It’s surprising how noisy a kettle is whilst boiling.
As the Colonel logs onto yet another meeting, I snarl and curse at myself for not having made my coffee before he started.
I’ve tried various methods of quietening it, such as covering it with a towel, but that was met with much waving of arms and pointing. Apparently it was a fire hazard. I’ve tried filling it only half full, but nope, even noisier. So I wait until the meetings are over, the phone calls end and then I make a dash to the stove and make a large pot of coffee … bliss.
I tiptoe around our open-plan apartment wondering if it would be rude to suggest his meetings move to the closet. I ponder over buying an electric kettle which I can attach to a power socket in the corridor outside and I momentarily ponder whether I have an addiction to coffee and obviously dismiss this immediately.
But let’s brush, swoosh and whoosh away the negatives … for positivity shall reign, and my positive news is … that I have mastered the art of the Chocolate Soufflé. I have conquered my fear of the sinking soufflé.
I shall admit this is not world-breaking news, indeed most of you can probably already make this light as a feather, airy and moist ramekin of deliciousness. It is heaven in a bowl with a dollop of ice cream. So much so that yes, I use that awful cringe-worthy word moist which in my squirming mind sits alongside soiled and gusset. But I digress, it is such a piece of heaven that I would be willing to forfeit my coffee for this utter delight.
So whilst we enter into another groundhog week of the same again, I search again for something new to dilute the monotony. We’re safe so there’s no complaining, but I must confess to a sense of pleasure in an achievement so small. Perhaps I shall try the Japanese soufflé pancakes or start learning Swahili on Duolingo. Either way, if the Colonel could perhaps make his way to the closet with his laptop and phone, I could make that darn cup of coffee …
Ps. Do you have a positive that obliterated any negatives from the weekend?
Some would say categorically not. They have a disease, it’s a part of their makeup (genetic or otherwise) and they have no control over it.
Others might argue that yes, how we feel is our choice. We have a mind of our own and we can control it (using various methods).
It is also often debated whether depressive thoughts are addictive, in the same way that substances like alcohol, or behaviours like gambling are addictive. And when we are not using these substances or behaviours we feel out of control largely because in a (self-destructive) way the familiarity gives us an element of comfort. In a similar vein, it is often noted that women (and men for that matter) in unhealthy relationships are mimicking those they had with their parents in childhood. It might not be healthy, but it is familiar.
So, if using by these theories, we fight the urge to believe that we have no control over our minds and we fight the urge to fall back into the dark, warm but comfortable well of depression, ( Read my post on Depression – A Multi-Pronged Attack ) can we overcome it?
My view, for what it’s worth, is yes. But it’s no walk in the park.
It’s curious how whilst I was cycling through France last summer, I had never been so happy or so at peace. Perhaps it was something to do with … the daily exercise (ok it was a brutal 60 – 90 kms a day); being in the sunshine (yup, it hit 41 degrees); a challenge each and every moment (wait til the book comes out, then you’ll understand); social interaction (albeit mostly in a different language apart from on meeting one couple who when I exclaimed how delighted I was that they were English, they replied, “Nah! We’re from Birmingham.” Right; No alcohol, but gallons of water and my weight in croissants; No toxic people to be around and no social media …. And so on and so forth.
Yes, all those things that we’re supposed to do daily to help ourselves (granted, perhaps not in quite such an extreme form), nevertheless, whilst I’m not suggesting that anyone heads off for a 1200 km cycle ride, it’s funny how happy one can be with just a bicycle a tent and the winding road ahead.
So what do you think? Depending of course on the severity of the anxiety or depression, do you believe we actually have a choice to be happy?
To travel and to explore surely encourages one’s mind to expand and to stretch out the personal boundaries of one’s self. I’d like to think so.
It has been several weeks since I moved to New York and I fear I have neglected any writing both on WordPress but also on the book. So after a metaphorical whipping I am back on the sofa tap, tapping my fingers and urging the grey matter to shake off the cobwebs. Ah, but I sit here and there is such a view, so I simply gaze and gaze.
We are high up in a building where light floods in through floor to ceiling windows giving views to the west and north. The Hudson River is a constant moving body of water with boats and cruise ships travelling up and down. Beyond the river, cars and trucks can be seen in miniature over in New Jersey and below, people rush around doing their daily business; all busy, all with purpose. Fire trucks and ambulances scream their sirens every few minutes; horns are blaring, there is shouting, laughing, arguing. A glimpse of the green trees of Central Park gives a little respite to the hard angular surroundings. The buildings, the glass, the steel, the concrete, the brick; the beautiful, the ugly, the noise, the chaos. And I gaze and gaze ….
I explore daily and osmosis is forcing an absorption of the sights, sounds and smells. It is inescapable and dirty, exhausting and so very noisy. But it is also exhilarating and liberating. Anonymity is freeing and here nobody pays any attention. Anything goes.
So I shall continue to explore and absorb, but will now find a little balance in my day and write and tell you all about it (if you can bear it!). The book also is toddling along but now with renewed vigour and the desire to find the light at the end of the tunnel. But in the meantime, the river is an absolute mill pond today and there are three small sailing boats barely moving across the water and the sun is just catching their sails in the light …
Since arriving back home, I’ve spend the last 12 hours alternating between walking like a zombie and lying on the sofa mopping my fevered brow. Actually there is nothing fevered about my brow in the least but I was hoping to portray an image of a broken woman. A broken woman with jet lag who would be the grateful recipient of peeled grapes being fed to her by her doting husband. I’ll admit this scenario is unlikely, however I can categorically say that I am pooped, knackered and done in.
Being on holiday in a city is very different to spending a week flat-hunting and trying to understand how ‘the city that never sleeps’ actually works. One is swept into a false sense of security by the fact that the language is, by and large, the same. Do not be fooled! Trying to understand the rights, wrongs and the pitfalls of a chaotic, manic city where everything is different is not easy.
Attitudes are different, tone is different and requests often come across as orders. Networking is key and the phrase ‘The Land of Opportunity” holds strong. Tipping compared to Blighty is a very different system and costs. Ultimately, living in New York compared to London is expensive. Very.
We’ve been introduced to some good people and thankfully have several friends already living there which no doubt will ease the transition. But at the end of the day, the transition has to be made by us.
As a note to self, I have to remember not to say ‘golly’ or ‘gosh’ too often and whilst saying ‘poppycock’ amused me, it raised a few eyebrows. It’s just such a glorious word …
Am I excited? Hugely! This is such an adventure … This is The Land of Opportunity where anything can happen! Who knows, maybe I’ll come back in a few years time with bright white teeth and the most enormous pair of knockers. How thrilling! I jokingly mentioned this to The Colonel and he went a little pale – Oh poppycock, golly and gosh! If he doesn’t know when I’m joking, then I’m doomed in America …
As ever, all tips and advice will be gratefully received 🤓🤓
Betty was my black dog, my little cackling demon, the ogre clutching on to my back. Haven’t we all had a little of her from time to time?
The majority of us have suffered from moments of depression, anxiety or a combination of both. I had my fair share, yet whether mine was worse or not than anyone else’s, who am I to say? I had moments of feeling blue, but then don’t we all? Perhaps that’s all it ever was, just a little bit of blue.
Like all the evil bullies of this world, in the end Betty found me to be a rather repellent host and has consequently moved on.
The sun is shining, the world is a happy, if complicated place and I can see Betty and the bullies for what they truly are. Having used every resource available to me, (see my post Depression – A Multi-Pronged Attack ) I can confirm that this slightly unhinged woman has indeed killed Betty and moved on.
“Ha! Don’t you get so cocky!” I hear someone say with a smirk. Perhaps they’re right; but in truth I don’t want to be around that person. I only surround myself with positive people who like me want to live in peace, love and optimism. Yes, I have to be careful and keep an eye on myself, but that’s what we all do anyway.
Life is for living. But most importantly, life is for living in the light and not the darkness.
The British Post Office is a fairly depressingly dire place. But we need it. I think.
The queue at my local Post Office always reaches the door, and yet of the six tills, only two are only ever manned. There is usually someone else wandering around in the background but they never appear to be doing very much apart from talking to the teller whom you have just waited twenty minutes for. Hence, irritation starts to rise with ferocity as you feel you have deserved and want to claim the tellers undivided attention for just a few minutes. You have stood beside the birthday card stands, the array of stationery and the plastic toys for sale for too long. And yet, if you stand for long enough, you start believing that you actually need some paperclips with coloured unicorns attached to them.
Then, uproar. A man comes in, bypasses the entire queue and heads straight to a momentarily empty till. The wretched teller is ignorant of his blatant lack of adherence to the British queuing system. The line of waiting men, women, grumpy children, angry old women and a random dog begin by hissing amongst each other. The young lady beside in front of me sucks through her teeth and says quietly, “Excuse me?” in disbelief at this. I however am clearly feeling hormonal.
“Excuse me! Are you not aware of this queue?” What should have been uttered as a polite question comes out as an overly loud bellow of indignation.
All eyes on me.
Man looks horrified and scuttles amid apologies to the end of the queue.
I am mortified.
“Oh God,” I whisper to my lady friend, “Now I feel like such a cow.”
“Nah!” She says. “We’re all with you.” And as I look around, I am being given nods and smiles of approval, apart from the rather sheepish man.
Unity. Yes, there is strength in unity!
Although, having come from Scotland, had this happened in Glasgow where everyone calls a spade a spade, this would never have started. Well, it might have, but there would have been a full-blown punch-up, the police would have arrived, someone, probably me would have been tasered, ending with all and sundry having a good glass of whiskey and a three hour discussion.
Oh I do love a bit of human interaction. So good for the soul.
Disappearing into the bowels of the earth, otherwise known as the underground system of London, the sound of a violin rose up to meet me. A young man was playing the tune from A Fiddler on the Roof, “If I were a Rich Man”.
Oh, if only I could have joined him with some fabulous Russia dancing!
oh how I wanted to don my dancing shoes and join this marvellous man with his enthusiastic fiddling on his fiddle!
Oh how I wanted to leap beside him with gay abandon!
(Nb. Slight yawn, but for those wanting to be politically or otherwise correct, please note that I am using gay in the old fashioned sense … I have no desire to make comparisons of dancing abilities between people of varying sexual orientations – I’m exhausted, should have used a different word in the first place).
As he played faster and faster I was swept up in the excitement of the moment and the exhilarating music, so promptly tipped the meagre contents of my purse into his violin case. He grinned widely at me and added a slight dip of his chin to acknowledge my paltry collection of two and five pence pieces. He also got two safety pins and a book of Royal Mail stamps, but I managed to retrieve those.
With my heart singing, I continued on my journey with his music becoming fainter, but with my walk infinitely lighter and bouncier. I write this despite the unhappy truth that even if I wanted to risk the disapproving looks of fellow travellers who would assume that I was most probably a complete loon, I strongly suspect that once crouched down in my Russian dancing stance ready to fling my legs from under me, I would never have been able to stand up again without the help of some small hydraulic apparatus.
So, if you’re needing a little boost today, turn on the radio, do a little jig, sing, or even join a fiddler and try a Russian dance.
Does jolly music make you want to dance with gay abandon?
So, according to WordPress, and not my memory, which even I will admit is unreliable (and that is being generous), I have blogged, posted, written and rambled for an entire year; and I can honestly say that I’ve loved every minute of it.
I have wittered fairly endlessly, mostly about absolute drivel, and yet, you my friends have tolerated me, humoured me and made me feel welcome in this, our rather special writing club.
I have read your posts, at times in complete reverence at the magical ways in which you have used our glorious language; but surprisingly instead of feeling that green-eyed monster crawl up my inner thigh and reach towards an embittered heart, I have embraced your work, loved it, praised it and attempted to improve my own as a consequence.
