Thursday, December 18

Sock knitting plans & a baking stone & Pushing Daisies.

I'm almost finished with the socks I'm knitting for my father, for Christmas. I shall then knit a hat for one of my dear friends here who has asked me for it (she never asks for anything so it is a special gift), and then I shall knit some socks for myself.

Nearly all the machine-made socks I have presently are becoming swiftly holey. I don't want to buy any more; my conscience would have difficulty with it now that I have such an enjoyable alternative. I love the feeling of working towards something practical. And my best friend just sent me enough gorgeous yarn to knit half a dozen pairs of the best socks!

One of my sisters gave me a Christmas present early; a baking stone. It is rather like an unglazed stoneware tray. I've read a little bit about wood-fired ovens and medieval bread-baking and without an actual oven like theirs a baking stone is the best way to replicate the experience.

The principles of cooking with it are very much like my cast iron dutch oven and saucepan. They need seasoning and are quite thick but are excellently non-stick-y and generally easier to use than plasticised aluminium with calibrated edges, &c., &c. I've made two loaves of bread on it already and the crusts have turned out much better than they do in our best loaf pans. I'm so pleased. I must ask her to find me a soup stone next.

While I've been baking and knitting I've also been listening to a recording to Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is depressing and feels like a showcase of witty statements Wilde couldn't fit into ordinary conversation, and watching a TV show that has amused me greatly. The premise of Pushing Daisies is silly and did not appeal to me. I would not have watched it at all if it had not been in a fit of restlessness (there are times when one simply must get away from Oscar Wilde) and it had not been easy at hand.

Once I began to watch it, though, I really enjoyed it. Not for the overall plot or feeling, but for the moments. The colours are marvellously bright and the events perfectly ridiculous, and the actors obviously had fun in the making. That, and I never doubt the ending. It is fun and funny and altogether comfortable. Also the hero bakes pies, and all readers of this blog know that pie-bakers are suitable heroes.

Sunday, November 23

Saturday morning dawns on the effects of an international shopping binge.

Germany and England have afforded me some lovely purchases. And by "lovely" I mean "useful". So be warned! If you are not a homemaker or a medievalist-wannabe, some of the following pictures may be very domestic and possibly very nerdy.

England first. I bought myself a book at the British Library (or a few books, but I'm not telling), which was a bit hectic but is one of my favourite places, . . . and some extremely soft alpaca sock yarn for myself--and a bunch of Christmas presents for some who shall remain nameless--at a lovely shop called Loop (in which there was a guy with an AWESOME hat of handspun something and stripey socks who is my hero). I know that was an extremely awkward sentence but I am not changing it.

The following picture is of my Saturday morning. The walnuts are from our town; they were in season and so (like the plums of August) we have a seemingly endless supply of them. Not that I mind, of course, but it is more tedious to shell nuts than look at gorgeous picture-recipes for plum cakes. And plus! They look awesome in the wooden bowl, though you can't really see it very well in the pic. They actually have a stronger nutty taste than the bags we get at large supermarkets.

The cookies are cranberry-oatmeal-brown-sugar, and not very sweet (a favourite of my mother). The small brown package is millet, which is something I've never baked with before. Spelt flour, on the other hand, is AWESOME! It makes perfect toast . . . I feel like an alchemist who found the philosopher's stone in a garden shop. I have added another picture so you can see the name of the stuff in German, which is infinitely more awesome than "spelt".

And here is Mambrino, who helped my mother make waffle batter today. IT WAS DELICIOUS. And my mother was very impressed with one of my favourite anthropomorphised kitchen tools.

Down there is my latest knitting project: these are some black socks for my dad. Or, they will be. Currently I have improved them about an inch per sock since this picture. There's no way I can finish them before Christmas but I will show the halves of them off and gesture excitedly about them. The yarn is from Germany, where I went yarn-shopping with a German friend of mine who took me to her local shop (lovely, but I do look forward to American and British yarn shops when I get the chance).

This next picture proves that it is now fall, and a Saturday in fall, and also that my sister is awesome (she is in the background and in the foreground there are two cafe' lattes).

Here is the last, which is a picture of my cat. She loves fall, because she is always just a little too cold for comfort and often finds it absolutely necessary to curl up on my lap and interrupt anything important I happen to be working on. I am very happy with this situation, though. Warm, cuddly cats and never-ending cups of tea are hallmarks of autumn.

Thursday, October 30

About fifteen minutes until the oven timer goes off.

I am wearing socks that I knitted. Here is a picture of them.

This is so exciting! It was the last New Year's Resolution from this year that I hadn't fulfilled. Very soon I am going to visit some friends with whom I will go shopping for more sock yarn, and also spelt flour (because I can't find any down here, and because Hildegard's abbey in Rudesheim sells it in large quantities).

Speaking of flour, I have been doing quite a bit of baking. As expected, there have been several pies and quite a lot of muffins (not to mention a few well-timed batches of cookies to start the autumn-to-advent seasons) since I last wrote, and I have made several Experiments. Puff pastry, for example.

And here are some pictures of the pies. The first one is chicken pot Pi. In which I discovered that puff pastry is difficult to write or mark in because it expands and becomes flakier than regular shortcrust.

And a half-finished pie, using sausage and apples and a ceramic device that looks like a blackbird and actually helps steam escape from the pie filling. It would have worked better if I hadn't clogged up the steam holes with my messy pastry. Nevertheless, Tamasin Day-Lewis has certainly not disappointed me (she never does).

I should probably write more about the pies so that the pictures don't look so odd and scrunched up. Pies pies pies. Soon it will be Christmas and then I shall make mincemeat.

I also finished Chivalry by Maurice Keen, and have begun on Scivias, the visions of Hildegard of Bingen as well as The Cloude of Vnknowynge, which is by one of my favourite authors, Anonymous. In accord with the advice of C.S. Lewis, I am trying to read only one new book in between books that take part in the Great Conversation. The results so far have been a loss of my immediate delight in adventure novels (tho there seems to be no effect on my love of mystery novels--perhaps because so many of them are written by medievalists?) and a developing taste for histories. And visions.

The local delicacy at this time of year is the walnut. We have lots of them. I really must get to work cleaning, cracking, and toasting them. Then I shall introduce them to Mambrino (who, by the by, has yet to find a station in the kitchen because he seems to be always in use).

