A Golden Anniversary in a Season of Gold
Which is to say, this is the 50th issue
Here in the north, we are past the equinox, our sun dipping, seemingly flagging in energy as winter approaches and the world turns onward. The forest is a riot of colour, the morningstar-spiked green balls of sweet chestnut hitting the ground hard, rolling downhill, until they come to rest in a deep bank of their fellows. The nuts are powerful enough in our history and thought to have their own colour: chestnut brown. Fungi push up as the chestnuts fall, here a slender parasol (Macrolepiota mastoidea), there a yellow coral fungus (Ramaria flava).
Another sound is now common, the crack of rifle shots, as hunters pursue the wild boar, the deer, the chamois, and others. Sometimes, as I listen to repeated gunshots, three in a burst, another three ten seconds later, I wonder whether the hunters actually bother to practice shooting. I know little about guns, but I do know I would never take a shot unless I was guaranteed it would hit, and kill, first time. It worries me a little, walking out into the woods, carrying Ailsa, wondering if someone will mistake us for a boar.
When you learn to hunt with a camera — at times stalking close enough that, had I wanted, I could have jumped on the red deer hind, or roebuck in front of me — you learn patience, you learn woodcraft, and you learn all about the subject of your photo. Active photography in this way, rather than concealment in a hide, is a thrill. I much prefer it to the idea of a gun.
I have now spent five weeks at my desk, and I have learnt much of what lies outside. My office window is clearly situated at the corner of three different Tom cat territories. Often, I glance out, movement catching my eye, and see either the ginger tom, a tabby who looks a bit wild cat, or a grey and white bruiser, the biggest of the three.
Each looks at me through the glass, as though it is I who is intruding, as they walk along the top of the wall, each spraying the back of the same gravestone, wiping their cheeks on the corner of another.
There are fights here, as in Thailand — sometimes there, at night, it was difficult to sleep for all the noise. The ginger tom recently came off worst in a scrap with the tabby, fresh cuts, clearly damaged eye, slight limp. These three are not intimidated by me, or anything else. This is their land, their place, and woe-betide any who try to enter. I suspect this room was not often used before we arrived and, as I mentioned last month, I began to work here.
I like crossroads, forks in a path; they represent choice, difference, difficulty, and adventure. Liminal places — those on the edges of things — have always been close to my heart, ever since I was a small child (I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but at school [38 pupils in the whole place, in two classrooms], my teacher, Gregor Lamb, chose walls and boundaries as a project. At the time I was not as excited at this as I was some of the other projects but it has stuck with me for decades, made me think and view the world through different eyes. When I later learnt of landscape archaeology, I realised that is more-or-less what we had been doing back then in 1980s Stenness, Orkney. [In small world-ism, my personal tutor from the Archaeology and Prehistory department of The University of Sheffield, Mark Edmonds, has now moved to Orkney — and I’d be very surprised if he and Mr Lamb had not met]).
Crossroads are edges on steroids. Here, worlds collide, fur flies, and scent is left. In the past, there was a reason these locations were chosen to hang gibbets of the dead (more scent), or where to bury those who had ended their own lives, or been executed. They are between worlds, locations to talk to the dead, to demons, the devil, or Odin. Or all of the above. Who knows?
Have a look at where you live and consider your own crossroads. One of the several blog pieces I am currently redrafting (more on this below) centres around how to learn to enjoy and appreciate travel more, before you even leave home: examining the depth of history, culture, and geography surrounding you, wherever you may be. Crossroads are a great place to start. Why do roads meet there? Or paths in the woods? Look at those made by our feet, and those made by animals — how do they differ? What is the history of the road you live on? There is so much to see, so many hidden secrets, which ultimately open your eyes to all around you.
The graveyard wall stretches out from my window toward the rising sun, the stones themselves acting as serried ranks of sundials. If I were to crawl out and run along its top, I suspect this elevated path would meet another, lower one, coming out of the forest. The north eastern corner of the graveyard meets the forested lower slopes of our mountain, and the wilder places on her flanks. Worlds meet there, the world of the forest and the world of the village, the world of the dead and the world of the living.
Working on stories, working on my website, situated at a crossroads such as this, somehow feels right and good. It feels like a place where magic has happened, for generations — and I hope a little of this magic rubs off on my work and words.
I fear this letter may be a long one. I have been adding to a draft document throughout the month, a paragraph here, an idea there, and it has already grown unwieldy, even before it is wrestled and shackled into some form of recognisable structure. Sorry.
