Friday 21 April 2017

work worries

The Lion of Knidos (c. 350-200 BC), British Museum

The Head of the Research Group is on the warpath after a recent visit to the British Museum.

"The labels on the displays are quite inadequate. I cannot understand it. There should be accurate geological details. Surely everyone wants to know the provenance of the materials. There are some rocks which are so characteristic that you can identify which quarry they originated from. Why is that information not on the labels?"

MrsM drafts a letter in her head

"Dear British Museum..."

Thursday 20 April 2017

a new mantra

The Magpie
Claude Monet (1868-9)

"Stay Frosty" is the catch phrase of Claude Taylor, one of the tireless commentators on the #TrumpRussia Twitter campaign. It also seems sensible advice if you are in the U.K. for the next seven weeks.

Friday 31 March 2017

Thursday 30 March 2017

hindsight 20/20

MasterM could not join us at the picnic
because he was running a marathon.
Not just any old marathon
but up and down the coastal footpath
from Lulworth Cove to Shell Bay.

from Charmouth to Shell Bay.
3 marathons in 3 days.
You have to be superfit to complete it.
MasterM ran on the last day
to support his friend
who completed all three marathons.

This is MasterM's pedometer for last week:

MasterM has never run a marathon before
but, as you can see from the pedometer,
he thought he was already fit enough.
He won't make that mistake again!

It was all in aid of teamArchie,
set up in memory of Archie Lloyd,
inspiring and enabling young people,
helping them to fulfill their potential.

Wednesday 29 March 2017

cutting the cake

When I tentatively suggested a big family picnic at Brentor on Mothering Sunday my brother and sisters got very excited and the whole project snowballed. I spent a lot of time imagining all the things that could go wrong but I shouldn't have worried - my family are picnic pros.

Five cars filled with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents arrived at Brentor at the same time, a small miracle because one family drove up from Penzance and another family came down from Bristol. My father was given the task of scouting out the best place to sit and we all followed with armfuls of rugs, picnic hampers bursting with goodies and enough thermos flasks of coffee to set up a cafe.

We sat in the warm sunshine watching boy cousins climb on the rocks and girl cousins demonstrate their gymnastic prowess, sharing memories and enjoying each others company. Everyone had brought their favourite picnic food to share and so there was a feast of spinach quiche and salad, pasties, pork pies, baguettes and cheese, crunchy apples, flapjacks and party rings. At the end my mother cut her famous Dundee cake and for a happy moment it felt as though we had slipped back into our childhood.

Tuesday 28 March 2017

team photo

When your children are adults
the best gift of all is

Thursday 23 March 2017

Wednesday 22 March

I arrived at London Waterloo yesterday afternoon intending to walk to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square before returning to the South Bank to meet a friend and go to a concert in the Royal Festival Hall. It is a very pleasant stroll across the Jubilee footbridge looking down the river towards Westminster and I used to do it every day when I worked in London.

As my train approached the platform I could see that the entrance of St. Thomas's Hospital A&E was crowded with ambulances and police cars and that traffic was stationary on surrounding roads. The air was resonating with the sounds of sirens and helicopters and when I reached the South Bank I discovered that the whole site was taped off and that it would not be possible to walk across the river. Behind me a police van was shouting at pedestrians and telling them to clear the area.

These are the things that I saw and heard and my question to you is what would you do next if you were in my situation? Would you find another route across the river and continue with your plans for the evening or return to Waterloo, a crowded train station. How would you get information about the safest place to be?

I turned to Twitter and read on @BBCBreaking that the incident was in Westminster so my alternative route was out of the question. @MetPoliceUk were giving advice on roads that were closed and it was apparent that the incident was very serious with a large cordon around Westminster Bridge. There was no evidence of coordinated attacks in other parts of London but I checked @southbankcentre and saw that the site had been closed on police advice. @LPOrchestra quickly confirmed that the concert was cancelled and so I could make the decision to return home.

In contrast, my friend chooses not to have a smart phone or use social media and apps and I realised how vulnerable she has made herself by rejecting changes to the way that information is shared. She was dependent on other people before she could make decisions about the safest course of action and because reception for analogue phones is poor when everyone else is using their phones it was difficult for her to keep in contact.

I learned two things yesterday:

1. You do not know when you will be in a fast moving security situation. It could be a train station, a concert hall, an airport, a shopping centre. Think about how you would access information to keep yourself safe. In my experience Twitter is the quickest way to get information from reliable sources so it is worth investing time to become familiar with how it works.

2. Always have a fully charged back up battery for your phone in your bag. If areas are cordoned off or transport stops you may be using your phone for several hours and your family will need reassurance that you are safe.