Oh, and also, about bread: keeping the sliced end of a loaf face-downwards on a wooden plate or board keeps the moisture content of the bread much better than if it is placed on plastic (soggy around the edges and devastating to my quest for the Ideal Piece of Toast) or paper (dries it out, likewise results for the Quest).

Monday, September 8

Late summer activities described with pictures.

Mambrino has been performing marvelously, and growing more used to the Italian/American lifestyle by elongating slightly to become comfortably uneven. Already he has assisted the production of several plum cakes, numerous loaves of bread, and even a peach upside-down cake. I have not been doing much else but baking, lately, as mum has been cooking the actual meals. Here is a picture of the bottom of the bowl, which has been marked with an "M" for "Mambrino". The maker of the bowl might assume it to be his signature turned upside down, but we will forgive him his mistake. It is obviously for "Mambrino".

Plums are in season here, too, and at our local restaurant we are presented them for dessert and they are brought out during social visits as a snack with espresso. We have been given them several times in plastic bags and baskets, and I have been conspiring to bake them into things. A moist cake with ground almonds, sour cherry syrup, and honey liqueur has been the most popular so far. Here are some of the plums (the plate is very old beech wood and my father's favourite dish).

At the same restaurant down the street I was invited to a day of sitting around with hot espresso and cold water, interesting conversation, and sorting hazelnuts; altogether an enviable experience. I was particularly interested in the odd-shaped hazelnuts, and as a result was chuckled at and given a handful of them. Here they are in all their glory:

On Sunday we made an impromptu visit to one of our family friends at his home, where we had coffee with him and his parents and sat in their garden listening to stories and recipes and talking about our mutual friends (who have recently had twins!). The father of the family is a botanist and his garden is full of fruitful plants: almonds, figs, pomegranates, and other things I couldn't quite make out--typical of their generosity, though, we left with a tubful of figs and a small container of almonds, and also a huge pumpkiny-squashy vegetable that is not in the picture. The conversation ran mostly about different types of flours and the history of agriculture, so I've promised them some bread (the first loaf is rising presently, with white spelt flour, honey, white wheat, and some of their own almonds, ground small).

My greatest technical accomplishment this summer has been to actually turn the heel of my first knitted sock. This is described as a very difficult task by many knitters but just as my sister says (and she knows things about knitting) it was not too difficult for me to listen to podcasts whilst humming and finishing up the heel. The worst part was picking up the stitches along the side, since my gauge was so tight. And now unfortunately I have broken another needle and must await the return of my sister with more needles and advice. I'm very pleased with it, so far! I do mean them only to be house-slippers, though, with a short cuff rather than a full sock like most patterns would have me knit. That is why it seems slightly disproportional.

Autumn will be here soon and then I will have a fire in the fireplace, bake more hearty things (I expect I shall be making lots of pies), and wear my comfortable knitted socks around the cold tile floors. The cats will be pleasantly chilly enough to come and sit on my lap as I read and study. The air will smell of woodsmoke and clean laundry . . . I wonder what it is like in the States. Can you feel the seasons change, there? I'm a little worried about this.

Monday, September 1

The Inaugural Rising of the Loaf in a New Bowl.

This is my new bowl. The family is tied between naming it Mambrino (after Don Quixote's fabulous helmet) and Garibaldi (the famous Italian general). I am in favour of Mambrino.

The bread (currently presiding over the oven's inner chambers with pomp and propriety) is made with yoghurt, honey, almond flour, and a 12-grain mix (spelt, barley, wheat, oat, &c.) along with the usual staples.

I was worried at first that the rising dough would stick to the sides of the wooden bowl as I normally use quite machine-made plastic and metal bowls which have very smooth sides, but it lifted out just as easily and the dough was actually more moist than I expected it to be with only a damp towel placed over it--a good thing, since my cookbooks warn me of using anything other than plastic bowls and plastic wrap.

Lovely lovely lovely. How prettily it rose. This is near the end of the rise.

And through another rise in the pan, and after baking, we have the finished product! As soon as people get hungry I will know how it tastes. Hopefully Mambrino had a good effect on it.

Monday, August 11

Character-driven pulp fiction!? SHANE BLACK WHAT HAVE YOU DONE.

This clip is an interview from a film I've been enjoying recently. Robert Downey Jr. is extremely bored and Val Kilmer a calming influence, and the two balance each other very nicely. Odd to find someone who could temper RDJr. and make Val laugh--I say this having procrastinated a great deal over the past week. Interesting dynamic, funny interview.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
is hilarious and awesome, especially for people who love books and films about books and films about people who read too much. The genre is usually known as detective fiction. Pulp fiction. Way too much fun. For people who laugh out loud whilst reading; slightly vulgar but good-hearted in the end. Go buy the film and say nice things about Shane Black.

Saturday, August 9

A not-quite-novel idea.

Anybody who has been reading this for more than a year knows I occasionally write snippets of fiction, but have never really been able to cobble together a story that really wants told. Most of the time I end up poking at my close-mouthed imagination and eventually going back to dishes and laundry. What bothers me now is that I thought I was quite finished writing scribbles that wanted written and am now being encouraged by those around me to write something they can read for fun, so that they see the world from my perspective a bit more. I BLOG, OKAY?!

But I don't write novels, and not a whole lot of people like reading blogs. My ability to write scholarly gibberish is not all that great, either; thanks for asking, though. I really must find a niche.

In other news, I had a dream last night that my hair grew all the way to the ground (it is at my knees, presently) and that it was a mahogany colour (rather than dead-leaf-coloured as it is now). I was walking around with it falling down my back, which I don't normally do since it gets caught on things and people like to touch it. And I was thinking about something else entirely.

Now, for a cup of tea. Tea makes everything better.

Friday, August 1

I know why I like to bake for lammastide.

I enjoy reading scholarly banter and bickering. There's a part of me thinks I could join in if it was interesting enough, or useful. I also admire very much the people who can do things well with their hands: it is a quieter life but probably a more useful one, in the end. I'm not as good at the latter but I admire it more than the former . . . my thesis supervisor (an Anglo-Saxonist of twinkly eyes and a marvellous cackle) suggested I marry a millionaire and get the best of both worlds; apparently millionaires are very lenient with their eccentric wives. Because apparently there is no other way to live both lives.

