Seasonal leaves and trees

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The last open garden of the year which we visited was a good one, with plenty of autumn colour and big lakes creating patterns of leaves and light in the water.

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We replaced the old bridge across our ditch with a new surface made of salvaged paving slabs, and it was quickly covered in falling leaves.

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One of the best things about the darker months of the year is how easy sunrises and sunsets are to see.  Many work day mornings start with an interesting sky

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And late afternoon walks now end with a sunset.

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The last full moon rose at dusk, appearing big and red on the horizon.

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Here’s our first new bauble of the year, a bargain at £2! Its currently hanging off the wall light and looks like a mysterious sequinned planet above the TV.

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Library bookshelf:
Claire Morrall – After the Bombing
Sebastian Barry – The Whereabouts of Enaus McNulty
Naomi Alderman – The Power
Roddy Doyle – Smile
Colm Toibin – House of Names
Miriam Toews – All My Puny Sorrows
Ali Smith – Artful

Playlist:
The Lemon Twigs – Small Victories
Neneh Cherry – Kong
B-52s – Planet Claire
Thom Yorke – Unmade
Robyn – Missing U
Years & Years – Hypnotized
B-52s – Bad Influence
Neko Case – Pitch or Honey

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Autumnal Creatures

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Its autumn! There’s so much to see and enjoy. Colours and creatures, sunrises and sunsets, warm days with blue skies, and refreshing rain showers, like today (rainy days are blog-writing days). Its a good time for atmospheric walks. Brian saw this conservation-grazing highland cattle on a nature reserve, coat glowing in the sun.

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Yesterday was a warm day good for laundry and for photographing the autumn leaves.

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We recently found this spiky, spotty and stripy caterpillar eating a Devil’s Bit Scabious flower. Its a Knotgrass moth. We’d never seen a caterpillar eating a flower before.

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Then the first ivy bees to visit the garden turned up. For several weeks they were busily visiting the ivy every day and packing pollen onto their bodies, while trying to not to get caught by hornets.

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Our new little mistletoe is growing well although it won’t have berries this year.

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We’ve been thinking even more than usual about how we live, after the recent UN report. What else can we reduce or change to lower our impact? If everybody asked this question and acted on the answers, we could all make such a difference!

Library bookshelf:
Joanna Cannon – Three Things About Elsie
Ever Dundas – Goblin
Anne Tyler – Searching for Caleb
Sarah Moss – Bodies of Light
Claire Morrall – The Last of the Greenwoods
Anne Tyler – Digging to America
Isabella Tree – Wilding

Playlist:
St Vincent – Fast Slow Disco
Bon Iver – 8 ‘Circle’
Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
Patty Griffin – Shine a Different Way
Perfume Genius – No Good
King Princess – 1950
Neko Case – Ragtime
Nu Shooz – I Can’t Wait
Owen Pallett – On a Path
The Lemon Twigs – Small Victories

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from our Staycation

Its our summer staycation! We’re over halfway through and enjoying a rainy day for blogging. We’ve been for a walk every day until now.

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Afternoon walk with dramatic sky

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Great Crested Grebe chicks sleeping on the water of a broad

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Sparkling water on North Norfolk salt marsh

In the garden we are keeping areas of long growth into the autumn and winter. If everything is cut down to the ground, there is not enough cover and shelter for wildlife. We just take out some over-vigorous patches, leaving as much as we can for over-wintering insects, frogs and small mammals. We certainly don’t rake the mini meadow any more.

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While looking at the meadow we spotted that some seeds we collected from another local walk had grown and we now have Agrimony flowering. This is the food plant for snout moth caterpillars.

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In the driveway are a great supply of blackberries. Lucy has been picking these every couple of days to add to ‘overnight oats’ breakfasts.

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We don’t mind this rainy day today and we’ve been making use of it in ways that will contribute to our simple, frugal life. Lucy has cleaned and checked her bicycle, for autumn commuting. Brian made biscuits, so we’ve had treats even on a no-spend day. And now we’re watching a documentary about waste and recycling in Newcastle, which is shocking (so much packaging is produced only to be thrown away) but motivating. We create a tiny amount of waste, and never throw away food for example, but if there is anything we can improve on, we will! But the answer has to be for more pressure to be put on manufacturers of over-packaged products to use alternatives such as compostable packaging, or no packaging at all.

