Sunday, October 31, 2010

Who Knows Why?

Who Knows Why?

There is an old covered bridge that spans a loud, rushing creek not very far from my house. Straight off the pages of a ghost story, it rattles and moans when you cross it, one car at a time, and once inside it is dark and dank, with unseen terrors that lurk, without question, in its sinister, cobwebby shadows - terrors that follow your progress as you slowly pass through like the eyes in an ancestral portrait.  The journey across causes the adult imagination to spark uncontrollably and it doesn’t take much to work out what it might do to that of a child.

I was that child and when I was little and October came round, my father would often, under intense and vociferous pressure, load up the family car with me and my little girlfriends and we would drive to that bridge to listen in rapt, shivering attention as he told us the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Lord, how we loved it.  Sitting huddled together, giggling nervously, we half expected poor, frightened Ichabod Crane to come careening out of the darkness, with the horrid Headless Horseman in menacing pursuit.  I never cross over that bridge today without smiling.  But I still keep my eyes straight ahead.

Why do we love to be scared?  The Songwriter has an enormous collection of classic ghost stories - M. R. James and Le Fanu, Poe and Wharton - and he relishes pulling them out to reread on these windy fall nights.  I myself love nothing better than those old black and white movies with haunted houses and keening ghosts - I tend to pop them in this time of year as well.  I hasten to state that I’m not talking about the slasher movie or ultra gory tale.  Those I tend to regard as rather sick, devoid of wit, and not worth my time.   Horror?  No.  But spooky?  Oh my, yes!  Give me a good, old-fashioned scary story on a black, moonless night - like The Uninvited, or The Others, even the original Wolfman - and I am guaranteed a most enjoyable evening.

As costumed children on long ago Halloweens, from our vantage points behind our plastic masks, the world, once so ordinary, now seemed strange and delightfully different. There was a delicious sort of fear in the air that we absolutely loved.  Even now, who among us hasn’t felt that same fearful thrill once or twice when we've groped for a light switch around a darkened doorway, wondering if our hand might perhaps meet another, one clammy and cold, just waiting to clasp ours inside the empty room beyond? 
 Doesn’t our pace quicken a bit when we pass by the grey abandoned house, the one with the broken windows and the porch swing that rocks, back and forth, back in forth, in the wind?  And don’t we laugh a bit nervously when we’re safely on the other side?

So yes, once again, I’ve chosen my witch hat, the one with the extravagant pheasant feather.  I have bowls of candy at the ready, and candles waiting to be lit.  Greig and Mussorgsky play softly, but distinctly, in the background and The Songwriter is out putting the finishing touches on his frightful tableau for the garden.  Soon our street will fill with wee little goblins of every mysterious shape and size. 
Who knows why we love it.
But we do.
Happy Halloween to All!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It Is Coming

It Is Coming

Turn up your tweed collar if it makes you feel safe.  
Draw tight the tapestry curtains and deny the moonlight passage into your sheltered room. 
 Kiss the golden amulet wound securely round your neck and pull up the warm quilt as far as you can, far up over your head if you wish.
 But remember, just remember, it shall make not a difference on the last day of the month.
 For you shall be found, oh yes.

Step out in the darkness and gaze up at the clouds. 
You can feel it already, in the depth of your bones - in the way your hands tremble, in the way your thumbs prick. 
Even now the pumpkins are smiling, even now the black cats are listening to voices unheard.
You know it is coming, yes.  
It is coming.

Riding in on the winds blowing sharp from the west, this most ancient of revenants is out traveling once more. 
 And it cannot be barred from your rooms with a bolt - it shall laugh at the sight of a latch. 
You shall never outrun it no matter your speed, it is useless to wish that you could. 
It will hide in your corners and peer through your glass, run a cold finger down the length of your spine. 
You shall hear its faint cackle upon the chilled breezes, circling round your dark window at midnight.
  Brave laughter will catch in your throat when you notice its green eyes are following you home.

The bats are now gathering in the glow of the streetlight, the rooks now are calling from high up in the trees.
Even now, it is coming.
It is coming.


Who’s in the next room ? - who?
I seemed to see
Somebody in the dawning passing through,
 Unknown to me.”
“Nay; you saw nought.  He passed invisibly.”