Pease forgive my failings and be confident that I, more than anyone, am the most aware of them, and be calmed in the knowledge that I am working hard to be the best person that I can be.
So thank you my friends … You’re completely and utterly fabulous!
Sometimes I encounter and consequently ‘suffer’ from first world problems. These can be anything from a late train, an unexplained rattling in the car when it reaches 80 miles an hour, or running out of truffle oil; (no of course I don’t really keep truffle oil, I’m just exaggerating to make a point), and then yes, I have a little whinge.
My husband, known as The Colonel, simply looks at me over his glasses and raises an eyebrow. This usually renders me suitably chastised and I usually give a snort, tell him to ‘sod off’ in my typically eloquent manner and reduce my whinge to a “mutter-with-attitude”.
A fellow blogger (A Fractured Faith) wrote recently about the homeless and it rather spurred me on to do something useful and to press the pause button on this shoddy behaviour. So I hunted around the cupboard upstairs and emerged with:
. An old sleeping bag
. A military windproof, waterproof, everything-proof coat
. The softest, warmest blanket that I gave to my late mother and have been struggling to throw out
. Some toiletries in rather natty little airline bags (apologies for the revolting word …. Toiletries, Soiled, Moist and Toilet make me squirm. It’s the ‘oi’ thing. However, also Gusset and Lubrication. Enough said.)
Having lugged these items down to both the train station and High Street twice in the search for someone ‘in need’, and returning on my bicycle still fully laden, I was in danger of losing my inner Samaritan. But, third time lucky and I found a lovely chap with a dog who despite having everything that he needed, directed me to a gentleman who apparently did.
By now it was late afternoon, the sun had dipped beneath the trees and it was cold. Terribly cold. It was just starting to drizzle and the wind was picking up when I saw him. A narrow, hunched dark shape with the sleeves of his thin jacket pulled over his hands. He was shaking; not just his arms, but his entire body. He looked up at me and I smiled. Slowly and gently we began to chat. A thin, cold scrawny man with nothing to his name. No address, money, belongings or education.
His past was something of a horror story and the fact that he was still alive was either a miracle or testament to his courage.
I came away feeling humbled, ashamed and also angry at ‘the system’. He was so grateful for the pathetic bits and bobs that I gave him and so willing to talk to me, a silly middle aged, middle class woman with an expensive haircut and a propensity to buy expensive Christmas baubles. In the end, I felt grateful to this gentleman.
I am trying to help him further but suffice to say, it’s a minefield out there with a system with no money and too many people needing help. I shall continue but the longer I take, the colder the weather is getting.
I came home feeling not sanctimonious, pious or as though I had morphed into Mother Theresa, but just plain humbled.
Since then I have been making a conscious effort to (attempt to) restrain my irritations at unimportant first world issues and be grateful for what I have. Although having just re-read that I realise that I now sound like a prize knob so I’ll perhaps retract it, but it does make one think…
And finally, when I told my son about this and the horrors of being homeless (trying to educate my 20 year old son is I realise locking the stable door well and truly after the horse has bolted) he calmly informed me that the sleeping bag I had just given away was not my old one, but in fact belonged to him. Bugger. Thankfully he has a far nicer nature than me and just patted my shoulder. I think he muttered something about the onset of dementia but by then I was back in the cupboard again trying to work out if the military jacket I’d just handed out was not my other sons old CCF one, but in fact belonged to the Colonel … God I’m an arse.
Are there many homeless people in your neighbourhood?
Sometimes I astonish myself. It is quite extraordinary how I can so masterfully waste time. If there were degrees being handed out here, I’d have a First, with a distinction, several stars and a cherry on top for good measure.
I see myself as an (occasionally) rational person; I understand that time is one commodity that we in theory have control over, and yet as it slips away hour by hour, day by day, I manage to waste it on utter nonsense.
As I said to a fellow blogger this morning, what historically used to be ‘reading time’ to keep the grey matter alive and kicking, and as a very enjoyable pastime, I now can waste hours, hours on my iPad googling holidays that I obviously can’t afford, ways to make my eyelashes look longer and houses for sale in the deepest depths of France. And I use the word ‘waste’ because despite all this lengthy research, I still have no romantic little city-break booked, no house in Provence with a sparkling swimming pool, and my eyelashes are still as stubby as they were last week.
Reading my latest book, ( Get Your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight) I have now had to resort to reading it in the bath. Even though my iPad I am sure would work perfectly well in the bathroom, I still have visions of it falling in amongst the bubbles and yours truly being electrocuted …. found days later with Rigor Mortis deforming my body and face whilst donning a particularly attractive perm. Not quite the death I had envisaged. As an aside, if one dies in an odd position, this ‘Rigor Mortis’ sets in, how do they fit you into a coffin? Would they have to force and squeeze you tightly into a recumbent, legs together position and then nail the lid on quickly in case suddenly you popped out like a Jack-in-the-box? Just a thought …
Anyway, I digress … now that I have used up my previous ‘reading time’, I am now using up my ‘bath’ time. Perhaps when I have realised that in fact I cannot be electrocuted by a battery operated machine, I will stop reading in the bath and the dreaded iPad will venture into the bathroom and I will start googling more nonsense from there. Heavens! My life is being taken over by a 6 x 9 inch piece of metal with a rather attractive purple cover.
So, Sarah Knight of the aforementioned book, explains very clearly and assisted by some fairly fruity language, that my problem is time management. We all have the designated 24 hours in a day, it’s just that some of us choose to use it better than others.
So, my resolution for the fast approaching New Year is to manage my time considerably better. Firstly I shall don a watch (that I secretly think my lovely husband is giving me for Christmas because I am apparently always late which is hard for these military types to cope with. As it’s a Christmas present I obviously can’t start this resolution immediately – procrastinator – surely not?). I shall then make to-do lists, must-do lists, get-your-bottom-off-the-sofa-lists. I shall have spreadsheets and bar charts and attempt to become a wonderfully efficient version of the scatty, forgetful, googling me. After all, isn’t that what resolutions are all about, a moment of pre-Christmas excited enthusiasm in changing one’s somewhat shoddy ways for the better? Any suggestions more than welcome.
Are you a time-waster like me? 😬
Are you organised and efficient? HOW do you do it …. ?
What do you google? (As per previous posts, nothing smutty or vulgar please!)
Snuggling contentedly amongst my other issues, I have two rather deep seated and firmly ingrained problems that I have recently discovered are linked. This actually is rather good, because that means that I now have one rather than two. Please note the positive spin – I am if nothing else, eternally optimistic.
I am a people pleaser and find it incredibly hard to say no.
I am unfamiliar with the notion of ‘moderation’.
And the link is this: I can’t say no to others, or myself. I simply cannot say “No! Stop! That’s enough”.
I suspect I am a people pleaser because of a need to be loved. The problem with this, is that being a fairly needy individual but loathe to be a burden, where one feeling should in theory neutralise the other, it doesn’t; it simply makes me complicated.
So I do things for people that I don’t want to do, consequently get grumpy and do whatever it is with extremely bad grace.
And then my neediness kicks in. Imagine husband dearest trying desperately to leave for work in the morning, briefcase and coat in hand, with me attached to his ankles being dragged across the kitchen floor wailing, “Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!” Not that he’s quite beating me with his umbrella to detach me but …. Admittedly I am exaggerating somewhat, but you get the gist.
As for moderation, this tends to happen when doing something that I enjoy, for example:
Certain types of exercise (ie cycling until my body starts shutting down)
Nibbling delicately on a biscuit (read: devouring a twin packet whilst locking myself in the larder),
Getting excited about an event (hyperventilating, shaking and nausea)
Again, I hope you get the gist.
There is simply no “Off” button. No bright little button with “Time to stop now Katie!” flashing on it. No sodding great beacon with a man holding a megaphone shouting “No, you stupid woman, just Nooooo!”
I can’t say No!
So the question is twofold:
1). How do I stop this impetuous, people pleasing doormattish behaviour, and
2). How do I dig deep enough in order to find my inner self control? (As in, where do you keep yours? Clearly close to hand, perhaps in a little pocket somewhere …. whereas I think I left mine at a childhood birthday party many decades ago.
I’ve had to have a wee chat with myself of late. In truth it was more of a stern waggling of the finger involving some rude words and the occasional metaphorical kick in the shins.
And why? Because I was sensing a slight return of the lethargy, the tiredness and the excuses. The desire to light a fire, put on a pair of unattractive fluffy socks, matching pyjamas and woolly hat and vegetate makeup free was fast becoming just a little too appealing. Now fear not, I have come to recognise this. It is my very own slippery slope; my uncontrollable freewheeling downhill on Claude the bicycle when the brakes have failed and the only option, unless I am prepared to hit rock bottom, is to take an almighty leap to get off in the full knowledge that it’s going to hurt.
The problem with my ‘slippery slope’ is that the end point is even more unattractive than me in a pair of fluffy pyjamas. You see, I’m just not that kind of gal. I’m a “where’s my nothingness of a silk nightie … can’t find it … never mind, better do a Marilyn Monroe and wear nothing but Chanel No 5.” You get the gist … I fear that if I didn’t jump off said slippery slope, within a fortnight I’d have eaten my body weight in ginger nut biscuits, would be drinking like a fish and be found, the size of a small whale reading Barbara Cartland, wedged under the bed. As it happens I have always had great admiration for Barbara; frankly anyone who managed to write that many books is a hero in my mind – I can’t even do one (yet).
Now don’t get me wrong, I can give you a thousand reasons why I should be kind to myself and give in to the lethargy. Well, one or two …. my folate levels are apparently low, and ummm, well it’s winter isn’t it?
So in truth, without a plethora of excuses, I’ve had a ‘wee chat’ with myself, have bounced out of bed, slapped on some face (makeup, to the men out there), have embraced the cold air with gusto and have come to my coffee shop. Much too long a sentence once again and for that I’m sorry, but you see I’m just a bit excited. I took that metaphoric almighty leap off the freewheeling bicycle and not only was it easier this time, but the landing didn’t hurt. Yes, it’s only a meagre trip out of the house, but what I’ve found is that if I start the day with the right attitude, everything follows suit with my jobs done and the house and husband sorted. I then go to bed that night happy, fulfilled and tired enough that whether I’m in my birthday suit, a beautiful little nothingness of a silk number (marriage number two therefore efforts and standards must prevail you understand) or wearing a flannel onesie with a picture of Bart Simpson on it, I’ll sleep like a baby and the slippery slope will be a thing of the past. Or at least until the next day …
Of COURSE I’m not going to ask what you wear in bed … as if … but instead, what do you do to combat lethargy?
The past few days have seen a slowdown in the writing of my book. A tiredness and lethargy combined with family commitments are poor excuses; and yet when one’s brain is foggy and the body is longing for a sleep that never seems to remedy the situation, it is hard to see the wood for the trees and make progress.
As it turns out, my folate levels are at rock bottom but in many respects, I’m rather glad that it’s not simply my own laziness that has been the culprit relating to this fatigue. So it is with almost a sense of relief that I have been told to be kind to myself, something that I have never in truth been an advocate of. But needs must, and when the wise doctor speaks, I must take heed of his advice.
So strangely, I feel reassured and as a consequence am further determined to write, albeit in bed! I’m not entirely sure that this recumbent form of filling the day is what my medical guru was intending, but as I sit surrounded by soft pillows, light-as-a-thousand-feathers duck-down duvet and the soft light glowing from the bedside lamp, I must confess to feeling rather marvellous, if incredibly guilty. I am if nothing, one to take advice to the extremes.
Sadly however, this being London, there is a car intermittently blasting it’s alarm, a thud, thud base of music resounding through the walls from the traffic jam outside the house, and God forbid, the thought that my wonderful mother-in-law will be making her daily FaceTime call shortly is more than enough to end this sedentary self-care. Life quite frankly just go on, and the shame of being in bed at half past nine in the morning is shocking even to my befuddled, exhausted little mind.