Usually, this newsletter heads out in the first week of the month, often the first Tuesday or Wednesday, as I like to share group promotions as early as I can in the calendar month. However, this month I have held it back until the middle, something which is to now become a regular occurrence. When I do take part in promotions (none this month), a separate, far-briefer letter will be sent. I talk about why this will be the case later but, essentially, it is to give me time to prepare another piece of writing/article to share with you.
I’m considering adding a contents section on the backup of this post on my site — simply so people who might be interested in one part of the newsletter, but not another, can easily jump to the right section. Which makes me wonder what to call the different sections, the opening thoughts in particular. Musings? Thoughts? I’m not yet decided. Other sections, however, are quite self-explanatory, like the next one.
In the last few months we have begun to carve out time in order to watch movies and TV shows again (thanks to getting Ailsa to bed a little earlier, as she now skips her late afternoon/early evening nap), usually at the rate of an episode or half a movie per evening.
- Shining Girls
- Slow Horses
- Obi Wan Kenobi
- The Lazarus Project
- Only Murders in the Building (Season 2)
- The Umbrella Academy (Season 3)
- The Undeclared War
- Thirteen Lives
- Top Gun Maverick
The majority of these were really very good, although a couple were merely okay/good. I try not to share things I did not enjoy that much, or we did not finish, as I think there are plenty of others who are keen to denigrate and complain. For me, the point of these notes, and indeed most of my writing, is to share more positivity, point people in the direction of things that brought me joy. Whether you will also like them, however, is another question entirely.
We have quite a list of other shows and movies to watch, having caught very little for the best part of a year now. We do not own a TV, so these are viewed via a laptop, the internet enabling something which not that long ago would have felt like the future. I think it is important that we remember this — compared to when we were children, we are living in a Sci-Fi future, only the vast majority do not notice it, nor are we as thankful as we perhaps should be. If we as a species were to leverage technology for good things, rather than profit and power, I am sure we could potentially solve many problems with considerable speed…
Travel Blogging/Actually a Travel Writer
This is the reason the newsletter is a little later this month.
As I teased last month, I have been planning and pushing projects forward, starting some long-shelved, and pausing others.
This is one of the big ones. I have decided it is finally time to return to using my website, notatravelwriter.com, and actually using it for the reason I originally invested in the domain — as a travel site.
I have plans, or perhaps even Plans, with a capital P, for this space, and I have done a LOT of work already. If travel is something which interests you, or perhaps you are interested in starting and monetising a blog of your own, then the forthcoming posts I have planned will definitely be worth a read.
In coming newsletters, I intend to share a paragraph of website updates, but I want to keep this newsletter as it currently is — the site will predominantly be full of travel-related posts, but these letters will stay as broadly-themed as they are now. As such, travel will just be a part of a gloriously-eclectic whole.
So far, I have only published one public post, entitled “Why Do I Travel? Compelling answers after 5 years.” I am now running each and every title, post, description, etc through several pieces of Search Engine Optimisation software, analysing the data and modifying as needed. I suspect this process will get quicker the more I do it but, oddly, I’m actually enjoying it, a lot more than I thought I would.
I have also published a second, secret, post, but this one is password-protected, all about the analytics, data, income, ideas, and optimisation of the site. I aim to share as much of the building process with you as possible, and this is the reason the newsletter has shifted to the middle of the month. Again, if you are interested in this, have a read. It is called Accountability: Analytics and Income.
If you are reading this online, the password is available if you sign up for this newsletter!
I originally considered a different password-protected post per month but, after some discussion and thought, I am going to update this post until the end of the year, then start a new one for 2023. This is to make it easier for new subscribers to read these posts, without having to enter several passwords.
I have so much to share on the subject of travel, whether stories and details of slow travel, digital nomadism (or being globally feral), places to visit (ethically), how to start (even before you leave home), and ideas to make the whole process more meaningful and worthwhile for everyone. I do not think I’ll run out of ideas of posts, it will be much harder to actually get them all posted, however.
Similarly with photographs — I have a LOT of photos which have never been shared, so it feels good to be able to dip into that catalogue, as well as take new pictures with purpose.
For this month, I’ll leave this here, but do have a look at the posts mentioned above, both Why Do I Travel? and Accountability, and see if it is something you might like to follow.
To schedule all these things, I am using a mixture of analogue and digital. I like to do this — take digital images of journal pages, for example. Perhaps this is a part of my identity, seeing as I am one of those of the Xennial (or Star Wars) generation — gifted an analogue childhood and digital adulthood.
