this is not a review: ‘a woman’s walks’, by lady colin campbell

The first thing I don’t like about this book is that she (Gertrude Elizabeth Blood), calls herself Lady Colin Campbell, which reminds me of the personalized stationery, little note cards on excellent stock, my mother-in-law (an otherwise intelligent and lovely woman) gave me, designed, I suppose, to obliterate any thought of whoever I used to be pre-marriage, being embossed as they were with “Mrs. (Son’s First Name)(Son’s Last Name)”. She explained that should I happen to send a card to a friend (who else would I send them to??) I was meant to strike a single line through “Mrs. (Son’s First Name)(Son’s Last Name)” and write in “Carin”. As if to say that “you (because we are friends) may call me Carin”. I still have the little copper plate that came with the box of stationery in case I ever need to replenish my supply. (hahaha) The fact that I don’t use anyone else’s name, neither first nor last (having been blessed with my own), is apparently beside the point. She, dear woman, came from an era of The Mrs.

The ‘Lady Colin Campbell’ syndrome is ridiculous. (And very different from adopting a family name, which makes a certain kind of sense in certain cases and to certain people. I do get why people do that.) But what sense can be made from using your husband’s FIRST name to identify you?

Especially, in Lady CC’s case, whose husband turns out to be an ass and they split up. Which is when she begins her worldwide wandering and writing.

But why keep the ‘Colin’???

So that was my first problem with A Woman’s Walks, by Lady Colin Campbell. Despite the rather promising cover.

The other problems relate to the privilege Lady Colin Campbell enjoys throughout her privileged life and incessantly complains about. It is a problem when a writer bores me as Lady CC does and I find it hard to plough through but I continue because I’m looking for a good walk. Unfortunately her idea of walking and mine are quite different. Hers involving much first class train travel and staff helping her get from one luxury hotel to another.

Two exceptions.

One was a stroll she took through a Venetian marketplace where she bought a captive bird, not to eat but to release. She felt very chuffed with herself about that. Her good deed for the day, which again says a lot about her and the era of that kind of privilege. Not to mention attitude towards ‘the little people’ who shop and work at markets for reasons other than amusement and who rudely eat the captive birds because they need protein and aren’t able to take a train to the next luxury hotel dining room to order their pheasant under glass.

I enjoyed seeing her hypocrisy on such magnificent display.

And of course markets always please me.

The other was a walk around Milan that ended, to her surprise, at a crematorium where she lingered, feeling comfort and solace in a way, she says, she never does in cemeteries.

Not a terrible read but not something that personally appealed overall.

The book is one of several from a London Library series: ‘Found on the Shelves’… collected essays on various subjects from “the modern cycling craze” with the invention of the bike, to dieting in the 1800’s, to trout fishing instructions for women. Etc. All of them from a time long gone and full of quirks by modern standards.

Though, really, who are we to talk of quirks…

Fun Trivia:

Turns out there’s another Lady Colin Campbell whose Colin also turned out to be a schmuck and who is not a Victorian essayist, but a contemporary writer of contemporary Royal doings.

Not only that but the modern Lady CC was originally named George William Ziadie (she had unclear genitalia at birth and her parents were advised to err on the side of male, which turned out to be wrong so at age 21 she had corrective surgery and became Georgia Arianna Ziadie). So then she marries Lord Colin Campbell who decides to sell her out to the tabloids who run untrue stories on how Lady CC was born a boy and had a sex change. So they divorce right quick. And yet… she keeps not only the whole Lady Campbell schtick, but the Colin part.

I just don’t get it.

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I’m a big fan of the fine balance of nothing changing except whole worlds.

This can relate to books, art, conversations, people, places. To anything.

Sameness only looks/sounds/feels the same if you’re not paying attention.

Since the pandemic my walks have been pretty much limited to my backyard, where every winter I stamp out a labyrinth in the snow. This is the first year I’ve kept walking the labyrinth in every season. And it works just fine.

My penchant for nothing changing except everything fits well with traipsing the same paths over and over, several times a day in between reading, writing, chores. I’ve now walked these paths in rain and heat and snow and on windy days and perfect days.

