Sunday reading

Sunday Reading: Eight Eight Eight

words: jess morgan

photo: katie silvester



The best thing about the CD player was the punching in and skipping straight to the best songs without all the clumsy rewinding and tape-turning to cue up. The clever machine knew exactly where to find it. Our silver separates hi-fi had glossy dials for the volume which twisted silently and weightlessly and were always cold to the touch. The horizontal sliver in the tuner was gently backlit. A red needle would slide back and across the number line with the turn of another beautiful dial. Dad still talks about those dials.

That morning, I made a plan to get up early. I was going to get my Cher album from where it was in the rack, press the first clicky button and watch as the faithful little motor offered up a wobbly looking tray from the front of the unit. Nose to nose with the grid of numbered buttons, I’d punch in track eight and just listen to it.

The lights were still off in the living room, curtains still drawn, no scuffs of footsteps from the floor above and no bedside radio. I wanted to go straight for track eight – every word, every bass thump and every scrunch of the straggling guitar solo. It’d always feel like an exercise in restraint when there were people around – a fight to hold the corners of my mouth steady. I was up and dressed now though, secretly supercharged with all those complicated little electrons ricocheting against each other, while everyone else was asleep.

The sound wasn’t coming out. Anxious little fingers started pressing eight and hitting play, on, off, carefully inviting another increment of volume with the cool dials. Eight... eight... eight... eight, but still nothing came. Nothing. For an age, nothing. Then, the percussive clack of a dozen curtain rings smacking together as light burst into the room. Dad, surprised to see me up and dressed so early, wandered curiously over. It was lucky he’d not been a minute or so earlier and seen me pummelling the buttons with an eight year old’s untamed frustration.

“It’s a bit early," Dad said.

He reached to the back under the tuner and pulled out a set of headphones. They weren’t like the flimsy ones we had for our Walkmans that we’d always get our hair caught in. These ones were heavy and felt as if they’d slide off at any minute without a careful balancing act to keep them in place. The ear pads covered my ears entirely and Dad adjusted the headband from the sides, making them as small as they would go ­ though they’d never get quite small enough. They came with a string cable attached that was ruffled with wear and soft. At the very end, there was a quarter inch jack –­ the kind reserved for something more serious than our homemade radio shows.

Dad plugged the headphones into the amp, put the volume down low and flicked the one switch that I’d omitted to find in the grand plan. The opening bars to track one blared out of the cans. I returned Dad’s thumbs up and let it play. Piano keys pounding, a string section rising and crunching electric guitar signalled, as with many plays before, the unfolding of my favourite record and same mission to appear aloof ­– between euphoria and bewildering self-consciousness. It’s tight grip, and the precarious positioning of the headphones seemed to keep me from skipping forward or dialling in that later part of the record that I so wanted to hear.

As soon as Dad was gone with the tray of tea and toast, I slid the smooth fake leather ear-pads backwards off my ears. The sound of the radio had kicked in upstairs – footsteps and running water would soon follow. I put the headphones back where they had been and returned the CD back to its plastic case and its space in the rack. I never tried that again.

Twenty-two years on, I still play that album – on the same system of separates that was handed down to me – speakers, cables and the units with all of those complicated buttons. Track one still gives me the jitters but I rarely make it as far as track eight. When Dad comes round, we enthuse over those dials. They still twist and turn as silkily as ever, even though I keep the volume low, in a terraced house with its walls as thin as Bible paper. I can stand there any day, in front of the display, heart beating, burning up with the memories of growing up with so much music in our house. Somehow the metal always stays so cool. 

Jess Morgan is a singer-songwriter living in Norwich. Her first love will always be Cher in the film Moonstruck. Listen to ‘Come To The Opera With Me, Loretta’ and follow Jess on instagram.




Sunday Reading: The Birthday

words: aimee keeble

photo: katie silvester

What an odd thing time is. Going through boxes in my parents’ garage in North Carolina the other day I found the pictures from our family holiday in Norfolk when I was 12. It’s my birthday and I am on a rise of dune, bent at the waist, grinning with eyes squinted shut, my dad’s mustard windbreaker draped over my small frame like a cloak. No trousers, no shoes. My face and body is thin with youth. My hair is patterned with thick, yellow tiger stripe highlights. There is a sign behind me alerting beachgoers to watch out for seals.

Nearly 20 years later and I am at the same beach for my 31st birthday, with friends who I’ve met in the three years I’ve spent living in Norwich. Two girls, three boys. I’m in love with one of them but he won’t know. It’s August and preciously hot for England. We pull at the tight stretch of our swimsuits, laughing when our bottom cheeks spring back from the fabric when we move, we blame chips and beer. We take photos of the boys doing handstands by the water. A group of seals pop their heads from the shallows, following us as we toss a ball back and forth. Further along the beach we come across the perfect dead body of a baby seal. Dappled and round it gently rolls with each push of the tide. The smell is shocking. That’s what they wanted! Not our ball. We debate pushing the body back into the water, to deliver it back to the sea, to the seal family. We are nervous and hot and someone suggests building sandcastles. Other people start to wander over to see what we are looking at.

Back by the towels, everyone tosses a ball except me. I lie on my back and nudge myself further into a gritty embrace of sand, scrunching it through my fingers and toes. And she didn’t know, the little me, that she would be here in the future, in love and lost, laughing at the skateboard and cheese she unwrapped earlier in her friend’s house before they all drove to the coast. If I had told her, she couldn’t have imagined it. She wouldn’t have wanted it. She wanted big hot pink lights of the West End and an urban walk and a voice hoarse from projecting Shakespeare on the banks of the Thames. Now all is quiet, country yellow and green and cobbled medieval grey. We’re drunk most nights, we hold each other’s hands a lot. And dance in kitchens, knocking over plastic chairs to get to each other’s waists. I roll cigarettes badly and shoot whiskey and worry about the length of my hair.