The whipping session of this dead horse was brought on by the half a minute I found myself gazing into nothing and then waking up to find myself staring at the yellowing edges of an article I printed off ages ago and have kept in my purse to read in waiting rooms and on train platforms. It isn't all that long of an article, but between cooking and cleaning and trying to get my meds to work I haven't been able to finish reading it. That is just embarrassing.

Here is yet another picture of St. Katherine, medieval heroine of women who read--and also, interestingly enough, of woodworkers.

Wednesday, July 23

I still think 'Gosford Park' is one of the best films of all time.

There's a point in the film where--shock-of-all-horrors!--a very short and unhappy man is hiding in a large pantry near the below-stairs kitchen, eating jam out of a jar with a silver spoon. A maid arrives with some menial activity, is startled by the presence of the man sitting and eating jam in the dark, alone. He assures her he will be gone soon and please, not to be disturbed on his account. And then he proceeds to monologue.

"Why is it, would you say, that some people seem to get whatever they want in life? Everything they touch turns to gold. Whereas others can strive and strive... and have nothing. I wonder, do you believe in luck? Do you think some men are lucky and... some men just aren't and... nothing they can do about it?"

Naturally, she has something brilliant to say. After the second jar of jam. Having just canned two batches of jam I am disgusted. Thoroughly disgusted. First excessive jam consumption and then fatalism. What is next.

"I believe in love. Not just getting it. Giving it. I think as long as you can love somebody, whether or not they love you, then it's worth it."

I MUST BRING TOLKIEN IN HERE. You understand, I am sure. He would approve of this quotation, I think; he would probably say it was something like the early Christians in Anglo-Saxon England--to have done the noble thing was enough; a reward would detract from the nobility.

There's something to it, anyway. It was a good sentiment. And besides, he should not have eaten that much jam.

Monday, July 21

Morning of luxury: a cappuccino, home-made banana bread (with chocolate chips!) and a new book.

Contrary to the tone of my recent entries, I do not spend all my time on the internet . . . this morning my cat was disturbed from her morning nap (usually sprawled on my lap with her furry little tummy exposed to the sky) by a courier ringing the doorbell.

Now, my skill in Italian is much stronger in understanding than speaking, but this man could have been in films: I believe his cigarette may have been stapled to his lips and I believe he only exhales smoke. For some reason he found it necessary to breathe this foul smoke into my face as he mumbled to ask for a pen and some scissors . . . having conquered the dragon with pen and blade, I retrieved my treasure with eyes watering and lungs contracting and retreated to the kitchen table.

Thank heavens my cat is the sympathetic type and has already given her approval of the book by attempting to straighten her whiskers and sharpen her teeth on the corners. I suppose I shall have to get work done some time today. Just not in the next hour, though.

Saturday, July 19

Now THIS I am MUCH more proud of.

Your result for How good of a Calvinball player are you?...

Your Grade= A++ Amazing Calvinball knowledge and strategy!

Amazing. You are part of the 2.1% of the population that landed in this category.* You are an expert at the game and its history, and you did incredibly well when it came to playing Calvinball strategically.

This suggests that you definitely have a natural talent in Calvinball. You have learned that the trick to doing well in Calvinball is not brute strength, but quick wit. If you wanted to, you could conceivably turn professional right now.

You are definitely already talented enough to beat Calvin. A match versus the quick-witted tiger would be closer. Still, your infinite knowledge of the game and your brilliant strategy would surely propel you to victory.

* This is a made up number.

Take How good of a Calvinball player are you? at HelloQuizzy

I resent the comparison with Bill Gates, but unquestionably accept all ego-stroking herein.

Your result for The Nerd? Geek? or Dork? Test...
Outcast Genius
83 % Nerd, 57% Geek, 61% Dork

For The Record:
A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.
A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.
A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.

You scored better than half in all three, earning you the title of: Outcast Genius.

Outcast geniuses usually are bright enough to understand what society wants of them, and they just don't care! They are highly intelligent and passionate about the things they know are *truly* important in the world. Typically, this does not include sports, cars or make-up, but it can on occassion (and if it does then they know more than all of their friends combined in that subject).

Outcast geniuses can be very lonely, due to their being outcast from most normal groups and too smart for the room among many other types of dorks and geeks, but they can also be the types to eventually rule the world, ala Bill Gates, the prototypical Outcast Genius.


Sunday, July 6

Lenten ys come with loue to toune


Lenten ys come with loue to toune,
With blosmen ant with briddes roune,
That al this blisse bryngeth.
Dayeseyes in this dales,


Spring has arrived, with love,
With flowers, and with birdsong,
Bringing all this joy.
Daisies in the valleys,

5 Notes suete of nyhtegales,
Vch foul song singeth.
The threstelcoc him threteth oo;
Away is huere wynter wo
When woderoue springeth.
The sweet notes of nightingales,
Every bird sings a song.
The thrush is constantly wrangling;
Their winter misery is gone
When the woodruff flowers.
10 This foules singeth ferly fele
Ant wlyteth on huere [wynne] wele
That al the wode ryngeth.
These birds sing in great numbers,
And chirp about their wealth of joys,
So that all the wood rings.

Friday, July 4

The virtues of Lennon Aldort and drippy watermelon.

I found this in my "new videos!" link on YouTube and have spent the last few minutes watching it with one elbow on The Bread Bible and another in a bowl of watermelon juice . . . our feeble air conditioner has finally been hauled upstairs and plugged in, and this is the way I am celebrating the joys of summer. Happy 4th of July to my American friends:)

Wednesday, July 2

The Jane Austen Book Club & Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

I am highly disturbed by TJABC. Men talk about Austen, read her novels to their significant others, and proclaim her the best of writers and insightful. While I enjoy the banter about the books--I really do, even when I disagree with it--I really think the characterisation here is really off-kilter. The women seem to have their own personalities, but not the men. Very confusing.

KKBB was hilarious. Irreverent, violent, and sometimes gross, but an excellent comedy and worth every second. I hate to admit that Val Kilmer is funny, but he is, and I liked him in this flick. And Robert Downey Jr. is very much the character and excellent as usual.