Thomas Hardy

Monday, October 25, 2010



I tend to work by an open window in as many seasons as I possibly can, closing it, reluctantly, only in the coldest days of winter, or the stickiest ones of summer.  Having had quite a few of those sticky days this particular summer, sitting by my wide open window has been absolute bliss since Autumn unpacked her cool and colourful cases outside.  The October breezes, bracing in the early morning - gently warm in the afternoon - blow in continuously, playing tunes on the windchimes and ruffling Edward’s fur as he dozes on his tartan bed in the corner.  The cerulean blue glass birdfeeder is open for business all day, with feathered friends of every avian persuasion stopping in to say hello.  It has been delightful.  
Until last week.
   When HE arrived.
A grey squirrel.
Small, ordinary, and pure evil.
Gluing his paws to a tree limb just after sunrise, he has remained planted right outside my open window every day for over a week, determined, it seems, to drive me completely, utterly, irreversibly, mad.  No bigger than a bedroom slipper, but with a sound that explodes from his furry grey body eerily reminiscent of the high pitched shriek of Hitchcock’s violins in the infamous shower scene of Psycho.  And he emits this nerve-rattling sound every ten seconds of every minute of every hour of the blessed day.  

Now squirrels are not a rarity in my little corner of the world.  In fact, our back garden is fairly wiggly with them, especially this time of the year.  Edward has attempted to persuade me of their demonic proclivity for the longest time of course, but I suppose, being raised as I was with such charming characters as Squirrel Nutkin and Rocky, I have been slow to convince.
But this has been too much.  This Poeian squirrel of Halloween week, with his tell-tale heart of a shriek that slices through my innocent window like a knife blade, over and over and over, hacking away every coherent thought, carving my placid mood into little angry shards that spill over my desk and chew up every creative impulse until I throw down my pencils and head for the door.... this squirrel, this nemesis, this monster... must go.

And over in the corner, snuggled deep into a fat red tartan bed, Edward smiles a wry smile.  
“I told her so”.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Mountains On Monday

Pamela Terry and Edward


 I like the way that the world is made, 
  (Tickle me, please, behind the ears)
With part in the sun and part in the shade
(Tickle me, please, behind the ears), 
This comfortable spot beneath a tree
Was probably planned for you and me;
Why do you suppose God made a flea?
Tickle me more behind the ears.

I hear a cricket or some such bug
(Tickle me, please, behind the ears)
And there is a hole some creature dug
(Tickle me, please, behind the ears)
I can’t quite smell it from where we sit, 
But I think a rabbit would hardly fit;
Tomorrow, perhaps, I’ll look into it:
Tickle me more behind the ears.

A troublesome fly is near my nose,
(Tickle me, please, behind the ears);
He thinks I’ll snap at him, I suppose,
(Tickle me, please, behind the ears).
If I lay on my back with my legs in the air
Would you scratch my stomach, just here and there?
It’s a puppy trick and I don’t much care, 
But tickle me more behind the ears.

Heaven, I guess, is all like this
(Tickle me, please, behind the ears);
It’s my idea of eternal bliss
(Tickle me, please, behind the ears). 
With angel cats for a dog to chase, 
And a very extensive barking space, 
And big bones buried all over the place -
And you, to tickle behind my ears.

by Burges Johnson


For Edward and me, this old poem seemed the perfect fit for our beautiful day in the mountains on Monday.
 I wonder, what does it mean when a woman’s hair colour exactly matches her dog’s?
And we both got trims on Tuesday.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Bliss Of Solitude

The Bliss of Solitude

I tend to get quite a few invitations for dinner whenever The Songwriter is out of town, as he has been this week. People seem to think I will be lonely, or bored, or both.  I appreciate the thought immensely, of course, but I usually decline all offers. 
 There is a yawning chasm that stretches between lonely and alone.  And, while I certainly miss The Songwriter’s lovely presence in the house, these occasional quiet weeks are, for me, a gift to be savoured.  
With my usual schedule now banished,  my heart slows down, down, to a secret beat - one remembered from childhood, only heard in the stillness.
 Ordinary tasks are now more deliberate. 
The prosaic becomes the sublime.
 I polish furniture with a caress, sew on a button with the eye of a seamstress. 
All the windows are flung open, beckoning chilled autumnal breezes into every corner of the cottage and I sit before them, in a favourite sweater, eyes closed, breathing in the fragrances of falling leaves and earth. 
I notice the sound of the acorns that bounce like hailstones off the roof above my head - a veritable feast for the squirrels, falling right out of the skies.   
Questions, complex and impenetrable, are ironed out completely during long conversations with Edward. 
Earl Grey is brewed liberally, and poured from a transferware pot into cups carefully chosen to enhance the mood of the moment - Wedgwood for elevenses, majolica for night.
 I take time to watch, fascinated, as a setting sunbeam shoots through an old crystal cross on my table, baptizing the room with rainbows.
Political news is cast out, replaced by Mozart and Petula Clark.
  Stephen Fry reads me Harry Potter as I stir a cauldron full of soup.
I read and I read.
And knit with red wool.
And sleep soundly.
And dream of Christmas.