We go to a country pub after the beach and drank clear gold shandies that chase out the tang of salt and share bowls of chips and prawns. In the evening, back in the city, we dance at the top of a roof bar until 3am. The luminosity of strobe lights and voodoo blues songs turns us whirling as dervishes, as raging and as surefooted as mustangs. In the dark, outside in the cold that pricks my bare skin, I kiss him and laugh at him, slap his face gently and tell him never again and hold his chin and kiss him harder. The drunk bold of me; the soft tired exhaustion that booze can choke you slowly with show his eyes half blue, half there. Goodnight! We all say as we part to walk home in the electric black of pre-dawn. I support my friend, him stronger and smaller than me. We stumble over wet cobbles the size of watermelons, past graffiti loud tunnels and the slim greasy back roads to our house. Did you have a good birthday? I think of the strong taste of sea, always dark blue in my mouth, the slippery hard rush of sand against skin, my eyes closed to the wind that skitters off the North Sea. I’ll never forget it, is my reply, always. 

Aimée Keeble is currently completing her MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. Take a look at her website to read more of her work.

Sunday Reading: Moments for us


words: Ráchel Smekalova
photo: Daniela Malá

Curing the restless mind with self-navigated breathing is one of the things I do when my mind all of a sudden starts screaming in waves of uncategorised thoughts about nothing and everything. It is late at night and even distant street lights look dark through generic Swedish curtains. My boyfriend's heavy breath and sweaty naked back leans against my pale Slavic shapes. I think about my friends with whom I've lost contact. About how much of a hypochondriac my grandmother can be. Will I be the same? Maybe I should have asked about how to do taxes before I'd signed that job contract last year? What do I potentially owe now to the Czech government, one year later? Also, why has my Christmas gift never arrived? Did it get lost? Who wears my classy dioptre glasses, if it's not me? And do those people even need glasses to see? I wonder about the Syrian kids and their drowned siblings. Will Tom Ford dress Mélania Trump? I hope not, honestly. But what do I care. I start thinking about all the women that inspired me in the past and how hard they must have worked to be where they are. It is a true spiral of nonsensical thoughts.

Breathe! Take it slow, calm your mind. I can feel the oxygen going from my frozen toes up to shivering thighs and arriving to my soft belly. It seems much easier going from the bottom upwards. The mind is a powerful tool. One, two, three. Four hundred. I am slowly drifting away from the chaos to a synchronised sleep. It's almost like a night performance, an underwater dance aquabelles would do. I am now breathing heavily with him next to me and living in a new reality under the umbrella of my dreams.

When I wake up, it's Saturday and we're going on a road trip. Mind is clear as the blue sky. I can see through the train window. We have three hours to just sit back and relax. I am only hoping my mind doesn't get so out of control like yesterday night. I could read, but I always feel sick after a while.

Letters start jumping on a paper and it gives me a headache. Boyfriend sleeps again, dropping saliva on his linen shirt as if the world around didn't exist. He allows me to be alone with my thoughts. But this time, I'm in control.

We're back in Berlin, having an early beer and the best kebab in town. The night is still waiting for us. Dominika wears a yellow fluffy jumper and tells me about her unfinished dissertation, boy troubles, future prospects and amazing bands she's seen live. We're going to see one tonight. We're standing in a crowded venue, and colourful sparkles fall on our dancing bodies. Somebody spilled a beer on my suede jacket, but I didn't care. And as the night ends, we give each other a promise of endless friendship.

How did we get so far from each other? I am now living thousands of kilometres away and we barely talk. Is her bachelor thesis finished now and what happened to the guy she really wanted to date? I am suddenly just feeling empty and distant. My thoughts are taking over again. I will try to read a bit. Not the book, it's too Russian and too heavy. I grab a magazine I'd bought, funnily, for the first time with Dominika back in Berlin. Suddenly every story reminds me of our once so vibrant and true friendship. So I make notes throughout every page I see. Connecting my life back to hers, gluing my new memories to the ones we've made together. It starts making sense. This is the best letter and gift I can send her. So I draw, write, laugh silently and feel very much as if we were the only people on the train. Having another adventurous day filled with stories and promises. When she reads this, she feels the warmth of my words and hears the sound of my voice as if distance and time never existed.

Dominika sits back in her childhood room, facing an inspirational teenage wall with rainbow stickers, a photo of young Kate Moss torn out from an old issue of French Vogue, favourite handwritten quotes from Letters to a Young Poet, naked new born baby sister polaroid pic from 1996 and a couple of letters I've sent her since the day I went to the countryside. She reads the newest one. I am telling her I got a new job. It's an editorial job in the magazine that brought us back together. Her still dry lips suddenly shape into the form of a long U and a silent sigh comes out. She is always going to be a part of my story and I will be part of hers.

Ráchel is a freelance journalist and editor, seeking out new adventures in London. She loves the feeling of time slowing down, tastes of undiscovered places and the weight of print magazines in her hands. She keeps Instagram as her everyday visual diary and shares memories of the past on her website

 Issue 35 of Oh Comely explores strength in all its forms. Pick up a copy here



Sunday Reading: Green, Green Grass of Home

words: Becky MacNaughton
photo: Liz Seabrook

I’ve lived in the same house for over 20 years, but it’s still thousands of miles from home. My second home, I should say – the one I reach for when it gets too much.

In moments of crises I often think about a yellow piece of paper. It bears a name and a date and a birth weight, and it lists a place an entire ocean away – a town which is sandwiched somewhere between a lake and a harbour. But what it doesn’t say in ink it says in hope: that there’s a second chance and a fresh start, and a right to both.

I left Canada at the age of five, in the murk and the muddiness of my parent’s divorce. There are things I remember from this time and things I do not. Enough moments to span a day, maybe, but they are not the things that adults usually recall. I lined up boxes in the basement of our house like a train, for example, and ate grape bubble gum from a roll, wedging it in the pocket of my hand luggage. It was a backpack shaped like a cow. I carried that thing around with me for years.