Perfect being relative. Sometimes it means the weather, sometimes it means my own mood, which has me seeing beauty everywhere, swinging my arms, breathing deeply, thinking what else could I possibly want at this moment except to look at this precise shade of blueyelloworangegreenvioletcrimson.

Other times I’m walking my circles, feeling tense about one thing or another, muttering to myself about some scene I’m writing, arguing with a character who will NOT stop smoking, thus causing me to see a whole other side of her, which opens up a whole other aspect of the story. There are reasons these fictional types light up. It’s why I carry matches.

There’s comfort in the sameness then. The trees get me.

In this smallish space (larger than an average garden but not gigantic, not a park, not a meadow, not especially rambling) I’m allowed my many moods because there isn’t anyone to greet, no judgment, no bears, no coyotes, no traffic or intersections, and in the process of absolute walking freedom I always find a sliver of peace, of mind, of spirit. The things nature does best.

   

And in this confined space without distant horizon lines I see everything… woodpeckers, hummingbirds, doves, bluejays, the luminescent royal blueblack of the grackles and our beloved cardinal family who nested in the honeysuckle this summer, raised their kids, and who still hang out in the wisteria, like it’s their hood because, well, of course it is; and the hawk who sometimes sits at the top of a spruce until I shout and wave my arms about and it flies off (the doves audibly sigh); and goldfinches and things I can’t name, buntings or juncos, I’m really not sure. Geese fly overhead, seagulls too. And the crows crow about who knows what while the squirrels squirrel away things for me to find in spring. Or sooner. An apple in the nasturtium basket, a peanut shell on the chair were I sit to watch the sun rise.

Have I even mentioned the clouds?

Or the wild purple asters or the way virginia creeper turns scarlet and climbs to the top of the spruce tree.

Have I mentioned the last of the Queen’s Anne’s Lace, the zucchini, the green beans, the kale?

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Every day my walk is the same.

And entirely different.

things found

 
maggy and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)
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and maggy discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and
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may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.
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For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
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‘maggy and milly and molly and may’, by e.e. cummings

may be

 
I’ve written before about my relationship with May. I love it for all it’s taught me, through the best of times and the worst… until it’s no longer possible to take this month for granted, or not acknowledge it in some way.

This year I’d like to celebrate May by saying yes.

I’ve decided to play that game where you open up to things that normally cause much consternation followed by umm, I don’t think so, thanks, and a hasty retreat to the cave.

In this game there’s no thinking allowed.

Merely, yeses. (In response to requests within reason, I might add; I mean, there have to be some rules  because I can tell you right now that I am NOT going to accept an invite to go to, say, Mars. No matter how great the in-flight movie is or who’s paying. It’s just not my thing.)

Ah, but, you see? There I go again, talking about my thing. And as much as I adore my thing and am already looking forward to climbing back into its perfectly shaped embrace… for one month, I will not give it priority.

I will be open to whatever is on the other side of no.

In fact I’ve already begun. Instead of pretending my ankle isn’t sprained and that it will miraculously heal on its own even though it’s only gotten worse in the past couple of weeks, I said yes to seeing someone who knows about these things.

Imagine.

It’s almost like the possibilities are truly endless…

So off I go, with a limp in my step and a yes on my lips.

(Is it just me or is weirdly bright outside the cave?)

Will keep you posted via smoke signals.

Or carrier pigeon.

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a frivolous five minutes with ‘e’ après le soup and before the butter tarts — age 97

 

I’ve known ‘e’ for close to twenty-five years—since he was but a lad in his mid seventies—and he hasn’t changed a lot, though he’d probably beg to differ where walking is concerned. Not as easy, he’d say. Well, at three years shy of a century you’re allowed to take your time.

Sometime before her 101st birthday, my friend Judy said (and these are her words) that if you lived long enough you’d eventually lose it from either the neck up or the neck down. She might be right but it’s about degrees. And attitude. She lost the ability to get around on her own, but it didn’t stop her doing much.

‘e’ is much the same.

Maybe it’s that generation, something in the water. Or, more likely, not  in it. Some pretty amazing role models where aging is concerned. And yet society doesn’t celebrate this kind of aging… Funny bunch, society.

