I ordered another volume of Picasso, by Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie.  It arrived, in Spanish (bizarrely), which matters little since it’s the pictures that fascinate, more than the text. Or not the pictures so much, as the colour palette. The colourist is a massively talented Franco-Vietnamese artist, Sandra Desmazières.  Colourists rarely get recognition, yet it’s often their skill that makes the book.


While I should be downsizing, preparing to move, my library grows and grows. I have a new collection of exquisitely beautiful publications about bookbinding and handmade books . The BD/graphic novel, King Lear, Art Based Research and Nature-writing sections of my library also have a wonderful? surprising? number of new additions.


Before I left, one neighbour had been using power tools all day every day for two months, an obsessive bricoleur.  Soon there will be a building site opposite and the noise – on top of the usual noise – will be unbearable.  But it gets worse – adjacent to the 2 hectares another 1.5-hectare plot is for sale. Given current building trends, an investor could build a sizeable estate on all that land. Yet another cluster of identical, soulless, ugly boxes.


I returned from Stratford on Friday night… and had a real shock on opening the shutters the following morning. The garden opposite – my favourite, because wild – has been cleared. Two hectares of overgrown orchard, home to wildlife, is going to be a building site.  Birds are hopping about wondering where their homes have gone.


I’ve been reading about animals in wartime. In WW2 the government told people to have their pets put down which led, in one week alone, to 750,000 dogs being destroyed. In Kharkiv, Ukraine (2022), all the large animals were put down after Russian shelling destroyed their enclosures. First we invade and destroy natural habitats….


… then put captured animals in zoos, make them dependent on us – only to start wars during which animals, terrified, are often destroyed or starve to death. In the Bosnian War, it is said a putrid odour pervaded Sarajevo Zoo, where cage after cage was littered with the carcasses of lions, tigers, leopards, wolves, bears.


By 1597, Shakespeare had amassed enough money to buy a five-gabled, three-bayed, half-timbered house in Stratford with 10 hearths – meaning perhaps 20-30 rooms!  Built by Hugh Clopton in the 1480s, the house sadly no longer stands – and you now have to pay to get in to the gardens, where once my kids played freely.


A Reverend Gastrell bought the re-built the house in the garden of which was a mulberry tree said to have been planted by Shakespeare himself.  Infuriated by people trampling his garden to take cuttings, branches and bark, the churchman chopped the tree down and sold the wood to a local watchmaker – who used it to make souvenirs.


The Reverend Gastrell then left Stratford, leaving servants in the house meaning it was still eligible for council tax. Refusing to pay the tax, Gastrell evicted the servants and got workmen to demolish the house. In 1876 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased the vacant plot. Today, guides in Elizabethan costume entertain school groups and tourists where once the house stood.


Well that was a bucketing* moment!   A replay of Former Scotland international, Dodie Weir, in landmark tartan suit as he walked out onto the pitch at Murrayfield with his three sons in 2017. The much-loved Weir has motor neurone disease. Five years on the difference is dramatic – thin, frail, wheelchair-bound – but still smiling. Still inspirational.  (* as in to weep buckets)


Last month a headline read “Britain is a Global Laughingstock.”  It referred to the possibility of Liz Truss being replaced with Boris Johnson, who had been toppled just three months earlier.  Today an article says that in her 44 days as Prime Minister, Truss increased the ‘fiscal hole’ by at least £30 billion.


England was autumnal with wind and rain and gloriously-coloured leaves piled high.  “Welcome home!”  greeted me on Henley Street (where Shakespeare was born) and it did feel like home, this town where my children were born. Over the ten days I found real comfort in familiarity, old friends and a great deal of laughter.  


I was in town to run workshops with asylum seekers who have been put in a hotel, brave women raising children in one room. At every meal they get chips – chicken nuggets and chips, chips and pizza, burger and chips (the meat not halal).  Not a good diet for growing kids or for feeling cheery. They suffer from depression, stress, anxiety and acid reflux. 


Women from eight different countries gather around a table at the local library.  In an hour and a half, with just paper, scissors, glue, needle, thread and each other, they create not just beautiful things, but moving stories  and a supportive community.  It was,  in equal measure, humbling, awesome and tremendous fun.


The Scottish-born millionaire and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie endowed Stratford’s public library. There, in an upstairs room, we gathered to make art and chat.  When I asked if anyone had a song, an Iranian woman sang Do Panjareh (Two Windows) a hauntingly beautiful Googoosh song I now hum wherever I go.  It was beyond moving.  


Little handmade books, on the cover of one a woman sticks a cut-out shape of her country, then weaves two tresses of her hair into the shape of Iran and writes “woman, life, freedom”. Inside, a poem: “For Freedom / For the sake of dancing / for fear in the moment / for my sister, your sister / for the non-stop crying / For women, Live”


I showed the group a picturebook I’d made of the story of King Lear  and asked them what the story meant to them.  Someone says  “this is the story of a man who says this whole country belongs to him – not a good idea because democracy is better for the country.  It is better to share.  Not a good idea to centralise power in one pair of hands.”


The asylum seekers said King Lear is a story of control, patriarchy and women.   One writes  “Women are as strong as a mountain/ like a fragile seedling.”  Another, “If women react to violence with violence they are judged”; a third, “whatever the man does we say ‘It is a man. It is ok. He is allowed to do anything because he is a man.’”


The washing hung out at 8am was dry by ten.  In the garden, all the trees still have green leaves.  A sign outside the supermarket announces time, date and temperature: 12 November, 3pm 32°C. The woman in front of me at the checkout was wearing Hot Pants.


Walking round town it felt like a hot June day – summer dresses, flip flops.  October is drawing to an end, pavements are full of chrysanthemums for All Saints, yet the heat is incredible.  And at 5pm it’s already getting dark. Usually we’d be sitting round the fire.  This week’s magazine that I read for the blind is full of Christmas tips and stories. In October.