Here in the States, we place a high regard on the idea of happiness.  So much so, its pursuit was actually declared an unalienable Right in our country’s Constitution.  However, I have yet to encounter someone who can adequately define the word.  Its definition tends to shift like the light from a prism with each individual I ask.
 One thing I do know, happiness it is not to be found outside of oneself. For it is in the legendary bliss of solitude that it hides, wrapped in contentment, tied up with peace.  It drifts down like snow on the shoulders of the quiet and the still, unaccompanied by any brass band of want or desire - unfettered by bitterness, independent of fear. It sits in the commonplace - in the sweet scent of lavender on a freshly ironed sheet, in the cheerful brown gleam in a white dog’s eye.
I found it waiting for me in a week all alone,
 surrounded by books and dogs, in silence and love.

Thursday, October 14, 2010



"Man with dog closes a gap in the universe"
C.S. Lewis

Sometimes life is just impossible to understand.
Please go visit my friend Angus, and his charming companion, Wilf.
They are in need of a kind word today.
You can get to them HERE

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Practically Perfect October Day

A Practically Perfect October Day
When the demilune moon finally slips down beneath the pale pink horizon of dawn, a brand new day shall appear. But for now, suspended in the muffled velvet of night, the Earth sleeps away, blind and unknowing, waiting for doors to fling open, morning bells to ring out.

While out past the planets, where the blue of the sky dissolves into black, and back into blue once again, there is a land where unnamed stars wink at each other and galaxies rattle round in the pocket of God like loose change.  Deep within these unknowable borders is a room lined with windows that never close and in the middle of that room is a shimmering table made of golden water and children’s dreams.  At that table October now sits, calmly waiting to speak. 
 She gazes at those who have gathered around her - the Azure Sky and the Raincloud, the Crisp Breeze, the Hail, and the Fog.  The Snow pays her little mind, for he knows he shall not be called on for duty this day - he is instead in a corner, whispering white secrets to the inattentive Heat Wave.
The Nor’easter is hopeful, the Ice Storm’s asleep.
October tosses her auburn hair and sings the meeting to order.   
There is no time to waste.
 This day must be planned. 
Known to reign with a benevolent hand, she privately thinks her Summer predecessors have been a bit harsh with their assignments this year and is therefore more determined than ever to bestow a salubrious mood over the thirty-one days that lie under her rule.
So she shakes her head sharply at the Rain and the Ice, gives a firm no to the Tornadic Wind. 
But she nods to the brilliant Azure Blue Sky, smiles warmly at the Brisk Breeze of Autumn. Both disappear in an instant, at once on their journey to the still sleeping Earth.  She sends Lingering Shadow for a dollop of mystery, dispatches Bright Sunshine, Crystal Air and Cool Night. 
Then, clearing the room with a one wave of her hand, she sits at a tall open window to watch. 

She soon spies a woman down far below, packing her suitcase, kissing a big white dog goodbye on the top of his head.  She sees the woman throw the suitcase into the back of her car.  Her gaze follows the woman into the green mountains, watching as she sings along to the music, her hair flying out of the open window, a smile upon her sunkissed face. 
 And October is pleased.  
Her work is appreciated.  
Indeed, as she continues to observe the happy lady on her holiday below, she decides that maybe she shall keep the next few days just like this particular one.  After all, judging by the lady’s reaction, this day is practically perfect.
And gathering up her skirts of cardinal feathers and fallen leaves, with an imperious toss of her auburn hair, October sweeps from the room.


“There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October”
Nathaniel Hawthorne

Painting above by Lucien Levy-Dhurmer

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Children

The Children

There is hardly a week that flies past without another disturbing report on the nightly news about the increasing problem of school bullying.  Nasty incidents, that frequently seem to end in utter tragedy. It simply breaks the heart. And no one seems to know exactly what to do.
No doubt we had bullies when I was a child, but nothing ever escalated to the jagged heights upon which we are now teetering.  If anything unpleasant occurred back then, parents stepped in pretty vigorously and harmony was restored fairly quickly. We all knew what behaviour was acceptable and what was not.  Real cruelty was not something we confronted often.