So up I shall get and face the day whilst munching on some dark, leafy vegetables, and find my folate supplements. I shall seek peace and solace in my writing and make progress once again. As for the car alarm, I shall continue to huff, puff and mutter about moving to Outer Mongolia for a bit of peace and quiet. Alternatively, I could just hide for a little longer deep under the duvet, so that the sounds of life in a city are softened and a little muffled. But by God, it’s hot under there and as I emerge red faced and sweaty, I can hear my mother-in-law trying to FaceTime me …. Yes, enough self care, it’s time to crack on.
How do you combat tiredness? Is your bedroom noisy or are you in Outer Mongolia?
When I was ensconced in the wonderful world of online dating, a friend of mine suggested I google a chap called Matthew Hussey. He’s a dating guru, young and full of vitality and dare I say it, happiness. I found myself slightly addicted to his YouTube videos so when I’d watched them all, I bought his audio book and played it again and again and yes, again.
He speaks sense. He understands the psychology of both men and women, of how we interact and sometimes how we fail to interact and also understand each other. He explains how what we say and what we do can be misinterpreted, and how our very basic caveman instincts are still absolutely paramount in terms of our current behaviour.
But one thing that he talks of, is practising talking and engaging with people. People in the queue at the coffee shop, people in the supermarket, people anywhere. Just a simple smile and a happy brief chat can not only make your day, but also someone else’s.
Now of course living in London, it is deemed as a little odd to smile at a stranger, and frankly unhinged should one make conversation … and yet, why should the most natural thing in the world be given a few raised eyebrows?
The other day on the tube, my fellow passengers and I became united as a small dog raced past us on the platform and on reaching the end, threw itself onto the tracks and bolted off towards the tunnel. What ensued, along with all trains on the Central Line coming to an almighty halt, was that we bonded. We chatted, laughed, made suggestions as to how to entice said dog back and enjoyed even more hilarity as the Platform Manager in her fluorescent jacket took to shouting abuse at our canine friend. What became of the dog, I know not, as it clearly was unimpressed by being roared at, and subsequently turned its back on her, cocked its leg on the tunnel wall and promptly trotted off into the darkness.
My purpose of this post is this; whether we are dating or not, Matthew Hussey has a point. Some of us are good at ‘small talk’, some not so. But as with everything that we want to improve or even excel at, we should take heed of his advice, and practise.
Engaging with people and the world whether that be sharing a smile or a little chat with a person is good for the soul and the spirit. Not just yours, but theirs also. Sometimes, your kind words can lift someone’s day from being somewhat shabby, to positively fabulous. Go on! Be fabulous today!
Are you good at small talk? Or do your inhibitions prevent you?
Yesterday I joined a wonderful class and being the first introductory meeting there were ‘housekeeping’ rules to discuss; where the loos and fire exits were, if a fire alarm was to go off to treat it as genuine as no practices were scheduled, no bad language allowed etc etc.
Two minutes in, the fire alarm goes off, the lady sitting next to me jumps up and exclaims, “Oh Fuck! It’s a fire!” clutches at her knickers, declares an ‘oops’ moment in her excitement and runs, semi crossed-legged out of the room. I’d say it was a pretty good icebreaker.
Ps. To reassure you, it was the toaster in the next door room that set it off! How we laughed! What made you laugh today or yesterday? X
I have finally found my home away from home. It is simply a little coffee shop between the river and the park. It has wooden floorboards, huge windows and soft armchairs filled with cushions. There are beautiful pastries and fresh fruits in wicker baskets, smells of roasting coffee beans and hot chocolate and has now most firmly become a part of my daily routine.
I sit, drink copious amounts of coffee and write.
I used to find that writing on the underground worked a treat until I realised that going round and round on the Circle Line in order to type up the next chapter was probably a little odd to say the least; and somehow writing at home just seemed to be difficult. It was too quiet and the overspilling ironing basket would give me the evil eye, and the cupboard with the ginger nut biscuits would call to me a little too often to guarantee a lifetime free of the dreaded cellulite. So the coffee shop it is. They do have a rather delicious chocolate brownie which just happens to come with ice cream but I digress.
Like so many of us, it took a little while before being able to feel entirely comfortable and entitled to while away the hours in someone else’s space; but within a week I found myself feeling as though I was simply ‘a home away from home’. The staff became chattier to me by the day and even better, knew how I liked my coffee. And now? I feel like one of those people (usually men dare I say it) who go into their local pub and are asked, “A pint of your usual sir?” Oh yes, I feel as though they have accepted me into their fold and I’m loving it.
So, as I tap, tappety, tap away with the world moving around me and gentle music playing in the background, I have now reached the momentous point of being one third of the way through the book. There is still a long way to go, particularly in light of the fact that I have a notebook completely full of barely legible notes to make something of, but it’s a good start. I’m out of the starting gates, have done a few furlongs and am galloping midfield with a mass of others.
There are many on the same course, and whilst some are ahead, some behind and some have fallen at the first hurdle, I am doing my very best to keep on the straight and narrow. I’m only a little way through with the inevitable Becher’s Brook or another huge challenge or six to contend with, but with a good wind behind me and my bank account allowing for the continuation of daily coffee and chocolate brownies with ice cream, with a little luck I shall finish before the clocks go forward in the spring. I may of course be something the size of a whale with a coffee addiction by that point, but I will, with a little luck have a book. Battle on McDuff to myself and all of us!
Where is your most favourite place in the world? Do you have somewhere away from home that you love to visit?
When I look into a mirror, it is usually with trepidation. I never quite know what I shall see. The majority of the time I can see only the flaws, and yet just occasionally when the light is low and soft and I am at peace with the world, then what I see makes me content.
Beauty is a funny old business. What one person finds attractive, another finds repellent. But what do I see in the mirror?
I see a vibrant woman full of life with hopes and dreams. I see gentle creases from a life lived with laughter and joy. I see a strong, proud body that has carried children and hands, arms and legs that have worked tirelessly and with vigour throughout.
And yet sometimes I still see the little girl crying, needing, wanting her mother. I see the lost look in her pale eyes as she craves the security of love. I see a tired face lined from the incessant ravages of life and the vacant stare at the fear of facing the future.
With minimal effort we can show the world one face, and yet hiding behind the shield may be something remarkably different. Or perhaps we simply change like the tides, depending on what life or perhaps God throws at us.
Yes, beauty is a funny old business.
How do you see yourself? What do you see in the mirror?
Work on the book has been a little slow of late. Ok, so if the truth be told, I’ve been procrastinating rather a lot. It’s incredible how I can find little excuses and reasons to not write. And suddenly a week has passed. Then two. And before I knew it, the habit and routine of writing has flittered away. We all know that it’s very hard to start a good habit and mightily easy to let it slip. Don’t we all favour the easiest route in life?
So yesterday I made myself a promise. I would take my bicycle and iPad on an outing and set myself up in a coffee shop and actually get to grips with the book.
So as I sit here, bouncing around on excess caffeine, I have made enormous progress. There’s a huge amount of work to be done, but it’s a good start and clearly this works better than trying to find a place in the house where I can sit and write without being disturbed by the jobs that I see needing to be done and the telephone ringing. Clearly I could never be self employed as I don’t appear to have the discipline.
Thankfully I am surrounded by at least six others on their various computers and iPads also tap, tap, tapping away so there is no sense of guilt that I am occupying one of the most comfortable seats by the window and letting two cups of what I had thought was decaffeinated coffee but is clearly not, last two hours. I think I’m nearly done here for the day as if I have any more to drink I’ll be bouncing off the ceiling, but clearly for me this is the way forward. The fact that they play lovely music, have rather delicious chocolate brownies and I get to do a bit of people-watching makes it all the more fun. I think I can get rather used to this.
What gives you inspiration to write? Do you need to get out of the house?
Let’s not beat around the bush here, my brain is a simple thing.
It is not made up of intense masses of grey matter jostling to be the first to find the answer to a question, to read and understand the contents of a (proper, grownup) newspaper, to remember anything politically intelligent, to finish (or even start) a cryptic crossword puzzle … No. It is not.
My brain is more about fluffy clouds of marshmallow trying to remember my children’s names and their dates of birth which is considerably tricky when under pressure (ie when someone asks me), where exactly I parked the car and even more worryingly why I have just walked upstairs for the second time – (what precisely was I planning on doing up there?)
No, I am not the brightest spark in the box and yet I have discovered this sad fact appears to have the most marvellous consequences, side effects if you like. I shall expand.
I have found that if I am having to do something that I don’t like (ie most things that don’t involve cups of tea, ginger nut biscuits, reading, writing and games of tennis) and therefore don’t want to do, I can trick my simple little brain into making the required task completely bearable.
So, to use an example here on holiday in France … Each and every day, in order to reach the empty part of the beach that the family like the most, we need to cross a river called the Huchet. This for me is on a par with putting pins in my eyes, eating my toenails and sucking on a random stranger’s too. It is not only freezing cold, but it is a murky shade of greeny brown where there is no likelihood of seeing ones toes and in terms of how deep it is, well apparently that has something to do with the moon, suffice to say, it varies from above knee level to (I’m about to cut my) throat deep. Unpleasant? Very, very deeply and with no pun intended.
However … If I distract myself sufficiently, it is bearable and I can wade across without too much of the drama queen in me squealing, complaining and writhing my body in the agony of it all. And how do I distract myself? I sing. I sing, just as I sang when cycling up those wretched mountains that the French call hills, not so long ago. I sing anything that I can remember the words to and anything that I cannot. Nursery rhymes work well, hymns and yes, happy birthday to me have all been uttered from my pursed lips as I step on tiptoe through the grisly, cold dark water.
If it’s truly bad, then I use another of my senses … touch. I flick my thumb nails onto my index fingers and dig in, hard.
If it’s worse than truly bad, ie up to the neckline, then I also start to use deep breathing.
So I’m puffing, singing and finger flicking and well knock me down with a dead fish floating past, we’ve reached the other side!
Now forgive me for being just a tad simple, but aren’t these tactics exactly what we use when we’re having a moment of anxiety or a panic attack? Are we not told to breathe in slowly and deeply? When we’re angry and seeing red and about to explode, did our parents and teachers not tell us to count slowly to ten until it passes? When we’re in labour (sorry gentlemen) are we not required to huff and puff our way through it? What I’m trying to say is, are these not all simply distraction techniques until the moment of unrest or pain has disappeared? Is our mind truly stronger than our body?
“It’s all in the mind,” my father used to say about seasickness. And yes, strangely, if I was kept busy out on deck, I never had any moments of queeziness, but perhaps hardly surprising when you’re clinging for dear life onto a mast whilst at a 45 degree angle to the angry sea and death is looking you in the eye.
Is it truly all in the mind and we can use distraction to obliterate any unpleasantness? Is this how mad people can walk across hot coals?
Clearly, with my simple little brain it works. If for you it does not, then you can pride yourself in the knowledge that you are a clever sausage. I’m rather jealous, but then again, perhaps you just need more intellectually stimulating distractions. Perhaps you could do the cryptic crosswords instead? Just a thought … Oh, and could you explain to me how to do them?
How clever are you?! Can you use breathing or singing to fob off anxiety, stress and pain? Or do you have another trick?
Without meaning to harp on about it too much, whilst cycling for the best part of a month in France, I had only myself for company.
I talked to myself, sang to myself, told myself funny little stories (and laughed at them – yes I am suitably strange) and cried to myself. I regularly bored myself stupid and craved company. The only people, until almost the end of the trip, that I encountered were of course French, and despite a fairly healthy ‘O Level’ result in the subject over 30 years ago, conversation was understandably a little limited. Of course, over time it improved considerably and particularly when I became less self conscious and more confident.
