Indifferently, the glimmer of stars
Lit up the turning in the road.
The road went round the Mount of Olives,
Below it the Kedron flowed.

The meadow suddenly stopped half-way.
The Milky Way went on from there.
The grey and silver olive trees
Were trying to march into thin air.

There was a garden at the meadow’s end.
And leaving the disciples by the wall,
He said: ‘My soul is sorrowful unto death,
Tarry ye here, and watch with Me awhile.’

Without a struggle He renounced
Omnipotence and miracles
As if they had been borrowed things,
And now He was a mortal among mortals.

The night’s far reaches seemed a region
Of nothing and annihilation. All
The universe was uninhabited.
There was no life outside the garden wall.

And looking at those dark abysses,
Empty and endless, bottomless deeps,
He prayed the Father, in a bloody sweat,
To let this cup pass from His lips.

Assuaging mortal agony with prayer,
He left the garden. By the road he found
Disciples, overcome by drowsiness,
Asleep spreadeagled on the ground.

He wakened them: ‘The Lord has deemed you worthy
To live in My time. Is it worthiness
To sleep in the hour when the Son of Man
Must give Himself into the hands of sinners?’

And hardly had He spoken, when a mob
Of slaves, a ragged multitude, appeared
With torches, sowards, and Judas at their head
Shaping a traitor’s kiss behind his beard.

Peter with his sword resisted them
And severed one man’s ear. But then he heard
These words: ‘The sword is no solution.
Put up your blad, man, in its scabbard.

Could not My Father instantly send down
Legions of angels in one thunderous gust?
Before a hair of my head was touched,
My enemies would scatter like the dust.

But now the book of life has reached a page
Most precious and most holy. What the pen
Foretold in Scripture here must be fulfilled.
Let prophecy come to pass. Amen.

The course of centuries is like a parable
And, passing, can catch fire. Now, in the name
Of its dread majesty, I am content
To suffer and descend into the tomb.

I shall descend and on the third day rise,
And as the river rafts float into sight,
Towards My Judgement like a string of barges
The centuries will float out of the night.’

OL_Crucifixion.jpg

 

 

 

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It began as an excellent year should, with a big cosy jumper, a cup of tea, drippy windows and good puddly Scottish weather. Th sort of morning that suits reading an actual proper newspaper and eating toast and having reason to wear the slippers that took up so much luggage space and nearly got turfed at the airport in that anxious pause at check-in (‘22.78kg’). A freezy cold New Year’s Day would be the first of the happy anomalies in the life of Jess in what turned out to be quite a year…

Like all good holidays, it came to an end, and I flopped wearily back into humid real life and a forty degree summer and hasty doctors appointments and injections and timetables and all the highs and lows that had followed me from 2017. Such are the consequences of the pesky medical news that if I was ever going to have a family, it would be now or not at all. Most people who know me well would probably not describe me as a naturally fortunate person – and I do have an uncanny knack for finding disaster – but it turns out that I am in fact one of the very luckiest ones. Those who have ever walked the harrowing road that is IVF will know that the long wait for their pregnancy test result is excruciatingly painful. So I trapsed off to the clinic for my blood test in the morning (I was hopeful but not optimistic), and then busied myself with feverish cleaning of the house to pass the time until that most important of phone calls. When it did come and I answered on the first ring, I think that time stopped altogether when my lovely nurse checked my name and date of birth and announced, ‘Jess honey, in the surprise result of the year, your test is positive! Very positive, actually. You are very pregnant!’ The second happy anomaly of the year: beautiful crying. I had never sobbed big, leaky tears of joy before.

