Monday, 27 December 2010

Flash Hallelujahs

Here's a lovely link to a flashmob singing the Hallelujah Chorus to some surprised  shoppers. Even sitting here in my office two days after Christmas (which is cold and unfestive because I'm just off out for a walk so I haven't lit the stove) it made me smile hugely, and weep a little. Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Warmth in our bellies

It's still snowy outside, so I've pulled the curtains, turned on the radio and cleared the worktop to start preparing our Christmas feast. First up, braised red cabbage with apples and onions - chop, chop, chop, grind, grind, grind (mmm - nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon, tropical warmth on every breath), but then nothing to do but luxuriate in the smell of comfort food settling down in the big red casserole into a soft slushy mess. The challenge is not eating it until everyone's round the table on the 25th - I've hidden it in an anonymous pot at the back of the fridge so no one knows it's there. Don't let on!

Friday, 17 December 2010

The twelve short stories of Christmas

What joy! Twelve classic short stories introduced and read by some of my favourite writers, and all for free. There's one a day and so far, nestling in my iPod, I have Colm Toibin reading Eugene McCabe's 'Music at Annahullian', William Boyd reading JG Ballard's 'My Dream of Flying to Wake Island', Philip Pullman and Chekhov's 'The Beauties', Margaret Drabble and 'The Doll's House' by Katherine Mansfield, Anne Enright reading Carver's 'Fat', and Rose Tremain reading 'Extra' by Yiyun Li.

To my shame, and pleasure, almost all of these stories are new to me - the only one I know for sure that I've read before is Yiyun Li's, and she's such a lovely writer that I'm more than happy to enjoy it again. And given my sieve-like memory it's quite possible I'll recognise several more when I settle down to listen.

I'm planning Christmas already - each day, before anyone else gets up, I'll make a cup of tea, light the stove in my office and plump the cushion in my rocking chair. Then I'll plug in to half an hour or so of luxury. Heaven!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Swimmer: hot off the press!

Today my first short story is published - I sent it to The Warwick Review and was stunned when Michael Hulse, the editor, accepted it as it's only the second time I've ever sent a story out.

If you'd like to read it in full, I'm afraid you'll have to buy a copy of The Warwick Review at - but to whet your appetite, here's a taste from the opening paragraphs:

The Swimmer

The alders at the river’s edge stand motionless in the midsummer heat. In the fields, the twisted cattle beans are black. A car buzzes out of sight, its engine muzzled by the thick air. Above it all, the sky is a bleached starling’s egg blue. Three weeks of windless sun weigh down on the fields: nothing moves except the water, slow, steady, a slick of olive green pouring away from her.
She sits at her desk in the back room gazing out at the river. Where it rounds the first bend there’s an eddy as the current twists out into the middle, pirouettes and continues on its course. The sun catches the ripples, sprays them silver for a moment. The light is so bright that she can hardly bear to look at it. 
            She is so hot.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Drip drip

The snow has almost gone now, but the pond in our garden is still frozen. I was taking pictures of the bubbles in the ice, and found this rowan berry, which must have fallen just as the surface of the water was about to freeze - you can see the splash, caught in the moment of the water freezing.

Friday, 10 December 2010

String theory

It seems amazing that from black and white marks on a page, and a well carved piece of 19th century timber, we can make such beautiful sounds. Tonight I'm playing in a concert with the East Grinstead Chamber Orchestra - Corelli, Boccherini, Mozart, and the odd man out in this company, Rachmaninov. We're supporting two young soloists, Laura van der Heijden (cello) and Olga Zadorozhnuik (piano) and to my enormous pleasure there are great chunks where as the lowest of the low in cello terms I sit in silence and lap up their gorgeous playing. Even better, when I am playing, I can actually play the music quite well, so I can really enjoy being part of the great sound-making machine that is an orchestra.

I put all the music in my Spotify library so that I could get the feel of them - if you've got Spotify and click on these links you can hear an ideal version of our concert wherever you are.