I remember other days, too, but sometimes memories blur with dreams and I wonder, really, what I’m remembering at all. We went fishing once and we played basketball and there was an outdoor pool that I briefly jumped into, my brother catching me in his arms. But did I really watch the glass of a vending machine implode? Did candy explode across the floor and we take it home, like loot, shoving as much and as many as we could into a paper bag?

That’s where they stop, more or less, the snippets of things. They’re merely photographic – flat and glossy, they struggle to reveal the real weight of things.

Yet I tell myself almost every year that I’ll buy a ticket home. When people leave or die or fall out of love, it seems like the only thing to do: green grass is a better thing to look at than heartbreak. Sometimes I even pick the time of the year to go – Fall always looks best, I think, nestled under leaves of auburn and amber and gold, just before the snow rolls in. Because that is also something I remember: the banks of it, the bitterness, the need for hats and scarves and matching mittens.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what it would look and feel and smell like. It’s a type of wanderlust, but it straddles the line between going somewhere new and returning home. The house and the library and the play park will not be the same. Twenty years changes a place, least of all a person – it reshuffles the bricks and reforms the land. But on bad days, I still look at flights and I plan routes and I wonder, at the back of my mind, just how long it would take. To settle in, to carve a life, to make it feel like home.

On good days, though, it’s a different story. The thought doesn’t cross my mind. On these days, I realise that it’s the promise and the pull of it that matters to me most. And then I wonder: settled there, would I need another place to go? Another ocean to cross and another route to plan? It seems so simple then, barely even a question: I’d return here, to the really green fields.

Becky is a reader, a writer and a constant work in progress. She keeps a blog, here, which is about being all three. Discover more tales of return in issue 34 of Oh Comely

Sunday Reading: Take it from me

words: Gabriella M. Geisinger
photo: Liz Seabrook

I am a professional listener of music. Years of practice in self-isolation, my headphones lost beneath a mass of curls; hidden – during class, on walks, in the locker room at swim practice. Before technology had caught up with my sleuth listening capabilities, I carried a disc-man around in a knit turquoise bag. I could fit three jewel cases inside with it. Each day, three different CDs. One morning, a classmate nicked it off a bench and hid it. When I realised it was gone I burst into tears in front of our entire middle school. Sobbing, I searched for my homeroom teacher to fix this egregious trespass. Only when the disc-man was safely in my hands did the crying stop. I was 12. I should have been embarrassed, I was embarrassed by nearly everything – but I wasn’t this time. Music was everything.

My life had one continuous soundtrack – the royalties I must owe! – and in all that time, music grew with me. I never allowed a single moment – or person – to taint a song. To mark it with their humanness; sully it with the visceral ephemera of a memory.

The moment my father died was one devoid of music. He folded up the New York Times, and set it beside himself on the sofa. He looked at me and said, “you know, I really love those shoes,” – my brown, well worn, strappy sandals; then he went for a nap. From that point on, my brain only conjures up trauma flashes – frantic, fingers gripping our cordless phone, the tremble of my heart in my chest as I spoke into the receiver ‘my dad is dead’ to the nameless 911 operator. I stood in my apartment. Once there were two people here, now there was one.

With such striking clarity, I remember the sunshine the next day. It was June 2008, and I was going to tell the Fitzgerald children why I couldn’t babysit them this week, the first people outside of my immediate friends and family to whom I had to say those little words. My dad died. As if they explained anything – everything. In the elevator, I slipped my headphones in.

/what can I compare you to, my favourite pair of shoes/

With no warning, my life in this moment was inexorably linked with a song. Too late to stop it happening, its harmonies pulled from me the tremulous grief in my bones and solidified it there, rewriting the notes of myself. For three minutes and 53 seconds I stood in the middle of the street and wept.

There were very few moments after that when I could listen to this song. The opening notes ripped from the depths of me that single moment, standing on the street outside the diner – crying in the sweltering summer heat. No matter where I was, the world would melt away and I would be on the same street in the bright June sun, almost 19 years old, weeping.

I am sitting in Italy, the land of my mothers. I am writing in a house on Via Ciambrelli in a small mountain town called Bucciano. The sun is warm despite Christmas’ approach. I have Take It From Me playing on repeat. It was the second play that brought up the tears. So much time has passed since that moment, the grief has further to travel – more scar tissues to work through. More life to navigate before returning to the surface to breathe. But it is always there. There is no quicker way to tap it – oil from a well – than this song. It is etched deep into my skin, into the crisscross of veins in the back of my hand.

/come on take it, take it from me (we’ve got a good life)/

So many songs move with time. The I’s and You’s and Here’s and There’s shift like visions in a dream, relevant only to things in this moment. Music is malleable that way. It is magical that way. This song, on the contrary, is a door that only opens into one room. Its power and beauty exists in its ability to bring me back to that summer afternoon – a window through which I can look at my past, feel it with only an eddy of grief, not a crashing wave.

The sandals have long since gone. I no longer live on that street, or in the same country. I don’t even have an iPod anymore. But nostalgia is powerful, and music more so – and when those notes begin, I am standing in a pair of brown strappy sandals in the blinding, heart-warming heat of the summer sun. 


Gabriella M Geisinger is a freelance writer specialising in music, societal commentary, and poetry. For her MA in Narrative Nonfiction at City, University of London, she completed her memoir, The Many Lives of my Father. She uses words like bricks, building houses that keep you safe for a time. You can follow her on twitter, and visit her website


For more tales of return, pick up a copy of Oh Comely issue 34

Sunday Reading: Hiraeth

words: Helen Duncan
photo: Liz Seabrook

It was the views that did it for me; held in the frames of the large sash windows that dominate the upstairs rooms. That’s probably the reason why I chose the house on the hill. Look North and your eyes meet Wytham Woods on the horizon. Look West and the land stretches further into the distance. Your attention rests for a second on a glint of silver as the light hits Farmoor Reservoir before moving on to the bluish rise of land beyond.