I hope that you are never in a situation where this advice is helpful but please be prepared so that you can make informed decisions and stay in touch with your family.

This post is dedicated to those affected by the incident at Westminster on Wednesday 22 March and to the emergency services for their work protecting the people of London.

impossible blossom

Almond Blossom, 1890
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

From Blossoms

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Li-Young Lee

“From Blossoms” from Rose
Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee
Source: Rose (BOA Editions Ltd., 1986)

Wednesday 22 March 2017

blossom report

Prunus Incisa Kojo-no-mai

I can highly recommend taking photos of your garden first thing in the morning. It improves the mood. Especially if it is sunny. But only if there is no one to scold you for letting your porridge get cold.   

Tuesday 21 March 2017

kimono envy

Girl in a Red Kimono
George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923)

The Japanese Print
William Merritt Chase (1849-1916)

Lady with a Fan
Charles Sprague Pearce (1851-1914)

Richard Edward Miller (1875-1943)

The Japanese Parisian
Alfred Stevens (1823-1906)

The Silk Kimono
Lee Lufkin Kaula (1865 – 1957)

Woman in Kimono
Mary Brewster Hazelton

I will neither confirm nor deny that I have been researching antique kimonos with a view to purchase one of the aforementioned items. Any conversation that I might have had with MissM on the subject is entirely coincidental. Nothing can be inferred from the large number of images of kimonos on my laptop. MrM will testify that he is completely unaware of any intention related to imminent kimono purchase. 

Monday 20 March 2017

virtual sushi

This is not my sushi but I'm going to claim some of the credit because we gave MissM the vouchers for the Waitrose Cookery School at Christmas. After a very enjoyable session at Finchley Road she is now a Grand Sushi Master with black belt and knots. Unfortunately I had to restrict myself to drooling over the photo because the sushi was consumed by MissM and her flatmates. MissM is fired with enthusiasm and has persuaded me to enrol on a breadmaking course with her. There will be photos of me looking hot and covered in flour in your future. You have been warned.

Friday 17 March 2017


Never in doubt.

Thank you for your friendship this week. I'm going to be spreading compost on the garden because that is what Tracey the Boot Camp Gardener has decreed so you can be sure that whatever you are doing is going to be somewhere above me on the scale of Weekend Fun. Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday 16 March 2017

spring sunshine

Light Wash
Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)
© The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens

It was sunny on my day off! I hung out the pillow cases and watched them blow on the washing line, drank a mug of coffee and listened to a blackbird in the holly tree, admired the dayglo pink camellia flowers, looked carefully at the green buds on the cherry tree, gloated over bold patches of daffodils by the summer house and thought briefly about cutting the grass before putting on my sunglasses and going for a spin in the car with the sunshine roof open. By the time I came home winter had left the building.

Wednesday 15 March 2017

emergency cake

There are days when comfort food is essential.
If you have given up chocolate for Lent
the only answer is cake.
Coffee cake.

Tuesday 14 March 2017


...MasterM and Drummond the horse are getting on just fine.

MrsM is delighted to receive this aquatic action shot but MrM looks slightly faint and goes off to check the insurance policy for clauses excluding 'phones dropped into rivers within ten days of purchase'

Monday 13 March 2017

diverse dinosaurs

Why are there paper dinosaurs in reception?

Office Manager
There was a Diversity meeting last night.

How lovely! What could be nicer than paper dinosaurs?

Office Manager
Cake would be nicer than paper dinosaurs.

Saturday 11 March 2017

snow petals

I can see the white camellia when I open the curtains in the morning. Day by day I watch the buds grow fat, willing them to stay closed until the danger of frost has passed. Now the slender branches bend with the weight of flowers and I am astonished. Was there ever such a year, such a reckless abundance, such a storm of snow petals? 

Friday 10 March 2017

recovery plan

Girl in a white dress resting on a sofa
Alfred Emile Leopole Stevens

Apologies for absence over past few days - sometimes I try to do too much and my body protests. It is probably a hangover from my brush with meningitis and is very annoying but over the years I have put together a plan of action which starts with "stop doing stuff (including writing) and get some sleep". So I wrap myself up in my Donegal blanket, lie on the sofa, and remind myself that it is better to suffer from having too much fun than too little. 

Tuesday 7 March 2017

daffodils in a jug

Kate's Flowers
Winifred Nicholson (1936)

My mother says:

"I wish that you could see the wild daffodils in the woods but it is so wet today that it wouldn't be much fun. The daffodils in the orchard have come out very early - just look at that selection in the jug - but I am afraid that there won't be any for Easter which is such a shame. Come and look at my hellebores - if you stand just here you can see them without getting your feet wet. I'm definitely going to plant some more for next year - they seem to like it in that spot. Now stay there because I'm going out to dig up some snowdrops for you to take home. I have been moving them around this year so that they flower in the right places where I can see them next year. And what do you think of my camellias? These are the ones that I have grown from seed - I don't know if they are going to flower this year but I'm keeping my fingers crossed. "

My mother is always looking forward enthusiastically to the next season, the next year. It is the life-enhancing characteristic of real gardeners. 