On one occasion, when lost again, I asked a family for help in the navigation department in my very best french.
“Ooh!” they grinned, realising immediately that I was a foreigner, “Are you English?”
“Oh thank God!” says I with great enthusiasm, “You’re the first Brits I’ve spoken to in fourteen days!” I wanted to hug them, kiss them, sit them down with a cup of tea and listen to their life story.
“Nah! We’re not English, we’re from Birmingham,” came the strong accent in response.
Right… Frankly I couldn’t care where they came from, as long as they could understand me and I could listen and understand them. It was a short lived conversation … I think my overly enthused neediness was perhaps a bit off-putting. Similar to when I try to chatter to the postman when he comes to the door, his eyes start to glaze over as he backs down the path. Perhaps I truly am just a needy individual.
However in the last few days I met someone who had been doing almost a parallel trip to me. A South African by birth, he said what he thought, without any filter, and with gusto. He called a spade a spade and swore like a trooper. A rather high powered physicist with a photographic memory, I did question the swearing, but he merely threw his head back, laughed like a drain and replied, “Frankly Katie, I don’t give a fuck!” I liked him enormously. But he too had been devoid of all conversation and despite being fluent in five languages, French was not one of them, so had even less of an opportunity for chatter. It hadn’t however stopped him from having an absolute ball. We then talked incessantly for three days and marvelled at the delights of having company, giggled over the best way to get in, out, and dressed in 6ft x 2ft x 2ft tent, and spoke endlessly about our ridiculous adventures. Laughter is truly good for the soul.
I am now back in the real world and find myself a slightly different creature. Having craved company, whilst I enjoy it, I enjoy it in moderation. No, that word that has never been a part of my life before and I welcome it and wonder if perhaps it might overflow into other areas of my life. There is always hope. I find that I now need a certain amount of solitude in which to block out the noise, the people, the endless nonsense which I find invades my mind and colours my mood. I can now control my own mood completely by myself which is new to me and very much welcomed, but external influences still can alter it. So partly for self preservation and partly because I simply enjoy it, I now ensure that I have time every day and every evening for a little solitude. Call it self care, call it indulgence, call it selfishness, as my South African friend says, “Frankly, I don’t give a f…k!”
What about you? Do you need solitude or do you loathe it? Do you control your own mood?
Only a few more days now until I cycle off into the sunset with husband dearest and two adoring sons waving their handkerchiefs with damp eyes, gazing desolately at my lonely departing figure …
Or perhaps not?
“Pub?” I hear them ask each other, grinning widely.
“Let’s go!” and they march off smartish towards the nearest ale-house without a single look back at yours truly.
I somehow suspect that the latter scenario is infinitely more probable than the former.
Bastards! Ahh but they can now ditch the salad, eat chips, finish all the expensive ice creams and with no one to keep them on the straight and narrow, when I return, will I find an empty larder and only a small green morsel of mouldy cheese staring back at me from the fridge? Will I find that they have all developed rickets and scurvy? .. And will there be three inches of dust on every half-empty pizza box and penicillin-growing mug-covered table? Will I find dirty laundry spilling over onto the floor and not in their colour-coordinated baskets? Quelle horreur! Interesting how I am more concerned about the laundry than the scurvy, but I digress… How will they cope without me?!
Sadly, I flatter myself. My husband as most of you know is a military man. He requires order, precision and tidiness. I believe that his ideal picture of a perfect home is the one in “The Sound of Music” where Captain von Trapp blows a whistle daily and the children rush into line for inspection. I have mentioned this to him in jest, but instead of poo-pooing my theory, quite worryingly he nods and agrees, muttering to himself as he disappears into the quiet of the study. He does however then put his head around the door to remind me that he is of higher rank than a captain. Quite …
So no, rather irritatingly, I suspect that the house will be sparkling, the larder will have been reorganised, my herb and spices cupboard (a very irksome place for him, that he is usually barred from) will have been cleaned and all those tiny pots and jars which are usually out of date will have been mostly disposed of and the remaining ones placed, yes placed not shoved, with their caps on properly in perfect alignment and in alphabetical order. There will be none of my little hair bands, lipsalves or hand creams left on any surfaces (or in the car, dammit) and my bedside table, usually covered with books, clocks, photographs, more hand creams, eye creams, frankly any creams to help keep old age at bay, will have had a major overhaul, aka it will have been tidied within an inch of its unfortunate and usually cluttered life.
Do I mind this? Of course not! He will feel extremely satisfied as he explains to me the benefits of keeping order and how tarragon should be to the left of thyme, and how folding my clothes at the end of the day and placing them on the chair is infinitely preferable to ripping them off, randomly throwing them ‘nilly-willy’ in the vague direction of the chair and bouncing into bed chattering to him happily and trying to convince him that some rose-scented cream would benefit the lines on his forehead. He will mutter something about them being stress-related from living with me, but within a few minutes I shall be fast asleep, curled up close to him and he will have some long-awaited peace and quiet. No wonder he enjoys going to work so much, and quite probably why he is maybe just a teensy bit looking forward to my imminent departure. Can’t understand it myself.
How do you cope when your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend goes away?
Do you throw yourself into a cleaning frenzy, party for 48 hours non-stop or go into a complete decline?
Time management is not my forte. In truth there is no management. I flit from one thought or task to another with extraordinary ease. I start something, bore easily, become distracted and like the proverbial butterfly, flutter away to something else. The end result? An over-filled brain of constant thoughts and ideas, and an awful lot of half-finished jobs.
An ex-boyfriend of mine (the same one who gave me the self-help book with post-it notes in the appropriate pages) told me that I was not a ‘Completer Finisher’. Apparently there is even a term for people like me! I finished with him pretty smartish so not quite sure he was entirely correct.
However, to contradict myself, from time to time I find something that I genuinely enjoy and lo and behold I become addicted. (If you know me well, alcohol may well spring to the forefront of your mind, but I was thinking of something more positive like, cycling perhaps.). I become obsessive about it and am completely driven and focused. This is all well and good if it’s a positive activity, not so much if it’s something like drinking alcohol, over-eating, under-eating, biting ones nails (having typed this, I now realise that I can lay claim to all of those). Once again, this rather reconfirms my out of kilter ability to moderate. Fair enough, my total lack of moderation.
My mother used to say, “A little of what you fancy does you good.” And yes she was right, but then again she wasn’t having to peel the wine bottle from my arms as I lay on the floor wailing. I do think however she wondered, and often despaired no doubt, as to why I hopped from one ghastly secretarial job to another. The answer, they bored me rigid.
People however have never bored me. I love talking (one on one, rather than in large groups … it’s a social anxiety thing). And most of all I love it when I meet someone whom I ‘click’ with. The problem is that I get terribly over-excited, want to scoop them up, take them home with me and force them to tell me their entire life history. Slightly strange I grant you and hardly surprising that I struggled socially in my youth. But I need interaction to other human beings, because otherwise I bore myself. And that is why I must go and get a job as soon as I’m back from my bicycling adventure. It’s when I try to engage the postman in some chatter and I can see his eyes glaze over as he backs nervously down the path, then I know that I have to get out more. I suspect he thinks I’m a complete fruitcake, but living in London I suspect, or rather hope, that I am not alone.
Online dating was enormous fun! Again lots of people to chatter to, but of course they were always utterly confused when after a lovely evening together and I had listened with enthusiasm to their various tales, I said, “Thanks awfully and super lovely to meet you, but we’re simply not a match! Toodle Pip!” And with a breezy smile I’d be gone, and they’d be left scratching their heads looking utterly baffled. You see, as a friend, they’re fabulous, but as a future husband, hopeless. By the time pudding had come along my mind was starting to wander, by coffee I was losing the will to live, so in order to find a lifetime partner (awful word, apologies) I was going to have to meet someone slightly extraordinary who kept me hooked, interested and completely on my toes. Thankfully for the male population of the counties of Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Hampshire, after four long years of searching, I found The Colonel and we are both as nightmarish as each other, so really it’s a match made in heaven.
So you see this butterfly behaviour when I lose interest, and obsessional behaviour when I find my passion, is really rather an extension of my lack of moderation. I do wish that I was normal, but there is a positive here ….
Whilst a lot of things will find me filled with ennui at the tedium of it all – paperwork, political debates, Post Office queues and quinoa (I don’t do ‘bland’ and that’s at the top of my list, along with semolina), I do have passions and they include … you. I adore my WordPress friends, my non-Wordpress friends, blogging, writing, reading, cycling, tennis, quirky people and crumpets with masses of butter and a tiny dot of marmite. You are all my passion, not just for the here and now, but if you can possibly tolerate me and I don’t bore you senseless, then I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. Sorry about that …
Do you have a passion? Do you bore easily or are you disciplined and finish tasks?
I am one of those strange creatures in life who doesn’t just have a minor deficiency when it comes to the trait of moderation; rather, it doesn’t exist whatsoever.
On a positive note, as obviously there has to be one, (I am nothing if not eternally hopeful) what it does mean is that we non-moderators are full of passion. We are ones of extremes. There is no soft diffusing button, melting polars into each other. It is one or the other.
When we love, it is with intensity. God help those on the receiving end. They should be given a manual on how to cope. But when we hate, we loathe with an intensity second to none. I’m beginning to understand why as a little girl I found finding friends so difficult.
Whatever relationship we have, be it with another human being or even something as simple as food or drink, (yes I’m going there), it is extreme.
For example a fellow blogger (you know who you are) has a complete passion for ice cream, a certain flavoured ice cream I seem to recall, my love however is ginger nut biscuits. Put a packet in front of me and whoosh! They’re gone. The problem is that being so crunchy, it’s not something that can be quietly nibbled on whilst watching the telly. Unless, like in the cinema you wait until there’s a particularly noisy scene and then munch like crazy before it all goes suddenly quiet again and you’re caught out with a mouthful of half crunched crisps or biscuits going slightly soggy in your mouth but determined not to ruin everyones viewing within six feet. Tricky.
Sadly, I have little self control in this area. If I am on my own and therefore decorum can be eased somewhat, I don’t nibble delicately, I guzzle. Not ladylike I am fully aware, but I can promise you that I will never do this in your company.
But is this just a lack of self control? Of discipline? How did we miss out on this important piece of learning? (Clearly I was smoking in the woods at school during this particular lesson.). If we had an ounce more restraint perhaps. A little composure and grace.
After all, let’s throw a little philosophy into the mix to enhance the point, isn’t temperance one of the four cardinal virtues? In ‘The Republic’ Plato (bear with me here …) narrates a discussion of the character of a good city which included temperance which he said was ‘common to all classes, but primarily associated with the producing classes, the farmers and craftsmen and with animal appetites to whom no special virtue was assigned.’ Does he mean that we craftsmen with animal appetites have temperance or simply need to have it … If Pluto speaks of it, then it must be true. How extraordinary though! Am I a ‘producing class’ ie ‘working class’? From reading Jilly Cooper’s book ‘Class’, I would very much have put myself down as middle class, so I’m now rather torn between believing Plato or Jilly. What a conundrum.
May I continue? Drinking … Once I developed a taste for it, frankly it was all over. Thankfully it wasn’t (apart from my totally off-the-rails stage late teens) until I was in my mid-forties that alcohol became less of a friend and more of a naughty, somewhat addictive lover. Again, rather less Jane Austin’s even raciest moments, and more Fifty Shades of Grey.
But of course somewhat predictably, I always take things to the farthermost point and suddenly discovered what had previously been a way of relaxing the body and mind at the end of the day, had become a serious problem. I suspect some of you can relate to that. By that stage of course there is a fairly acute issue to deal with.
Smoking … I’m not even going to bother going there .. It’s a constant and pathetically boring battle of mine of always wanting, but never allowed. I shall continue to stamp my feet and have a tantrum.
