Archive for May, 2013

Serendipity

May 30, 2013

One fine day in early Spring I bought myself a bag. A lovely leather satchel, purchased from our local charity shop, I mean boutique, from whence I get most of my treasures, clothes and junk. It was one of those really lucky finds – I couldn’t believe it was in a charity shop. Big smile.

Luverley...

Luverley…

On the bus home I surveyed my booty and was intrigued by the word ‘Cybher’ embossed on its luminous yellow front. A quick snoop online led me straight to the Cyhber bloggers conference. Seeing as this was around the time that I embarked on this blog of self-discovery and new beginnings, it was clearly meant to be. So naturally I enrolled. Immediate excitement.

And now Cybher has finally rolled around. It’s this Saturday…

Cybher badge

So right now, this minute, I’d like to be writing about my growing excitement and deliberating about the outfit I’m going to wear (as many others are), but instead this is what you get from me:

Since booking my place at Cybher I’ve thrown myself around on an oh-so familiar roller coaster of destructive thoughts about going – I won’t know anyone, everyone else will be online savvy, super cool and younger/prettier/sharper/wittier than me. Should I even go?

…in a situation like this you can rely on me to imagine the worst case scenario in vivid detail – its one of my greatest creative skills you know.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Tie ourselves up in knots and focus on ALL the things that might go wrong, however UNlikely, while forgetting or choosing not to consider the things that will probably, almost certainly, definitely be great. Of course fear is a crucial emotion with a vital purpose. It prepares us for danger and prevents us from throwing ourselves into perilous situations. But this is an exciting women’s blogging conference, not a tank full of hungry sharks!

I’d like to think that by now, in my middle years, I’d have shaken off fruitless fears like this and be focussed instead on the really important things in life, like my fambily and enjoying life. Our cat has it sussed – I often look at her and wonder at her wisdom. She might have a small brain but she focusses it on all the most important things. Food, comfort and sleep, basically!

And note that my Cybher bag matches the kitchen. Natch.

And note that my Cybher bag matches the kitchen. Double delight!

I’d like to be able to say that I no longer worry about such things as Saturday, but that’s not how it is. Not yet anyway. No, unfortunately I still do worry; too much. My brain continues to work overtime on matters that it should not concern itself with.

So my current tactic is to question these automatic thoughts – the negative ones that spring up without any encouragement. I am trying to challenge their validity. Exactly when did that worst case scenario ever come true?

I’ve been helped on this occasion by social media, Twitter in particular. Who’d have thought? Well not me 6 months ago. Following @Cybher on Twitter I have learned that of course there are other first timers and that there are other nervous delegates. Sharing our fears in little bite-sized pieces has been very helpful as has tw(m)eeting beforehand and it has made me realise how mad we all are to dwell on negative thoughts.

All of this online social media lark has been such a fascinating learning curve and attending Cybher has already opened my eyes about the virtual social world, and I haven’t even got there yet! I wrote here only last week that I might not blog for much longer. I hope though that I might come away from Saturday full of ideas of how to continue writing a blog that is relevant. If not, it will be the right time to stop.

In any event I am pedalling fast towards Cybher Day now. On Saturday morning I’ll be lurking round a corner with a coffee, hiding before I go in. Either that or I’ll be running horribly late due to a last minute fashion crisis, because come the day I will still have NO idea what to wear. But either way I WILL be there. And I sincerely hope that all the other worriers are there too.

Meanwhile my phone is pinging beside me with new tweets. So while I’d normally be happy to continue analysing the inside of my head, I shall sign off now and get back to the important matter of virtual pre-meets. Hello Cybher and fellow Cybherites, one and all. I look forward to meeting you. Honest!

A tiny piece of guerilla street art

A tiny piece of guerilla street art to end with…

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First to last?

May 24, 2013

So here I am coming to the end of week one of coasting through life with my foot off the pedal. I christened the experience by queuing for tickets to see David Bowie Is at the V&A. I don’t think I’ve ever stood in a queue like that before. I always watch news reports with people queuing for new Apple products or department store sales with a mixture of pity and disappointment (in them, not me). I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything badly enough to camp out for it. But this week I did. I queued because I could.

Being the V&A this was a very civilised queue and having watched all those news reports over the years I equipped myself with a large coffee, an empty bladder and a big book. I stopped short of a hunting stick. There was no barging and no camaraderie, this was the V&A after all. So I settled down for a long wait; read my book and drank my coffee. And my bladder did what it does admirably. Thank you bladder.