The six months that followed don’t take much summarising, because it turns out that I am very terrible at growing a human. The only really unhappy anomaly of the year was the ‘horrible resting’ that followed. Sure, PJs and Netflix and not going to work is fun for a few days, but not for half a year. For one whose self-worth is driven largely by being productive, it was a ghastly business. It did not teach me as much patience as it should have, but it did renew my care and concern for those friends whose battles with serious illness are a lot longer and harder than mine. Being pregnant and sick garners plenty of love and sympathy. Not everybody’s struggles are so plainly obvious. It was manifestly unhelpful to be told ‘it will all be worth it’, because I knew that, and it didn’t make it any easier to be lying on my bathroom floor surrounded by hydralyte iceblock wrappers and face washers that aren’t cold anymore.

‘Worth it’ also does not begin to convey the anxious anticipation, hopefulness, time-stealing preparation of tiny things, and utter soul-exploding love that comes with welcoming a little one. A spot of bed rest in hospital before I met mine made for the third happy anomaly: quiet objection. It happened to be the week that the Anglican Church (whom I love, frustrating as hell as she is) was making headlines because the Sydney Diocese had some fairly uncharitable things to say about same-sex weddings on church premises and obliquely about yoga and smoking ceremonies and quite a lot else in the small detail, and thence on to the rights of gay kids and teachers in Anglican Schools. This was troubling business for me as I was imminently awaiting the arrival of my little one. Kids should be able to work out their place in the world without worrying that their home or their school will be an unsafe place for their reckoning. That this should even be questioned in 2018 is a bit beyond belief. I would normally be fairly worked up and very vocal about matters such as these, but it was not the order of business that week. It was for others to present strong, articulate defence of a hospitality and inclusion as fundamental Christian principles. It is essential that such to the integrity of the church to say so, as many times as it takes. I was most poignantly reminded of this in the sacrament of fresh parenthood that passes in hospital corridors during the small hours of the morning on a maternity ward. I did not know in those moments of weary faces and shared understanding and nervous hands on tiny bodies whose bubba has two mums or a transgender dad or came as a surprise or was a long awaited ‘yes’ after IVF. The media wars and political debates that revolve around such matters have no place in the temporary but significant community that naturally forms around the midwives’ station, where halting and worried questions that drip with concern and love overflowing from an already full heart are asked and answered. We are all in this together.

It followed that the fourth happy anomaly should find me in those same small hours: cranky flourishing. Not long after I discovered that I was pregnant, the question arose as to what I would do with regard to baptising my child, given my relatively frosty relationship with the church and poorly tended state of faith. So I went back to Mass with the intention of confirming that it did not feel like home anymore, so I could disregard that fleeting baptism thought and carry on my way. I dislike being wrong, hence the cranky. The grace of God is rather more persistent and generous than that, hence the flourishing. My little one and I are blessed with a wonderful village, and have been especially fortunate to find the warmest and most hospitable of welcomes in our church community. We have not much to offer in return, and I know I have become that person who can talk about very little except her child, feeling as all mothers must that mine is the very best one ever made. And so we drift in and out on Sunday in the fog that blankets all new families, giving little and receiving much. For everything there is a season.

Which leads by way of Christmas to the fifth happy anomaly: awkward pride. The account in Luke’s gospel of the birth of Jesus has always been especially precious to my faith. I treasure those stories, and the wonder that is the fullness of God contained in the Christ-child. So when my son and I found ourselves playing Jesus and Mary in the Christmas Eve Nativity, we made for quite a contrast. He was angelic and perfect and dutifully fell asleep during the singing of ‘Silent Night’, right on cue. I, on the other hand, did not wear my repurposed alb and blue sheet with much dignity, feeling like the wrong person for the job. Someone else more appropriate should be doing this. Is there literally anyone else available? It was not until quite late in the service that I realised with a bit of a rueful smile that Mary probably felt a bit awkward too, back in her day. She had not exactly planned her circumstances, and her story is fraught with challenge from start to finish, but it is an example of grace and dignity for those who discover that the path the had prepared for in life must undergo a significant redirection. In the words of one of my favourite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor: ‘This is not the life I would have chosen, or the life I would recommend to others, but it is the one that has turned out to be mine.’ How many times this has been true! With that in mind, my main New Year resolution is modest and easy this time around.