Happiness and/or sadness. No, that’s much too vanilla for the likes of us. It’s either pure unadulterated, unmitigated and all-consuming ecstasy or I’m researching how painful it is to die in various ‘formats’ and googling Dignitas. I write not with humour at this point.
Sport. We don’t do a gentle jog around the park, a lighthearted game of tennis or a cycle ride for twenty minutes in the middle gears. Pah! Of course not. We push ourselves to our utmost and ultimate limits. We need and feed off that feeling of intensity. So, that gentle jog results in marathons being completed, a course of tennis lessons ends in daily three hour practice sessions followed by competitions, and a bit of a cycle pootle results in foolhardy trips from north to southern France (I had to get that in didn’t I …)
The list however is endless and a lack of moderation seeps into every aspect of our lives. From levels of anxiety and depression, to anger, OCD, to social media and how we deal or don’t deal with it … on and on and bloody on.
For we non-moderators, life exists at each end of the spectrum and then some. Our minds are frenetic and often filled with dozens of thoughts racing around and we struggle to find which ones to put into action and which to ignore … It’s like running from the North Pole to the South, daily. Sparkly and glittering one day, damp, dark and depressing the next. And because we put our heart, soul and body into everything we do and think and say, perhaps it is hardly surprising that we feel the need for acknowledgment and even praise for our extreme efforts. Therefore we can be needy and demanding. Attractive qualities? No, probably not. It is however completely and utterly exhausting.
But where we lack middle ground, we make up for in other ways. You could never find a better friend. You could never find a person with more dedication for their chosen subject, person or sport. You will be loved with intensity and if you are married to us, then we will make love to you with unsurpassed passion. We are filled with the utmost emotions of joy, excitement, laughter and love.
Fear not, it is just our way. And if, if you should find us not too strange, unhinged, a little too erratic, and choose to accept us for the extraordinary creatures that we are, (perhaps sometimes very gently reminding us to be calm) and return our love, you would be hard pushed to find a more grateful, more loving recipient.
Do you know anyone like this, or is it in fact you?
When I was young, I used to think gardening was for old people. I also used to think that cricket was dull (No I daren’t mention football). Well, cricket for me is still quite dull, but being undoubtedly in the minority I concede that I just might be wrong. And as for gardening being for old people, well I’m so far off course with that opinion that I’m heading to the Bermuda Triangle, never to be seen again. So please don’t shoot me down just yet. The ignorance of my youth was pretty blissful, but as you know, I am now a new woman and learning every day.
I used to watch my mother pottering around her gardens dead-heading here, staking there, looking as pretty as a picture and so very, very content. At peace with the world. I try to emulate her, starting off with Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, a large floppy hat, flippy floppy skirt and a rather twee trug, until I’ve done my usual and got a little overexcited and started tree pruning or digging in manure with over enthusiastic gusto and before too long the skirt is hitched up into my knickers, I’m pink in the face and all sense of glamour and grace have disappeared into the compost heap most probably along with the hat. Quite how my mother managed it I shall never know.
But a couple of things I do know are this …
Studying for those RHS (Royal Horticultural Society for non-gardeners) exams was the probably the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Perhaps because it was something that I was actually interested in, rather than studying algebra, trigonometry and …. binary (what exactly is the purpose of binary?) at school. Maths and I never got along and indeed still have a fairly tenuous relationship. Learning about something however that lives all around us and keeps us alive is so relevant, so important that even the narcissist in the old me cannot help but be in awe of mother nature.
And finally, gardening is the best cure for anxiety and depression todate that I have come across. It would be inconceivable to find me upended in a herbaceous border crying into the perennial geraniums, I’d be too busy gazing into their cheery little faces of pinks and purples. And how can I possibly be anxious when my entire focus is to pull out weeds and deadhead the roses … it takes complete concentration and as we all now know, I simply cannot multitask.
Also, and as an aside, being in the sunlight … did you know that normal sitting room lighting gives you 100 lux, whereas being outside on a sunny day gives you between 20,000 and 200,000 lux! And we wonder why we feel better after a day outside. Plus there’s the exercise … think endorphins and dopamine, and finally that wonderful feeling of satisfaction. Of a job well done.
So even though we have a postage stamp of a garden in our military quarter, there’s still room for some flowers and pots and whilst I don’t think that Wandsworth Borough Council would appreciate my attempts at tree pruning, I see no reason to do a bit of digging, planting and pruning, if not to look glamorous with our Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, but at least to perhaps find a little peace within the world and most importantly, within ourselves.
Do you have a garden, balcony or a windowsill with pots? What do you grow?
Monday morning and back in saddle again. (Nb for new readers, this relates to the bicycle saddle rather than any association to the equine variety.) But this time it was tougher. Cold, windy, a little rain, a bad attitude and a poor choice of route led me to stop and have a little ponder on what on earth was going on with my mood.
Now, in the old days, I’d have gone into a complete decline, had a minor (ok, major) spoilt brat tantrum usually involving tears (to show someone, anyone who would listen to how utterly ghastly I was feeling and to justify my impending surrender), said “Sod this for a fun game of soldiers” and given up.
Instant relief would follow toute de suite and I would shamefully pretend to ignore the disappointed look on everyone’s face.
Sadly, that little voice in the back of my mind whispering, “You shouldn’t give up when the going gets tough!” gradually became quieter and quieter as the habit of giving up became so strong that it was now the default setting, until I simply couldn’t hear it and even if I could, I would choose to ignore it. It’s incredible how quickly a bad habit can grow.
So here we are, a grown woman, with a raison d’etre to better myself, standing miserably by the side of a busy road, alone, cold, tired and a trickle of rain disappearing down the back of my neck and ending up somewhat uncomfortably in my knickers … Marvellous.
However, with the fearsome prospect of bicycling the length of France, not always necessarily in glorious sunshine with a boulangerie at the next corner and a delicious Frenchman’s shoulder to sob upon, I realise that the new me is indeed made of stronger stuff and I am trying a new tack, and tentatively refusing to fall back upon the default setting of giving up.
So, I delve deep, find my inner grown-up and give myself a stern talking to. This, in simple terms involves some fruity language and the promise of a hot chocolate tout bloomin’ suite.
Oh, and next time, to remember that this is England, so take a waterproof. (Prior preparation prevents piss poor performance …. ahhh yes, there’s a soldier in me yet).
Changing my route and heading away from the dual carriageway and within five minutes I discover that there truly is a God. Who’d have known that they have invented a drive-thru Krispy Creme doughnuts shop just for me! Well hallelujah!
Twenty minutes later, dried out and warm, filled with soft, sweet heavenly doughnuts, (very plural and no I’m not saying how many), a coffee and a route infinitely better than cycling alongside a dual carriageway, I find myself charging along with a smile on my face confident in the knowledge that I’ll have burned off the 4 million calories I’ve just consumed super-toute-de-suite and all is once again well in the world. A bit of behaviour management and a stern talking to and I’m tickedy-boo. Perhaps Krispy Creme had a marginal impact, but really I’m not that simple … ok, maybe …
What do you do when your mood drops?? Do you give into it? (Truth please!) Or do you have a secret weapon or doughnut up your sleeve?
Like the rest of us, I sometimes daydream about winning the lottery … Errrr, don’t we all?
The thought of spending summers on a boat floating around tropical islands whilst a wonderful lady paints my nails as I stand at the wheel with The Colonel beside me sipping champagne gazing adoringly up at me. (Actually the wonderful lady shouldn’t be overly wonderful or beautiful for that matter, let’s not give the Colonel too much to gaze at … let’s give her facial hair, spots and an unusual dental arrangement for starters) … The winters, spent sitting beside a roaring fire writing best-selling books in a huge chalet in Verbier with yet more champagne, a year’s supply of ginger nuts and enough fit (male) ski instructors to get even me looking vaguely elegant on the slopes. (In retrospect, make that two years’ supply of ginger nuts) … Ahhh, what a glorious life it would be!
They say money isn’t everything (Pah! Ok, it’s true) but they also say it’s easier to cry in the back of a Mercedes than on a bicycle and that I do agree with.
So back to reality with a backbreaking thump …. what do we all wish for that will give us happiness?
Life has a funny old way of throwing things in our paths however, determined to try to floor us, or at least postpone our progress, and often just when things are tootling along on their merry way, something is tossed with force unexpectedly before us.
Sadly, for me, it is rarely a lottery win. In fact, the little ‘presents’ that appear tend to be the bad stuff. Usually related to health and death. And we grieve and we struggle and then when it starts to vaguely diminish, we find that in actual fact, “normal” is good. Normal is ok. Normal, our natural default setting, is actually fine, anything rather than being in the depths of despair and depression, is frankly fine.
But, if we wanted more than just normal, more of the good things from life, how do we go about it? I don’t mean to sound overly greedy and it is inevitable that bad things will happen from time to time, but what about having some good things to help counteract them. To act as a balance. To fall back on when the ‘shit hits the fan’.
How do we persuade “life” to throw us a few good packages? Well, we could spend all our hard earned cash on lottery tickets. We could also just sit and gaze out of the window and dream a lot and hope that Prince Charming himself will appear up the stairs of our top floor one bedroom flat on his gallant steed, but the likelihood of that is slim at best, even in my unhinged, erratic mind. So, what to do?
In my mind, the best way forward is to be a “Yes” person rather than a “No” person (kindly read Are You a “Yes” or a “No” Person? for further details!). By this, what I mean is that I for one, have to resist daily the temptation to sit and gaze out of the window and find excuses not to do something, (oh, believe you me, I can find an excuse for everything!) and be proactive (ghastly word, apologies) and get off my wobbly skinny arse, say “Yes!” and actually do something!
Those two words always remind me of Dick Dastardly shouting at his dog Muttley, (if you haven’t a clue what I’m talking about then you’re too young you lucky thing so you have that advantage over me already!) “MUTTLEY!! DO SOMETHING!!” he would shout, although Muttley usually demanded a medal for doing so … Now chances are, you won’t receive a medal this time, or even next, but it’s odd isn’t it how those people who are successful in life tend to be the ones who it turns out have been trying and practising their craft for years upon years and yet we had never heard of them until ooooh I don’t know, a character called Harry Potter suddenly becomes a worldwide phenomenon. Funny that.
So my point is this, surely if we believe that mathematical formula relating to probability, if we keep trying, keep learning, keep working, keep being a “Yes” person and giving it our all, eventually good will come of it.
In fairness, this may not result in a yacht in the Bahamas or a chalet in Verbier. It may however result in an alcoholic giving up the booze once and for all, a sufferer of depression finding a way of living in peace, a lover of flowers owning his or her own flower shop, a blogger having his book published or an idiot like me simply bicycling from the top to the (not quite) bottom of France on a bike called Claude. It won’t earn me a medal like Muttley, or a chalet in Verbier, but it’s a personal challenge and might improve the old muscles in the thigh and bottom region …
Whatever the goal, whatever the dream, and despite whatever is thrown in our paths, let’s be a “Yes” person, make the dream a reality and attack life with gusto, passion and a smattering of hope. Try, try and try again. After all, with any experience that we undertake, if we succeed, we will gain confidence and go on to even greater things, and if we fail, then we gain that wonderful quality, wisdom.
And in my mind there are worse things in life than being a wise old bird with a wobbly arse and a twin pack of ginger nuts in her bicycle basket.
Are You a “Yes” or a “No” person? What is your dream, your goal in your life?
Yesterday’s little jaunt of 18.3km and not a centimetre less my thighs are telling me this morning, was an interesting learning curve on the etiquette of cyclists.
It turns out that my peddling companions are, once squeezed into their Lycra, helmet on and fearsome black glasses stretched across their faces are the two-wheeled equivalent to the white van driver, or for those who have not encountered our congested British roads and it’s drivers, that person who sits incognito behind a computer screen making foul remarks on social media knowing that they will never have to reveal their true identity.
