Meli’s house

Come in!

Here I am, practicing not grinning like a cheesecake every time a camera points my way.

Trouble is, I’m grinning like a cheesecake most of the time

especially at the one behind the camera.

Back from the mountains

If I’d had my camera downloader, I could have given you a daily record of the level on the mist on the mountains – higher and higher to non-existent. Oh well. We got back late on Friday, and my parents arrived on Saturday. Today we’re driving back up to the mountains with them, and picking up M’s parents from the airport on the way. Agh – better go pack!! If you want me, I’ll be here.

Don’t rain on my parade

It’s the seventeenth of May. Very important if you’re Norwegian. Here they all are, despite the weather. M says God must be a Swede. They get to dress up in their best Norwegian costumes (apparently the dresses are different depending on which region of Norway you come from), and all the school children do a parade, singing songs and waving flags. The little girls had glowy smiles. I’m sure I would have, too.

We staggered out of bed just in time to catch the end of it, then scurried back home to escape the weather.

In other news, if you ever plan to go traveling with a broken arm, make sure you have a certificate of authenticity for your plaster. They wouldn’t let my mum get on her flight to Tallinn today, because her plaster posed a security risk. ?!?!?!?! Unbelievable. (The doctor faxed a note across and they’ll be on their way tomorrow, but still…)

M and I are off to Loen tomorrow. He’s got a conference and I’m going to work on my introduction in between swanning around the hotel, the fjord and the mountains. Nice. Oh, and here’s the creature we spotted the other night.

He didn’t mind us being there – he was too busy eating his supper. I bet the leaves taste best this time of year.

A weekend of decadence

Just for the record… Afternoon tea in Betty’s stretched for two hours: sundaes, berries and rose-petal tea, followed by smoked salmon sandwiches and vanilla slices. Mmmmmmm…

After that, we sampled the respective glories of York and Leeds: the minster, the corn-exchange, the angels playing bagpipes, the red-brick canal, and opera – ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, in the refurbished Leeds Grand Opera House.

I’d never walked so far along the canal before, but all these other places are dear to my heart – from music, from countless visits, from the people I’ve met there, from the things that have changed. Places like this don’t disappear when you leave, you carry them with you, like some sort of silent, internal architecture. And – yep – it’s nice to visit them with Mum too. Who told me, the first time I mentioned York – that’s a good idea.

Did you know…

that the governor of South Australia between 1899 and 1902, and the Governor General of Australia between 1902 and 1903, was the son of celebrated poet Alfred Tennyson?

Me neither. But it’s kinda cool (and kinda creepy – British imperialism, and all that…).

I discovered this whilst poking around at fodder to use for my introduction. Tennyson, you know, beloved medievalist poet, well-read even in the colonies, UK poet Laureate.

Australian history never appealed to me when I was at school, and I think now that’s because it’s so messy and so fragile. Who can say when Australia begins – when was it invented? (Of course, it is still invented, daily.) When did the English cease being ‘us’ and become ‘them’? Pretty early on, I suppose, but it’s messy. (As I now know, ‘English’ and ‘British’ are also contested categories with tangled pasts, reinvented daily.)

Well, I’m back

I am in Halden. I am seriously happy to be here.

The customary stress of the day-I-leave was compounded by a few things… I didn’t start planning early enough as I was out gallivanting around York and Leeds with Mum (as well I should have been, and very nice it was too). But on Sunday night when I was going put all our pictures in a blog-post and then pack my bags, we had a power failure. It came on again around 11:30, and I woke with a start as my bedside light glared into my face and all the house alarms in the district jumped into action. They gradually quietened, except the one across the street, directly opposite my window. It kept going all night and most of the next day, till about 2pm. This was more than horrible.

Anyway, we made it. On Monday night I had dinner with my parents and my cousin and his new girlfriend in London, and headed towards Stansted bright and early Tuesday morning. My Dad seemed to have had a great weekend in London – he was dressed for a safari with a water-backpack (you know the ones with the little tube you suck the water from) and a compass dangling over his shoulder. He said it had proved necessary on several occasions. Only the backpack had leaked all over a couple of bus seats… They’ve got a few more days in London, and then a week in Finland and Sweden, before meeting up with us here in a week and a half. I can’t wait to show them our little world here. Mum says she’s looking forward to climbing the legendary fortress!

In the confusion I forgot the little usb thingy I need to upload photos to my computer. This seriously annoyed me all the way down to London. Apparently there’s something at M’s work I can use, but after working hours…

I cried my eyes out in Stansted airport as I read the end of The Book Thief, and now I’ve started Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, which I’m in love with already. Reading it makes you feel independent and brave.

Here the birds are happy and the trees are bright and gleaming. We climbed up the fortress last night to see their new dresses, and a spirit of the forest was there to greet us. When I can upload the pictures, I’ll show you. My thesis is at a point where I need to start thinking about the introduction, which is exciting. Spring is everywhere, and best of all, I’m here.