West. And that old familiar call. It’s only recently that I learnt there’s a name for it.


It bubbled up from within my subconscious. And in certain locations, where the landscape seemed somehow familiar, I would feel a deep longing for another place. And that is still how it hits me today, each time I gaze from those upstairs windows, or when I travel North or West.

I can feel strangely at home in new places. And yet home feels far away. I might recognize the bent silhouettes of windblown trees outlined against a wintery sky, or near-horizons formed by land close to rising in a sharp ascent.

Crashing waves, and a glittering sea that stretches far and wide, tug at a part of me. Newly-ploughed fields hold distant memories in their ridges and furrows, and long shadows, cast across fields in the golden hour of midsummer or on a crisp midwinter’s morning, stretch out as if to meet me, pulling me back to the place from which they spring.

Perhaps it is the tilt of the earth or the angle of the sun that causes such feelings. Or perhaps the lives of our ancestors continue to resonate in places; their very existence running through the landscape still, like a live wire: a frequency that some part of me, from somewhere long ago, remembers and receives. I have been out on the moors before, and moved between the mountains: the primordial crackle tuning and retuning as it tries to reconnect to some memory within. Where is home?

Come and sit with me for a moment on another hill, among the grey stones of Tre’r Ceiri hill fort, high on Yr Eifl on the Llŷn Peninsula. Here you can breathe in the 360-degree view of land and sea as easily as oxygen. Imagine the wonder its Iron Age inhabitants must have felt as the sun rose and set, and the weather fronts rolled in; as the moon waxed and waned, and the stars made patterns in the night sky. Did they feel this same yearning?

North and West, West and North. I am almost there.

But my home, it seems, is always just beyond the horizon, waiting.


Helen Duncan is a freelance writer and grantseeker based in Oxford. Her writing is inspired by the natural world, special places, folklore and fairytale. She celebrates life’s simple pleasures and seasonal living on her blog The House at Nab End and on Instagram. Discover more stories of finding home in Issue 34 of Oh Comely - Return


Sunday Reading: Poached peaches with cold cream


Words: Bre Graham
Photo: Femme Run

Every great romance in our lives is not just left in our memories, but in the physical things that remain long after that love has left. What we own, where we live and who we are, linger longer than the people that we hope might stay. Because sometimes when relationships end, they don’t just break, they completely shatter.

It’s the first stage of losing love, when even the thought of a thing can bring them back. Something as small as a scent jolts us straight back into that scene, and our pasts can open up again in an instant. It’s why for some, the summer stings of flings, outfits once loved collect dust and hide beneath beds and favourite restaurants are no longer frequented.

Recently, at the end of a relationship, one that was delicate and maybe doomed, I felt the best way to move on was to find a new way to walk to work. We had first met on a night out where we poured our whiskey like wine, swapped sweet nothings for hours and finally first kissed in a busy bar beside my apartment; the same bar I still pass every day going to my office. From our first meeting, to when goodbyes were said, I had built a guide in my mind to things that would remind me of this time; things that I knew, even when they were happening, would hurt hard to remember when it was over. Maybe just one of the downsides of being a writer is that I don’t want to forget a single thing, and most of the time, I don’t. The list was long, from bars to books, to songs and what Sunday mornings felt like, from the toast to the type of soap.

On our last good night together before things finally broke, I grilled steaks and we ate poached peaches with cold cream in an August heatwave, in a room full of unpacked, smoke-stained clothes from his week away. But I know, that for now, while I might try and block out these memories, at the time they were beautiful. Soon enough though, a peach will just be a peach and the end of August just a time when leaves change. When we least expect it, things we think we lost return renewed.

In the end, the stories that we build upon others dissipate. We can forget why once something as superfluous as a bathtub made us weak with regret, and the memories stop shocking us. Because what time reveals, is that the things we attach to others really just represent us at a moment in our lives. Maybe they’re just memories of being young and foolish, or maybe something more serious. No matter what they hold, they are stories as much of you, as they are of what you lost. Because everything we lose when we love, ultimately will return.

Bre Graham is a freelance writer and editor. She is currently living in London working on her first novel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Pick up a copy of Oh Comely issue 34 for more stories of return. 

Sunday Reading: Home

words Danielle Morgan
photo Ruth Allen

I don’t remember there being the awkwardness of a new relationship; those embarrassing moments when you are not totally sure of one another never really came. The butterflies flitted about the empty recess of my stomach, but they aren’t the kind that jump into your throat and made you feel sick and dizzy. They’re the docile kind, the ones that drift aimlessly about, resting softly in the pit of your belly. Occasionally, when a subtle moment of seeming insignificance swells a feeling of insurmountable love, they let me know that they are still there. They flap their delicate wings and remind you that they will never truly leave. Not when it is real. Not when it feels like this.

While I was at university, my head tucked into the dog-eared pages of The Picture of Dorian Gray or The Master and Margarita, consumed in the fictional lives of others, he was zipping about country tracks on his old Vespa, a little rusted around the edges, weather-worn and unkempt, but always reliable. A bit like us. Old school. The back wheel spinning as though in silent motion, kicking up the dirt as if he were disappearing into a cloud of muddied up fog down lonely lanes and roads ransacked by the wind and rain. When I think back I picture these moments as if in a movie; two main characters going about their daily lives completely oblivious to the paths they will take. The unassuming bookworm and the intrepid nomad. With no reason for the paths to cross, as fate would have it they do.

