In Praise of the Whale

Philip Hoare Talk

Whales are incredible creatures. Their great size, and calm intelligence, living in the great unknown of the ocean depths. Catching sight of one is certainly memorable; if you meet someone who has, they will no doubt delight in telling you all about it.

Given Tom’s love for these animals, our house has gradually accrued references to them: books, prints, and even a handstitched toy. When he read Leviathan, he was full of interesting facts and strange stories about these beautiful mammals. So when the author came to town as part of the Isle of Wight Literary Festival, we simply had to go.

Philip Hoare is one of those genuine outdoorsmen: strong and wiry, with creased shorts (I imagine he never wears trousers) and a bucketful of tales to tell. It was wonderful to spend an hour listening to him. He’s clearly inspired by oceans, this vast expanse of water about which we know so little (“We know more about the surface of the moon, than we do the bottom of the sea.”) He told of his first sighting in Provincetown, and his later trips swimming with sperm whales in the Azores. A true storyteller, with wonderful experiences enhanced by his rich knowledge.

Whale Paper Cut

Feeling inspired, I went home and ordered his book. But Tom went one better and started crafting away: a papercut of the odontocelli, about which Hoare told us so much. These days Tom can often be found at the table cutting out beautiful shapes and interesting quotes. The couple in this photo are just a few he’s made recently. Aren’t they lovely?!

When I asked Tom why he loved whales so much, he said it was the hardest question he’s ever had to answer. Perhaps he isn’t asked many tough questions, or perhaps the deep affinity many of us feel with these mammals is hard to explain.

Currently

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Loving this proper October weather: getting soaking wet on the ride home, ploughing through piles of multicoloured leaves, and stocking up on dry wood for the stove.

Trying to pick up my knitting needles again. I can’t even remember the last time I had a project on the go. It won’t feel like a proper autumn until I’ve got one started.

Enjoying the novelty of being an accidental pet owner: we seem to have inherited Tom’s class hamster. He’s adorably tiny and reminds me of childhood days building Lego houses and toilet roll tunnels.

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Juggling the day job. Tom and I are both planning exciting changes to our work next year. But in the meantime, we’re squeezing it all in to our evening and weekends.

Listening to lots of perfect tunes from this Scottish gent. I’m reading his tour diaries at the moment and enjoying his relaxed simple patter.

So, before October ends, I hope I can share with you a knitting project, a new business, and a Scottish book review. Meanwhile, I hope you’re all enjoying the delights of this stormy autumn!

Green Space in the City

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Even amongst the excitement of a weekend in foreign city, we can’t help but seek out the green spaces: a picnic in the park, sharing books and people watching, or the botanical gardens, almost empty despite being right behind the art gallery with a two hour queue to enter.

Seeking out the quiet sanctuary of Madrid’s Real Jardín Botánico (Consejo Superior De Investigaciones Científicas) might have had something to do with the rest of the weekend spent celebrating with Spaniards, where I learnt that 1am is considered an early night and three courses is only a third of the whole meal.  

We celebrated a wedding in Spanish style and caught up with friends we haven’t seen in years.  I loved sharing stories and plans, laughing and dancing.  And a quiet hour in a flower garden was the perfect coda to the weekend.  If you’re ever visiting a foreign city, either as a tourist or a guest, do add the botanical garden to your list.

Running Through the Autumn

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Autumn is such a great time for running around in the countryside. Cooler breezes, muddy puddles, and rich colours. The days are still long enough to catch the last light up a hill after work.

Last Friday we ran this castle route (a favourite of Tom’s). The stubbly brown fields seem a world away from the hot yellow hay of a month ago. It feels closer to the winter runs of hammering rain and shin-deep mud. Half the fun of an outdoor adventure, is returning home and collapsing on the couch with a bag of M&Ms, and it’s even more satisfying when the outside weather is a little bit tougher. This is just the start of it..

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(This particular run ended at a new burger joint in town. A cold beer and a big eat; now that has to be the ultimate reason to run!)

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Saltwater and Wildness: A September Read

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Ever since Michelle reminded me of the delights of an ocean dip earlier this year, I’ve been seeking out saltwater whenever possible. In celebration, Tom gave me this beautiful book for my birthday.

Peters shares stories of his various wild swims through each month of the year, interspersed with his thoughts on recovering from depression and the healing powers of water. He is clearly a water rat: searching out the hidden swimming holes on even the most unlikely of trips, and diving in with little regard for inclement weather. The photos are beautiful and the clear passion he shares for this pastime had even me, the most fair weather of wild swimmers, braving the depths this autumn.

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Freshwater Bay is the perfect grown-up swimming hole: a steep shore that plunges quickly into deep water, with pebbles that leave the water crystal clear and encourage noisy families to head off to sandier bays.

The harbour is sheltered and there’s a small contingent of lifers: hardy old swimmers who are out here every day, their presence reassuring you that diving in is not completely bonkers.

Freshwater Bay Swim

I’m starting to see how addictive this wild swimming business can be. The ice cold shock of the first plunge pulls you in to a single moment, before the edge of the chill subsides and you’re left rolling about in the buoyant water like a giggling fish.

This is pure and simple joy, with added tingly-fresh skin, and the promise of coffee and cookies on the beach. Can’t get much better than that. It’s a revelation to me that this adventure needn’t be the sole preserve of the summer holiday.

Dip was a book that soaked in to my blood and gave me the courage to take a quick paddle even in this autumn chill. And I doubt I’ll be able to stop at one.

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