2019

1. Don’t make too many plans.

In need as I was today of a little pick-me-up, I thought it might be time to get back to my Thursday Three habit, snuck in before bedtime. As one of my best music aficionado mates introduced me to the ARC Gospel Choir today, this week’s theme is a little tribute to the great women of Gospel.

At Number 3:

I could not imagine music without Eva. I imagine heaven sounds like this (On bright Sunday afternoons, until which time it should sound like a well-rehearsed Cathedral Choir…)

 

In at Number 2:

The magnificent Mavis Staples, who needs no introduction.

 

And at Number 1:

The beautiful Alison Krauss. I will never tire of hearing this song.

Honourable mention for the boys:

It was just about impossible to grow up as a youth group kid in the 90s and not know Jars of Clay – their self-titled album was a bit of a rite of passage! For all there are a lot of things that I don’t love about contemporary church music, this cover has a nice bit of harmony and happiness:

Sometimes I wonder if I should really have been in another time. If I could pick my life up and transport it somewhere else, high on the list would be post-war London’s East End, where Jennifer Worth’s books ‘Call the Midwife’ were set.

These stories are many things I love – a warm and wise spirituality, a beautifully compassionate and industrious nursing ethic, a pervasive concern for politeness, and setting the table properly for tea. It is honest enough not to be shallow or romantic, though I’m sure the reality was still much worse.

If I could meet one of those remarkable women in particular, it would be the irrepressible Chummy. Though she is a little bit awkward, she is entirely without pride – a most lovely virtue in someone who has chosen to abandon her high-born life for a genuine vocation to care for others in the messy reality of a poor neighbourhood.

Chummy has many fine moments, but the one that has me reaching for the hankie every time is the episode in which she cares for her dying mother. A prickly, class-conscious woman with a predisposition to judginess and insensitivity, Chummy’s Mum is not easy to love. She is rude to her family, perpetually critical, and ungrateful for their kindness. Nor does she have any interest in discussing the realities of her illness. It’s a tough wall to get past.

Enter the wisdom of the eccentric old Sr Monica Joan, who confesses over tea with Chunmy that she did not enjoy a warm or affectionate relationship with her own Mum, and did not regret it at the time, but certainly has since. And so at her next visit to her palliating Mum, Chummy goes about the business of a simple manicure, full of tenderness and love. In return, her Mum reaches out and strokes her daughter’s hair back – a gesture not ventured since Chummy’s childhood. And then it is time for Chummy to set aside her nurse’s uniform (with the help of a beloved and practical friend who understands), put on her Mum’s dressing gown, curl up beside her, and hold her as she says goodbye.

So perhaps it does not always take an extravagant gesture to heal a past hurt, even if it has been a very long time in the making. Perhaps a fresh start can be as easy as a cup of tea or a little pampering, if the time is right and it is important enough.

Chummy, I wish we could be friends in real life. ❤

Usually I spend my New Years Eve with several quiet cups of tea, while I make an attempt at summarising the life lessons of the previous twelve months… This year’s list is short (with several familiar bits – I’m a slow learner!):

1. The tension between working towards hopes and dreams and graciously letting go of what is not meant for you is a bloody lot harder than it sounds. Even still, missed opportunities and disappointments have a way of leading to other good stuff, which turns out to have its own loveliness.

2. Further to above: Aspiration/hard work/determination = all good. Anxiety/perfectionism/stress = all bad. It’s a fine line! I’ve never been brave enough to embrace the ‘I’m fabulous just as I am, deal with it’ mantra… Least of all in my case, where there is so much obvious room for improvement! But some days, I think it’s ok to say ‘This is the best I’ve got. It’s a bit smudgy around the edges, but it is enough’.

3. Further to above: So far being 30-something isn’t exactly what I imagined… But I am learning (still) to avoid counting good and bad years too much, and be grateful in the highs and optimistic in the lows. Plans have their place, but then so do surprises!