You may call me harsh, but an hour or two daily around the streets of London and through the parks for the past three weeks has taught me that they’re a competitive bunch, who have no idea of personal space, cycling side-by-side, ignoring the designated cycle lanes, chattering obliviously with their fellow cyclists, upsetting even the most docile natured drivers and never saying thank you by means of a teensy little hand wiggle or nod when someone actually gives them a wide berth. Pah! Such rudeness!
However, I will admit, that whilst writing in fury, I’m generalising somewhat … but I write what I see, every single day.
There was however a very nice chap at the lights whom I asked advice from about where I should be positioned in the road at a particularly tricky junction … he replied, “No clue, just cycle fast and straight and everyone will get out of your way, mostly.” It was the “mostly” that concerned me, so I wobbled to the pavement, pretended to look at my map, and when the road was completely empty continued on my merry way.
Through Richmond Park I pedalled like fury, sadly overtaken by every other cyclist, most irritatingly by a young lad and his companion, an elderly man who I can only presume was his his great, great grandfather … it’s just like skiing, having the little blighters shoot past you with a whoosh of snow as I bellow at them to give me some fucking space. (Sorry about that, just thinking about it gets me reaching for my happy pills and a glug of Bach’s Rescue Remedy.)
I did at one particularly low point see a most capable (and enormous) man dressed in rather fetching red and white Lycra with a large cross on his back, and feeling safer being close to a Red Cross worker (or in my mind, a paramedic), tried even harder to keep up with him. No joy I’m afraid, and as I realised whilst watching his rather muscular bottom disappearing up the hill in front of me, he was in fact a professional Swiss team competitor … in training. I really must work on my flag recognition.
So I arrived back at home yesterday feeling slightly despondent to see the Colonel had been organising and tidying the garage again. If he found evidence of my recent shopping expedition by way of a few rather nice shoe boxes, he didn’t pass comment. He did however give me a rather lecherous look and despite my being disgustingly hot, sweaty and a tad grumpy went in for a kiss … my response, “Quite frankly, on yer bloody bike mate.” I thought that was quite witty, his forlorn face said otherwise.
Today will be a better day ….
How do you rate drivers and cyclists in your neck of the woods?
One of my indulgences in life is not to have a personal trainer, a dietitian or haircuts every six weeks, but to once a year, employ an accountant. Not quite so glamorous and perhaps not quite what you were expecting, but I’m nothing if not practical. My justification of this ‘indulgence’ is simply based on the fact that I don’t have Sky Tv or Netflix, go for regular massages, manicures, pedicures or any other types of cures.
You see, I feel no shame in not spending six hours of my sodding life trying to fill out a sodding tax form that I don’t sodding like, don’t understand, is badly worded and each and every times results in tears, tantrums, a minimum of two phone calls to the bank and four phone calls to the tax office helpline which takes, oh yes, a minimum of 20 minutes to get through before you can actually speak to an actual human being.
(And breathe) …… I’m sure you understand.
The last time I did a tax return, I finally had to beg the unfortunate man to stay on the phone whilst he and I filled out the last four pages of the form together which probably accounts for why it takes 20 minutes to get through to a person in the first place … because of people like me, but I’m guessing therefore that I’m not alone in doing this.
So now I have the lovely James. The lovely blue-eyed, twinkly-eyed James, whom, with his wife, has the perfect set-up of a life together in a beautiful riverside village not far from London where in their garden beside the swimming pool is a little cream painted wooden office where their employees come in each morning and presumably James and his wife simply tumble out of bed and head through the garden to their little office, via the pool, clutching a hopefully not too soggy piece of toast and begin their day. It’s all rather idyllic in my mind, and frankly as James always looks rather chirpy, I’m guessing I’m not too far off the mark.
So, suffice to say for the last few years James has been doing all the hard work for me and I now simply telephone him with the figures, send him a cheque and he does the rest. The result, I don’t have to battle with the tax office, make endless phone calls, cry, behave like a brat, and James does it in a nanosecond, happily receives my cheque and then goes for a lovely swim in his beautiful pool. Win, win I’d say.
With my various anxiety issues (yawn) I still intensely dislike making telephone calls and naturally therefore procrastinate telephoning even the lovely James, but this year we were getting dangerously close to the deadline so needs must, and I thought happy thoughts and dialled his number.
Now usually once I’ve bitten the bullet and made a call, I wonder what all my fuss was about and berate myself for having procrastinated, but this time James was offhand and cold. I’d even go so far as to say verging on rude. I was upset. I was irritated. I only want kind, gentle people in my life otherwise my demons (aka Betty) start paying me a visit, and she is not the sort of visitor anyone wants knocking on their door.
I therefore, being overly sensitive, took James’ coldness to heart and then somewhat predictably to the absolute extreme, as is my default setting, and vowed that next year if I was going to pay someone to help with the finances I’d darn well pay someone who was going to be gentle, friendly, ask me how my day was and generally smooth my naturally ruffled feathers, (clearly no doubt that I really can be quite the spoilt princess) rather than someone leaving me feeling more anxious than usual and as though I had done something wrong, upset him, not asked him enough about his wife …. “Manners maketh man James” I wanted to remind him. I’m glad I didn’t.
I received an email a month later. James was dead.
Apparently only a few days prior to my speaking to him, he had been diagnosed with a brutal type of cancer, had a couple of weeks later gone in for surgery, and a few days following that, died from septicaemia.
I am ashamed to admit that at the age of 48 I still hadn’t learned to put aside my own self-obsessed thoughts and instead think and ask if he, James, was ok during that strange and final telephone call, rather than to focus, yet again on myself, my own feelings and me. Yes, me, me, me. I’m so, so sorry that I never stopped to think for a moment and ask.
We just never know what someone else is truly going through, do we?
London is bathed in the comforting warmth of the spring sun and whilst the pavements are a multitude of light and dark stretched and tangled streaks from the dappled shade of the budding trees, the air is still. My son and I are walking towards another coffee shop to find somewhere to tap away the rambling nonsense which fills the fluffy void between my ears; I am feeling a wonderful sense of being able to breathe and relax and enjoy just this very moment in time.
The world isn’t perfect, parts of my past are black and painful, the future is of course unknown and yet …. and yet … at this moment I feel happy. I am loathe to point out the stain on my character for all and sundry to see, however, I must confess that it’s odd to feel happy when my default setting is the polar opposite.
“Hardships there are but the land is green and the sun shineth”
(As stated in the government Ministry Paper 28 relating to the Jamaican flag.)
The gold recalls the shining sun, black reflects hardships, and green represents the land. It was slightly altered in 1996, but for me, the simplicity of this statement sums up my state of mind … yes, there are hardships and troubles to endure, but the world is good right now and the future I hope is as rosy as it can be.
And what of you? Is your mind akin to the Jamaican flag or am I just barking mad?
Ooooh! Advice to anyone …. when your husband is just a teensy bit tipsy, starts telling you how much he loves you and suggests a romantic weekend away, say yes and start packing.
Which is how I now come to be in the most glorious hotel overlooking the snow-covered Cairngorms with a bed that could fit an entire family plus a couple of dogs, and a bathroom to die for. I’m writing this, The Colonel is watching the rugby … can things get any better?
But what about the anxiety? Did I stress about leaving the house, hiding the silver in the fridge, the potato basket and the wellington boots (until the Colonel thought we should bring them with us, so I had to empty them again … I managed to ignore his raised eyebrows and twitching mouth this time). Did I stress about the fridge freezer setting fire, or have to go and check three times that the front and back doors were closed, locked and double bolted? Did I worry that I’d forget to pack something of vital importance and then have to drive back, collect it and go through all the door closing, locking and double bolting three times more?
Well, I certainly thought about these things, but I know a good opportunity when I see one and the best thing was that I had no time to stress. I didn’t have days and days for the thoughts to fester and grow in my mind in a downward spiral until I’d be dreading the event. Because to be honest, that’s what usually happens. Actually, it’s what always happens. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened when we last went away … too much time to think about it all, and whoosh! My mind went on a fictional nightmare of an adventure of its own.
To make matters even better, we went via Edinburgh with its stunning castle, cobbled streets and abundance of cashmere and tweed shops. I’m afraid the shallow side of me took over, the shops won, the tourists were pushed aside and I am now the proud owner of a discounted cashmere cardigan and a half price stunning, yes darn stunning, tweed, fitted, just above the knee coat! Sod anxiety …. bring on the shopping.
I tend to be a very nervous passenger in the car … the hangover from a nasty accident in the late ’80’s. I have a tendency to shriek rather a lot and put my hands over my eyes. Apparently it’s rather off putting to the driver.
The drive north from Edinburgh however was glorious. The vast and bleak open hills and spaces, barren and devoid of the softening effect of any trees. It looks so inhospitable, almost frightening. They’re exposed and raw without a single nook or cranny in which to hide from the biting winds and harsh weather. It’s no wonder that nothing but the toughest of plants grow here, and any that do grow, grow low, low to protect themselves.
The roads are narrow and twisting and from the great heights we then drop down into the forests. Within the endless dense forests, the ground is a mass of thick leaf litter and pine needles and there are rocky streams meandering through. From time to time we pass tiny villages and hamlets with houses all built of the same solid thick stone with slate roofs and chimneys spiralling smoke. Mossy stone walls follow the roads with occasional stone pillars and lodges indicating the entrance to yet another vast estate. I try to look down the driveways, but they’re miles long and hidden from sight from nosy southerners like myself.
The people who live here are miles and miles from anywhere. It’s remote and they’re tough. I wonder whether they suffer from anxiety or whether they have more important things to worry about, like if the sheep are lambing and stuck in snowdrifts, or whether the generator will work properly when the electricity fails again. Perhaps they worry about how much food they have stored in their larders, but somehow I suspect that their log stores are full, the larders are bursting and the fires permanently lit.
Perhaps I need to get things just a teensy bit into perspective and stop worrying as to whether an axe-wielding thief is going to break into the house, rifle through the potatoes, find the silver and set fire to the house, and instead spend more time in this beautiful place and get filling my larder and log store and frankly write a book. Bet I wouldn’t have quite so much to stress about then, and if it all gets too much, I can put on my lovely new tweed coat and stroke my discounted cashmere cardigan. Bliss!
So, in just over a fortnight we’re moving from Scotland to London. Bearing in mind how very little I expected from our two year jaunt to Scotland, I am surprised by how emotional I feel. Because you see, I’ve made friends. Lots of lovely friends who seem to just like me for who I am, quirks and all.
My lovely tennis friends, who laugh when I squeal, shriek and roar with laughter at my own inadequacies. Who tease me mercilessly when I shiver on court and complain of the freezing Scottish weather as they go swimming in the outdoor pool whilst it’s raining, again. Those friends who teach me little Scottish words, usually relating to hangovers and bad language, and who translate for me when I look blankly at them, once again not understanding their accents.
We sit and have coffee together, we share stories, we laugh and chatter for hours. We put the world to rights, yet nobody dominates, we take it in turns. There’s a thirty year age gap between us and it doesn’t matter a hoot. Yes, I shall miss my friends.
I won’t miss the weather and the darkness. In winter the sun barely peeks over the trees on the horizon, but to the north I can see beyond the city to the Campsie Fells, which are beautiful hills, covered in snow. Sometimes the evening light catches them and they glow a warm peachy golden. But the rain and the cold. I won’t miss either.
The people here talk, a lot. A trip to the post office takes twenty minutes because everyone likes to chatter and natter. They are friendly and open. Yesterday the supermarket lady and I spent a good ten minutes discussing her allergy to nuts and bowel issues. I’m glad the Colonel wasn’t there, he’s not really very keen on discussing intimate subjects, particularly with a complete stranger. In London if you smile at a stranger you’re likely to be shunned, in Scotland, embraced. Yes, I shall miss the people.