Thursday 2 March 2017

carpe Iris

Seriously, you turn your back for one moment and the next thing you know the Iris are in full bloom. Not that I'm objecting but I would have preferred to appreciate the process a bit more. A petal here and there rather than an overnight explosion. But now they are here I'm committed to full time Iris appreciation. Can't waste a moment because they'll be over if I blink.

(And before you Classical types get angsty I can confirm that the correct accusative form of Iris is Iris because I checked with MrM.)

Wednesday 1 March 2017

an enchanted world

The Star
Edgar Degas

MissM and MrsM went to watch 'The Sleeping Beauty' at Covent Garden last week. They clapped as loud as anyone when the divine Marianela Nuñez completed the Rose Adagio and swooned ever so slightly at the sight of Vadim Muntagirov doing jetés. Kristen McNally was commendably Gothic as Carabosse and MrsM's secret passion for James Hay remains undimmed. All in all a very satisfactory night out at the ballet.

Two Dancers on a Stage
Edgar Degas

MissM and MrsM were particularly impressed by the bouquets received by La Nuñez. One was the size of a small garden and must have required an individual delivery van. Somewhere in London there is a wholesale florist planning a family holiday in the Bahamas.

Dancer with a Bouquet of Flowers
Edgar Degas

Tuesday 28 February 2017

Raising Horizons

Dr Tori Herridge is a palaeobiologist specialising in researching extinct dwarf elephants. When I met Tori in 2012 I was very impressed by her ability to communicate her research with passion and glad to see her subsequently feature in several TV science programmes. Tori went on to co-found Trowelblazers with three friends, using social media to raise the profile of previous generations of female scientists. Using crowd sourcing they have pieced together an online database to ensure that the contributions of these women scientists are recorded and it is humbling to realise how many have been prevented from getting the recognition they deserved.

Last week I visited the first Trowelblazers exhibition Raising Horizons which was hosted by the Geological Society in Burlington House and loved the clever collaboration with a portrait photographer. Stunning images of representatives of the current generation of female scientists dressed as one of their predecessors looked down over the staid library of the Geological Society. The labels describing the portraits were fascinating, giving details of both the historic and contemporary scientist. The picture below describes Dr Rachel Bynoe dressed as Honor Frost, a pioneer of underwater archaeology, and this was of particular interest to me because when I worked in the British Academy I was close to the office of the Honor Frost Foundation.

I have worked as administrator for several remarkable women scientists: archaeologists, geologists and palaeogeographers. I have seen how committed they are to their research despite the challenges that they face in a working environment that is still male dominated. I am grateful to Trowelblazers for acting as advocates for these women and for the generations of women scientists whose work was unrecognised or attributed to male colleagues.

Monday 27 February 2017

happy hour

The weekend started with cocktails at
It's almost worth going just for the flowers.

MasterM's cocktail arrived in
a cloud of dry ice.
Which we all agreed was pretty cool.

MrsM chose the 'Hairthief' cocktail
with a dash of absinthe.
And regretted it on Saturday morning.

Thursday 23 February 2017


You know those long arm IG photos of bouquets? I used to think they were easy. Turns out I was wrong. Or perhaps my arms are unusually short. Also, one handed phone photos? Don't do it if you want to retain your sanity. But when I get a surprise bouquet from MrM because it is 35 years since we met for the first time - well, I am going to do those things anyway.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

message for Santa

Molly Longlegs
George Stubbs 1762

MasterM is having riding lessons.

Just done our first bit of jumping today!
Very cool! I want a horse for Christmas!

I will tell Santa.

It's not going to happen.
MasterM will have to be so good
that it will seriously cramp his style.

Walker Art Gallery

Tuesday 21 February 2017

picking up stitches

So, I started knitting again. Picking up where you left off isn't quite as straightforward as it sounds because there is the phase when you think about possibly restarting and then get distracted. Next you have to work up the courage to open the bag, pull it out and try to remember where you are which is always too difficult and so it goes back in the bag. Time passes and then you get exasperated with yourself and at this point I imagine Monica pointing to her pile of completed projects and telling me not be a wimp which is a surprisingly effective motivational strategy. Of course you still can't remember where you are in the pattern so you start at the wrong place and have to rip out your first two rows and you almost stop again. If you can overcome this period of frustration you are finally on your way to rediscovering the joy of knitting, sitting in front of the fire gradually covering your knees with a soft aran throw worked to a pattern gifted by the lovely Kristina.