V&A-queue

But I only got about halfway through my coffee and a chapter and we were on the move. Once inside it was a mere 15 minutes more before I secured my tix for next week. As it’s half term we’re all going. I hope the girls love it. I think they will. Good for them to know it didn’t all start with Lady Gaga. Of course I know, having visited the Tudor and Stuart; In Fine Style exhibition last week that quirky style has been around for a very long time. Did you know for example that Charles II favoured a hairstyle with the right side cut shorter than the other. Witness…

Charles II bust

Are those hair extensions?

Fancy that, there really is nothing new. I wonder if he wore his britches back to front as well.

Having reached the end of that V&A queue I realised I had reached the end of a period of transition from work to life after. And here I am now, living the life after. I like it. After the queue I wandered around the V&A – what a treat, to go round the galleries without a purpose, just looking and seeing and admiring – everything from cute biscuit tins to giant replica pillars.

But I’d hate to give the impression that it’s all peace and quiet and calm and tranquility. Is it heck. I have a lovely family to tend – well they’re lovely usually and a pain in the bum sometimes. Life in the slow lane away from work is as busy as ever and sometimes I wonder how I had time to work.

But it’s busy partly because I make it so. Yesterday I made a cake, because I could. It’s a lovely, sticky unctuous confection from Ottolenghi, called Revani though I believe it’s a Turkish classic.

cake

mmmm…. cake

It’s still sitting in the tin because it’s coming away with us this weekend (camping in the rain!), so I can’t comment on its deliciousness but an already moist cake soaked in lemony syrup has to be good, doesn’t it? I’ll report back.

So this is the pleasure I am finding among the busy-ness; doing things because I can and not because I have to. I also think I might try to learn Spanish. I honestly don’t know if I can but I think I’ll give it a go. Elsa loves the idea of teaching me (she’s learning at school), we can have Spanish chats, I can make tapas while thinking in Spanish and of course we’ll HAVE to go to Spain for us to practise!

Reaching the end of that queue in the V&A also made me wonder whether I’ve reached the end of this blog for the time being. It was intended to be about the transition from work to life beyond and I think I’ve done that and in the short term, awarded myself an extended holiday. Because I can.

Of course I could post endlessly about cakes I make, exhibitions I visit and the bits of my own navel fluff I extract while gazing at it, but I don’t think it’s of much interest to anyone else. A blog should have a sense of purpose and something worthwhile to say – something of value to its readers. Of course there’s vanity involved but it shouldn’t be a vanity project.

I could pretend to be a committed domestic goddess or a devoted vintage queen – photograph all my vintage charity shop bargains draped in the only corners of our house that aren’t covered with piles of paper and be sure to bake a cake every day while wearing a gingham apron, but that wouldn’t be right, now would it.

So we’ll see. I shan’t stop right here, right now, I’ll have a think about it and in the meantime I’ll relish the opportunity I’ve had thus far to write these little missives and put them out there in the World…

Happy Friday one and all.

...and look what appeared in the park this week.

Oh and look what appeared in the park this week.

Winding down…

May 17, 2013

It’s about 6 weeks since I left my job of 18 years and I’ve FINALLY realised that I can afford (literally and figuratively) to take some time to look around, see the World (not the BIG world, just the small World nearby) and simply be for a while, before I launch myself into the pursuit of new work.

deadbike

Stop pedalling girl!

I’ve spent a lot of life rushing about, as we all do and now that I have a rare opportunity to NOT do that for a little while, I should grasp it with both hands.

But it’s harder than you might think, for me anyway. I suppose it’s fear; fear of what will happen if I stop pedalling. I might fall off; never work again, lose myself.

It’s also difficult to watch familiar anchor lines float away into the sky and let them go. The familiar structures of a working life are taken away and you’re left with… yourself. Eeek! Work and the busy-ness (or business) of life are a great distraction, a neat avoidance technique. Take all that away and suddenly you’re exposed. Yikes!

So anyway, determined to achieve a more even and calm state I set out this week to enjoy a bit more and stress a bit less.

tulips and forget-me-nots

Municipal planting at its beautiful best

Has it been a walk in the park? No. I’ve had a walk in the park, several, but it’s been a mixed bag of emotions. Up, down and sideways I’ve been; round and round the garden. While wandering around I’ve been trying to weed out some of the more unhelpful and unnecessary ifs, buts and maybes that circle in my head and overall I think I’m heading in the right direction. But blimey it’s complicated.

Oh and have you spotted the major problem with my leetle plan?  Being determined to become laid back is surely a glorious big fat oxymoron!