We sit opposite each other, the bluster of early autumn rain pelting against the window outside, the rusted fishing boats bruised and battered wedged at awkward angles into the damp sand. “Would you like to go for a drink?” he said. “Alright then, that might be nice,” I replied. The tide of feeling draws ever closer to the shore, I sip my stout and watch his lips as he recites stories about how we would fleetingly pass in the school corridor. We had never said more than a hello. Funny how things pan out, how the past revisits you in unexpected ways and ordinary chance turns to anything but ordinary luck. A twist of fate, like the unfurling plot of a movie, or one laid out within the well-thumbed pages of the books I would so often and fervidly escape into.   

A calmness unexpected in fledgling love took over, but perhaps that is because it wasn’t young or inexperienced at all; the seed had already been planted long ago. We just didn’t know it yet. Like the broken spine of a tatty paperback, or the moth-eaten hem of a shabby overcoat, it already felt familiar. Lived in.

A love that feels lived in is a league all of its own. Sometimes you are not perfect on paper but you know love when it feels like home. I had returned to mine, in a place that I never knew it had been waiting for me all along. Before the butterflies, or the fantasy worlds of my paperback heroes, before the dusty dirt track and the misty seaside adventures, but as all stories start: at the beginning.

Danielle is a writer living on the outskirts of London. She is a self-confessed book worm and tea addict. Follow her on twitter to keep up with her work, or just for the odd tea fuelled bookish escapade @_gigglingginger. Pick up a copy of Oh Comely 34 for more tales of return. 

Sunday Reading: Coming Home

words Anna Souter
photo Lara Watson

When I discovered the Welsh word hiraeth, I realised it filled an important hole in my vocabulary. There's no direct English translation, but it's used to describe a kind of nostalgic homesickness that is peculiarly Welsh. The word is also loosely associated with a sense of satisfaction caused by travelling west, towards the sea.

My father, a boy from county Durham, was first brought to west Wales by my mother when they were 15, to the small farmhouse bought by my great-grandfather in the 1950s. The cliffs of Ceredigion somehow spoke to him, and he fell unconditionally in love with the area. It's a place that gets under your skin and becomes part of your soul. The scenery is rural rather than wild, and the coastline undulating rather than dramatic, but it's perhaps the very ordinariness of its beauty that touches anyone who spends time there. When my sister and I came along years later, it became the scene of every family holiday. My memories are filled with impossibly long summers, a TV with only three channels, and beds made up with scratchy Welsh blankets.

As we got older, however, it became more apparent that my father was ill. A “bad leg” became a neurological problem, and the steep Welsh stairs and quirky cupboard-sized door to the bathroom in the small house became a permanently looming challenge.

On what would turn out to be my father's last trip to Wales, we decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the house. It had been a day of tears and shouting, my father on his hands and knees, swearing because he couldn't get up. We saw in the new year in our pyjamas, watching the countdown on the flickering television.

Just after midnight, we opened the curtains to find the garden and fields blanketed with snow. “It only snows down here once in a blue moon,” my sister and I told each other as we rushed out, wellies and coats pulled on over our pyjamas. The full moon was shining brightly, bathing everything in a magical blue light. It made the scenery shimmer with a haze of unreality, and feel far removed from the mundane sadnesses we'd watched during the day.

Most of the snow had melted the next morning, and we drove home in silence until the radio announcer began to report on the real blue moon that had been shining over the country's new year celebrations. It seemed our surreal moment really had been magical.

Soon after our return, my father was consigned to a wheelchair, which he would have to use for the rest of his life. His illness robbed him of his strength with a slow surety that was impossibly hard to watch. Finally, one Christmas five years later, my mother, my sister and I were returning to the house in Wales with my father's ashes in a jar.

He'd been very clear before he died: he wanted his ashes scattered on the cliff tops that had enchanted him as a young man. Far from pristine snow and moonlight, this time we battled against the wind and rain beating our faces and freezing our hands. The raging of the Welsh weather left us with the ironic certainty that it was only in the ending of his illness that he had found peace. We left him on the cliff top, in the knowledge that the next time we came back there it would feel like coming home.


Anna Souter is a writer and editor based in London. She loves art, travel and all things Welsh. Follow her on Instagram or read more on her website. For more stories of Return, seek out a copy of Oh Comely issue 34


Sunday Reading: Holidays Away From Home

words Jordan Hernandez
photo Maren Morstad

Holidays were always a big deal for my family growing up, particularly Christmas.

Every year I would always climb into the front seat of my dad’s car as we set out to pick out the perfect Fraser Fir tree for our house. I would always be wrapped up like a mummy in my many layers of wool and cotton, giddy with excitement. On the way we always talked and listened to Christmas music on the radio, with the low hum of cars whizzing by and sometimes the pitter patter of rain falling onto the windshield. The car rides to and from picking out our Christmas tree were always our time, my Dad and I. It was during these quiet moments that I got to know things about him that remain special to this day. I learned how to pick out a tree that would be sturdy and long lasting. I would watch my Dad’s strong hands as he shook them all, watching to see which trees scattered pine needles to the ground as quickly as moths swarming and clinging to artificial light. One year I learned that my Dad’s favourite Christmas song is ‘The Little Drummer Boy’, and that some years it even makes him cry.

Christmas traditions growing up meant baking cookies, stringing multicoloured lights and garland on our banisters, sneaking things to be wrapped into the dining room and shutting the door. And then going to Christmas Eve candlelight service at church, hot chocolate on Christmas morning, phone calls from far-away relatives and a big lunch, of course followed by a long nap. Our traditions as a small family were always simple. But no matter how small our traditions were, they were always ours. They were comforting, they were expected, they happened like clockwork. I never questioned them because they were all I knew, they were our own version of those snow globes, the kind you shake and shake but everything remains the same within the glass bubble.

This year will be my first Christmas away from my own kin. I am going to another family’s home and partaking in their holiday rituals. I will be thousands of miles away from own home in Oregon, and then still thousands of miles away from my family in North Carolina. The geography of it all seems confusing, but in my heart the only map of Christmas has always just been a dot of a little town in North Carolina.