Library bookshelf:
Willy Vlautin – Lean on Pete
Lorrie Moore – Bark
Anne Tyler – Celestial Navigation
Chloe Benjamin – The Immortalists
Donal Ryan – A Slanting of the Sun
Alice Munro – The View from Castle Rock

Playlist:
Regina Spektor – Tornadoland
Goldfrapp – Some People
Rihanna/SZA – Consideration
Johnny Marr – A Different Gun
Janelle Monae – Make Me Feel
St Vincent – Fear the Future
Serpentwithfeet – Bless Ur Heart
Natalie Merchant – Not in This Life


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cloudburst & caterpillars

The heatwave has ended! On Friday, after the hottest week of the year and over a month without rain, the sky darkened, and started to flash in the south west. We went outside hoping the storm would reach us soon. Then five bats – usually we get one or two at a time – started to frantically zoom around the garden, coming very close to us, chasing each other and going round in circles. There was thunder, then strong winds, and at last, rain!  It was a proper deluge and such a relief. We stood and got rained on for a while, then came inside to watch it. It rained all night. Saturday was dry, and now it’s raining a bit again – this is our porch today.

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Last week, before it got too hot to be outside much, Brian saw two big and beautiful types of caterpillar.

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This is the Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar, the sub-species which only lives in the Norfolk & Suffolk Broads of the UK. They only feed on milk parsley.

Then, the next day, this was found underneath the wooden bridge over our ditch which he was dismantling due to rot.

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We knew it was a hawk moth caterpillar, but there are a couple with blue spikes so it needed a bit of looking into. We found out it’s an eyed hawk-moth – if we ever see the adult moth that will be very exciting as they look like this.

We also had this Forest Bug, which we hope means our garden is like a forest.

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And this capsid bug looking for aphids on the fleabane. Its name is Deraeocoris Ruber.

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These clouds appeared one night last week –  we’d never seen such a regular pattern covering the whole sky.

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They are altocumulus floccus – cotton wool clouds.

Clouds also stopped us seeing the lunar eclipse on Friday night, but since they gave us the storm and rain, we didn’t mind. It’s nowhere near enough rain yet – we need a few solid days of heavy rain for it to have any effect on plants and soil – but it is lovely to see something coming out of the sky at last and we’ll be going out for a walk in it very soon!

Library bookshelf:
Michele Forbes – Ghost Moth
Philip Hoare – Risingtidefallingstar
Sebastian Barry – Days Without End
Nick Baker – Re-Wild

Playlist:
Patty Griffin – There Isn’t One Way
Christine & The Queens – Doesn’t Matter
Thomas Dolby – Cloudburst at Shingle Street


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fruits, fragrance and watery places

Checking the diary, we don’t think it has rained since 2 June. This has been an exceptional heatwave and dry spell. Any rumour of rain is very exciting. Today a bit of rain was predicted on the week ahead forecast – we hope it is true!

With everything so dry, we’ve been enjoying watery places even more than usual as it’s such a relief to see them. Some of the best ones from walks over recent weeks are below!

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Water lilies and shimmering reflections 

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Sunlight on duckweed creating patterns of brightness

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One of six thriving moorhen chicks in a city wildlife pond

In the garden we are enjoying a harvest of the blackcurrants and gooseberries that grow with no intervention from us. A few handfuls of garden fruits with breakfast is an amazing free treat.

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We love pollen beetles, and they have been enjoying anything yellow they can land on, such as this native perennial sow thistle, which they are visiting more than anything else. This is the most we’ve seen on any flower.

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This summer the jasmine is having its most floriferous year. When the day cools down towards the evening, and we can have a comfortable look round the garden, it’s fragrance is rich and delicious and makes us feel very privileged to be experiencing it.

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Library bookshelf:
Sheila Heti – Motherhood
Patrick Ness – More Than This
Michele Forbes – Ghost Moth
Philip Hoare – Risingtidefallingstar
Deborah Levy – Black Vodka

Playlist:
First Aid Kit – Rebel Heart
Van Morrison – Warm Love
The Beta Band – Dry the Rain
Sheryl Crow featuring Annie Clark – Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer solstice moth & meadow magic

A few weeks ago we showed the moth pupae that we’d found in the garden. On Friday 22nd June, the first moths were seen, and by Saturday 23rd we could see six or seven of these stunning creatures flying, feeding, resting and mating.

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They are Five-Spot Burnet Moths, named because they have five spots on each wing (although their spots are often fused, as in our moths). They appear very strikingly black and crimson, but in certain light their wings have an iridescent greenish shine.

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They arrived in our mini-meadow because we had planted a food plant of their larvae (caterpillars), meadow vetchling. The larvae also feed on bird’s foot trefoil. In these photos the adults are feeding on nectar from knapweed. They stayed for a couple of days, and have now gone to find new habitats, but at least two pairs mated and we hope they have left some eggs so we can enjoy the next generation.

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Elsewhere in the garden our foxgloves have been busy with bees, as accidentally captured in this photo! In the last week they have mostly finished flowering and have a promising amount of seed pods – we hope for more foxgloves in the future!