Ah well. I won’t give myself grief instead I’ll laugh and give myself credit for getting a few steps closer. At least I’ve recognised what I need to do AND got a few steps closer to achieving it by carving out some entertainment this week. Gigs and art have both been on the menu already.

I was a gigging fiend in my youth – loved it. At least three or four times a week I’d be at some dive bar or pub watching a band play loud. The Pogues (when they were Pogue Mahone and beyond) were probably my favourite band – I’ve seen them play more than 70 times, thought not at all in the last 10 years. I think Shane is a genius songwriter.

Going to see live music unlocks something really special and takes me back to those carefree days (were they?). I love the raw and immediate impact that live music has. It makes me smile and dance and sing. Perfect.

IMG_3824_edited-1

So first up this week was Shugo Tokumaru at the Hoxton Bar and Grill. It being the cooool East End there were many, many beards in the audience, all as eager as us to see this diminutive Japanese man strut his stuff. He plays wonderful rinky-dink pop-filled ditties and is accompanied first by a crazy drummer with a small drum kit and a larger than life attitude to playing it. There’s also a table of toys plus accordian, xylophone and mouth organ – all of which are played by a talented lady who smiles not at all until the gig’s over. Best toy instrument this time: a boxing hand puppet punching a toy tambourine. Joy. Best cover song: Video Killed the Radio Star.

Then on Wednesday night off to see John Grant play at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire via some fine tapas at Tapas Revolution at Westfield. Ooh, it was just like being on holiday – if you ignored the plethora of chain stores in the background that is.

tapas

nom, nom, nom

He’s fantastic, is Mr John Grant. Truly talented. His songs are clever, funny and insightful. Try GMF – his new single and a fine anthem for many of the men in the audience on Wednesday.

He clearly does too much thinking as well, but he channels his beautifully into his fantabulastic songs. He carries the audience with his wonderful resonant voice and makes us all think we can sing. We can’t. He also manages to make everyone feel as though HE is privileged to have all of US watching him. He’s self-deprecating and lovable. Great night.

Incidentally I noticed there was a preponderance of beards at this concert too – not achingly trendy Hoxton ones, but cuddly/cool gay men ones. One way or another the beards have landed.

To complete a music hattrick we were supposed to go and see Alt-J last night but discovered yesterday that our tickets were forgeries. We bought them through Get me in so at least we got a refund, but VERY disappointing. No beards.

By way of compensation, not really but anyway…

Yesterday I went to the Queen’s Gallery with my Mum to see an exhibition of Tudor and Stuart fashion as portrayed in paintings. It was fascinating – there really is a very clear line between the fashion world of then and now. King Charles II was responsible for today’s three piece suit – he introduced its forerunner and pretty much insisted it became fashion. Oh and he favoured a lopsided hairstyle longer on the left than the right. He didn’t do beards though. Wise man.

Some paintings showed outfits that cost the modern equivalent of a house. The outfit might only be worn a handful of times so it was essential to capture its splendour on canvas. Of course if you could afford the frock you could afford the painting.

Though extremely wealthy it wasn’t a throw-away society – clothes and cloth were recycled and reused time and time again; restyled to meet fashion’s new dictats, cut into smaller and smaller pieces and even melted to release the gold and silver threads for reuse. Hence the complete lack of clothes to have survived to the current day. It made the one or two pieces that were on display seem very special indeed.

In Fine Style; The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion is well worth a visit I think. To tempt you here’s one of my favourite paintings…

royal-baby

Portrait of a Young Boy by Paulus Moreelse, 1639.

He looks like he’s on wheels. And notice the creases in his dress – deliberately featured in the painting as a display of wealth – not only can we afford the clothes we can afford to have them carefully pressed as well. I’d better get ironing.

But ironing doesn’t fit with my new found reeeeelaxed self. Back to the park instead I think.

red tulips and daisies

Bethnal Green’s Glorious Gardens

Have a great weekend and please, send me any tips you have for doing this relaxation thing properly!

Great Expectations

May 11, 2013

My goodness, how time flies. A whole week has gone by since I heard the dreaded news about the pitch. But I was lucky enough to be away last weekend – glooooorious bank holiday sun and 3 days camping – the perfect antidote to the pain of rejection.

Every new dawn is indeed a wonderful thing. But a new start sometimes brings with it some pain.

tents

Dawn breaks.

It’s 5 a.m. Imagine if you will, those trees are full of birds singing to greet the new day.

No they aren’t. The birds have fled. Those tents contain giggling, laughing and yelling kids. And one by one so do all the other tents in the circle as they all catch on to the delights of early morning frivolity.

Heavy sighs and bleary eyes from every adult present.

Action required to ensure more sleep the next night.