But I also find something most exciting, and in a way – romantic about extending one’s self further away from my family unit and immersing myself into a loved one’s. This means stripping away traditions and rituals that are second nature to me, and observing a new way of celebration and togetherness. To me it’s not so much about the bed I get to wake up in or the table in which we all gather around, but that the waking is slow and sombre and the gathering happens together in communion. Breaking bread every evening and taking turns with the dishes. I have also found myself overwhelmed at the sight of my beloved existing and functioning as a member of his own clan. The way he tenderly picks up and cradles his niece and kisses her forehead, going out on a boat with his brothers, wrestling with his nephews and softly talking with his Mother over morning coffee.

If this tumultuous year in society has taught me anything, it’s that home looks different for everybody. I hope no matter what home you spend your holidays in, it treats you warmly and most kindly. Perhaps home to you is surrounded in a forest of trees, or a good book with creased pages. Gathered around a fireplace with close friends or family. Floating on your back in the depths of the sea or in the arms of someone you love. Work at making that place your own. Spend time shaping and honing the goodness it offers. Learn to be patient if you must muddle through a season of temporary living. Find solace in the makeshift. I once read somewhere that home is defined as “the abiding place of the affections.” Find a place to gather or distribute your affections and let them soak there. Don’t squander all that you have worked with your hands to create. Spread your roots and never fear the coming cold.


Jordan is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregan, and the founder and managing editor at Sapien Magazine. Read her welcome to winter in issue 34 of Oh Comely, out now. 



Sunday Reading: Potion in a tin foil cauldron

words: Emily Ingle

Like many tales, this one starts with a girl setting off from home. I left last Halloween’s broomstick in my parents’ attic, along with most of my belongings, so it was a Boeing 767-300 that flew me across the ocean. Still, a metal box of people floating above the clouds must be nothing less than magic. I watched southern English towns shrink until they were sesame seeds sprinkled on spinach, handed to me by a smiling flight attendant. I stirred this tiny enchanted woodland with my plastic fork. One paper sachet of salt, one of pepper: a potion in a tin foil cauldron.

I was flying to a world I knew from websites and prospectuses read on the sofa of my university’s study abroad office — a world that put its spell on me from afar. Houses became fairy-sized while the day stretched to an extra seven hours. My journey took a path through a forest of duty-free handbag shops and immigration checkpoints, lined with fire extinguishers that by some strange alchemy weren’t red but silver. It was also a voyage on a sea of stories. Of the books that I squeezed into my suitcase until it was only under the airline’s weight limit by a mouse’s breath, nearly all were fairytales of some kind. While I was packing, a friend gently reminded me that they do have libraries in Colorado, but I still wished I didn’t have to leave some favourites behind.

The versions of fairytales we are fed are often sanitised visions of sparkling castles and royalty charging in on horseback at the perfect moment. But it depends on the telling you choose. Tales have been mocked as superstitious and irrational, but they taught me more than any guidebook or map I could have taken in their place. It is hard to leave the kind of friends who will tell you to bring more socks and fewer books even when it’s not what you want to hear, and grandparents who might not fear wolves but spend a lot of time in hospital these days. But the tales taught me to approach a new land as a dark and mysterious forest; that the charms will be as unexpectedly enchanting as the corners are shadowy. They taught me that the worst monsters would be the ones I conjured up myself.

They also taught me that I could be the storyteller. Long before they were written down and filmed, tales were held in heads not between pages, the narratives and characters more easily shifting into the shape of the teller or the listener. Now I’m sitting at my second-hand but new to me desk. A potassium-rich banana might have been a wise amulet to bring against the dizziness that comes with altitude and I feel like I could sleep for a hundred years. Those books have just been unpacked and are stacked up on the desk’s wooden top. They are the stone gargoyle that will awake to lend me its wisdom or taunt me into action, but it is only my touch that will animate it. There is a misty mountain outside the window and a fantastical range of peanut butter in the cupboard waiting to be tasted.

Fairytales punish ungratefulness with curses and toads; they are a reminder to always be aware of the opportunities I am privileged to have. But while I sat stirring my in-flight potion, my suitcase remained unopened. Instead, I watched the screen in front of me make a charmed map of the start of my own tale. It might be less battling ogres and more googling how on earth zebra crossings work in America, but it’s mine to tell. I’m not looking for a fairytale ending; I’m looking for a fairytale beginning.

Emily Ingle mostly makes pictures for other people's words but sometimes she writes things of her own. You can find her on her website, or pretending she lives in a fairytale.

For more tales of everyday magic, pick up a copy of Oh Comely issue 33


There’s Magic In The Air (A Sunday afternoon in Amsterdam in the 90s)

Prince Glass Votive Candle, available from  Flaming Idols at Etsy . Spot the reference to this candle in  issue 33  of Oh Comely. 

Prince Glass Votive Candle, available from Flaming Idols at Etsy. Spot the reference to this candle in issue 33 of Oh Comely. 

words: Anniki Sommerville

I switched over to the local cable channel. It was Sunday. I hadn’t thought about what day it was. If you go out four nights out of seven it feels irrelevant. There was a Catholic mass on. Like many of my generation, I only believed in God in those desperate, dark moments when I needed serious help. Like the night I passed out outside the queue for The Roxy and woke up not knowing who I was. Or the time I ate hash and wanted to curl up and die. This priest looked familiar. I flipped the channel. An MTV VJ popped up - an inane grin plastered across her open, freckled face.

‘At number 9 we have Mr Big with ‘I’m the One,’ and at 8 we have a surprise newcomer!’

I flipped the channel again. CNN was supposed to be an American news channel but mainly showed weather and images of boring, business men rushing around trying to catch planes. It was an eerie kind of world that I’d never fit into. I thought about Mum who’d be making a giant vat of ratatouille and listening to Joni Mitchell. There was no food in the fridge except for a half-eaten ready meal lasagne. I flipped again and the VJ returned.