As I have mentioned before, I use the Pro version of an Android app called D-Notes, which I find works perfectly for my style of notetaking. I also use Scrivener for a vast array of drafting, redrafting, recording, note-taking, editing and storing purposes. It is such a wonderful tool once you get past the steep learning curve — exceptional at personalisation too, you really can make it work as you want. Finally, I use another Android app, called Simple Calendar Pro, for further notes, and scheduling/reminders. I’m just beginning to make this work for me, working out how I like to set things up (emojis and colour!) without too much intrusion, but also without too many things forgotten!
(Also, as an aside, we finally have a fibre internet connection, having started the process back in May — it is not entirely solved yet, as the company providing it has not been the best customer service/admin wise, as I edit this, I can hear Aurélie on the phone to them AGAIN, for about the 572nd time. However, the connection itself is superb, with a speed I clock on my laptop [which is apparently now old] at 99.65mbps download, 70.41mbps upload, and a ping of 8, and on my phone [which is new and 5g enabled], 558mbps down, 388mbps up, ping of 7. These speeds are quite magical. Sci-Fi future, remember? And don’t forget we live in a little village on the lower slopes of a mountain — not in a big city. This is something to be celebrated.)
On the analogue front, I have finally finished constructing my epic, over-engineered planning board. It is about a metre (3ft) tall, and two metres (6ft) long.
To the right of this is a whiteboard and to the left a cork board, fashioned from wine, champagne, and Clairette corks I have collected over recent years (although I did not drink all those bottles myself!). The cork board is specifically designed to be used with 15cm x 10cm (6×4 inch) index cards, which can be set up to mirror my Scrivener project cork board or used in a similar way, with no mirroring.
The photos are not the best, but they should give you an idea of the layout (I can’t take a better one now it is in use, as I’d be giving away secrets!) and how it was made. The corks are threaded with fishing line and only the champagne/Clairette ones are screwed to the board — the others move and slide and roll. It is on the attached ones that I pin cards.
I find being able to see things on a bigger scale to be useful. There is a small shelf for pens, pins, cards, and suchlike and, as there is metal edging, there is also space for magnets, in order to hang pieces of paper, whether scraps of notes, rough maps, or similar. Two hooks house a cloth to wipe the whiteboard, and a monthly calendar for the next year and this, clipped together and hung close to where my desk is. In the middle is also a gap where I have placed yearly calendars for this year and next, with dates I know I will not be at home highlighted. I will also be adding further data as I work out the best way.
Add to this my journal, notebooks, and paper, and I’m set. I have still not, however, found the time to organise my stationery, which is currently scattered all over the floor and desk…
I can’t remember if I mentioned this or not, but I’m planning on opening a small Etsy shop soon — this is probably (initially at least) going to focus on small carvings, perhaps with either kolrosing or burnt detail, similar to things I have made as gifts in the past, such as these:
I am brainstorming and considering designs, such as leaves (which I like to carve) or whether to tie some designs into the Not A Travel Writer brand — small carvings/pendants to take with you on your adventures, or to gift to someone who travels.
We are soon heading up to the mountains for around ten days, and one of my tasks while there is to harvest some wood for carving projects. Obviously, when I know more about this project, and have moved it forward, I’ll let you know. I’ve yet to look into details, such as shipping, for example, so I do not know whether I’ll be offering global shipping. However, I am hopeful I can.
This project is definitely a predominately analogue one, and is specifically designed as both an extra stream of income, and a way to work not-on-my-computer!
Watch this space.
I have moved two sections from this newsletter to a later, forthcoming one — this is long enough without them. Those Pinterest pins which talk about how to find inspiration and ideas for blog posts or newsletters are not for me — my problem is never one of too few ideas (similarly with fiction). I always have far too many of them. Instead, my issue is how to fit all the ideas into the time I have; I suspect I won’t, something which used to concern me greatly but, now, simply makes me focus on the very best of the ideas — the best for me, and you, and now.
And a big thank you to you — you the reader. This is the 50th newsletter I have shared, and I truly appreciate everyone who opens and reads my words. I know there can be a lot of them, but I see that as good value for money. So, thank you, I hope you continue to read, and do please share with friends and family if you think they’d like these letters.
By the time you read this, it will be a year since Ailsa was born. How it has been this long already is a mystery. She grows, and goes from strength to strength, providing endless amounts of laughter, happiness, and fascination. It has been quite a year.
Until next time, I hope you also find laughter, happiness and fascination. They’re all around us, after all — just because we are conditioned to focus on the negative does not mean that’s the right thing to do.
As ever, the photos are all mine. If you have been reading closely, you may remember me mention the licence plate game we play, starting at 001 and counting up. I mentioned how we were looking forward to 555 and there it was, parked outside — the first time we’ve seen a number here at home! Ha ha ha.