Good things

  • Mum’s here – hurrah! For someone who’s just flown across the globe with two broken arms she’s in astoundingly good shape.

  • Marking is done and dusted.

  • I ate at my favourite vegetarian Indian restaurant two nights in a row. Yum yum yum. It’s official – shrikhand is better than chocolate.

  • My wonderful and never tiring supervisor has told me that September is the month. We shall see… Secretly, my money’s on November. But either way, it’s coming together – hip hip, hooray.

  • It’s still warm, if not sunshiny. The new leaves put on quite a show.

  • I got lots of early birthday presents (thanks Mum & Dad! thanks G&G!), without even having to turn 29. I approve of that.


All I can offer is more green, I’m afraid. Here it is, illumined by the setting sun, just after eight this evening. I wish I could send you the birdsong. Waking up at the moment is a joy. My window is open to the sweet morning air and the birds. Now, I like the bird-calls in Australia, the cawing of the magpies. My soul feels at home in that sound, and as I try right now, with partial success, to remember what it sounds like, I can smell the Australian morning too, that dusty openness, the tang of eucalypts, the light spreading over the gum trees. But – I can understand why Europeans are non-plussed or unsettled by it. Here, the birdsong is pure as the voices of choir boys. It swells and folds with such sweetness, such clarity, for hours and hours. Francis Webb was on to something.

And then, just when you are used to the green, it all goes white.

Green Mist

After a spectacularly unproductive weekend, I’m going to pretend it’s not a bank holiday tomorrow and get all my marking done. After my great revelation on Friday my mind was in no fit state to do anything with it. So I’ve sent off the chapter, ragged ends and all, pretty confident that one more rewrite will get it in order. Agh! This thing is never ending.

Also proved to myself again that it doesn’t work to try to work every weekend. I’ve been doing that recently to make up for all the weekends I won’t be working in the near future, but that only succeeds up to a point. At least I’ve achieved temporary closure on Webb, and can get stuck into my next-worst chapter in a couple of days time. Marking first though. Have to get this off my back.

It stopped raining for long enough this afternoon for me to go out and check on the progress of all the little leaves. But oh how I long for summer. My bed-time reading at the moment is Willa Cather’s My Antonia, and her descriptions of sunshine on the red grass of the prairie are exactly what I need. But good things are on the horizon. Good things indeed.

Encounters and epiphanies

Sometimes a latte and a very chocolaty muffin really do solve the world’s problems. Well, maybe not the world’s problems, but definitely my own stubborn writerly problems. After slogging away at my chapter all day (with, admittedly, fluctuating levels of concentration), by half past three I couldn’t bear another moment at my desk. I trecked up to Headingley with my notebook and my printed draft, but without Webb’s Collected Poems. I have more than enough textual analysis, and always fall into the trap of doing more and more. Anyway, after ten minutes browsing in the second hand bookshop (without buying anything, phew), I settled down with aforementioned treat.

I made some lists. I ate some muffin. I wrote down some questions. I smiled at the babbie on the next table. I wrote a short paragraph comparing Webb with the writer I talk about in my previous chapter. I stirred my coffee. I was looking for something to tie this chapter together. I first wrote it two years ago, and my work on it over the past six weeks has involved chopping out vast portions of it, writing at least 8000 words of new stuff, and condensing four rambly pages into one rather nice paragraph. It was coming together, but it wasn’t there yet. I needed something else, something new, something that would bind the different sections into a coherent whole. Something that would enable me to engage in a productive way with the very good work that’s already been done on this poet. I wrote down my key words and looked at them sideways.

And then I realised. ENCOUNTER. It had been there all along, but I just hadn’t been able to see it. Hiding within my ghastly old conclusion (that one of my supervisors had been kind enough to describe as possessing a ‘certain eloquence’) were the words: ‘above all, they are moments of encounter…’ My other supervisor had already mentioned that this term might become more important, but it just hadn’t clicked.

My old chapter title was ‘Difficult Epiphanies: Francis Webb’s Middle Ages’, and I quite liked this. In fact, I was inordinately proud of it. What a lovely term, I thought. It gave me shivers. But this old title caused all sorts of problems. What has annoyed me most in my attempts to rework this chapter is the naive way I wrote about temporality, epiphany, revelation. Yes the poems do strain towards epiphanies, but they more often than not don’t get there. (And sometimes, when they do, they’re not quite convincing.) This was why I’d called them difficult epiphanies. But encounter is so much better because it encompasses so much more. And as soon as I’d latched on to it, I realised it works for every single section. Because he writes about all sorts of encounters: temporal, spatial, cultural, religious…. And there’s some really good stuff that’s been written about ‘encounter’ in an Australian context. I read it a couple of years back but it didn’t sink it. ‘Difficult encounters’, here I come.

I made some more lists. Happy, springy lists that refused to stay put on the lines. I drew smiley faces in my margins. I finished my coffee. And grinned like a Cheshire cat, all the way home.