Things about ‘e’ that I happen to know: he likes chocolate but not fish. He reads widely and avidly and is currently addicted to a series of excellent detective novels. His memory is mind-bogglingly sharp. He played football when helmets were made of leather and lined with sheepskin and once had a rustic cottage in the Gatineau. He is among the kindest people you might ever meet, and possesses one of those smiles it’s impossible not to return.

Here, then, is but a thin slice of this dear man, ‘e’…

How long could you go without talking?  Better part of the day.

Do you prefer silence or noise?  Silence, with a limit.

How many pairs of shoes do you own?  Three or four. You should change shoes ever day, better for the feet.

If you won the lottery?  Give away to loved ones, children.

One law you’d make?  Can’t think of one.

Unusual talent?  I’ve been told I’m not a bad singer. Started lessons at age 21; good but not professional quality.

What do you like to cook?  Nothing. Never do.

Have you or would you ever bungee jump?  No.

What’s the most dare-devilish thing you’ve done?  Swam to an island quite a distance from cottage and back at age 10.

Do you like surprise parties, practical jokes?  Neither.

Favourite time of day?  Late afternoon.

What tree would you be?  Why would I want to be a tree?

Best present ever received?  The luck of two good marriages.

Best present ever given?  Probably some small gift to my mother.

What do you like on your toast?  Orange marmalade.

The last thing you drew a picture of?  I don’t draw pictures. Am most unartistic.

Last thing written in ink?  A letter.

Favourite childhood meal/food?  Mother made cut out heads (cookies) from Dec. 5 to 25. Each day we kids took turns taking one.

What [past] age is your favourite?  20

Would you go back if you could?  No.

Best invention?  Car

Describe your childhood bedroom. Wallpaper, big window, faced west; I liked the window open.

Afraid of spiders? Not particularly.

Phobias?  A little afraid of heights. I wanted to be paratrooper in the war so I tested my nerve by jumping from the high diving board at the local pool.

Least favourite teacher and why?  Ms. Davies in grade 2. She had a moustache and her hair in bun. I was strapped once and thought it was unjust; my dad spoke to her to straighten things out.

Favourite children’s story? Was read to but can’t remember titles.

Ideal picnic ingredients?  Hot dogs.

Best thing about Canada?  Sober second thought.

Best thing about people in general?  Ability to accept each other.

What flavour would you be?  Chocolate.

What colour?  Red.

What would you come back as?  Myself.

Favourite saying:  none.
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More frivolity of various ages.

strolling

It’s raining a bit and cold and someone says the word ‘stroll’ and it sounds so exactly what I’m in the mood to do. Had they said ‘walk’ I wouldn’t have budged. I don’t feel like a walk. I want to stroll.

So I go to the beach because there’s no better place to be on a rainy afternoon-almost-early-evening in August.
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Strolling implies not thinking, which makes it almost like a walking meditation. However I soon discover that the batteries are low in my camera and nothing is reliable. Sometimes it takes a picture and sometimes it flashes its ‘batteries are low’ signal. I consider not caring, consider not taking any pictures. Walking without taking pictures is also a kind of meditation and sometimes I can do it. Sometimes I crave not taking pictures.

Not today.

Today there is milkweed and a seagull that limps and another that is hunched like an old man against the rain, a scowl on his beak, eyes all squinty and annoyed.

And perched tidily on the bottom step of wooden stairs leading from sand to playground, a tiny pair of purple lace-up sneakers with the heels squashed flat to make slip-ons. I beg the camera to work but no amount of thumping its battery end persuades it. If I wait ten minutes or so, it may be charged enough for one tiny purple shot. But there’s no guarantee and it’s raining and I decide to simply add ‘shoes’ to the list of things I’m trying to remember, to the picnic table buried to its very top in rocks and sand. And a sign that makes no sense.
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And then the rain slows down and the sky brightens for a minute. It’s that kind of weather. I consider going back for the purple sneaker shot but, nah, it’s only shoes. I skip stones instead and test the camera while I do it.
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I test it again.
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And then I seriously consider going back for the shoes.

But of course it stops working at the very idea.

So the corn cob that’s abandoned on the sand, unattached from its picnic, goes undocumented. As does a squirrel eating what looks like a timbit, and a white feather, perpendicular among slick stones shaped like eggs…

I stroll by all of it, unable to prove a thing.
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