4. Further to above: Some years are just for loveliness. 2018 is already shaping up to be wonderful, surrounded as I am with with a great family and lovely friends who are in turn making their own families. It’s a delightful little village to be in! I am incredibly fortunate to have such amazing people around me.

5. Further to above, life goals for the year ahead:

– Less stress, more uncoordinated yoga/clumsy jogging/awkward scrambling up climbing walls. I’m always going to look like a multi-coloured hippo in active wear, but I don’t suppose that’s the end of the world! 

– Less study, more reading for pleasure. I always have the best intentions of a NY ‘No New Books Until I’ve Finished My Current “Want to Read” List’ resolution. I give myself a month at most before I break! Reading time and contentment level are directly proportionate, right?

– Less fretting about life at 3am, more sleep. Is there anything more important to good mental health than proper rest? Tea, oils, meditation – whatever it takes…

– Less sugar/alcohol/crap, more time in the veggie patch. Am converted to the view that a clear head and a happy heart begin in a healthy belly. Tips from my green thumbed friends welcome!

– And most importantly, less time inside and more time out and about with my beloved pup, who showed up in the life of Jess when I needed him most. Already I would be lost without him. What a gift it is to come home to the little pitter patter of paws and the exuberant adorability of puppy love! 

So I hope this fresh day/week/month/year also brings you and yours a 2018 that is your very best year yet, with adventures and lots of love and your favourite company in abundance. Happy 2018! Xx

  

Though this is the first year I have ‘lived’ in this little patch of country Victoria, it is my third visit, and the third time I have started a Winter here. I did think that, by comparison, Autumn hung around as long as it could and has made a thoroughgoing effort to keep the town looking lovely. There are still plenty of beautiful yellow and orange trees shaking their little coats down onto the footpaths. It’s delightful. But there are also fewer and fewer hours in the day when one can venture outside and maintain circulation to fingers and toes.

This chilly situation has it’s own advantages for someone as thoroughly and completely uncool as me. I am entirely without any sense of style, I have always known this, but every now and then I feel like I should try. But it’s inevitably disastrous, so winter is a welcome reprieve. When Pri 1 is only to be warm, it seems much more acceptable now to put PJs on straight after work than it does in sunny February. ‘Warm’, in my case, has never equalled ‘matching’, or ‘trendy’, or even ‘acceptable for answering the door’. I don’t mean your Peter Alexander pants and your beloved’s cosy hoodie and cute slippers and a messy bun – that shit belongs in an Ed Sheeran videoclip. I mean ‘these 3/4 pants are the only ones not in the wash, so I’m going to have to pair them up with knee high hiking socks if I don’t want to freeze, and I suppose this old PT shirt with the few holes will do, and I swore I would never wear this sweater again after that airport incident, but hey, it’s cotton, so it’ll breathe when I’m wrapped around the three heat packs and hot water bottle in bed tonight’.

Further to embracing this homely attire has been a prompt to one of my other Winter pastimes – a little bit of a reading challenge. I’ve set myself a few over the years, with varied success. Booker Prize Winners, Non-Western Authors, Australian authors, Books I Bought But Have Never Read, Books People Loaned Me Months (*Years*) Ago And Probably Want Back’, etc. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across this Master List, which has many wonderful ideas, and settled on the Alphabet Soup Challenge. A book for each letter, as perhaps is obvious (the rules are a little relaxed – as long as there’s a word somewhere in the title starting with the applicable letter, it’s allowed). I’ve started compiling my list, and am trying to keep a bit of variety in the mix, to reflect the things I love and that help me keep the long view. A bit of post-war fiction, a bit of domestic wisdom, a bit of political savvy, and a bit of fantastical escapism. But as you can see below, there are a lot of gaps in my list, so I’m hoping a few good friends might point me in the direction of the books they’ve loved lately!

