Concrete vs cottagecore

An article appeared in my newsfeed yesterday, with an image of David Beckham in a flat cap in a field (he looked impeccable, of course), heralding the rise of ‘cottagecore’, a fashion and lifestyle aesthetic that includes baking, gardening and crochet. Keeping bees. Growing your own. I get it. Much of it coincides with my own interests, because of course it does. I like to grow things, in whatever space or container that is to hand. I’ve baked soda bread in lockdown (Jack Monroe recipe) rather than sourdough. I bought a make-your-own-crochet-rainbow from etsy, bouyed up by early success with a knitting doll, although sadly ‘learn to crochet and teach crochet simultaneously to my son’ hasn’t been my actioned on my lockdown to-do list. Yet.

I like pictures of meadows. And coasts. And watching Gardener’s World. However, in these strange times I have also become oddly interested in concrete. I have all the usual yearnings for the sea and for green landscapes, but also for concrete and cityscapes. On facebook I have become wildly enamoured with the photos of architecture on the Brutalism Appreciation Society and the Socialist Modernism groups. It took me a while to understand, but I think what I’m missing is population density. Not socialising. Even – or especially – emails are exhausting social interactions.

I am currently enjoying the photographs in the Zupagrafika book ‘Eastern Blocks: Concrete Landscapes of the Former Eastern Bloc’. They are largely empty images, with the occasional figure of a human or a dog emphasising the scale of the buildings. But the repeating patterns of windows or balconies in the architecture at least imply the possibility of teeming populations, of life. I keep thinking of that meme: ‘Introverts Unite! Separately, in your own homes.’

Detail from image in ‘Eastern Blocks: Concrete Landscapes of the Former Eastern Bloc’ by Zupagrafika


The disconnect between then and now. This morning I’m proofreading a paper about mapping tranquillity in the landscape. Apparently there is a measurement called the Quietness Suitability Index (QSI). To put it crudely (and possibly inaccurately), it identifies potentially quiet areas in terms of their distance over different types of landscapes from the noise of human activity. I think this may also include visual noise.

I’m reading this paper with the window open, and every so often I can hear the number 1 bus nearby, and it jars and comforts me in unequal measures. I get a sense that many people are somehow feeling more vulnerable now that Mr Johnson is in intensive care and I’m having that strange disconnect I sometimes get – I’m not sharing their feeling, in the (familiar to me now) way that I sometimes feel ‘distanced’ from the majority. But I am finding the bus disturbing, its sound both comforting and (mostly) annoying in its incongruity.

I realise of course that means I’m very lucky – because people are still having to get on the bus to go to work, not to mention the bus drivers themselves. There’s no end point to this little ramble BTW, it’s just an observation of the effect of the news of the prime minister on the people ‘around me’ (both in the household and on social media), and of the sound of the bus. The two things are linked only by proximity of my thoughts.



More jottings from notebooks: this was a note for the story that eventually became ‘Duck Race’. I was just writing down any random thing with the word duck. It didn’t get used, and looking at it now, I can’t remember what “seeing that” vs “seeing as” means, other than the duck can also be seen as the rabbit.

I’m not a great planner when writing, it’s more like a soup of ideas and half thoughts (or much smaller fractions) stirred until something bubbles up. ‘Duck Race’ in its final form was about a woman visited by her ex and his pregnant wife. An early version had started off (in my head) as a story about two sisters, both living as neighbours in Tyneside flats, one of them downstairs and spinsterish, the other in the larger upstairs flat with kids and a husband.

Now I’m writing it down here, it still sounds like a workable premise. Maybe I’ll return to it one day. I’m trying to think of how the story morphed from two sisters into a woman and her ex, but I cannot trace the steps back. I am fascinated by sister-sibling rivalry (I have no sisters) but the relationship between the two women changed, in the way characters just do sometimes.

They had different names too. Grace and Marisol. The location remained the same. The ducks came later. There were never any rabbits.


Be more Leo

I was flipping through a notebook today and found this cryptic instruction to myself: Be more Leo.

I don’t know when I wrote it, or why, or what it meant. So I’ve tried to draw a lion 🦁. Unfortunately I can’t draw, but I am quite pleased with the lion-plant-vampire that turned up.