How about a 6 mile hike.

Perfect.

Our girls are members of the Woodcraft Folk and we were camping with our district. Oh what fun we had. Three days of messing about in tents, watching the children play, play, play – their freedom and fun artfully enabled but not controlled by the grown-ups.

camp-wide

The Woodcraft Circle

This kind of freedom is something all children are entitled to, although of course not all get to experience it. And as adults we lose all sense of freedom if we’re not careful. Some people don’t but I know I have. I’m taking action to reclaim it, but it’s an uphill battle.

field-wide

A newly planted field of beans

Mostly it’s me I’m battling. Years of learned behaviour and self-defined rules to try and rewrite. Rules that tell me what I can and can’t do, what I am and am not capable of, what I should and shouldn’t do. How did that happen?

They’re not healthy guidelines within which to play and explore, which is what I saw Woodcraft Folk achieve for the children at camp. Theirs are guidelines and principles that enable freedom of expression, rather than stifle it. Inspiring indeed.

bluebells

My first ever sight of a bluebell wood

We saw an amazing array of vistas on this one walk. Surprising and quite beautiful landscapes around every corner. Like life itself I guess, if you look at it with the right eyes.

tunnel-of-leaves

A tunnel of fragrant hawthorn blossom

Of course not all landscapes are as immediately arresting as this. But that doesn’t mean they’re not beautiful. It’s just a matter of perspective. Mental note to self: remember to enjoy the view whenever possible.

My favourite part of the walk was the last. A long tramp across soggy marshlands as we neared our final destination. A dramatic, desolate landscape oozing (quite literally) with its own mysterious history and mud. Lots of mud.

swamp-wide

Bleak and beautiful

I almost expected Magwitch from Dickens’ classic story ‘Great Expectations’ to appear from behind a soggy hillock demanding wittles and a file with menaces. We had biscuits for the kids and we certainly could’ve spared one or two for a needy convict. Alas, we didn’t meet any escaped prisoners, however we did meet our own adversary.

The deep and watery gulleys that surrounded us in this marshland began to cut through the neat green pathway marked on our map. The first of these gloopy stream beds was relatively easy to cross and the kids continued onto the path beyond with little fuss. But the second was more of a challenge – a deep scar in the wet earth, about 15 feet deep and 20 feet across, with steep and extremely slippery banks and up to a foot of sticky mud at the bottom.

Th first couple of people to cross lost their shoes, their dignity and their balance. So we adults found ourselves having to consider quite carefully the best course of action to get our 20 children across this steep, deep, slippery, muddy, sodden gulley. For a while it seemed quite daunting, but once we reminded ourselves and the children that the worst that would happen was that we’d get very muddy, it suddenly became a lot more doable. Something I need to do more often – remind myself that outcomes are unlikely to be catastrophic.

swamp-feet

Look, no feet!

Eventually and after investigating alternative routes each one as impassable as the last, we elected to form a human chain and pass the children across the divide, one by one. Just as we began the job at hand, the next group with younger children turned up. So our human chain was strengthened and so was the challenge.

It was great to see different people’s responses to the situation. Most were practical, one or two were natural leaders, nearly all were happy to be part of the team and there were only one or two who insisted on doing their own thing, regardless of the best interests of the group. Fascinating stuff. I wasn’t one of the leaders, but I played my part as a fully committed member of the team – a valuable link in the chain.

swamp-chain

We carried the littlest children – passing them from one person to the next and we held the hands of everyone else – big children and adults alike, until about an hour later we had all 30 or so children and accompanying adults safely across; muddy, tired and relieved. Never was a post-walk ice cream so gratefully received as it was by those children!

ice cream

Earned and deserved

And come the next morning, They slept. They slept like babies.

And so did I. The pitch put in its place, buried in the mud and marked up as one of life’s experiences from which there is much to learn and nothing to regret. As Eleanor Roosevelt said;

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face.”

So thank you Woodcraft Folk, for a wonderful and uplifting weekend.

swampwide

Mission accomplished. The Crouch Estuary at Brandy Hole

Oh and in case you’re wondering, all this wild beauty was in Essex. Deepest, darkest Essex. Lovely isn’t it.

Splat.

May 2, 2013

manky-pigeons

What a difference a day makes.

Being in the final 20 wasn’t enough; I just heard that I didn’t make it to the final 15 of the mentoring programme. Feel gutted right now but I suppose that’s inevitable.

But that feeling’ll wear off and I’ll pick myself and move on; with the idea or without. It’s not the end of the world and I learned a massive amount doing it.

At least I’m not a manky pigeon.


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