plans over the next few months. I tend to be ridiculously ambitious and then beat myself up later for not achieving the impossible.

*Note: ‘“doing” a Creative Writing Master of Research’ sounds a bit clumsy, but I thought “undertaking” made it sound a bit grandiose. Ah, language: it's a tricky thing. And here I am, trying to dance with it.

(Picture taken one hot summer night this July.)

three (or four) recent noticings

Friday, September 27

Noticed Thing #1: I overheard two girls in Tesco the other week debating what kind of crisps to buy for their movie night in. Girl One was balancing a 2 litre bottle of Coke on her hip like a baby. Girl Two seemed more interested in picking off the last of her pastel green nail varnish than anything else. 

GIRL ONE: [tilting her head back to look at all the crisp packets on the shelf] "So... Pringles Cheese and Chive? Or Sensations Thai Sweet Chilli?"  
GIRL TWO: [shrugging, not looking up] "I dunno. I’m not a big fan of those ‘Sensations’, though."
GIRL ONE: [swivelling round to look her friend in the eye] "Aye, you say that now – but you didn’t say anything when you were fair tuckin’ into mine last week."


Noticed Thing #2: We bought a particularly delicious batch of nectarines towards the start of September (a bundle of nectarines? A bunch of nectarines? A bevy? A bouquet? A brood? I’m not sure of the right collective noun). They were juicy and sweet, and I ate quite a lot of them (sometimes in a row). 

One day, after consuming my second nectarine of the morning, I hopped through to my brother’s bedroom to try and encourage him to try one also. Only, once I got there, I couldn’t for the life of me remember the word: ‘nectarine’. It had completely vanished – poof! – from my head. So I ended up standing awkwardly in his doorway, mouthing fruit names – "apricot, peach, pear, plumb" – until – "pineapple, tangerine, nectarine – yes!" – I found the word I was looking for.

I’m finding this happening quite a lot recently. Words hide from me in the middle of sentences, causing me to falter and then fumble about with synonyms or vague descriptions or hand gestures to try and get my point across. The words I need appear a little-too-late in my mind. Strange.

Noticed Thing #3: Yesterday, while I was in the library writing notes on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (amazing, amazing book), I saw a man walk in through the front door carrying a yellow banana in his hand, and a toddler in his back-pack. They were as bald as each other, with the same wide-eyed expression, and the two of them made me think, smilingly, of monkeys

...which then, in turn, reminded me of this poem by Carol Ann Duffy (see below) which has always made me laugh. It comes from her collection of poems, The World’s Wife, where she looks anew at famous male figures throughout history, literature, etc and retells something of their story through the eyes of the women associated with them, women who have typically been forgotten about.
Mrs Darwin 
7th April 1852
Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him–
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.

(These pictures, I think, could count as a Noticed Thing #4. They were all taken fairly recently on my phone while on various commutes to work and Glasgow and back.)

like, like, like

Tuesday, September 10

Too too true. (Picture from Marc John's blog ). I despair at my own overuse of this irritating word (the linguistic equivalent of a bluebottle). I'm not quite sure how to stop saying it so much, though. It just slips out, without permission, making everything I say sound quite tentative and teenager-y. 

(On a similar note, watch: this.)

the things we carry.

Thursday, August 22

All of that stuff down there was rumbling inside my handbag until about 3pm this afternoon. I had to tidy it out. It was becoming a bit of an ordeal trying to find my car keys in there after work. 

Among other things, I found: least two hundred and seven pens ~ two small forests worth of Random Bits of Paper ~ about six used-up order pads for work ~ various drafts of short stories I’ve been working on ~ two tickets for a recent heavy metal gig I went to (quite an experience...) ~ two tea bags ~ £6.86 in spare change ~ a name-tag from my brief stint as a poetry conference steward ~ my work tie ~ and two pretty good books (‘Consider the Lobster’ – a collection of essays by David Foster Wallace – and Carol Shields’ short stories. Having only two books is unusual for me, actually. I normally carry about a mini-library). 

No wonder my shoulder’s been kind of sore recently. I should do a clean out more often.

(p.s. in case you're wondering... those pandas are my socks. Cute, eh?)

I get words all day through...

Thursday, August 15

Most days when I’m at work, I have some song or other playing on a loop in the back of my head. Maybe it’s the last song I heard on the radio before I left the car, or maybe it’s a lyric triggered by some phrase I’ve heard during the day. (Example: me asking a customer ‘How would you like your eggs?’ will invariably lead to the song ‘How do ya like your eggs in the morning?wedging itself into my brain for the next eight hours or so.)

I’m guessing this is fairly typical of most people, right? This is a ‘thing’. It’s not too uncommon.

Well, recently when I’ve been in work (and I’ve been in work a lot recently) I’ve noticed that, as well as having songs stuck in my head, I’ve also started getting words stuck in there too.

‘Scrupulous. Exodus. Arabesque.’ (For example).

These words, unbidden, will just randomly appear – ‘hello!’ – in the middle of my wiping tables, or serving customers, and I’ll find myself turning them over, almost unconsciously, as I go about the motions of laying cutlery and scraping plates.

‘Vehement, vehemently, vehemence.’ ‘Scrupulous. Dwindle. Umpire.

It’s like they’ve escaped from the dictionary – like penguins from a zoo – and have waddled into my head just, y’know, for something to do. I quite enjoy to find them – these stray words, with their crispy, satisfying little syllables, milling about in the back of my head. But it’s also quite strange. Because more often than not they’re pretty obscure. And words I wasn’t even aware I knew. Like: ‘incursion, machinations, and rambunctious.’ Odd.