Of course, our cultural influences were much different in those days.  Children did not grow up listening to the sort of vitriol that floods our airwaves now.  They never sang along to coarse and violent song lyrics that celebrate the sordid and the depraved.  They did not see so-called “reality” television shows that seek to debase and humiliate others for sport.  Radio personalities did not build entire careers on their infamous abilities to insult and incite.  News stations never screamed rumour as fact, never peddled fear and intolerance in their rabid desire to tickle the ears of the ignorant.  
Walter Cronkite never called someone an idiot.
There were exceptions of course, but in general, whatever our personal feelings, our public faces had a bit more dignity and, consequently, the national discourse was more interesting and beneficial to all.

I am not certain when it happened, what the catalyst was that caused the seismic shift to start our society off on the journey to the sad place in which we now sit.  Some say it was the assassination of President Kennedy.  A brutal jolt that forever killed our collective innocence, leading us, over the years, to gradually jettison the values we once revered as true and good.  Others say it was Watergate, and the distrust and disdain that was hatched in those years. I do know that the time honoured values of courtesy, respect, kindness, and grace seem to now be painfully absent at every turn, and never more so than in this, another election year.  

There is actually someone now running for governor of New York who claims to be basing his entire campaign on “anger”.  He has vowed to “take a baseball bat” with him to the State Capitol.  He refers to those with whom he disagrees as “leeches”, “pigs” and “wimps”.  And, worse.  
What a sad foundation from which to seek to govern.
From Alaska to Washington, in blue states and in red, when children grow up listening to adults behave in ways such as this, seeing this sort of behaviour applauded by other adults, what are they supposed to think?  How are they supposed to behave?  

Centuries ago, when ignorance and fear truly did rule the day, any sort of eccentricity or peccadillo could get a woman labeled a witch.  (I would have been in some serious trouble.) To resolve the thorny question of her guilt, authorities devised a fool-proof plan.  They would throw the unfortunate lady into the nearest lake.  If she sank to the bottom and drowned, she was innocent.  Hurrah!  If she managed to float, she was obviously a witch and was immediately dispatched to be hanged as such.  
Something about this reasoning reminds me of some of the behaviour I am witnessing today.  It truly doesn’t matter how justified we may think we are, if we cannot manage to grab a tighter hold on some basic commonalities of human kindness and restraint - if we cannot grasp the importance of doing unto others as we would be done by - then no matter who “wins”, everybody loses.

How we can expect children to behave better than their examples?
And make no mistake.
They are watching.
They are listening.
To us.


I am so honoured to have The Atlanta Journal Constitution publish this post on their October 7th editorial page!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bits Of October Magic and A Giveaway!

Bits Of October Magic
And A Giveaway!

If you have been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you will know that I generally revel in the start of each new month.  Mother Nature seems to bestow unique personalities upon each one of the twelve.
 May will always be a blonde wearing flowers in her hair, while November has forever seemed a bit professorial to me, an older chap in a Harris Tweed jacket with suede patches on his elbows and open book upon his antique desk.
April is a shy young girl with limpid eyes, and August can be a bit of a bully, an arrogant sort in dark sunglasses who often overstays his welcome. 
 But, October. 
 The most magical of months. 
 Could October ever be anything but a auburn haired enchantress, mysterious and mercurial, who can conjure up bonfires and cause pumpkins to smile?

To help celebrate October, I have put together a list of 13 bits of magic. 
Just the right number for this most bewitching of months.


1.  The Last Dress

The wizard who conjured up the divine ensemble Emma Watson is wearing in the photo at the top of this post was the late, and the divine, Alexander McQueen.  You can glimpse his face in Emma’s crystal ball.  What a tragedy it was to lose such a talent so early in his life.  The clothes he designed were frequently provocative, but always imaginative, and so often simply stunning in their beauty.  The white dress above is believed to be the very last one he designed.  Made for a friend to wear to one of Sir Elton John’s famous parties, it looks, appropriately enough, fit for an angel.


2.  Autumnal Crown

Oh, I do love this.  
Worn by the models for Anna Sui during the recently completed spring fashion shows in New York, these are just gorgeous to me. 
Do you think I could get away with wearing one on an afternoon walk with Edward?
See more of the show HERE.