Jx

(PS – I’m a big fan of ‘book pairings’ – a little bit of deliberate savouring of the last chapter in a especially good book. I wore the Sorting Hat my brother gave me when I finished HPDH. I was given a parcel of Ceylon Silver Tips with my copy of The English Patient, which was much anticipated by the end, because it took  me a VERY long time to read). The book I’m reading now is set in Prague, so I’m going to try my hand at a Czech dish when I finish it. So… Add those recommendations too, if you have them!)

books&snow

ALPHABET SOUP BOOKLIST

A – Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

B

C

D – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby 

E – Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

F

G – The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

H – Heroic Australian Women in War by Susanna de Vries (starting over, after losing and finding in my last move)

I – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

J – The Judge’s Wife by Ann O’Loughlin

K

L – Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

M

N

O – The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama

P

Q

R

S – The Satanic Verses by Salmon Rushdie

T – Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard

U

V

W – The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb

X

Y – Yates Garden Guide

Z

When the calendar ticked over from ‘Such-a-jerk-2016’ to ‘Fresh-start-and-new-adventures-2017’, on the very short list of things I hoped to accomplish this year was a fair bit of walking. It has always done wonders for my sense of perspective, and seemed like a good way to make the most of my less than voluntary relocation to Victoria, which I am increasingly finding to be a very beautiful state. But on my most recent stroll in the outdoors, I realised several times that I wasn’t walking, I was trudging. Glum, downcast, mindless trudging. I suspect that it is an easy habit to fall into for all of us who have been made to move with purpose at 116bpm; the line between a march and a trudge is, after all, a very fine one. Nevertheless, realising how hard it was to slow down, step lightly, and keep my chin up got me to thinking about where the trudge comes from, and when he crept into my life. I used to be sparkier than I am now. What happened to my sparkiness?

I think perhaps it is the case that as we get a little older and life gets more serious, maintaining hopefulness gets harder. There is a quiet but very real (and maybe even compounding) grief that goes with letting go of dreams and expectations that have become plans. For all the wisdom of ‘staying in the moment’ and ‘taking one day at a time’, we are all actually travelling one-way through life, by the sheer fact of the unfolding time and space around us, and at least part of our happiness seems to depend on being intentional about who we become and what we accomplish along the way. There must then necessarily be plans, some of which come together, and some don’t. The smaller and less significant ones can go by the wayside, or be postponed for a better time, without too much pain. But the big ones, the ones that are fundamentally defining of who we are, who we love, what we bring into the world, and what we leave behind… They are bloody heart-wrenching turmoil for anyone, but especially for the more tenderhearted among us. How do you manage when life keeps bloody well moving on, but doesn’t look or feel the way it should?

Just lately, I am wondering if the answer is in the healthy negotiation of vulnerability. This is a new and uncomfortable territory for me, but a painfully necessary one. I am eminently at ease with the heartache and struggles of others, but altogether intolerant of my own. I have lived a very fortunate life in lots of ways, but there have also been enough hurts along the way that I do not find it so easy to trust. But I do not want to become a distant, or unhappy or bitter person either, so I have had to learn some hard lessons about how to remain open-hearted when the potential for further hurt is high. A couple of years ago, the wise words of Brene Brown (which I have written about before) taught me some good stuff about the happiness-depends-on-connection-depends-on-vulnerabilty business. It helped me summon up the courage to leave my blanket fort and put myself back out there, rebuild something resembling a career, invest in a few new relationships, imagine a different, but not inferior, future.

I keep coming back to that truth, but lately I have learnt it has some caveats. Vulnerability is only safe when it is mutual. If it becomes too one-sided, it stops being courageous and loving, and begins to be damaging and lacking in self-respect, which does not make for a healthy future. Risk, likewise, must be approached at a gentle and sustainable rate. My dearest friends have each in their own way lately taught me that one must bravely pursue their dreams, but without putting life on hold in the meantime. One’s future happiness cannot depend on the complete success of Plan A in the timeline that has been chosen for it. Plan B is ok. (Say it again, Jess, Plan B is ok. Plan B is ok. Plan B…) Plans C and D, and even elements all appearing in Plan E might equally turn out to be wonderful. Even in the grief of letting go of Plan A, one must invest in Plan B, learn to love it, and hold it gently and without rushing it, like a good cup of tea.

