New York

There are lots of things to tell you. There are people and buildings and bright lights everywhere. I went to the cloisters in the north of the city and they are the loveliest thing in the world. But now I am off to the met. See you!

Words and harbours

The painted harbour huddles against the grey. Now I know why they choose these colours. My brain will be word-befuddled by the end of the day, so I thought I’d write now, before I get started. We have been working hard and writing lots. My introduction will have grown from a scrappy 5,500 words on Monday to a much more respectable 10,000 words tomorrow, if I keep the pace up. Can I say though, that it is much nicer working from 5000 words than from none at all. Especially when they are scrawled with helpful comments. M has been busy too – conference papers and workshops and teaching preparation on the other side of the country and not one but three (successful!) funding proposals. I’m in the wrong business.

Introduction-writing certainly is a curious thing. I’m slowly beginning to understand what it is I’ve been doing for the past three years, and how it fits into the broader scheme of things. And I’m thinking that I’ve come up with some interesting stuff. Not earth-shattering, but interesting all the same. And maybe it will make a book of some sort, in the end. We shall see. Been feeling much happier about writing it since my England trip. I’m happier to take it one piece at a time, rather than stressing that it’s not all there yet and it’s not perfect. I’m finding I work to a rhythm – an hour or an hour and a half on, then half an hour off. (Or more, depending…) There is a way of building distractions and lapses of concentration into progress, rather than letting them sabotage it. Anyway, better stop writing about writing, and get back to the real deal.

In other news, we’ve been watching Stephen Poliakoff in the evenings (thanks for the tip Kirsty!). We loved Shooting the Past but our favourite so far is Perfect Strangers. It made me cry. I’m still a bit in love with Timothy Spall. And I have a new favourite Norwegian chocolate – Walters Mandler (the as always seriously creamy utterly delicious Freia milk chocolate, blended with fragments of roasted, salted, caramelized almonds. Swoon…). We’re off to New York on Saturday – hooray hooray hooray!

Cycling in the cold

requires layers. Michael’s evoke a slightly more elegant impression than mine do, being various shades of black and charcoal. I have a navy blue long-sleeved woolen undershirt, over which I wear my turquoise, white and yellow cycling t-shirt. It says Astana, which I later discovered is the capital of Kazakhstan. I bought it because it has a sun on it. I wear black cycling shorts over pale grey leggings. My helmet is dark red, my gloves are bright red, veering on fluorescent orange. My socks are black but they have pink stars. At least I am visible.

I’m rather proud of us for getting out there. It was ten degrees. You hardly sweat at all but puff lots of cold air. The hot shower at the end is heavenly.

Belonging

This photo was taken yesterday, when the air was clear and cold. Today it was grey and cold and smelled of woodsmoke. The neighbourhood cats with green eyes and pink mouths wait on corners and cry out when we walk past. Purple thistles burst out of their cases and the chestnuts ripen. There are patches of yellow on the trees but the best is still to come. It is dark by 8pm. This is a novelty.

At the closing session of the conference I went to last week, Peter Porter spoke about belonging. How after forty years in England, he can’t call himself English, but that London feels like home. It’s funny, the way places creep inside of you. I’m not English either, but I feel that I belong to the North of England far more than say, someone from the South of England does. Some Southerners think of the North as a far off, wild place, barely civilised, and they never visit it. York got inside me very quickly, and I still feel a rush of at-homeness when I approach its walls. Leeds took longer. It was a place of exile. But – this last time – I felt I belonged.

And what of this little town with its glassy light and odd shaped islands? The seasons fold over one another, the dark chases the light and the light chases the dark. And there is a home somewhere in this, too.

The Beautiful Brotherton

Just to see if I can generate a bit more nostalgia for Leeds in certain readers… Here’s the chestnut tree in front of our red brick terraced English department, looking gorgeous as usual. And here is the beautiful Brotherton Library.

I love love love this library. It has all a library should: marble pillars, high ceilings, parketry floors, natural light. And thousands of books, including obscure Australian journals. It’s perfect just at the moment because the undergraduates haven’t come back yet. Here’s the view from my perch in the Australian literature section.

I had a great four days in Leeds – reading in the library, meeting up with my supervisor, and catching up with lots of lovely ladies with whom I have lived or studied or both over the past five years. And – er – a bit of shopping. Supervisor says thesis is on track to be finished before Christmas (even taking into account my secret and time-consuming plans soon to be revealed). He says it’s been downhill since I was fifteen months in, and all that’s left to do is the last bit of the downhill. Which I imagine will be quite painful none-the-less, but he did a good job at diffusing my terror…

And thank you thank you thank you to my cousin in London who always lets me sleep on his floor, and Vic who let me stay all week.

After boarding two trains, a bus, a plane, a car and a ferry, I’m back in Norway with my favourite person. Bliss.

God’s own country

Here is a swan we met today. I had grand plans of actually taking photos in London, but when it came to the point I was too busy trying to find my way whilst not getting run over by buses or swept away by torrential downpours. The conference was brilliant – there were some really interesting discussions of time and history and indigeneity. Well, those were the discussions I took note of, for obvious reasons. My paper went well despite a small audience due to clashing sessions. I also met some very lovely people, and some of the buildings at Royal Holloway are just amazing. Watching the big names get affectionately drunk is always entertaining.

I almost missed my train back to Leeds because I misremembered the departure time, and then some Spanish tourists pulled the alarm button on the tube so it didn’t go anywhere for ages… I made it in the end with three minutes to spare. Resolution: be more organized. Write things down.

This weekend I’ve been staying in beatiful Bingley with my gorgeous friend Vic. We walked along the canal today and up into the hills. Ah, Yorkshire. I must admit I had a lump in my throat as the train from Leeds sped past the stone walls, the green fields, the huge trees and the soft grey sky.