We try to keep our garden as wild as possible, actively increasing the food-plants and habitats. This can be done on a larger scale in the wood and meadow, where Brian has now been re-wilding to as great an extent as we can for the size of the site. This view shows the meadow with many willows and alders planted in the last 5 years.

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Creating better habitats for wildlife is one way that we can take action and do something with a positive impact. Although we cannot introduce the large herbivores which bigger re-wilding projects use, we have two species of deer moving through the site, and Brian is also acting as a “keystone species” (one that by its natural behaviour makes the site better for lots of other species). Most important is not to over-manage, but to enable the site to be dynamic and changing over time. We get lots of inspiration from the Knepp Estate’s films and posts.

Brian made the annual pilgrimage this week to see a site where he planted many trees as a volunteer in the 1980s-90s. The trees now have real presence, and there is still a large honeybee colony active.  Its not only the trees which have grown – this photo shows an oak tree with a massive ivy growing up it! Ivy does not kill trees and it provides food and habitat for all kinds of wildlife. And a natural wonder for humans to enjoy too, when it grows as big as this!

 

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Oak tree with huge woody base of an ivy, known as an ‘ivy bole’ or ‘ivy todd’

 

 

Library bookshelf:
Mark Cocker – Our Place: Can we save Britain’s wildlife before it is too late
Paul Kalanithi – When Breath Becomes Air
Neel Mukherjee – State of Freedom
Sheila Heti – Motherhood
Patrick Ness – Release
Michele Forbes – Ghost Moth

Playlist:
The National – England (It’s not a football song!)
Perfume Genius – Alan
St Vincent – Sugarboy
Nakhane – Clairvoyant
First Aid Kit – Rebel Heart
Van Morrison – Warm Love

 

 

 


Mini-holiday moths & more

Taking a few days holiday recently was a really good idea. Often the summer can rush in very quickly and suddenly you realise it’s the middle of June. We’ve been able to slow down and appreciate it this year, especially when we got to give a woodland tour to friends visiting for the first time. There were lots of small creatures on display in the woods and there has been plenty of activity in the garden too.

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We’ve had this moth before but never caught it for a photo, this is a Blood-Vein moth.

 

Small rivulet moth in driveway

This is a first for the garden, a Small Rivulet moth, camouflaged effectively on the fence.

 

 

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Oedemera nobilis – Thick Legged Flower Beetle

 

These beetles caught the eye of our friends in the wood (especially as they were at just the right height for a 3 year old to spot!) and this one was in the garden contrasting spectacularly with a buttercup. The buttercups have been bright and beautiful this year.

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There aren’t many non-native plants in the garden, because we focus on creating habitats for wildlife. We grow lots of food plants for creatures of all kinds (and at all stages, including larvae of insects) and we don’t tidy up too much, keeping plenty of thick vegetation and big piles of prunings where things can live, hide and feed. We’ve also made this ‘hotel’ by drilling holes in a bit of tree trunk and fixing it to a sunny wall in the woodshed. Spiders have been using the biggest holes, and solitary bees and wasps like the small ones.

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The most exciting discovery in the garden was this:

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There are at least six of these, and they are Six-Spot Burnet moth pupae (or possibly Five-Spot, we won’t know until they come out!) This is a first for our mini-meadow. They need long grasses, so they are exactly the kind of creature we created the mini-meadow for. The adult moth is black with deep red spots, a thing of wonder, and we can’t wait to see them! Here is a photo from another site in 2007 –

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Library bookshelf:
Deborah Levy – Hot Milk
Jessie Burton – The Muse
Neel Mukherjee – State of Freedom
Paul Kalanithi – When Breath Becomes Air

Playlist:
Manic Street Preachers – International Blue
Years & Years – Sanctify
Christine & The Queens  Girlfriend
James – Better than That
Patty Griffin – Kite Song
Muna – I Know a Place
Hot Chip – Slush
The National – England

 

 

 


May Days 2018

The last couple of weeks have been brilliant for enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of nature. These ferns were showing their spore-bearing parts in the sunlight.

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 The hawthorn trees in the garden all have different blossoming times and this one is the biggest, frothing on top of the woodshed! It has been full of birds including fledglings which may well have been hatched in there.

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 Everything is growing rapidly in the woods, creating light and shadow.

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 Cow Parsley is one of our favourite spring plants, creating soft verges along roads and cycle paths.

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Lucy has been making sure to go out at lunchtime and relax. Working near a river makes this easy to do, especially when there is wildlife close by. These Egyptian Geese had eight chicks with them, many hiding behind the tree.

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Rivers are very photogenic at this time of year with the sun reflecting the green of plants and blue of the sky in the water.

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Many of our recent walks have been alongside rivers and other watery places.

