One dress, one hundred days

I’m not really one to do a funny challenge — life is challenging enough. But somehow this one from wool& inspired me: wear the same lovely merino wool dress every day, I mean EVERY DAY, for 100 consecutive days.

I suppose I’ve been thinking a lot about cutting consumption. I’ve been trying to grow veg and trying to get ever closer to being zero waste. That has taken time and thought and research and work, so I thought maybe it would be nice to save time by never thinking about what to wear. Tons of women have done it, and I liked reading what they wrote, so I’m writing this.

They talked about it contributing to a life change and new ethics of fashion in light of the many injustices and climate change. I rarely buy anything new for these reasons. But I also liked how they talked about it helping them think less about their appearance, worry less about what others thought, enjoy their jewelry and scarves and belts more, save money/buy less and many other cool things. On completion, Wool& promises to send you $100 (or €) towards a new dress that you can also wear day in and day out.

Me in the dress, standing on the peaks above Settle in the Yorkshire Dales

The dress felt lovely and smooth, even with my sensitive skin. It really did adjust to temperature, and I was cool or warm as needed. It totally wicked away moisture and didn’t smell. It did not require washing often and dried really quickly. I never had to iron it. It was great for hiking, and I have walked many many miles in it. It is maybe a little shorter than when I bought it (a longer one would have been nice), but overall looks good as new, which is actually quite amazing. I only had one major spill to be fair, and washed it out right away. But I’ve never had a dress that could do all that, and I loved it.

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The Ingleton Waterfalls

Our final day of 2021, a hard year, long year, covid year but also a year that brought great change for 2022 and many good things. The day dawned wet, with low cloud. It has been raining heavily. Water thundered down with wild force enough to take the soul and cast it up into the air light as foam.

I can still hear it in my ears.

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Settle to Victoria Cave and the Craven Lime Kilns

Such a splendid walk today, although we weren’t sure about weather. The wind had finally died down, but we left the cottage in a fine drizzle to catch the train down to Settle. An incredible breakfast at the Naked Man Cafe and straight up the hills.

The sun graced us, lighting up the world below.

It only appeared now and then, but drew extraordinary colours out of land and sky. Blues I have never seen and clouds like feathers that touched the earth.

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Christmas Eve Walk: New Houses

I miss going to Arizona to spend Christmas with my mum, but this lovely cottage, Fawber Cottage, in the Yorkshire Dales is a good second best. Just released from Covid quarantine — I caught the stupid virus at our Christmas lunch, which was also doubling as my going away lunch.

The irony is not lost on me.

So I was stuck home until Christmas Eve, and even with trains cancelled and delayed, managed to get to New Houses to meet Mark in time for a walk. Just up the road from Horton-in-Ribblesdale, it is beautiful here. We walked further up the dale, up to Sell Gill where the stream pours into the earth, swalled up by the cave beneath the limestone.

The wind has surely been wuthering though.

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Fear and Radical Literature in Litvinoff

I enjoyed Litvinoff’s A Death Out of Season immensely, with its story of anarchists and revolution moving between Poland, Russia and London’s East End. It tells the story of the siege of Sibley Street, but I hate giving even that much away. They are characters elsewhere reviled that will stay with me a long time, their dreams for a better world brought alive here with no little tenderness. I also loved this description of the differences between tasrist Russia and England, though England still brought death in the end.

The difference was measured barometrically, in the gradient of fear. In Warsaw, the suitcase he carried was filled with sedition. He would have already edged towards the door, prepared if necessary to abandon it and run. Here it was so much printed merchandise, legitimate stock for Hoffman, the bookseller, who openly displayed revolutionary tracts in half a dozen languages which elsewhere were hidden under floorboards and passed from hand to hand under cover of darkness. Special Branch detectives badly disguised as working-class intellectuals dropped in to collect a pamphlet or two and take note of Hoffman’s shabby clientele, some of whom were reputed to be the most dangerous agitators in Europe. They went away smiling, smug, relaxedly British. What a country, Murontzeff thought almost affectionately. The Wiezence prison had changed him a little. For the first time in six years of exile he had the feeling of coming home. But the blandishment must be resisted. It wasn’t home at all: home was where the fear raged at fever point. (41)

A Death Out of Season (Paperback, 1979) for sale online | eBay

The trashy cover is great too. All of this is a glimpse into the Jewish East End of immigrants and radicals, of poverty and struggle. Another reason to miss Stepney, but looking forward to reading the other two novels in the trilogy. I am so glad I found Litvinoff, and even more to receive these as gifts. It took Covid recovery to find time to come back to them.

Litvinoff, Emanuel (1979) A Death Out of Season. London: Penguin.

A Classic Bristol Story

The weekend was golden, skies smiled blue. This was a while ago now, times have been busy. We were walking into town.

Coming towards us ever so slowly and creakily down the middle of the road, a woman rode her bicycle. Her left hand rested on a handle bar, her right hand pressed her phone into her ear.

As we watched, she slowed even more. Then slowly, so slowly, she toppled over to one side.

Just.

Toppled.

Over.

Without a move to save herself or break her fall.

The strangest slow motion accident I have ever seen.

She wasn’t so old, but not so young either. She lay there on her right side, unconcerned and still straddling the bike, its wheels slowly spinning. Her right arm bent beneath her still held her phone to her ear, and she continued talking as though nothing at all had happened.

We hurried to her side, asking if she was alright. As we stood there, she looked up at us, told the person on the phone she needed to go, but she’d call back. She hung up. Seemed to notice she was lying on the ground.