‘Here at number seven we have Prince and his tribute to a very special girl. This is ‘Diamonds and Pearls,’ and……. Lola, we’re thinking about ya! Stay cool.’

She blew a kiss and the screen dissolved into Prince sitting astride a red, velvet piano stool. It was unfair that he had so much talent and drive and yet here I was lying on a Sunday afternoon, doing absolutely nothing, with absolutely nothing on the agenda for quite some time. How come some people were infused with so much talent? Was it just like nature where some animals were more powerful and the rest of us just cowered in the bushes, hoping we’d survive another day? Hang on - had she just mentioned my name? MY NAME?!

‘All I can do is offer you my love.’

Yes she had mentioned my name. It was clear! I felt a surge of emotion. It was obvious that Prince had penned this song JUST FOR ME, knowing full well what I’d been going through. He knew I’d been burning the candle at both ends -  in fact just burning the candle completely till it was a blackened, smoking stump. I’d always had this sneaking suspicion that our lives were connected in some way and here was the proof. He was E.T. reaching out his glowing red finger and telling me he loved me and to STAY COOL.

Lighting a cigarette, I thought about the possibility that we might actually have a relationship - not just a long distance relationship but one where we actually lived in the same house (he’d give me one of those great names like he did with all his muses and he’d dress me up in a violet basque. No in fact he wouldn’t MAKE me do anything because he was a feminist. He’d just steer me in the right direction). Something significant was happening in this moment. Okay I was tired and hadn’t slept properly for two days. Okay the blackened candle and all that but at the moment who cared?

I pulled the curtains shut with a bit too much vigour and one fell down. Two drawing pins tumbled to the floor.  Prince would be appalled at the state of the flat and the fact that there was a strand of dried spaghetti stuck to the wall. He would arrive soon. He’d track me down pretty easy. There weren’t many English girls living in this old, decrepit house with spaghetti stuck to the walls. Until his arrival, I just needed sleep.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when you’re asleep and when you’re awake. This is especially true if your thoughts are spiralling. My connection with Prince was weakening. The TV was on and maybe four hours had passed but there was no mention of Prince now. I was suspended in the midst of a rapture. The meaning of life would soon become apparent. Would I ever write a song as good as Prince? Would I even write a line? Or word?

We are all closely linked. All the songs that have ever been written are speaking to us. I was waiting for Prince. I was using my brain to attract him into my life. I would be his next muse. I would prove myself worthy of his attention.

Soon he would arrive and my life would finally begin. The mystery of life would reveal itself. I closed my eyes and waited. 


Anniki Sommerville is a freelance writer and Super Editor at Selfish Mother. She is in the middle of writing a book about her lost teenage years spent in Amsterdam. Follow her on Instagram @annikiselfishmother. Seek out more stories of magic in issue 33 of Oh Comely, on sale now

Sunday Reading: Chasing Rainbows

words : Helen Duncan photo : Tom Eagar

It had rained in the night, but the sky showed signs of clearing. Newly arrived on the Isle of Skye we were ready for adventure and set off along the road to Broadford to explore. Colours danced alongside us on the moor above the Black Lochs. And as we drove Beinn NaCaillich began to shrug off the shawl of grey fog she had wrapped around herself in the night for protection from the mizzle.

The colours – a mere smudge of watery pink turning to orange merging into green and then blue – danced on, wavering above the tawny moor. It became a day of chasing rainbows.

Some appeared in much the same way: broad blocks of colour that painted the mountainside in damp hues, barely there. Others took shape as graceful arches, rising high into the sky, as if to defy the very dampness that had helped to create them.

We drove on, transfixed by the alchemy of light and water. Elements transformed into arcs of colour. Magic happening before us, and all around us, in the air.

We counted seven in all as we traversed an enchanted landscape of druid groves and marshes, moorland and reed beds – at times climbing high on winding mountain roads, at times skirting the sea edge where the glowing amber, deep carnelian, and yellow ochre of the seaweed lay bright against a black shoreline.

The rainbows appeared and disappeared, illuminating Viking past and warrior heritage; places steeped in myth and historical fact in equal measure. And all the while the vibrant colours of autumn, of scarlet rowan berries, russet bracken, and turning leaves, paraded against changing skies that moved from charcoal, slate, and dove, to reveal glimpses of the clearest blue.

At Elgol where empty lobster pots were piled high against the sea wall, we breathed in the view of the Cuillin, its distinctive ridges and peaks still shrouded in cloud.

Weather improving, we took the road back and made our way over to Ord. Stunted birch, warped ash, and gnarled oak cast shadows that belied their stature, stretching out across the green grass as the road made its way down to the sea.

There, the warm light of the late afternoon picked out mussel shells on the beach and fronds of green-grey lichen on the rocks. And as it shifted, past and present merged and parted, like the tide gently lapping at the shore.

Standing alone on the ground-down fragments of sea-life as the sun claimed at last what was left of the day, it felt possible to understand why our ancestors believed the veil between our world and the realm of spirits is at its most diaphanous at this time of year.

I wondered how many others have stood looking out across the water in that very same spot. The retreating waves, like lives that have been lived, returned to the ocean, as more came forth to make their imprint on the sand.

That night, as we stood gazing into the ever-expanding depths of a sky unspoilt by light pollution, we remembered how insignificant we are, how transient our lives. And then – right there! A shooting star struck across the blackness. It was so close.

So close.

To this day I am sure I heard it fizz.


Helen spent the last 12 years as a grantseeker for Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum: her words brought in over £14 million for projects including a major redevelopment. As a writer, she covers the natural world, folkore and fairytale, and special places. She is currently investigating the Welsh concept “Hiraeth” - a longing for one’s homeland.

Discover more stories of everyday magic in issue 33 of Oh Comely, on sale 13 October. 