  
So, back to the question of surviving the waiting game, when plans have been launched but have not yet come to fruition… It’s hard, and has to be deliberate. Without sounding too ‘Eat Love Pray’, the couple of things I have worked out later than I should are as follows:

  • However modest it may be, your home is one of your most safe and stable places. Make it as lovely as you can within your means. In detail. The art you like, the music you like, the wine you like. I’ve said it before, but for real, buy fresh flowers. KEEP IT CLEAN. A messy house is not conducive to good mental health or productivity. Carve out time for your tea/coffee ritual. At the same time, do not be bound by notions of respectability, which should be disregarded in favour of wandering about your home naked, should you wish. As advised by a good mate, this will make it truly yours. Truth. (Friends who for whatever conditions of employment do not choose the house in which they live – do not under any circumstances camp in your own life and neglect the above. DO NOT.)
  • Stop investing in people who only seek you out on their bad days, and only want you on your good ones. This is not friendship. It is certainly not family. Cut it away.
  • Be as deliberate about your leisure time as you are about your work. Invest in hobbies that have no purpose but your own happiness. This should sometimes mean going for a run WITHOUT tracking it (it still happened, truly), or picking up a forgotten instrument that used to help you find your chill. Dust it off. Also go bushwalking. Bushwalkers tend to be nice people.
  • Replace your FOMO with JOMO. The joy of missing out only really happens when you get to shake off a commitment that was based in obligation or anxiety. The people who are actually your people will love you as you are, and won’t mind if you occasionally need to skip a catch up because life/health/weariness has got in the way. Apropos that, learn to love your own company. To sit with nobody but yourself, and like it. Makes it easier to tackle the tough days that must sometimes be handled alone.

If you need a little nurturing, I have been generously pointed in the direction of the following lately, and they are loveliness:

  • Tea: Harney & Sons, Rose Scented. (On that – I was recently discussing with a dear friend her care package requirements as she heads off to do the very important work of defending the nation. I tentatively suggested that teabags might be easier in her austere surrounds than loose leaf, to which she responded ‘Unless the whole world is burning, there’s no need for that kind of savagery’. Hear, hear. If she has time for proper tea making, so do we all!)
  • Book: Four Seasons with a Grumpy Goat, by Carol Altmann. Hilarious!
  • Music: Ben Abraham’s album Sirens has been a favourite since I first heard it. I stumbled back on this song this week, and I do like the honest but happy hopefulness in it. And the Mahogany Sessions are nice and earthy. Sending much love to the treasured friends who deserve the loveliness I hope and believe is ahead of them. x

 

Of my many shortcomings, a lack of any significant musical ability is probably the most disappointing to me. I’ve never really learned an instrument, can’t particularly sing, and lacked the attention span in primary school to make the recorder sound any better than a cheap kazoo. Which is frustrating, because sometimes words on their own just aren’t enough to express what needs to be said, felt, or shared… Whether it’s that exquisite agony of fresh love, or the immense thankfulness that follows an unexpected kindness, or united rage against the man, or the still and quiet contentment of one’s own company.

Perhaps because I am fated to be stuck hearing but not making, I’m particularly appreciating playing my way through the modest little vinyl collection I have been building, now that I have inherited a humble turntable. A few thoughts on that before I move on:

  • Vinyl really does sound better than a CD or mp3 file. REALLY. I’m no physicist, so I don’t entirely grasp ‘the recording is less compressed and therefore the amplitude of the sound wave etc’ business, but there’s a richness and balance that definitely raises the bar.
  • Listening to vinyl is inherently a more attentive experience, mostly because you can’t just hit ‘repeat playlist’ and walk away to do housework or whatever. Rather, hunt through the collection for a record, unpack it from its various sleeves and load it, find that lead in groove (now there’s a band name in the making), gently set down the tone arm… Just for half a dozen songs. Repeat. Somewhere in there – dust is the devil and must burn.
  • Higher end audiophile equipment is becoming increasingly beautiful, and with all the fancy business. Lust territory for sure. Hey there Pro-Ject, with your delicious mahogany plinths to complement a beautiful pair of walnut Ruark active speakers. I see you.