My brain has been occupied by small lemmings that have persuaded me to read only cookbooks and things not my textbooks. My first facsimile arrived by post and I am so excited about it! It is lovely, really it is. I have already displayed the manuscript copy to just about everyone. In the world. Sort of. The lemmings are asleep, now, though, so I must get some school work done while the night is cool.

Tuesday, June 17

"More than a little eccentric" does not sound promising.

You Are Midnight

You are more than a little eccentric, and you're apt to keep very unusual habits.

Whether you're a nightowl, living in a commune, or taking a vow of silence - you like to experiment with your lifestyle.

Expressing your individuality is important to you, and you often lie awake in bed thinking about the world and your place in it.

You enjoy staying home, but that doesn't mean you're a hermit. You also appreciate quality time with family and close friends.

Thursday, June 5

Most people think missing this city is completely daft.

But for some reason I am very fond of it. It holds many bookish memories for me, pleasant ones of solitude and sometimes of company. Lots about learning, but I never felt I learned enough. Which is why a PhD is in order, I suppose.

Monday, June 2

Plans for world domination:

To console myself about the disadvantages of being such a peculiar personality, I like to imagine there are other young women who curl up with Latin workbooks and Jane Austen films on summer evenings when anything beyond the company of family and dearest friends seems overbearing. Much of the time I doubt many others of my demographic exist, but am further comforted by Ray Bradbury's astonishment at how well we conceal ourselves under floorboards and large boulders. I would have expected, though, that like would call to like some of the time at least.

Is two a number too high to call "too few"? I will say that when the three of us are together, the world might bow before us like the Venetian waiters did, and bring us extra (free) almond biscuits.

Thursday, May 29

liek omg thsi == awsum!!!!1!11!!!!!oneoneYA!

"A given text reduces the infinite or indefinite possibilities of a system to make up a closed universe. Finnegans Wake is certainly open to many interpretations, but it is sure that it will never provide you the demonstration of Fermat's theorem, or the complete bibliography of Woody Allen. This seems trivial, but the radical mistake of irresponsible deconstructionists was to believe that you can do everything you want with a text."
from Umberto Eco's speech From Internet to Gutenberg

Irresponsible deconstructionists!! THAT IS WHAT THEY ARE. As an English major and a victim of many psychoanalytic "critiques" of bad American lit., I say aMEN to that.

Wednesday, May 28

This was me yesterday.

Well, not precisely. It is Mary right before Gabriel came to visit her with News, but it certainly looks like a very sleepy girl catching a few winks over a book that is quite interesting . . . but not interesting enough.

I like the concept of the book of hours; a timekeeping system by way of a connection to eternity. Since the beginning of the year, I have tried to pray in the morning and in the evening. As a result I am less worried, I sleep better, and somehow I have a sense of being a part of something bigger than myself. I suppose I have always felt generally better as a result of keeping a routine, but whether the praying has had an effect on my feelings or my feelings grew out of the natural order of prayer in the morning is a chicken-and-egg situation.
"Benedicamus Domino" / "We bless the Lord"
[Images courtesy of the British Library, Yates Thomson 13, f. 59v]

Monday, May 26

Katerina, the wheel and the book.

was a princess who lived in a large city a very long time ago. Katerina was taught to read when she was young, and she read voraciously for the rest of her life--her favourite books were on philosophy, and her favourite question was “Why?”.

She was curious about the nature of the world and its people, and this got her into a lot of trouble. She soon came to the conclusion that there was a God, and that he loved her very much and had sacrificed much to tell her so and bring her home. Katerina became a Christian. This, too, created a lot of problems for Katerina since Christianity was not popular at the time, and neither were intelligent princesses.

Like most princesses you hear about in stories, she was eventually supposed to get married off to a prince of another country that she didn’t know. In some stories, they say Katerina was very upset because she did not want to get married at all, and some of them say she was willing to be a dutiful princess (it was not her fault she was born that way) and marry the prince with the stipulation that he should be a Christian.

In any case, she did not want to marry the prince they picked out for her: he did not accept her for who she was and went so far as to try and make her promise she would give up the God who loved her. She refused. He brought fifty pagan philosophers to convince her otherwise, but she was able to defeat all their arguments even using their own logic against them. The prince grew very angry, and in his anger he ordered the death of the fifty philosophers. Katerina did her best to stop this, and pleaded with the general in charge of the execution, but to no avail.

The prince asked her again whether she would marry him, and again she said no, although she was very sad and did not want anyone else to die for her sake. The evil prince condemned her to be tortured to death on a spiked wheel, but when they tied her up and brought her to it, the moment she brushed against it the whole thing burst to splinters. The executioner and his henchmen were stuck like pincushions! But the prince would not let Katerina escape, and came after her with a sword and cut off her head. To everyone’s surprise, her body disappeared, and was found at the foot of a mountain thousands of miles away in a tomb already built, with her name upon it.

Because Katerina loved her God so much and wanted the best for her people, she was taken up to heaven as a hero and remained a princess. Some people believe that Katerina looks down from heaven and tries to help other struggling Christians, especially studious women that they might learn the truth, and soldiers that they might have good masters, and people who make wheels that nobody else will ever suffer because of a broken one.
[The images used in this post are courtesy of the British Library, Egerton MS 2781 f. 78v]

Saturday, May 24

Eustace, the oven, and the pies.

Most of the other miniatures and historiated initials in this book of saints are identified on the British Library’s captions with names and scenes of martyrdom. This one is labelled “Historiated initial 'I'(n) at the beginning of the passion of Eustace, with a seated monk eating pies being held in a large bowl by a devil”. The closest I can draw to explaining the connection to Eustace himself is that his emblem is an oven and that he is the patron saint of hunters, but the analogy of the devil giving pies to a monk does not follow through coherently. There is a more plausible explanation.

It could be that the initial is not connected with the story but with its moral: this story begins with the sentence I roughly translate as “In the days of Emperor Trajan [and] the devil was taking power by deception, there was a certain master of soldiers by the name of Placidus”. Placidus was Eustace’s pre-Christian name. I can’t even find the word “demonum” or any form of it in a Latin dictionary, so I am making the assumption of its meaning (a dangerous thing to do, but unfortunately I have no good medieval Latin dictionary at my disposal).

