Regular readers could be forgiven for thinking I have a melancholy mind. I keep a notebook which I fill with observations from my everyday life in and around my city of Birmingham. From time to time, I share snippets from my notebook here on my personal blog. This year, my observations have been bleak. My latest, a postcard from the end of the world, especially so. My hope is that after seeing these photos, you will see that I am not dressing things up, or rather down, but rather aiming for a truthful portrayal of Birmingham. I love my adopted home town, but it has seen better days.
New leaves on my pilea peperomioides after I gave it a few drops of fertiliser. It’s really quite dark inside now that we’re through to November, and some of the lower leaves were starting to turn yellow and drop off. I knew it wasn’t from overwatering as I’ve really got a handle on that now, but thought a little bit of food might help make it happier as I grow my plants in a soil free mix – coir, perlite and bark – and thought it might be short on nutrients as I hadn’t fed it since early September.
The holiday lights are up on New Street, the atmosphere a strange mix of Christmas Eve and the end of the world. On the cusp of England’s second lockdown, the shops are heaving with people stocking up on essentials from businesses that don’t have an online presence, and the cafés and restaurants are packed with friends getting together one last time before everything shuts again for a month or more. At the Bullring end of New Street, trestle tables have been set up outside Zara and Waterstones, staffed by the devout offering religious literature to those who pass by. Two groups of young men face each other across the shopping square volleying the names of Jesus and Allah back and forth, performing their faith and devotion in public before the indifferent eyes and ears of the final audience of the season. Overhead, a huge digital advertising screen on the side of a shuttered shop flashes the faces, names, ages, and last known whereabouts of Birmingham’s missing people. I cast my eyes down, reach inside my coat pocket for my phone, and refresh the Guardian’s live blog coverage of the US election results. I don’t usually carry my phone with me when I go for a walk or head into town unless I am meeting someone, but I haven’t been able to detach myself from it all week.
What with the state of the world this year I have been seeking distractions, and one of my favourite distractions is botany and houseplants. This is a rhaphidophora tetrasperma leaf cutting I bought to propagate so that I can grow my own plant.
It took me ages to finish Stork Mountain, but only because I have lost my reading habit this year. The library closed for months on end and I have been glued to my phone reading the news, opinion pieces, and other periodicals that are available online. Reading books takes discipline, and my mind has been all over the place this year.
Stork Mountain is a beautiful novel, set in a village in Bulgaria close to the borders with both Greece and Turkey. It’s a novel about identity, belonging and place, and the narrative is rich with folklore – both real and imagined – tracing the history of the land and the author / protagonist’s relationship with his country of origin. I found the folklore quite dense at times and had to check maps and Wikipedia lots to understand the geography and politics of the region, so it wasn’t quite as immersive a read as I had hoped it might be, but that’s just my personal experience as I am unfamiliar with the region. I would love to read Penkov’s short story collection East of the West next.