My mismatched wee stash of records is a bit nostalgic – some inherited, some found randomly, some hunted down. Not quite a tune for every occasion just yet, but getting there. So, the albums that have helped this week along its way:

1. Horse Feathers ‘Thistled Spring’

These gentle Appalachian folk are the definition of warm, slightly haunting tunes for when your melancholy needs to be let out. It got a spin because I am firmly of the view that the great United States have contributed more to modern music across a variety of genre than any other nation by far… But aren’t they hurting something fierce at the moment. So in honour of the creative, prophetic, hopeful types speaking truth to power in an increasingly dangerous and bigoted time… You keep on keeping on.

Said it better than I could: ‘There’s a pain in the west, a sinking feeling deep down in their chests… A little town like a lamb. Well a lion came down and took their dam. February was lean, and March came to scream.’ (Vernonia Blues)


(Also you make BEAUTIFUL records. To look at I mean. I heart you).

2. ‘Odetta Sings’

This courageous and graceful lady covers the greats with the best of them. I really like a good reinterpretation of an old hit. And there’s something about a southern dame of Alabama lending her voice to a lilting gospel tune that settles the soul of any old body searching for a little peace and perspective.

Said it better than I could: ‘I don’t build no heathen temples, Where the Lord has laid his hands, there’s a well on the hill. Let it be.’ (Lo and Behold)


(Look at her!)

3. Jamie Lawson (self-titled)

This album has been sitting at the top of my favourites for an unusually long time. I could listen to his honey-coloured voice and soft acoustic guitar for days on end. Well timed reminder; I can just occasionally be guilty of a little attempted self-sufficiency, which has never really been remotely helpful. There are far more good people in my world than I possibly deserve, and I need reminding from time to time that life is best lived in good company, not in safe isolation or deliberate busyness. Thank goodness for gracious friends and better angels.

Said it better than I could: ‘I know I make mistakes and I can let you down, don’t always find the words to say. For all this searching you’re the best thing that I’ve found – I’ll be hoping you stay.’ (Don’t let me let you go)


Thus ends the soundtrack of this week, with all it’s lessons and loveliness. x

Trying to sum up a year in a few sentences always feels a bit awkward, and if I’m honest, a bit self-indulgent. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been dragging my feet this time round! The habit didn’t have illustrious origins, and is still not much more than an attempt to store away lessons learnt, in the hope that they might not need to be relearnt too painfully or often! It also does me good to look back over the highlights reel as an aid to keeping perspective and cultivating a resilient sort of gratitude… Though I do so this time in acute awareness that while I found 2016 to be passable company, it was a right jerk to a whole lot of people, who will be most pleased to have made it over the line. I was mildly disappointed that the replay of my own year was a little lacking in amplitude or achievement, but then perhaps that’s the take home message. Ordinary years have their place, to rebuild after extraordinarily bad ones and prepare for extraordinarily good ones. So to all those who crawled the last few metres of the finisher’s chute last week, I hope 2017 brings an end to the plagues and misfortunes of this year, and shows up instead with plenty of fantastic days to go round, an adventurous road ahead, and unexpected loveliness. I hope you also have a few nice bits of salvage that are worth celebrating. Jx

1. One favourite film: The BFG. Just beautiful.

2. Two favourite books: ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society’ by Mary Ann Shaffer, and ‘Heroic Australian Women in War’ by Susanna de Vries.