Since the book was owned first by a Benedictine abbey, it could be that for the edification of the monks, this picture was added that they might remember it when they came upon the moral of the story (as told in the Golden Legend):

“And on the morn Eustace went to hunt as he did tofore, and when he came nigh to the place he departed his knights as for to find venison. And anon he saw in the place the form of the first vision, and anon he fell to the ground tofore the figure, and said: Lord, I pray thee to show to me that which thou hast promised to me thy servant, to whom our Lord said: Eustace, thou that art blessed, which hast taken the washing of grace, for now thou hast surmounted the devil, which had deceived thee, and trodden him under foot, now thy faith shall appear. The devil now, because thou hast forsaken him, is armed cruelly against thee, and it behoveth thee to suffer many things and pains. For to have the crown of victory thou must suffer much, because to humble thee from the high vanity of the world, and shalt afterward be enhanced in spiritual riches, thou therefore fail not, ne look not unto thy first glory. For thee behoveth that by temptations thou be another Job, and when thou shalt so be humbled, I shall come to thee, and shall restore thee unto thy first joy. Say to me now whether thou wilt now suffer and take temptations, or in the end of thy life? And Eustace said to him: Lord, if it so behoveth. command that temptation to come now, but I beseech thee to grant to me the virtue of patience. To whom our Lord said: Be thou constant, for my grace shall keep your souls.”

Applying this moral to the life of a monk is fairly simple; their vows were of poverty, obedience, chastity and stability. Of course, since they had chosen to follow Christ the devil was “armed cruelly against [them]” by temptation to break these vows by a number of ways. Gluttony was also one of the Seven Deadly Sins, so the devil with a pie is a fairly simple admonition to endure through religious fasts to gain “spiritual riches”. I would note that I’m not sure if Eustace, even with his ovens and temptations, was ever exhorted for endurance during a fast--he was also the helper to avoid family discord, but I can’t find evidence for a direct relation to a fast.

Unfortunately, I’m not privy to the entire MS or transcription, or I’d compare the vocabulary between the “deception” in the first sentence and the passage in which God speaks to Eustace about “the devil which had deceived [him]”, and the rest of the moral tale in this particular MS, since it isn’t corresponding to the Golden Legend version and might have another passage entirely!

Image from Arundel MS 91, f.190 provided courtesy of the British Library.

Tuesday, May 20

A monk snaffling pies.

I love the British Library and its willingness to allow crazy enthusiasts to use their image databases. One day I will brush up my Latin and REALLY become dangerous to the general public.

This is my favourite image that I've discovered today: a monk snaffling pies and the bowl held by a demon. The pies are traditionally shaped, though for some reason I can't yet get mine to stay in that shape without the scroll-bits on the edge at a massive proportion to the rest of the pie. Delicacy takes time, I am told.

I also find it amusing that the monk is portrayed in green, which is more expensive that a dark, brackish colour, and that for the life of me I can't figure out a logical exemplar for his stool except the human imagination and willing suspension of disbelief. This MS is one of the stories of saints' lives and it is from the first quarter of the 12th c., according to the BL. [Arundel 91, f. 190]

Monday, May 19

Seynt Katheryne

During the olden days of yore, when I was writing my graduate thesis, I studied quite a bit about medieval maidenhood. I can tell you why marriages were not made in infancy and that many medieval women could read, and had businesses of their own. It is something that one of the most popular saints in England during the Middle Ages was martyred because she proved her Christian beliefs against 50 pagan philosophers, on account of her great knowledge and clever use of logic. Being intelligent is what got her into trouble in the first place.

She is usually pictured with a book and a wheel (the instrument intended to kill her but which ended up breaking to splinters; they had to cut off her head in the end), like she is in the illustration below. Her name is Katherine, and she is the one on the far left. Another of the most popular saints is to the right: Margaret. Margaret was eaten by a dragon, and apparently the dragon (which here looks like a bad-tempered cat) choked on the crucifix she wore, and it split the dragon in two. The woman in the middle is Mary Magdalene, with the phial of oil she used to bathe Christ’s feet.

The golden background represents eternity (van Gogh thought it meant love, which I suppose it is easily mistaken for) and you can see the heavenly city of Jerusalem along the borders. The miniature dragon and tiny wheel are simply to show that the past suffering of the saints are instrumental but incomparable to the glory that meets them in heaven.

Anyway, it is Katheryne's vita that I am going to read next, as soon as I finish Chaucer, who can't seem to keep his mind out of the gutter at this point in the Tales. I'd love to visit her monastery, as well--I'm beginning to enjoy the idea of a pilgrimage despite Chaucer's best efforts to ruin it.

[Egerton 1066 f. 10v, courtesy of the British Library]

Wednesday, April 23

Medieval lecterns with turned supports, and how awesome they are.

I haven’t got the technical vocabulary for any of this, but I do spend too much time on the British Library web site and found a selection of images that might other wise have gone unnoticed . . . because of their obscurity. Never mind my geek points for this one. I’ve fulfilled my quota for the year already.

The following links are to images from the British Library, and depict lecterns and writing desks with wooden supports that I think are turned on a lathe. Ever since I found out about wood turning (chiefly through Robin and Robin) I’ve kept my eye open for artefacts in my research (archaeology and manuscript illustration, mostly), but I’m no expert and could easily be mistaken.

Writing desks were made in a variety of styles in the Middle Ages, some being very plain slanted platforms for secretarial work or dictation and some having elaborately carved panels, cushions, and even canopies. What I link to today are elegant but simple varieties of these; the type of stem used here was popular at least in manuscript illustrations if not in actual use.

Psalm 1 from the Breviary of John the Fearless
(Additional 35311, f. 8) Click on the picture to enlarge it. In this you can see the stand on the right, which is being written in rather then read from--in fact, it is a portrait of David writing the psalms, in 15th c. style.

Arundel 547 f. 94v Luke
This is Luke, who in liturgical tradition was Paul’s scribe, writing both the gospel according to Luke and the Book of Acts, which are full of adventures. The style is Byzantine, and it is from the late 10th century.