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Every year we cast a few seeds (found wild or given by friends as this one was) of a new plant in the garden to see whether it will grow here. 2018’s is this yellow poppy, which we can enjoy while we hang out laundry or sit in the garden.

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In the last week the foxgloves have started to open. We watched the Chelsea Flower Show on TV, where many white foxgloves had been used, but these wild ones are our favourites.

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We’ve spent a lot of time in the garden so far this spring, but it was only this weekend that we spotted a second mistletoe in the apple tree. It is very welcome there!

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Library bookshelf:
Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Deborah Levy – Swimming Home
Deborah Levy – Hot Milk
Rachel Elliott – Whispers Through a Megaphone
Jessie Burton – The Muse

Playlist:
Paul Simon – Peace Like a River
Duran Duran – Pressure Off
Wild Beasts – This Is Our Lot
Panjabi MC – Mundian To Bach Ka
Manic Street Preachers – International Blue
Years & Years – Sanctify
Sigala & Paloma Faith – Lullaby

 

 

 


Lilac Time

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This was the sunset last Monday bank holiday, after we went out for an early evening picnic since the daytime had been too hot for us! We took sausage sandwiches to a nature reserve and sat on a bench perfectly placed for watching deer. We also heard and saw a cuckoo and a barn owl, and smelled the bluebells.

There’s been a few visits from swifts, although at first they didn’t hang around. We hope they’ll soon be here every day to provide their summer soundtrack of whistly screams. We also found out this week how endangered they are, and we’re going to find out if there are any nest boxes suitable for our house (being a bungalow, it might be too low for them).

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The real theme of this week has been lilacs, they are flowering everywhere. We had a walk in the village and smelled all the ones we saw which we could reach! This enormous one is on a field boundary. From a distance it looks like a big purple rectangle.

Since we plan to do as much walking as we can, this year Lucy’s birthday acquisition is this rucksack. It sits neatly in the bicycle pannier for lifting out at work, and when we go on a walk from home its the right size for anything we would want to bring.

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The plan was also to get some sandals and it was a lot of fun looking for some…however, in the meantime an older pair that had been disregarded as too scruffy from years of going through muddy puddles while cycling have scrubbed up really well with shampoo and a nail brush! Here they are drying off (in our snazzy 1960s pink bath.) They will definitely do for the time being.

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This weekend is cool and damp, but we are lucky to have big windows that show us the garden from every room. Some days the living room is like a bird hide – lately we’ve seen great tits and sparrows within a metre of the window collecting insects in this border.

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The kitchen looks out onto the driveway hedge and trees, and this week the hawthorn blossom is coming out. It seems like every time we walk into the kitchen the view has changed and got even more blossomy!

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Library books:
Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Donal Ryan – All We Shall Know
Rachel Elliott – Whispers Through a Megaphone

Playlist:
SuRie – Storm (deserved a higher score at Eurovision!)
Paul Simon – Peace Like a River
Janelle Monae – Neon Valley Street
The Lilac Time – Salvation Song (had to listen to them after naming this blog post after them!)

Spring weeks packed with nature & treats

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There has been so much going on in the Spring! We could hardly keep up over the last couple of weeks.

First, the flowering of snakes head fritillaries which we planted in a nice wet boggy area..

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This wonderful misty-morning sunlight was also stunning in the wood…

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All the tadpoles are active and growing rapidly….

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It wasn’t just nature celebrating the spring, it was also Lucy’s birthday. It rained all weekend, but we enjoyed being indoors…

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After eating the banana cake, we went on to invent a new super-rich home-made hot chocolate drink using cocoa powder and chopped dark chocolate melted in milk, and finally perfected Lucy’s everyday breakfast recipe which now = oats and almonds soaked overnight in soya milk, plus a kiwi fruit and some red berries (and some more chopped dark chocolate on most days)!

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As the sun and rain shared the skies for a few days, some spectacular shades of blue were seen next to the wild cherry blossom and hawthorn leaves…

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Over the last week, with sun and warmth, there has been a bluebell burst….

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This hawthorn shield bug was found having a wander about on Brian’s t-shirt, so he placed it onto a log to photograph it…

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This bank holiday weekend has been really hot. We had a spontaneous trip to the seaside for the full fish & chips, ice creams and beach experience!

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And although its too hot to venture out yet today, yesterday we had three walks (and one picnic), the last one a beautiful evening visit to a local nature reserve….

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Library books:
Salley Vickers – The Cleaner of Chartres
Sarah Perry – The Essex Serpent
Sally Rooney – Conversations With Friends
Donal Ryan – All We Shall Know
Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Playlist:
Siouxie & The Banshees – Dazzle
Grizzly Bear – Sky Took Hold
SuRie – Storm (less than a week until Eurovision!)
Cud – One Giant Love
Massive Attack – Paradise Circus
Joan Armatrading – Down to Zero