I get the feeling this is slightly less common than the song thing, right? Probably the tired mind of a writerly English graduate trying to amuse itself during very long, very repetitive days of cafe work... I think I probably need a holiday quite soon.

Pictures by: Daniela Strijleva

Title of this post taken from 'Show Me' from My Fair Lady (... which is, of course, now stuck in my head.)


Friday, July 12

One morning a little while ago, I was reading in the lounge – listening vaguely to the rhythm of rain pattering against the windows – when I happened to glance up and see an anoraked man walking past our house. His anorak was red, with a luminous yellow reflective hood. It would've been difficult to miss him.

As he ambled along the street, my eyes followed him lazily, and I found myself wondering what owning such a loud, retro-reflective jacket might say about him "as a person". Someone did say once that "the clothes make the man”.

The hood definitely shouted: 'this gentleman is safety conscious'! More concerned with not-being-knocked-down, than staying on trend. It also seemed to whisper: 'anxious'. Or maybe just: 'cautious'. There were even murmurs of: 'admirable' as, I guessed, there was something to be admired in a person who was so unashamedly yellow-hooded. It suggested a lack of concern for what others might think (i.e. ‘he looks a bit silly’) and a determination to get out and about, whatever the conditions outside.

One thought skipped along after another, and I began to wonder whether I should buy something reflective – a little armband, perhaps, or something to stick on my bag if I'm ever walking at night. 'I probably should,' I supposed. It would be sensible (even if I’m not exactly prone to nightly saunters. Muggers, murderers, moths etc: too many potential dangers lurking in the dark).

But, I continued to think (the highly-visible man now out of sight, my book, unread, in my lap), in spite of the fact that – yes – it would be sensible to buy a reflective something-or-other, it’s highly unlikely that I ever will. What with all the other things I need to do, need to spend my money on, it’s not really high on the priority list

So really, I realised, if I were to go out of my way to buy a – I don’t know – a glow-in-the-dark wrist band or something would be strange, wouldn’t it? Even if it was prudent. It would say something. (‘Poor Melissa! Such a worrier. Loosen up a little, won't you?’)

Not that I particularly want to buy a reflective garment. But how strange, I thought (rain still falling, less vibrant anoraks now passing the window), how interesting to think: if I ever did decide to go out and buy a reflective-something-or-other, that decision might be interpreted as symptomatic of something deeper. Of what? A distrust of all seeming well, maybe. An overly keen awareness of life’s unpredictability. An inarticulated fear, perhaps, of the real world, of risk taking, of love...

(P.S. I’m not trying to 'diagnose' all people who wear reflective clothes, by the way. I’m just remembering a thought that I followed... and wondering where the boundary lies between being cautious and afraid.)

(P.P.S. After musing on the Case of the Sensible albeit Somewhat Silly Looking Anoraked Man - and also knowing the difficulties of seeing dog walkers when I'm driving at night - I actually think Topshop et al. should start making coats with luminous yellow reflective belts or stripes or fun glow-in-the-dark shapes so that being safe wouldn't be such a big deal. It would actually be sort of cool. I might sell this idea to the high street... y'all heard it from me first.)

(P.P.P.S. The pictures are kind of unrelated to the words. Just a small collection of things that have made me pause recently and - click - need to take a picture of.)

if not always.

Monday, July 8

So, quite a lot has happened since May 16th. Good things like: I've been halfway across the world (in Atlanta, Georgia, with the most lovely, kindred-spirit sort of friends - pictures from this adventure later). 

...and, more recently, I graduated from the University of Strathclyde (I'm now the proud owner of a BA in Journalism and Creative Writing and English with first class honours! A bit of a mouthful, but I'm so pleased. Here's lots of pictures of me with assorted Reids to prove it actually happened: it all feels a bit surreal).  

A few not-so-good things have also happened. Are happening. Along with the usual ordinary small life-things that make up most days. Eating dinner, going to bed much too late because of reading, working in the cafe, navigating round-a-bouts in the car, savouring the  sun when it's out, conversations, getting older (I turned twenty-two this week: an age that sounds quite like an adult's).

But here endith the news update (slash explanation for why I didn't post in June). I'll leave you with a small (to my knowledge untitled) poem by Kate DiCamillo, the last few lines of which have been waltzing around in my head recently.  

Take a breath. Listen. Now read.

a poem - by Kate DiCamillo

My favourite six letter word is
because it promises
so much.

My favourite five letter word is
because it insists on contradicting
the promise.

My favourite four letter word is
because it says it
happened then

My favourite three letter word is
because I’m just now learning
to say it
to my heart.

My favourite two letter word is
because it makes
all things possible
like this:

If not always
If not never
Then once.


spring in the city.

Thursday, May 16

I went for a walk around the west end of Glasgow yesterday and had to keep stopping to take pictures (on my phone, would you believe. The iPhone does have a terrific camera). I wandered. I went to Charlie Rocks for breakfast. I read my book*. I wrote a little bit. I looked round the Oxfam bookshop, and bought some old postcards. Lovely.

(*I aspire to be the sort of person that can casually, comfortably read novels in coffee shops. At the moment, it takes me at least a quarter of an hour to stop being self-conscious. There are all sorts of questions that need to be answered... like how to hold the book. Do I rest it on the table? Put it on my lap? Hold it in front of me with one hand, and hold the tea cup in the other? Prop it up against the sugar bowl? I don't know. Small questions. Real worries. I'm eternally awkward.)

I'm away to America on Monday with my sister (I'm so very excited! I have lots of notebooks to jot down interesting things. I'm especially excited about people-watching in the airport, watching a film on the plane, and chatting to the nice family we're going to visit). I'll post some other-side-of-the-ocean noticings once I get back.
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