Monday 20 February 2017

sunshine in St. James's

A sunny afternoon in February. Children everywhere. Running, scooting, cycling, rollerblading, wrestling, wriggling, cartwheeling, hand-standing. An intoxicating, exhausting, exhilarating experience to weave your way through the crowds. Especially if you had forgotten it was half term. Which is what happens when your children grow up.

Friday 17 February 2017

rescue remedy

This is my recipe for the days when you feel frozen with horror after reading too much twitter.

Put the kettle on and make some fresh green mint tea. Take your favourite mug, breathe deeply as you add the hot water and enjoy the minty goodness. The next step is to buff up some furniture with beeswax polish and select your favourite duvet cover so that you can change the sheets even if it is not the day that you normally do this, ensuring that you inhale the lovely clean linen fragrance. Wrap up warmly and get out of the house, off for a little jaunt in the car and the first stop is the car wash for a scrub and blow dry. When the car is clean and shiny drive to a florist and spend an absorbing hour trying to decide which colours to buy so that you can go back and arrange the flowers in your favourite blue and white china. If you want something frivolous to listen to instead of the radio I can recommend 'The Corinthian' by Georgette Heyer read by Georgina Sutton. When you have finished arranging the flowers find your best hand cream and relax.

At this point do not, under any circumstances, sit on the sofa and look at twitter.

Thursday 16 February 2017

a bunch of grapes

I love old fashioned junk shops where pictures are stacked against rickety tables, piles of china languish in cardboard boxes and assorted flatware mingle with old watches and paste jewellery in glass cabinets. I spotted one last week en route to a tyre centre with MasterM and so I left him considering the prohibitive cost of replacing a tyre and walked back with my purse feeling pleasantly warm in my pocket.

Through the dusty windows I could see an elderly lady reading a novel next to a two bar electric heater and I felt my pulse rise as I walked through the door. I was immediately distracted by the £1 bargain basket which contained a rare Wedgwood plate with a hairline crack. That was definitely being rescued and coming home with me.

There were so many things that I wanted to buy but I was very restrained and selected this charming little watercolour. It is in a shabby frame with a lopsided mount but just look at the delicate detail and colouration. I have no idea how old it is or what it was originally but I am delighted with my find and will be taking it to my friendly framer for an upgrade.

The lady wrapped up the plate in newspaper, put the picture in a shopping bag and said that she hoped that she would see me again. I promised that it wouldn't be long before I was back.

Wednesday 15 February 2017

bitter sweet

Can I tempt you to a slice of treacle tart? I realise that it may not be featured in the index of your healthy living bible but I could cut a very tiny slice so that you can inhale it. I am not sure if you can inhale clotted cream - that could get a bit messy - so I'm afraid you may have to do without that.

This is my treacle tart recipe, inherited from my mother, but includes the bitter zest and juice of seville oranges giving it a delicious burnt caramel flavour. I got this idea from Jo Clark at Notes from a Sussex Kitchen - I love Jo's passion for cooking and her inventive use of seasonal ingredients which feature on her blog and inspirational instagram account.

MrM was happy to have another helping but MissM was not convinced "It tastes nice but I prefer Grandma's treacle tart." Fair enough.

Monday 13 February 2017


This bold wave of snowdrops, white capped,
cresting over heaped churchyard turf,
curling around groyned gravestones.
I do not remember such icy exuberance
when I looked before, too eager for joy,
but I am beyond the wall now and careless,
caught in the breaking, drenched in wonder.

Alice Christie
13 ii 17

Friday 10 February 2017

risk analysis

It's another day in the office of the Research Group. A visiting academic, explaining his project, points to a minuscule island in the middle of the ocean. "This is where I need to be but I can't work out how to get there."

Our feisty research assistant gives him a withering look. "When I do field work there" she says "I fly from Darwin to here...get a ferry to here...then I hitch a lift on a fishing boat from here..." The visiting academic gives her the side-eye but she points to the map again "Obviously I don't get on the fishing boat here because of the pirates."

I can see that the visiting academic is reviewing his career choice.

Thursday 9 February 2017

requiescat in pace

My friend June died today after a courageous battle with cancer.

I can see her clearly in my mind's eye, wrapped in a large apron, surrounded by buckets of flowers, as she prepared flowers for our parish church. These are examples of her arrangements and I wish I had taken more photos because she had a wonderful eye for floral design.

June was a gentle person and the epitome of humility. I am surprised to discover that someone with so light a step can leave such a deep impression on your heart. I will miss her very much.

Rest in peace dear June