And I shall miss the beautiful park, just around the corner. With its lake, river, waterfalls, woods and endless paths. Where you will find every marvellous breed of dog and every person who loves just to be out in the rain or occasional shine. People stop, chat, talk about their dogs or simply stand and watch the elegant swans and cygnets who grace the lake. It’s my happy place and yes, I shall miss it too.
The ironic thing is that it is only three years on Tuesday since my mother died, and whilst I think of her every day, I do wonder …. you see, she was here as a child through to her early twenties. I wonder if she has been to some of the places that I visit and I wish I could tell her now about my life here and more importantly listen to hers. I don’t just miss my mother, I long for her, I absolutely long for her.
There are some things about myself that I genuinely don’t like. Actually I wouldn’t blame anyone else for not liking these traits much either. Does that mean that I’m not a likeable person? I don’t know. In a similar vein, if someone does one bad thing to another, does that make them a bad person? Likewise, I don’t know the answer to that.
But back to the point – The hated trait is my ‘over awareness’. Particularly of other people. I’ve already spoken I think of my over sensitivity so maybe this is much of the same thing.
The fact of the matter is that there is another family here who is irritating me beyond belief. My children don’t seem to have noticed them, and even if the Colonel has, which I doubt, I suspect it’s simply because the mother of said family is (even in my moment of negativity) quite a good looking woman. Foxy is probably how he’d describe her.
The irritating thing is that whilst they’re most probably perfectly lovely, they are just so loud, oblivious, and unaware of everyone else around them. Oh it’s all coming out now isn’t it? My faults and foibles, and there you all were thinking what a nice English lady she appeared to be … well, clearly not and I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry, because you see, I don’t like these horrible traits of mine either. But how on earth do I stop them? How do I ignore people?
Why am I so judgemental? Why does it matter if they have loud conversations across an otherwise silent, yet full room, whilst their iPads and phones fight each other for volume, have their feet up on the tables and chairs and wear their pyjamas in the main sitting room? Why does it matter if the squabbles between themselves are audible for all and sundry to hear? Why does it matter if they wander around in bare feet as though they are at home and then pick at their toes in front of me? Why does it matter that the mother has a continual habit of snorting and coughing up enough phlegm to warrant the opening of a handkerchief factory, but then swallows it with a resounding, “Ahhh!” for all to hear?
Why the heck should any of this matter to me? Why am I such a irritable old fun-sponge? Am I really already a classically grumpy old woman? Yes, I believe I am. I am the female equivalent of Victor Meldrew, the fictional character in the BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave. Yes, I am indeed Victor’s twin sister and therefore as old (he must be approaching 80 …).
Why can I not just switch off and be immune to it and more importantly, why am I like this?
And therein lies the problem … As a child I was taught that children should be seen and not heard, we should be considerate to everyone, never ‘make a scene’ or unnecessarily draw attention to oneself. We must be kind and polite to all and help little old ladies across the road, even if they don’t want to cross. Manners maketh Man and all that.
(Oh God, she’s just snorted again … and, yup, again, followed by another “Ahhh”. I now want to bludgeon her. Noooo, I must think calm, happy thoughts. Think of fluffy bunnies and arghhhhh! She’s done it again! For God’s sake.)
Frankly (and apologies in advance for the language now), but frankly bollocks to it all. Maybe that’s why I’m such a people pleaser, maybe that’s why I was such a doormat to my first husband. I was living a 1950’s perfect little housewife dream who wouldn’t say boo to a goose.
(Yet more snorting … would it be rude to offer her a handkerchief? But she’s having a FaceTime call with her sister now and the children are all joining in, so I daresay it would be impolite of me to interrupt.)
Maybe I’m actually just jealous … maybe I secretly want to drag and slide my feet with every step across the floor, let my children wipe their noses on their sleeves, and pick at their toes in public. Maybe I secretly long for that laissez faire attitude to life.
So maybe I’m not only over aware, over sensitive, intolerant, judgemental, a rotten skier, but I’m also jealous. Flipping marvellous.
The solution … apart from whining to you all (again, I am sorry … although you’ve probably stopped reading by now anyway), I think the best course of action is either to put on my headphones to block out the sound or alternatively to ditch the headphones, turn up the volume, snort, pick my toes, then my nose and take the philosophy that if you can’t beat them, join them. Think I might be a rebel and do the latter. 😧
I once had a garden in Oxfordshire, England. Sincere apologies if I’m sounding like Meryl Streep in Out of Africa … ‘I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills’. Somehow it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, and I certainly don’t see Robert Redford kicking around here ….
However, in my garden, I discovered that digging up potatoes is like finding buried treasure, rather exciting. Picking beans (before the dog has sniffed them out) is total satisfaction, and the monotony of shelling peas is absolute therapy (mindfulness I think it’s now called).
Now, it strikes me that these are some of the normal everyday tasks that our grandparents used to do … did they suffer from anxiety and depression? Did they have the same levels of diabetes and obesity that our generation suffers? Did they hand their child in the supermarket a packet of crisps and their phone to play on, in order to stop the tantrum? I don’t think so somehow …
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they had it easy in any way, shape or form particularly with the advances in medicine as an example, but surely there’s some form of halfway house to be had?
They did the washing without the help of a washing machine, they cooked without blenders and microwaves, they cleaned without hoovers and spray polish, they wrote, read and enjoyed handwritten letters. Everything took time, and effort and patience was the norm and absolutely necessary.
No online food deliveries or factory-made meals with ingredients defined by letters and numbers and more often than not, ending in ‘phosphate’. What exactly is disodium diphosphate anyway? Some sort of raising agent … what’s wrong with an egg from a happy chicken. I’m on a roll now, warming to my theme .. does anyone actually know what partially inverted refiners syrup is? Apparently it’s in my ginger nuts. And no, I don’t really want to know, I’m just having a rant on my soapbox.
Perhaps I’m simply feeling a little nostalgic for an era of which I only know snippets of, from what has been passed down through the generations. Perhaps I crave some simplicity in my life to help me. Perhaps I crave some digging up of potatoes, weeding the beds, working up a sweat and doing these things that we now call mindfulness, but in those days was just called life. Perhaps I simply crave my garden … not at the foot of the Ngong Hills, just my little simple garden in England.
As time passes, I’m beginning to understand myself better. Seems faintly tragic that it’s taken 48 years, however the more I understand, the easier life becomes. I’ve learnt what to add into my life and what to avoid like the plague. Bit like a cake recipe really … add another egg for more lift and va va voom and less syrup and treacle to make it lethargically stodgy and sink like a stone. Yes, I am indeed, a cake (hopefully chocolate).
I’m discovering the things I like, loathe, need and most definitely don’t need in my life. I’ve also realised that there are some things that I’m hugely sensitive to … but what I’m understanding is that I’m not alone! Thank the Lord … I just thought I was a bit odd. To specify …
I loathe loud or sudden noises (sudden and loud and I’ve been known to turn feral) …. Many years ago my children thought it would be highly amusing to jump out at me from hiding in the airing cupboard, resulting in ‘yours truly’ screaming with true gusto, roaring that they were out of The Will and promptly bursting into tears. They’ve never done it again. Poor little buggers …. I had to apologise more than they did. The Colonel also knows that on entering a room he is far better gently singing Ave Maria in soothing tones than announcing his arrival with any form of unanticipated volume.
I love bonfires. I could stare into a fire for hours, feeling the heat. For me it’s as soothing as listening to water, but without the consequence of desperately needing a tiddle. (In case that’s just an English thing, it means a wee!). I find it wonderfully calming.
In terms of needs, I need to just sometimes remember that I do have to have downtime, me time, time out, whatever you want to call it, but I need to be able to just to take a breath, and check up on myself. To ask myself, “What have I done for my mental health today?” I need a little bit of care and occasionally to treat myself like Dresden China.
And as for what I definitely don’t need in my life …. I don’t need bad people. Narcissists, liars and unkind people (who tend to be desperately insecure I’ve found). I did a bit of ‘culling’ of friends on Facebook last year … terribly therapeutic once I’d stopped feeling guilty.
I’m sure that this is fairly simplistic, but in truth, that’s me. Simple. So in summary, I believe that I shall add more fires to my life, have the occasional massage (can I put that down as ‘me time’ or am I pushing this a bit?), wear ear muffs on bonfire night and ditch anyone who isn’t genuinely lovely, gorgeous and reckons that adding a few of these ‘eggs to ones cake’ is not weird, but absolutely necessary.
We know, because we’ve had it rammed down our throats by well-meaning friends, family and professionals what we should be doing every day.
We know we should be exercising, getting outside, eating properly, keeping busy, taking our meds, seeing our therapist, doing yoga and meditation. We know that we should not be drinking too much, not procrastinating, not overthinking, not hiding in our beds waiting to feel better, waiting for the exhaustion, panic and anxiety to fade. Frankly I’m panicking just thinking about it all.
But these are just words, words that are so easy to say and yet with these endless lists of things that we should and shouldn’t be doing it’s no surprise that it all becomes overwhelming, anxiety sets in followed hot on the heels of procrastination and what then happens? Zip, nothing, nada. Back to square one on the Snakes and Ladders board again. See post Snakes and Ladders.
Frankly …… Arghhhhh!
Now apparently, the current worlds strongest man is a British fellow called Eddie Hall. He is the only man able to deadlift 500kg under strongman rules. I have no clue what the rules are, and frankly I don’t give a stuff, because that’s half a bloomin’ ton … That’s lifting up a horse or a cow with two hands.
An incredible feat! This surely shows how strong the body can be, but also how mind-blowingly more powerful the mind actually is. His body was screaming at him, but his mind overruled it. (Until he had a nosebleed and passed out, but that’s beside the point!)My point to this is that when a wee Eddie popped into this world, I daresay his mother had no idea that in 30 years time her son would be picking up the equivalent of an Angus Cow for pleasure. But more importantly, he wouldn’t have been able to have done this the moment he appeared. His physical and mental ability has taken years to grow and perfect. He started out small. He learned what his limits were, he worked, he strived, he increased his limits both mentally and physically.
And that’s absolutely no different to us!
We start with baby steps. Steps so small they’re akin to a little hamster. Yes, I’m warming to my theme …. Hamster steps, a little scuttle here, a little scuttle there. A stop, a twitch the nose (not strictly necessary), a little regroup to evaluate where we’re at, a look around, and then off to do another little scuttle.
And we grow. And our scuttling becomes more confident. We start to walk. We start to walk with our head held high. We stride. And we grow braver, bigger and stronger and able to do more and more, just like Eddie Hall. We practise, we work, sometimes we fail, but we just get back up and try again. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but someone somewhere had to start laying the initial few stones.
So remember when you’re taking those first little baby steps, that once upon a time our mate Eddie Hall, the World’s Strongest Man, was once just like us, a teeny little nose-twitching frightened hamster.
Yesterday something completely new, novel and rather bizarre happened. I certainly don’t want to jump the gun, count my chickens before they’ve hatched or continue spurting any other idioms for that matter, but I’m nervously excited. Little butterflies of trepidation fluttering inside me ….
Please forgive the very basic simplicity of this, but this is the level that I’m at right now! But I am wondering if anyone out there (she ask hopefully) has similar thought processes …
The Situation aka The Fact
No clean socks in the drawer for sport.
Previous/Usual Thought Processes and Actions
Panic and stress, leading to upending all the other drawers in case sports socks have walked by themselves into t-shirt or knicker drawer. Heart racing. Mental beating with large pointy stick whilst berating myself for being so disorganised, utterly unprepared and useless once again. I wonder how The Colonel can possibly want to be married to such a pathetic creature. I have reinforced that no, I am not a domestic goddess however much I’d like to be. Anger followed by despondency kicks in.
Wear previous days sports socks? Noooooo, that’s grim. Can’t stoop that low.