Harley 3061 f. 1v Author portrait
An ink drawing of a tonsured monk, who probably died c. 860 . . . you can see the stand has a cloth covering over the top, but it seems to be held by a frame of some sort on which is perched a zoomorphic inkwell. The spiral carving or decorative turning can only just be seen peeking out from under the cloth.

Yates Thompson 21 f. 69v Jean de Meun writing in his study
Late 14th c. portrait of the author; the story is Roman de la Rose. This is perhaps the clearest of all these images to display the form of the stand/lectern. I’d love to have one of these made one day.

And here is a page from a site called Medieval Writing, which incidentally has a nifty little exercise set for palaeography practice.

Anyway, thought that would be interesting to post. I might post a picture, too, if I can find the copyright stipulations in a genial mood.

Friday, April 18

Lies I have heard recently, with commentary.

“I love Mondays.” First of all, what person in their right mind would trust the guy who said that?

“If you’d done the right thing, you’d be feeling better about this.” If doing the right thing were comfortable, we’d do it more often.

“You like it! I knew you would.” Oooooh, dear.

“I’m fine.” HA.

“If they have to say to trust them, it is obvious that they are not worth trusting.” Pot calls the kettle black, most of the time, anyway. Begging for trust isn’t always something villains do.

“It’ll be alright in the end.” A nice thought . . . eschatologically speaking.

“No, no, no; you look great . . . nobody will notice.” The people you don’t want to notice usually do; it is people seeing what they want to see that covers your mistakes most of the time.

“Trust in your inner self.” I can’t remember where I heard this sentiment, but: how deep! What a deep, deep pile of £$&% that is.

I would like everyone to know that I am not fooled, that I have had four hours of sleep out of the last 48, and that I did something very uncharacteristic today by getting a manicure. I am now going to think about getting out of my chair and into a bubble bath but it will take awhile until the caffeine has set in before I will be able to lift my elbows from the table. Tomorrow I am going to conjure up some molasses cookies and work on curriculum planning. Joy.

Tuesday, April 15

Relational Cause & Effect

“And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years.

Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.”

Deuteronomy 8:2-10

By quoting this, I don’t mean that God is the reason that bad things happen to good people; I know that people make bad choices and that no one acts in a vacuum. Suffering, even when it is not a result of our own disobedience, is not always an evil, either.

I resist the urge to quote at length Paul (Romans 5:3-5) and Peter (what suffering can compare to the glory that awaits us?), and even Tolkien (does anybody remember Éowyn talking about how “it is not always good to be healed in body”) and Lewis (the bit where God “shouts to us in our pain”).

There is simply something real and true about knowing that my dependence upon God transcends my emotional stability or physical stamina and reaches into the core of my self. The whole connection relies on steadfast love that we’ve been promised and shown, and trust and obedience: a scary proposal for our side if anything is done with less than a whole heart.

. . . And NO, I’m not advocating self-flagellation. Calm down.

Tuesday, April 1

Ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes . . .

Today is the day on which many a medieval love-vision or historical tale begins: April is here. The world is opening up, the zodiacal signs are apparently all frolicking in their set order, and the earth itself is breathing in time to the music of the spheres--humanity was set in a system of thought that knew neither Darwinism nor Jean Jacque Rousseau but a complex system of detailed constructs with religion and speculation tied together in one inextricable knot . . . “in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Thank you, Mr. Dickens. You may be seated.

I was going to post a bunch of really awesome links to some Chaucerian texts and criticism, but it will have to wait. My pillow calls.

Saturday, March 29

Smoke fills the kitchen, and I use it as an excuse to quote Thomas Merton.

I have just burnt to a charred carcass the makings of chicken stock. I had browned the chicken bones, done the whole thing with fresh herbs and vegetables and stepped next door to watch a movie, setting the pot on the lowest heat and hoping it would get hot enough to simmer while I was gone . . . and simmer it most certainly did. To cinders.

Ah, well. I am now airing out the kitchen before I go to sleep: this kind of event is the Aristotelian actualisation for scented candles.

Tomorrow I resolutely plan to make a pot roast and sneak some roasted potatoes in next to it, and maybe have a salad, too. I have some feeble-looking artichokes that are going to be sacrificed on the altar of the Unknown Recipe, which should be fun: it involves cheese. Obviously a winner.

I’ve quoted Thomas Merton before--and I haven’t read very much of him but I’m working up to it--but I believe this quote sums up what I am feeling right now:

"The special clumsy beauty of this particular colt on this April day in this field under these clouds is a holiness consecrated to God by His own creative wisdom and it declares the glory of God."

I can’t help but laugh. I’m doing what comes to me naturally just as clumsily as I was made to be; by throwing my whole heart into everything I do I am completely and utterly my self, to the glory of God. The fragrance of my smoky kitchen must be a strange burnt offering, though. I am glad God laughs.

And here is a picture of my cat, Elanor (fondly called "Nora"), who was unperturbed by the entire operation but who clearly thought it was a waste of a good chicken carcass.

Tuesday, March 25

“You look very pretty tonight.”

Like most men I know, my father is not the most attentive to appearances. I consider this a good thing since I’m not so big on appearances, myself, but his affection then manifests itself in odd ways, such as telling me I look pretty when I am standing in front of a tray of warm molasses cookies whose recipe I have yet to divulge to its adoring fans.

(My costume on this occasion is a ratty sweater that more than one member of my family has hinted that I ought not to wear, raggedy jeans, and socks that say “boys are smelly” on them in neon blue print--I wear no make-up and my hair is only just brushed and stuck up with pins into a tangle on the back of my head. And I’d been cooking all day so I’m smeared with flour, dough, bits of onion, &c.)

“The cookies;” I want to say, “it is the cookies that are very pretty tonight.”

I suppose that by association I, too, might be marvellous in the sight of men and angels (these are some pretty awesome cookies), just as I was popular by association with my sister in high school and heretical by poking holes in the logic of a visiting preacher way back in the white-picket-fence-church days.

This tends to happen when tired people see me holding out food to them. I have no objection. The habit of arguing semantics is hard to let go of, though. Le sigh.

Tuesday, March 18

Periissem nisi periissem.