3.  Andirons

One of the reasons The Songwriter and I purchased our much loved cottage so many years ago was its wonderful stone fireplace.  Flanked by bookcases, I could just imagine how delightful it would be with a roaring fire and the two of us snuggled nearby with books and dogs and mugs of spiced tea.  It was easy to see all the Christmas trees to come, twinkling away in the corner - easy to hear ghost stories being read aloud on windy October nights. 
 These amazing bronze andirons would be the perfect addition to any October fireplace, don’t you think? 
 Just bewitching.
Find them HERE.


4.  House

And while we’re on the subject of my own house..... this is how I see it in my mind.  
Oh, it doesn’t look like that to others, at least not on the outside.  
But to me, this is how it feels. 
 A bit quirky and oh, so magical. 
 From the massive stone frog in the flower bed, to the life-sized rocking horse in the bedroom.


5.  Little Halloween Goblins

With the big dress-up holiday of Halloween fast approaching, we all are starting to think about costumes, right?  
Well, these are just the cutest ideas ever imagined for your littlest goblins!  
Adorable, and you can find them HERE.


6.  Knitting

I have featured knitting patterns before, I know. 
  But I am in the middle of so much Christmas knitting at the moment, 
it is in the front of my mind. 
So, I thought I’d share this wonderful new pattern. 
 I think I’m going to make this for myself.  
I’m partial to hoods.
Find it HERE.


7.  Pendant

Imagine a dinner party. 
 Masses of orange sunflowers on the table. 
 Warm pumpkin soup served from a dark brown tureen. 
Homemade bread and Gruyere cheese.
 Tom Waits playing in the background.  
And this fabulous light hanging over the carved wooden table.
Find it HERE.


8.  In The Garden

There are little spots of eccentricity throughout my garden. 
 A stone monkey sits on a tree stump under the oak trees, his paws dangling in the azalea bed.  
There is a glass dining table inside the massive magnolia tree, surrounded by windchimes, with a candlelit chandelier suspended overhead. 
 And a big white dog can often be seen, wandering about in the moonlight.
Every garden needs a bit of magic.  
Katiedid featured this amazing topiary on her blog recently.  
I was agog!


9.  Bear

There is a heavy, old bronze monkey that sits upon my kitchen counter. 
 He holds bananas in his lap and generally keeps an eye on things. 
 I was reminded of him when I saw this amazing bear sculpture. 
 Isn’t this wonderful??  
You can find it HERE.


10.  Masks

I have always wanted to attend a real costume party. 
You know, the kind they have in Venice.  
Over the top, dazzling, with people dressed as Grecian gods and woodland sprites, instead of Teletubbies and Spiderman.  
Well, if I ever get an invitation to such an event, I am heading straight to this shop for my wondrous mask! 
 Such imagination.  Such gorgeous creations!  
  These are my favourites, but it was so difficult to choose just two.  
Find more HERE.


11.  House For Sale

Sometimes, on rainy Sunday mornings, I like to peruse Scottish real estate sites, playing “what if”.  
One such perusal led me to this house in Perthshire.
 If it looks storybook, well, it is.  
Beatrix Potter actually wrote Tales of Peter Rabbit here.  
And it’s for sale!!
What if.......
See more HERE.


12.  Book

I haven’t yet seen the movie, but I just finished the book, Never Let Me Go.  I won’t give away too much, because I wouldn’t want to spoil anything if you’ve not yet read it.  But, it was such a chilling read.  Written by Kazuo Ishiguro, it is similar to his classic work, Remains Of The Day, in that it features a narrator who doesn’t ask the questions the reader is asking, who doesn’t see exactly what the reader sees.  Masterfully done, and I guarantee you will be thinking about it for days afterwards. 
 It’s the perfect book for October.
See more HERE.


13.  Sir Paul’s Poetry

I was so tickled by all the responses I received when I recently mentioned inviting Paul McCartney to dinner. 
 Seems he is still a bonafide charmer to quite a few of us.  And rightfully so.
  So when I came across this copy of his poetry, Blackbird Singing, in a used bookshop recently, I knew I had to get it for an autumnal giveaway. 
 (The Songwriter has an autographed copy!  Lucky boy.) 
 This copy is a bit bruised, as used books often are, but if you would like to give it a home in your library, just leave a comment on this post. 
 I’ll draw the winner on Tuesday at midnight, wrap it in lovely paper, and send it right out.

  Good Luck and Happy October!


Congratulations to Cait O'Connor!
She's the Winner of the Giveaway!