3. Three favourite tunes (none of which were written in 2016): ‘Benedictus’ by 2Cellos, ‘Calm and Crystal Clear’ by Miss Higgins, and ‘The Sound of Silence’ by Disturbed.

4. Favourite wardrobe addition: The loveliest pair of Duckfeet Fyns that ever was!

5. Best meal: Madame Hanoi, Adelaide. Outstanding company. Outstanding meal.

6. Best drink: Sullivan’s Cove American Cask. Breathtaking.

7. Best piece of advice: ‘Don’t rush. There are more opportunities ahead of you than you can even consider now.’

8. Favourite view: Newcastle Harbour from Stockton Bridge. I will miss it dearly.

9. Favourite addition to my happy home: The various precious gifts that send me on my way with a beautiful, diverse and most sufficient collection of teas.

10. Plan for the New Year: Work hard. Read widely. Take risks. Make time for kindness. Carefully expand scotch collection, in consultation with friends near and far.

Despite my abiding love of single malt, and my perpetual search for the perfect drop, I have never written tasting notes before. It’s a bit too daunting for me, and I think it’s probably a task best reserved for finer connoisseurs and better writers than I am. What can I say about the product of such long and careful labour over all the perfect ingredients? I’m no expert, I only know that my favourite distilleries take some local grain and a steady, fresh water source and turn out a good barley mash. Also they choose a collection of oak barrels, seasoned to their preference for this or that edition. And then years of some miraculous process turns out the Nectar of Heaven. All of this only seems to work if you also have the right altitude and temperature, an imposing span of wilderness and a very great deal of patience, in the manner expected of fine Scotch. One of the things I love most about whisky is the sense of perspective that naturally emerges from drinking it. There is nothing like realising that the dram you are enjoying has been in the making for more than a decade to help shake off a tough week, or to remind you not to celebrate success too quickly. Another reason why it is hard to sum up the savouring experience!

All of that said, I was recently surprised (and thrilled!) to receive an absolutely beautiful Tasmanian Highland Single Cask from some extremely generous people. The Nant Pinot Noir Wood is just glorious, and deserves an attempt (however inadequate) at a few brief words. As it happens, attempting these notes has coincided over the last fortnight or so with spending much more time on home cooking, which has been lovely, though I’m not sure how much my tasting vocabulary has improved as a result!

Appearance:

The colour is magical. A lovely strawberry blonde in the bottle, but drink from silver instead of glass and it turns to warm and soft gold like late afternoon sun… Not too bright, but gentle, with a very subtle blush, which I guess is thanks to the Pinot in the timber.

Nose:

Inviting, and with a lot happening at once. A rich, woody foundation with notes of pine and maple syrup, blanketed under a comforting layer of almond nougat. A very pleasant first impression!

Palate:

Structured, from a quite a crisp, spicy opening… I’m sure this is not official notespeak, but orange and pistachio ‘tingle’ beautifully at the front of the mouth before melting nicely into hot cinnamon and honey across the palate, with just a hint of apple and raisin as it hits the throat. Water opens star anise, ice opens a hint of brown sugar.

Finish:

Like afternoon tea hour in a country kitchen… A mouthful of baked pear, vanilla and fresh cream.  A toasty, buttery finish.  It doesn’t linger for very long, though you wish it would. The second dram just sort of pours itself. Somehow entices you to stay a while longer, without being too obvious.

Overall:

It is clear from the outset that this is a true Highland… Not big or bold or peaty, but not as light or grassy either. It’s subtle, complex, and generous. I expected quite a sweet scotch from the nose, but was pleasantly surprised at the clear and balanced palate, and delighted by the irresistible finish. This is not a scotch for keeping warm by a campfire, or for sipping solo over a book in the library. It’s a verandah scotch, suited to good company and a good view. In the words of the great Jim Murray on Nant Distillery: ‘Something majestic is going on here.’ I’m quite looking forward to the visit I will have to make when this bottle runs out!

Nant PNW.jpg

Quote of the Week

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner

Goodreads

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