Recently, a lot of my married friends are confiding in me that they once thought they’d never find another person who could love them for what they are and now look at them and their happy marriages. I believe it is a veiled way of saying that they hope I find somebody one day and may also be a vague way of referring to their concern that I may secretly be a mutant.

While this is very sweet of them, it can be incredibly frustrating; I’d like them to just out and say it so that it can be discussed. Dancing around the subject is no way of dealing with it--generally speaking, I don’t believe dancing is a good idea, anyway. Am very clumsy.

Not too clumsy with baking, though--today, I made a bajillion-layer cake with whipped cream and strawberries and fed to a sleep-over full of young women. If I can find a reasonable picture of it I will post it, because it was glorious.

It is just another one of those times where I have to look beyond my friends’ actions to the kindness that provoked them, and beyond the classes I dislike to the certificate on my resume’ . . . meanwhile, I will allow cooking to distract me. Tomorrow I am making a quiche.

Saturday, March 8

I like to call this one 'The Graduate Student Feeds'.

Notice the fine detail around the ragout with parsley-parmesan roll and wooden bowl & spoon (see the link on the right menu). One would almost think the student in question ended up eating like this quite a bit, though I would guess her favourite food to eat out of this particular bowl would be oatmeal with a dollop of home-made sour cherry jam on top.

The book pictured is The Lindisfarne Gospels: Society, Spirituality & the Scribe by the curator of Western manuscripts at the British Library.

More lively, not longer life. That is what 'eternal' means.

I bought three new songs on iTunes and feel very smug about it: they are labelled under Shira Kammen’s album Almanac but they are sung by John Fleagle, who only put out one album before he died. His name does not appear in connection to Kammen’s album, though from having read a little about them I know they respected each other.

My inhaler is making my heartbeat go all funky, but I haven’t really been trying to calm myself down like I usually do; I have a very weekendsical desire to watch suspenseful films today and do to little work.

And I’ve been having a bit of trouble about philosophical dualism. I don’t see how love fits into that system; it seems to trump logic. I don’t want to research any more about it, though--I know what I believe and I grow frustrated with the many instances of lazy despair. In fact, I grow bored with them. Is that so awful? Don’t worry, I am still thinking.

Anyway, love and death. Life’s a mess.

Sunday, March 2

Oh, and Hugh Jackman.

One of my new favourite films. The story, plot, acting, soundtrack, cinematography and especially the symbolism were fascinating. I'm very impressed. The trailer may look weird but you should check it out.

Thursday, February 28

Death is the road to awe.

I’m about to go away for the weekend, which will horrify my cat but hopefully be good for my allergies. The area of the country I’ll be travelling in is one of my favourites, and I look forward to the time to pray and think.

Something inside me is not quite right--if I were talking about it in physical terms I would say that my depth perception is failing, or that my heart is beating off-pattern. I’m not motivated to do the things I love--I know it is this time of year, as well; Lent is a season of mourning.

There is a lot of pride in me that I wish God would tear out; once I prayed that he would rip it all out by the roots and so be it if my sanity or intelligence or physical ability went with it. I think he has taken me seriously. I’m happy, in the sense of having been blessed, not emotionally giddy, that he has done this thing even though it has cost me dearly. I don’t regret it, but the continual awareness of just how isolating skin and bones and cartilage and gore can be is exquisitely painful. I find it difficult to communicate with people that I love.

The worst thing about this is that nobody really wants to write back and forth, which is the way I best communicate. In a debate, I have the choice to either let my anger or my vulnerability rule me. Allowing anger to fuel me makes arguments more heated, more articulate, less logical, and provides me with an opportunity for rage. I am the first person to admit I don’t want anger ruling me. Vulnerability, on the other hand, simply leads to tears. This confounds my poor family and annoys them (they don’t seem to have any problem with this type of thing), and I can’t blame them. I hate crying and all the accompanying ills.

This entry is too long, now, and too introspective to be interesting. I have seen a fantastic movie, The Fountain and I’ll post the trailer here if I end up still thinking about it after the weekend, or impulsively buying the soundtrack.

Wednesday, February 20

There was at least 45 minutes of reading before the first chapter of a book about a book about a Word.

“How and why did one person invest so much sustained effort into producing such an encyclopaedic masterpiece? What was the artist-scribe’s life like? What must it have been like to try to claw back enough time and energy to undertake this body-racking, muscle-aching, eye-straining task in a hut somewhere on the seaboard of north-west Europe with the wind and the rain and the distraction of a beauteous Creation all around?

“What other duties filled the day: the monastic round of the divine hours (perhaps as many as eight religious services throughout each day and night); the need to prove humility by manual labour, from milking cows to brewing ale or forging metalwork; the requirements of daily prayer and study (some scope for scribal feats of heroism there); the forty days in the wilderness of physical deprivation and penance for Lent; the joys of high days and holy days; the constant intercessions for living and for dead and against threat of famine, plague and pestilence, and of all-too-frequent military confrontations; apprehension concerning all these dangers to your own and to kindred communities and to the surrounding countryside which harboured your flock, which was in constant need of your pastoral care as well as your ‘physick’ and humanitarian aid? In such an environment the scribe takes up his quill and brush as the armament in his spiritual struggle [...]” (p. 4)

I do love the introduction to this book. I haven’t been very far into chapter one before more tangible pleasantries and duties kept me from it, but I look forward to going further as time allows.

Brown, Michelle P. The Lindisfarne Gospels: Society, Spirituality & the Scribe. British Library, London: 2003.

Tuesday, February 19

Rich and orphaned and beloved.

The only time I’ve ever felt like this I was also feeling poor and powerless and lonely, so it was all very confusing and I’m not sure what it all meant. I tried to write a poem like this one--in form rather than content--but it sounded sallow and surreal: it sounded hinged. The fact that love hopes at all times and also trusts at all times is a difficult thing to understand for those of us who stand with the light behind us.

Anyway, that’s why I love to read stories with happy endings.

Sunday, February 10

A real love poem.

By William Meredith

Touching your goodness, I am like a man
Who turns a letter over in his hand
And you might think that this was because the hand
Was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man
Has never had a letter from anyone;
And now he is both afraid of what it means
And ashamed because he has no other means
To find out what it says than to ask someone.

His uncle could have left the farm to him,
Or his parents died before he sent them word,
Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.
Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.
What would you call his feeling for the words
that keep him rich and orphaned and beloved?