We helped her sit up. She insisted she was ok and didn’t need any help. We weren’t all that sure.

A white, middle-aged and highly-lycraed man pulled up on his own bike. We thought he was there to help. His beard made him look like more of an adult than us. He stood there straddling his bike in manly stance, looking down at her.

‘You see this?’ he asked her, tapping his helmet. ‘Never leave home without it. It’s dangerous out there. Your head can crack like an egg. You should never cycle without a helmet.’

You see this?’ he asked, tapping his leg. ‘A pocket for my phone. That phone never leaves my pocket while I’m cycling, never. It stays in there at all times. You need to keep your phone in your pocket. Someone calls me? I pull to the side of the road to answer.’

‘It’s all about road safety’. He said, smiling, his teeth white.

She smiled back, nodding. We all nodded.

He rode away. We stared after him.

We helped her stand up, walked her bike over to the little grassy bank for her. She sat down, refused any further help. Said she’d be ok and asked us not to call anyone. She repeated this several times, and told us she just needed to sit for a bit. So right or wrong, we didn’t. We continued our walk, though with some misgivings. She sat on the bank a while, talking on her phone again. In our last view of her, she had restarted her wobbly ride, on a sidewalk this time.

Bristol Autumn

It is actually winter I think, 4th December…winter, right? It’s winter in Manchester. It snowed and everything. I take the train south and time moves backwards to an earlier season.

Autumn is one of my favourites. Crisp air and blue skies with a hint of gold, the glow of changing leaves. Ashton court was beautiful. Open space, I desperately needed open space. Ancient oaks. Deer. It was warm enough tucked into the back of the golden stones collecting the sun to enjoy an ice cream.

We walked home across Clifton bridge, down through town. We passed hundreds of bikers dressed as santas (and elves, and reindeer and assorted holiday characters) driving jubilant and loud through the streets.

Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful

Small is Beautiful By E. F. Schumacher

I read this a number of years ago now, but still it surprised me that it should be written in 1973. Before I was born. I forget just how long Western white folks have known we were hurtling into climate crisis, though I know our indigenous kin have been voicing their warning since Europeans set foot in their ‘new world’ and began the first wave of extinctions and genocide.

This is a book critiquing economics as they are (still are, despite all good sense and years of warning) and providing a vision of economics as they could be. I feel that there are so many people rethinking economics now, writing for popular audiences with books splashed across Waterstones’ tables, that it is almost encouraging. But this analysis of the modern world as Schumacher sees it is still a good place to start, and I’ve been meaning to come back to it for a while.

He begins with the very European separation of man (because it was almost always man after all, and that was always a part of the problem) from nature.

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Stepney: The Reason London Should be Considered a Capital City

Coline MacInnes captures the Stepney-that-was so brilliantly in Mr Love and Justice. When it still had docks, sailors, teeming life overflowing its streets and markets. I never got to see Spitalfields like this, never saw ships, and don’t think you quite get that feeling anymore of London ending abruptly at its city gates. I wish I seen it like that, though I still loved working and walking there: for the continued presence of so many different cultures; the bits and pieces of utopia; Barnardo’s orphanage; the work of Eleanor Marx, Father Groser and meals on wheels at St Katharine’s; what we ourselves built at St Katharine’s and its community garden.

So different from more judgmental views found in histories like that of Walter Besant or the orientalised visions expanded from Limehouse in the Fu Manchu novels, this description is splendid.

Stepney, in early morning, has a macabre, poetic beauty. It is one of those areas of London that is thoroughly confused about itself, being in transition from various ancient states of being to new ones it is still busy searching for. The City, which still preserves its Roman quality of ending very abruptly at its ancient gates, towers beyond Aldgate pump, then stops: so that gruesome Venetian financial palaces abut on to semi-slums. From the dowdy baroque of Liverpool street station, smoke and thunder fall on Spitalfields market with its vigorous dawn life and odour of veg, fruit and flowers like blended essences of the citizens’ duties, delights and fantasies. Below the windowless brick warehouses of the Port of London Authority, the road life of Wentworth street–almost unknown elsewhere in London where roads are considered means by which to move from place to place, not places in themselves–bubbles, over spills and sways in argument and shrill persuasion, to the off-stage squawks of thousands of slaughtered chickens. Old Montague street with its doorless shops that open outward in the narrow thoroughfare, and its discreet, secretive synagogues, has still the flavour of a semi-voluntary ghetto. Further south, in Commercial road, are the nocturnal vice caffs that members of parliament and of Royal Commissions are wont to visit, invariably accompanied by a detective-inspector to ensure that their expedition will reveal nothing characteristic of the area; and which, when suppressed, pop up again immediately elsewhere or under different names with different men of straw at the identical old address. In Cable street, below, the castaways from Africa and the Caribbean perform a perpetual, melancholy, wryly humorous ballet of which they are themselves the only audience. Amid incredible slums–which, one may imagine, with the huge new blocks replacing them, are preserved there by authority to demonstrate the contrast of before-and-after–are pieces of railway architecture of grimly sombre grandeur. Then come the docks with masts and funnels strangely emerging above chimney tops, and house-locked basins, the entry to which by narrow canals and swinging bridges seems, to the landsman, an impossibility, were it not for the cargo boats nestling snugly between the derelict tenements. Suddenly, beyond this, you come upon the river: which this far down, lined with wharves and cranes and bearing great ocean loving steamers, is no longer the pretty, grubby, playground of the higher reaches but already, by now, the sea.

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Andrea Gibbons