Wear non-sport socks? No, they slip inside my trainers and besides then everyone will know that I’ve not got clean socks to wear and have had to resort to this…. oh the shame (despite the knowledge that others have been seen playing in jeans and espadrilles because they forgot their kit.
I won’t go and play tennis today. I’m in such a bad mood anyway that I’ll play badly and this mood is infectious and nobody wants to catch that. Cup of tea and turn on iPad.
All negative! What a surprise … not.
The Situation aka The Fact
No clean socks in the drawer for sport.
Brand Spanking New/Most Unusual Thought Processes
Ahhh, it’s because I’ve done two lots more tennis this week. Crikey that’s great. Well done me! Metaphorical patting and slapping on the back. Big smiles. Maybe that’s why I’ve been feeling a bit chirpy this week? No shit Sherlock …
See if I have any drying on any radiators around the house, or borrow a pair from The Colonel or wear a pair or two of normal socks and if they’re a bit slidey, well heck, it’s not like I’m playing at Wimbledon! (Snorts of laughter ensue, followed by some serious day dreaming of me on Centre Court looking fabulous in a tanned and blonde sort of way playing the most unbelievable shots leaving Serena Williams looking baffled …) Back to earth …
Put on two pairs of non-sports socks, patted myself on the back, again, and as I’m leaving the house, find a pair drying on the kitchen radiator. I am a domestic goddess! Think if I’m going to continue playing so much tennis, I might go and buy some more socks … oooh I see a shopping outing in the offing! Yay! Double yay!
I sit quietly in the car. I have never felt this before. This momentary feeling of having no anxiety. The light and relaxed feeling of thinking ‘What does it really matter? It’s just a pair of socks’. Is this the endless CBT that I was so convinced was nonsense and couldn’t possibly work for me, actually beginning to infuse into my brain … Is there some sort of osmosis going on?
This is a new sensation and it’s glorious and I want to hold onto it. I want to hold on to this wonderful, lightness in my mind for longer. Is this how other people think? How utterly, utterly liberating. I don’t want this feeling to leave me. But surely, if it’s happened once, then it can happen again? Can’t it?
One small but impossibly heavy link on the chains that holds me down in my murky sea has just crumbled beneath me and I’m gently moving upwards towards the light. I can see it, I can almost touch it. Please, please don’t let this feeling go.
On social media, everyone is seemingly very, very happy. All of them (apparently) enjoying a blissful existence of beautiful, laughing children on sun drenched beaches with parents exclaiming how they are having a ‘Proud Mummy moment’ (urghh!) as their daughter number one, two or three (or perhaps all) have been accepted to Oxford University, meanwhile their gorgeous hubby has just swept them away on an eye-wateringly expensive safari trip as pictures of distant lions are thrust into our inbox. Similarly in the press, flawless models and celebrities pose outside the popular London nightlife haunts, with glowing perfect skin, no cellulite (God forbid), spots or a muffin-top to be seen. Everything looks so darn perfect and so darn predictable.
However, we also know, that this a totally air-brushed version of what the truth is. And yet, when it’s constantly thrust down our throats, we do start to believe it.
It’s human nature and it goes without saying that it makes us look at our lives slightly negatively. Jealously creeps in, slipping and sliding its way into our minds until the green-eyed monster makes us just a teensy bit dissatisfied and disappointed with our own lives. Our ordinary trips to the supermarket, our jobs, our daily mind-numbingly dull and endless chores of housework and whinging children frankly all seem just a little bit … meh!
Is it however to be expected and the norm to be wandering around in a state of euphoria? Of course not. I don’t see the average person going around the supermarket or at work with a constant grin on their faces. In London they would be avoided like the plague. Up here in Glasgow they would probably be sectioned.
How many times do we say, “Everyone else is happy, why can’t I be happy? Why can’t my life be like that? I would be happy if my life was like that? Depression and anxiety suck!”
And yet, these people, these apparent friends of ours are simply wanting us to believe that their life is a constant holiday in the Caribbean.
However ….. What is the truth? The truth is that the husband has been having an affair, they both have a drink problem and child number three has just been expelled for selling weed. The safari holiday was a last ditch attempt to save the marriage, escape the mistress (who has now turned into a bunny-boiler) and in actual fact, those were the only two lions that they saw after seven hours confined in a 4-by-4 with three bellyaching kids, no WiFi and two of the three missed it anyway.
So now we know the truth. Now we can choose to either accept what is being thrust daily in our faces and believe it, or take it all with a little pinch of salt, give a smile, move away and instead, start concentrating on our own lives.
So now, instead of wishing for a perpetual smile and asking myself every day if I am happy, I shall ask myself, “Am I ok?”. If the answer is yes, then that is good. That is normal, and normal is good.
I will ride out the inevitable storms in the knowledge, that they will end.
I will relish and delight in those fleeting moments of total joy and happiness.
And for the rest, for the average day-to-day life of simply living, I will enjoy the feeling of peace and of normality. Because normal, is good.
I’ve never much liked the word hobby. It’s always tended to conjure up images of groups of 80 year olds sitting in a draughty church hall doing crochet, undoubtedly wearing large polyester floral skirts with elasticated waists and discussing the merits of their husbands vegetable patch ……
I’ve had single girlfriends who have secretly joined Salsa evening classes, until a few weeks later they can’t talk about it enough. Worse still, they have tried to coerce me into joining them. Err, no thanks! Raving about the liberating joys of learning something new and meeting different people. Why on earth would I want to do that?
Why would I want to risk making a complete fool of myself, standing on the edge of a roomful of Fred Astaires and Ginger Rogers, whilst nobody picked me to have as their partner. Oh nooo! Besides, I had friends. Why would I need any more? My own little random group of friends, strangely however from the same middle class background with the same dress sense, likes, dislikes and thoughts as me. Was this a coincidence or had I subconsciously chosen friends because as they were like me, therefore they were deemed safe and I could therefore trust them?
However, that was in the old days, the bad days. Those were in the negative days. To be honest I was not only just a teensy bit narrow-minded but also somewhat uneducated. I knew nothing! Not that I know an awful lot now, but perhaps I am slightly more open to ideas. And of course, this was before I discovered my ‘thing’ (autocorrect just put in ‘thong’ rather than ‘thing’ which has made me smile, childish I know … I’m sure I discovered thongs a long time ago!). I don’t have a hobby, I have a ‘thing’.
And tennis is my thing.
It’s my focus … for several hours a week, I think completely and utterly on one thing. I do something completely alien to me which is to concentrate! I’m pretty sure Roger Federer isn’t serving for the match whilst stressing over what to buy his wife for her birthday or whether Trevor the plumber is going to turn up that day. During those hours I have no negative or anxious thoughts, and that is becoming so regular that it’s becoming a habit. A good habit. Betty the Demon Depressive doesn’t get a word in. She is silent. I am not feeding the beast, so she is wilting. Simples.
It’s my sport …. it’s exercise which means endorphins, dopamine, serotonin start leaping into action, boosting my mood. They are real and they work. The exercise has helped my skin; it makes me drink more water which helps every organ in my body. I can wallop a ball with such force that all my frustrations fragment and disappear. Despite being a skinny bird, age is cruel thing and where bingo wings, muffin tops and love handles once were, muscles are appearing. This makes me more confident and the Colonel’s glasses steam up more … both of which are positives in my book. (The latter perhaps needing to be kept under control from time to time).
And finally, it’s a part of my routine and structure …. It’s one of my daily tasks. It gives me a sense of purpose and control with my life, mind and body. I need routine and structure more than most people. Without it, there’s always the fear that I really might end up doing nothing all day and hiding away in my little home, wrapping my bingo wings around me with nothing to talk about.
And finally, it’s my social interaction with the world. I have new friends. Friends who are different from me. Friends of different ages, backgrounds and cultures. I have no one to hide behind, no children, husband or alcohol. I have learned from them that being yourself is good. We talk nonsense mostly, laughing about nothingness. We laugh, we tease, we tell each other our woes and our joys. We put the world to rights. They don’t judge me and I don’t judge them. They are quite simply, fabulous.
So, if anyone out there is even just starting to think about having a new ‘thing’, then my advice (without being preachy … what right have I?) then don’t overthink it, just do it!
Don your very best floral, elasticated skirt, head down to the church hall and start doing it …. Crochet, tennis, salsa, Ethiopian basket weaving – whatever floats your boat. But you’ll end up with considerably more than just a new hobby. You’ll have a whole new part to your life. A very, very good part.
In order to overcome my fears, or perhaps to simply not be seen as a great girls blouse, I have undertaken a few ‘activities’ of late, beginning with being driven around the racetrack circuit at Thruxton for starters.
A nice steady Skoda, or so I thought …. Although this was a while ago, I still recall with horror approaching the bend where the sign very clearly said CORNER, SLOW DOWN, and screaming at the drivers left ear “Dear God, we’re all going to die – didn’t you SEE the sign? There are rules you know, RULES!” before screaming all the more with one arm clinging around his neck, the other hand clutching something solid and handle-like (turns out when I was finally peeled off him, that it was in fact the handbrake).
You see, I don’t do anxiety, stress, high adrenaline levels well. The bewildered look of my 9 year old niece who had sat so calmly during the entire episode in the back of the car spoke volumes. Who was this mad woman and why was her uncle going to marry her?
A trip to the water park, small children running past me shouting with excitement to get to the slide the fastest. This was a family-sized rubber ring, more akin to a small dingy as it held up to six people and children (who have an annoying habit of saying smugly, “I’m only 7 and I can do it”). Had I not been trying to hold back the nausea, dizziness and complete terror, I’d have kicked them.
My terror was only marginally controlled by the pure glee on my children’s faces that they had got me to do something so totally out of my comfort zone. My fear was causing them such joy! I love them, but …. Bastards!
The fact that there is irritatingly, video footage of me throughout this 20 second period of horror, ending with me lying in the base of said rubber ring in a star-shape, legs akimbo, whimpering, and needing the help of a life-guard to get out, again spoke volumes ….
And finally, how zip-wiring in Cape Town across gorges 150 down whilst clamped to our instructor (rather aptly named ‘Hope’ – did he make that up just for me?) – I am aware that I looked something akin to a monkey clutching onto its mother, except this monkey screamed from one platform to the next, “Dear God, we’re going to die Hope, WE’RE GOING TO DIE!” I sense a bit of a pattern …
There is a scene in Pride and Prejudice where Mrs Bennet refers to her nerves and her long suffering husband calmly says, “Ah yes, they have been my constant companion all these years”, or words to that effect and I do wonder sometimes if the Colonel feels the same ….
Why do I put myself through this and is it time to stop? Have I proven a point and can I now just accept that I feel wobbly and a little tingly-toed when I stand on a chair to change a lightbulb and need a little sit down and a nice cup of tea afterwards?
Or must I continue to face my fears? At what point is enough, enough?! I do hope that the Colonel has some of the attributes of the long-suffering Mr Bennet, otherwise, we’re in awful trouble…. And no, I will not be sharing the video footage – Darling children, if you dare, you’re out of the will.
I must confess however, that whilst these perhaps extreme tests that I have, with my family’s persuasion, put myself through, have been utterly miserable, I have however discovered that anything marginally less frightening has been an absolute doddle.
I can now do zip-lining and water parks if forced, with slightly less trepidation. Being driven fast remains tricky but I don’t have white knuckles and can hold a vaguely intelligent conversation whilst driving down the M6 … but perhaps that’s because there are so many roadworks that one is forced to remain at 50mph.
I do know one thing for sure, and that is, that facing one’s enemy, being brave and attacking life with gusto is worth the short-lived pain. If only to see one’s children laughing happily and even occasionally saying, “Well done Mum! You were awesome!”
Happy Friday everyone out there …. Whatever they may be, let’s all face our fears today!