Friday, February 8

Gloria Dei vivens homo. Slowly and surely.

I don’t quite get why people get warm fuzzy realisations or dramatic revelations from their fathers in movies. Probably because I have a healthy relationship with my father . . . but having a conversation in which we talked about Arian and Pelagian heresies, grad school papers and mutual neighbourhood ogres brought up the subject of my career, which is depressing and left me very downcast.

So now I have a headache AND no money. No, it wasn’t anything my dad said--he is always very encouraging about that sort of thing. It’s just the prospects. We changed the subject to the upcoming elections.

. . . And I was just getting into the whole idea of being okay with being this odd. The work of Merton, Aristotle, Irenaus, and all my well-meaning friends has been found to be shaky and fragile. All it takes is trust that I’m doing the right thing. I know I can’t trust myself to do the right thing--it is God that does the right thing. So does that make it my relationship with God that needs the support.

Hey, at least I have something to work on, now. This I can do something about.

Tuesday, January 29

Independent Study Introductory Bibliography, Unedited First Draft

St. Thomas Aquinas' entire masterpiece, in an easy-to-use format
ORB: The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies
K-12 Medieval Studies
::Medieval England::
An encyclopaedia of aspects in Medieval England covering many aspects of Medieval England starting with 1066 and the Battle of Hastings. Medieval England was an era of great change and this section of work contains many key areas of Medieval England
Grover Furr's Medieval History and Literature Page - Resources to medieval life, art, architecture & history
Gothic images and narratives of medieval art, architecture and history.
The British Library Caxtons
Etext Center: Collections an annotated guide to online resources
Background, bibliography, biography, commentary, essays, images, language, outlines, reception, teaching resources, and texts.
Plantagenet Shoes Homepage

Gaukler Medieval Wares
medieval and ancient jewellery and antiquities for sale
Billy and Charlie's Finest Quality Pewter Goods
Welcome to Billy and Charlie's Highest Quality
Pewter Goods - the world's most authentic and best stocked supplier of replica medieval pewter wares.
Manning Imperial - Home
Tods Stuff - Hand Crafted Traditional Items at Realistic Prices

Tods Stuff - Hand Crafted Traditional Items at Realistic Prices. In the old days, time was cheap and materials were expensive; things were often well made and exquisitely decorated. Times have changed and now highly decorated items are now either mass produced or seriously expensive but you can still hand make quality simple goods at a realistic price, and that is what I do.
The Tudor Market - Pots Jewellery Woodware Shoes Purses Haberdashery Costumes School Visits
Tudor traders in all manner of tudor goods and crafts
History In The Making
Brescia Woodworks, Home of the Savonarola Chair - Home
Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) Archive
Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) Archive
Electronic Resources

VoS: Anglo-Saxon & Medieval
The Auchinleck Manuscript : National Library of Scotland
The Wanderer: e-Edition by Tim Romano. Swarthmore, PA. © 1998. All rights reserved.
The Labyrinth
Welcome to Medieval Forum

Medieval Forum, an electronic journal for the study
of Medieval English Literature, is inviting submissions.
Scholarly Digital Editions
We specialise in highest-quality academic electronic publications
TEAMS -- About the Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages
Wessex Parallel WebTexts
Wessex Parallel WebTexts is
a project designed to provide a corpus of short Middle English works,
edited to scholarly standards, freely available on the World Wide Web
for student use.
History of Medieval & Renaissance Europe: Primary Documents - EuroDocs
Chaucer MetaPage

The Medieval Academy
BREPOLiS - BREPOLiS information
Introduction to traditional grammar
A student's guide to the traditional grammatical terms used in dictionaries, glossaries, and textbooks, with a section on Old English.
Building Community: Medieval Technology and American History
The PIPE List
Robin Hood -- Bold Outlaw of Barnsdale and Sherwood
Robin Hood resources including well-researched historical articles, ballads, interviews, pictures and more for beginners and longtime fans of the bold outlaw of Barnsdale and Sherwood Forest and his Merry Men. Learn how the medieval outlaw legend changed over time. Discover the real folks behind folklore.
Medieval Academic Discussion Groups
Paul Halsall/Fordham University/Intro to Medieval History
Labyrinth Home Page

Medieval studies scholarly resources compiled and organized from around the world.
The Art of Onfim
Jean ELSEN & ses Fils s.a. :: Numismatists ::
Jean ELSEN & ses Fils s.a. - the largest numismatic auction house and coin dealer in Belgium. Specialised in ancient, medieval, modern coins and medals. Large numismatic book store.
france royal medieval coins england royal medieval coins france england king coins coins of venice coins of the doges medeival chronology day by day chronology
The New Jerusalem Mosaic
Death in Art

Some notes on medieval English genealogy
Resources for medieval English genealogy, including a guide to sources, and links to source material and family histories on the Internet
Museum Dragons
Museum Dragons at the Vorarlberger Landesmuseum, Bregenz (Austria)
The Cult of St. George
A collection of translations of primary sources for the cult of St. George, with bibliography and secondary commentary
The Sigurd Portal
Welcome to Gode Cookery
Index page of the domain
Musée national du Moyen Age - (musee Cluny Paris)

Le site du Musée National du Moyen Age - thermes gallo-romains et l'hôtel des abbés de Cluny à Paris. - Web site of the Cluny museum in Paris France, museum dedicated to the middle age
The Hunt in Arthurian Literature -- vergil resources
Vergil translations, editions, maps, bibliography, discussion group, links, search engine, etc.

Monday, January 7

The sight of that empty air.

Today, the hills around my house are covered in mist, and there’s been a light rainfall all about the village since about 9. It’s cool outside, but not too cold; I expect it will be dark around 4 or 5 this afternoon and then it will be too chilly for my comfort.

This is one of the first times the cats have really gone out on a rainy day since the early fall. They come back in with a light dew on their coats as if they have managed to avoid the rain, and they smell like wood-smoke and clean earth. Their ritual naps and bathing cycles are followed by contemplation of the rain and then several deep sighs, blinking, and short conversations with me about my meagre use of the gas heater.

I’m pleased to be alone and pleased to have work to do. For the first time in ages, I am simply comfortable.