What flies in the air

Catching the wild yeast! Invisible but omnipresent all around my kitchen are  teensy-weensy near-indestructible eukaryotic microorganisms that do many, many wondrous things in the lively air, but right now a decent percentage of them are fermenting away in and flavouring up my new sourdough yeast starter.


Don’t read on if you are an impatient dinner-on-the-table in-15-minutes kind of person. A loaf of homemade sourdough is time-intensive  but low on skills or activity.


Flour, water, yeast and salt. Time, hours and hours of mellow-out time. The longer you let the starter sponge ferment, the more delectably sour your bread will be. Between two and eight hours rising time, between 12 and 18 hours in a cool corner of the kitchen. I knead a little, leave the bubbly aromatic dough to develop  for a long time under towels, knead some more or fold and shape a little, flavour to taste, use good olive oil, stone-ground flours, unchlorinated river water. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, black peppers, grains of sea salt.


I have a list up on the fridge door of breads to be made, breadsticks speckled with poppy seeds or toasted sesame seeds, focaccia with rosemary and chopped olives, great crusty loaves of wholewheat, polenta and  pumpkin seeds, semi-rye  breads with molasses, caraway and fennel seeds picked from the garden last summer and dried. Pumpernickel, caramelised onion breads, Italian panettone with dried fruit.


Breads with character. My coping mechanism for stress relief over the festive season. When the going gets tough, the tough-minded  take a wooden spoon, some flour and a little water and feed the starter. The starter billows up and foams out  of the jar, threatens to overwhelm the kitchen. I stay calm and knead some  silky baby-bottomy dough on a lightly floured board. When in doubt, bake bread. Not the only coping strategy in my toolbox, but a good way to get down and dirty with nourishing results.

Is the world about to end? You’ll find me  stretching muslin cloth over wide-mouthed clean jars of seething yeasty goodness. Upending dutch ovens of  baked round sourdough bread onto cooling racks. Slathering on  real butter and preparing to meet with destiny.



Stared up at the  starry skies for a while last night. Cheering on Rosetta’s probe, Philae, which has successfully landed on its comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, despite a bounce or two. In my next life I am coming back as a sober astronaut or smart green alien. The mysteries of outer space always enthrall me.


Home alone! Well except for dogs, neighbours, the Internet, a  loud housemartin near the study window. Writing up a storm and popping in and out of  an online writing group. For  some reason everyone there feels unskinned, twitchy and off-balance this week, the long hours of solitary writing needling us, the roundabout of acceptances-rejections-acceptance -more rejections making us giddy and sick, the  struggle of starting over, finishing a project, beginning the next project. Reading  what we’ve just written and despairing. Reading over the chapter that seemed  fine last week and is just cobbled together metaphors and no damn concept. Living in our heads with  characters we know better than family,  rewriting sentences that end on an unstressed syllable, running out of  green tea or bitching-strong buzzy coffee. It’s never about the publisher who said you were a genius on glorious 23 May last year, it’s about what is there on the screen or page here, now, 13 November, this very morning. The bit that won’t work.


It’s life and scrambling  along the winding labyrinthine road through the unknown. Either we’re floundering about asking imponderables of the universe in sober newness, or we’re writing our first publishable short story or we are embarking on a great new romantic adventure. Or excavating the  hidden beauties of the everyday, risking, stretching ourselves, pausing to smell the last summer roses decapitated by a heavy dew fall. The alternative is that we give up, pull the pillow over our heads, turn our faces to the wall and life goes off elsewhere. Books that won’t get written, memories that don’t get made, relationships that  don’t mend. The unlived life is nearly always a choice but  never a good one.

And  very often we’re the only ones who know the life is unlived. Others can see the outward bustle, family reunions, success, the abundance in the flowering garden, the FB brags, the awards or promotions. Only we  know when the face is turned to the wall, that deadly sleepwalking and as-ifness, the pretence at vitality. My life was like that  for many years and I shiver to  recall that death-in-life, the  absence at the heart of  noise and  productivity. How it felt to be absent from oneself and  wake up to find a stranger in my body, someone grown old and soul-shrivelled while I had been sleeping.


From Thomas Bernhard on choices in risk:


The thing I find most terrifying is writing prose…it’s pretty much the most difficult thing for me…And the moment I realized this and became conscious of it, I swore to myself that from then on I would do nothing but write prose. Of course I could have done something completely different. I have studied many other disciplines, but none of them are terrifying.

The penetrating smell of guavas

At times I like the smell of guavas, pungent, penetrating, vaguely sweet. They are crammed with Vitamin A and not bad as a summer dessert sliced finely, blobbed with  yoghurt and  a few nuts added as an afterthought. Hardly ever sold commercially but many country people have a tree in the back garden.

Right now I can’t stand the  smell emanating from a basket of ripe guavas, yellowy skinned and pink-fleshed, and it fills the kitchen. Maybe I shall make them into a kind of guava jelly and keep that for winter.

Alone I am more indulgent with myself than I am in a busy household, meals to be eaten together,  dishes to be washed, decisions made together, shopping, cleaning for two. Now I have  a small white  bowl left out on the sideboard and a little solitary enamel pot with a bamboo steamer for vegetables. Time expands and quivers around me. A friend said that when her last child, grown-up and  qualified, left home for good, she felt as if each day was a week long.

For years I lived alone and yet now I am unused to  asking myself, the solitary moi,  what I want for  supper, when to go to bed. I need not eat guavas or even make them into a conserve. The bathroom is mine alone for this week. Mopey dogs follow me around and resent any changes of routine, but they are dogs and adjust quickly enough. I am the one who needs the holding structures and routines. And so I tidy up, plan meals at regular times, limit the poetry reading, sit down at the desk in my study  for steady writing and editing work.


Still staying with Remembrance Day, the 11th hour of the 11th  day of the 11th month, calling to mind the lost and  betrayed and war dead. Our old forgotten wars, the stupidity of them, the necessity for them, the  problem of evil that is always with us.


Reading translations from the Finnish by David McDuff. From a poem by Tua Forsström:

 The dead speak kindly

The thing with sorrow is that one thought there
was a fire but it is starting to rain. The brushwood smokes
listlessly for a while, it is far too sparse or dense
and on the field remains a dark installation sprawling
to the sky. The smoke from the clear evenings in April has
stuck in the jacket in the hall. Far from the city’s lights
So many years have passed, but flakes detach at the slightest breath
and blow out across the lake and up toward the house where I lived
with my parents and my brother, in our family.



Feast of All Souls