Sunday Reading: Min and Twinkle

words: Alys Key image: Liz Seabrook

It has been more than ten years since I last heard from the fairies.

I’m not sure whether I stopped writing to them, or whether they stopped responding. Things fall behind during childhood and the next thing you know they’re shut up in the attic, difficult to find and covered with dust. Somewhere in the eaves of our house there is a box which holds all of my letters from the fairies, but it’s been years since I last looked through them.

I was maybe seven or eight the first time I left a carefully-sealed note for them.

Dear Fairies, do any of you live in this garden? Please write to me if you do. I would like a fairy pen pal.

Anticipating their response was the innocent version of waiting for a text from a potential lover. Even after their first letter arrived, introducing themselves as two sisters called Min and Twinkle, my excitement was unabated, driven by the childish energy that makes little girls skip all the way home from school. Every day I went outside to see if my last note had gone, or if theirs had arrived. Sometimes I had to rescue our letters from the rain, and every now and then I would find a slug had taken a bite out of one. The garden became a wild enchanted habitat to me; the plants and insects were all part of Min and Twinkle’s world.

The letters themselves were so beautiful that I felt a compulsion to protect them, as though the paper itself was a living thing. They were written in small, elegant script on bright pink or purple paper, always smudged with fairy dust. I tried to make my responses look the same, using bright gel pens to do my best handwriting and fastening the letters inside little pink envelopes from Paperchase.

Over time, the part of the garden which served as our mailing point became known as ‘Fairy Corner’. We still call it that now, even though the fairy shelter my daddy made from spare wood has long disintegrated, and the Magnolia tree – planted so they could enjoy sitting in the soft flowers – is overshadowed by shrubbery.

I was the first of my friends to have fairy pen pals, but I was not the last. The back gardens of Winchester were, it seems, practically infested with them. The fact that it was particularly my friends making contact with magical beings was in no way strange to me. Girls who talked to fairies had a little bit more stardust in them than everyone else, I reasoned, and we would naturally all band together.

But it was through this community of fairy enthusiasts that I first sensed something amiss. The other letters I saw looked different to mine. Some had the same crisp whiteness as the printing paper we used at school. Once, a friend’s fairies gave her a picture of a woman bending down to look at a crowd of glowing lights dancing around her feet. “Here is a picture of us at one of our fairy dances!” they wrote. When I saw it, I recognised the image as a well-known painting; it was on the front a notebook I had been given the previous Christmas. I acknowledged, silently, that this letter was the work of my friend’s parents, and from that point the subsequent realisations followed.

Even now, at the age of 21, I have still never discussed the truth about the fairy letters with my parents. I know where they came from. But there is a difference, I think, between what we know and what we believe, and I can still believe in Min and Twinkle. At least, it is hard not to feel that something special belongs to that portion of the garden. When you visit a site for a religion you no longer subscribe to, there’s that scent of belief in the air, and the silent urge to pray. Magic works the same way.


Alys Key is a student and writer on a quest to spend her life writing and listening to Radio 4. Take a look at her website to read more of her work. 


Find more stories about letters in Oh Comely issue 32



Sunday Reading: A Good Teacher

Words by Chloe Little.

It’s 2003, and I’m 14 years old with a ‘Don’t Attack Iraq’ patch sewn to my bag. I’m running through the school hall while a group of boys chuck slices of ham at me – my punishment for being vegetarian apparently. This was my school, where everyone has to go, but not everyone is allowed to fit in. I felt like a complete alien in a world of teenage aggression and hatred, tormented for not knowing my place in the food chain (quite literally). Maybe if someone told me that secondary school would be the equivalent to Dante’s Inferno then I could have prepared myself, alas I would find out the hard way.

The problem I had is that I wanted to learn, I wanted to be good at stuff – the biggest faux pas you can make if you need to be invisible. I was always opinionated, and knew I wanted to do more with my life. I didn’t want to be like any of my peers, and that’s a pretty hard road to choose when you're a 14-year-old girl and the whole school thinks you have a beard.

I felt completely isolated, I went to lessons, tried to answer as many questions as possible (I would never get many right, oh the irony!) and then listen to my Walkman on the bus home, whilst trying to avoid getting beaten up. When I got back at 4pm I’d be in my safe place, with my music and my films. However, it wasn’t until I had graduated university and all those somewhat painful memories had faded that I remembered this letter – I guess I wasn’t alone after all.

Dear Chloe
I’m not going to wish you good luck in the future, because you don’t need it. Continue to be bold and remember that being different is a blessing not a curse.
I can already see you walking through the East Village with a copy of Jim Morrison’s biography under one arm and Cahiers Du Cinéma in the other.
You’ll be out of here soon :)
Mr S x 

Mr S was my tutor throughout these turbulent five years, I saw him every morning and even though we didn’t have this life affirming John Keating moment where the world became clear – he looked out for me, he taught me about communism, he let me watch Spinal Tap in my lunch break, and told me my drawings had philosophical meaning (I still think they were just lots of triangles). Every child needs one person to tell them they are special, and I am fortunate to have two very strong willed and exceptional parents – but not everyone is. He tried to tell me that being a bully in school doesn’t get you far in life, and that being intelligent and having interests that weren’t boys would get you places – this letter reminded me that secondary school would soon be over, and I would never look back.

I’d like to know where he is now. I hope he married the woman dressed like Yoko in the photo that sat on his desk, I hope he continued to play in his garage band at weekends. I hope he still teaches. I always thought I’d relish the moment one of those ghastly children would turn on the TV or open a magazine and see me in all my glory – in a band, touring the world, I wanted them to feel shame and embarrassment. Now that would give me no satisfaction, instead I think I’d like Mr S to know what he did for me, that feels more progressive. So if you’re reading this Paul, know that I didn’t let you down.

Photo by Lukasz Wierzbowski

Photo by Lukasz Wierzbowski

Chloe Little is the bass player and vocalist of the London band INHEAVEN