Arcangelo Corelli – Concerto Grosso In G Minor, Op. 6, No. 8, "Christmas Concerto" : I. Vivace - Grave
Arcangelo Corelli – Concerto Grosso In G Minor, Op. 6, No. 8, "Christmas Concerto" : II. Allegro
Arcangelo Corelli – Concerto Grosso In G Minor, Op. 6, No. 8, "Christmas Concerto" : III. Adagio - Allegro - Adagio
Tim Hugh – Cello Concerto No. 3 In G Major, G. 480: I. Allegro
Tim Hugh – Cello Concerto No. 3 In G Major, G. 480: II. Adagio
Tim Hugh – Cello Concerto No. 3 In G Major, G. 480: III. Allegro
The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra – Mozart: Harpsichord Concerto in G, K.107 No.2 after J.C. Bach's Sonata Op. 5 No. 3 - 1. Allegro
Ton Koopman – Mozart: Harpsichord Concerto in G, K.107 No.2 after J.C. Bach's Sonata Op. 5 No. 3 - 2. Thema (Allegretto) mit Variazionen
Dallas Symphony Orchestra – Rachmaninoff: Vocalise For Orchestra, Op. 34, No. 14 - Vocalise For Orchestra, Op. 34, No. 14
South Europe Philharmonic Orchestra – Vocalise Op.34/14

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Books are terrifying!

'Books and all forms of writing are terror to those who wish to suppress the truth.' Wole Soyinka.

If you're ever tempted to think that words don't matter, go to . It's the website of Free Word, based in London, which brings together writers, runs great evenings of literature and ideas, and shouts loud about the importance of free speech. On Friday 10 December they're hosting 'Into the mystic', a Yeats-fest, which I sadly can't make as I'll be playing my cello down here in Sussex.

Thursday, 2 December 2010


Here's what's keeping our toes warm - a mix of oak, ash, silver birch and mystery logs, stacked higgledy-piggledy because the pile collapsed last week and we threw it all back into the store just before the snow came.

We've gathered our wood from all over, so fallen trees from riversides, gardens and woodland are turning to ash here in my stove. When it's cool, I'll spread the ash under the new apple trees and next summer we'll be eating Reverend Wilkes and James Grieve nourished by all those old trees. One day our apples trees will die too and maybe someone else will cut them down, chop them into logs and split them, and pile them up ready to burn.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snowy books

There's six inches of snow outside and more falling. I've filled the log baskets, reinsulated the doors, and checked my emails. There's nothing to do but read - bliss. So which books are the snowiest reads?

They have to be on my shelves. No chance of getting to the library or Waterstones - and Amazon won't get through either - so here's the perfect chance to reread books I haven't opened for years.

First off, a cheat, David Vann's 'Legend of a Suicide' - a cheat because I only read it two months ago, and it's still swirling round my head like a blizzard. It's shocking and beautiful and you'll never want to hole up in a hunting cabin in midwinter in Canada when you've read it. Especially not with a suicidal father.

How about Isabella Bird's 'A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains'? Here she is in November 1873:

'Thanksgiving Day. The thing dreaded has come at last, a snowstorm, with a north-east wind. It ceased around midnight, but not till it had covered my bed. Then the mercury fell below zero, and everything froze. I melted a tin of water for washing by the fire, but it was hard frozen before I could use it. My hair, which was thoroughly wet with the thawed snow of yesterday, is hard frozen in plaits. The milk and treacle are like rock, the eggs have to be kept on the coolest part of the stove to keep them fluid. Two calves in the shed were frozen to death ...'

Glad I'm in East Sussex and my walls are made of brick rather than ill-fitting planks of wood!

Here's another one, 'Peace' by Richard Bausch. It's set in Italy at the end of the second world war as a patrol of young American soldiers climbs a mountain on reconnaissance. The mounting snow is both beautiful and potentially lethal.

Perhaps I'll wrap up with something more heartwarming, 'A Child's Christmas in Wales'. Dylan Thomas's wonderful piece of prose poetry. Here's a taste, but even better, Spoken Ink have just made a recording of it for only 99p.

'Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely -ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards.'

Time to go and tuck up with a book under the duvet.

I love Spoken Ink. They read me great short stories, often for only 99p - and sometimes for free.