Through the past four months, learning my new job, packing up my belongings, settling into my new home, making a million adjustments, I have had two firm pictures in my mind.
The first, courtesy of my lovely sister, was the picture of the changes accomplished and me putting up my Christmas tree. I did this over the weekend and I am so happy to see the baubles and the lights shining as bright as ever in their new setting.
The second image was the one in my own mind of me, sitting in my new home, logging onto my computer, opening Scrivener, and finally resuming my writing. That is what I have done tonight.
Christmas gift shopping. You can love it, you can hate it; you can buy into it, or you can opt out of it – no matter which way you cut it, you just can’t ignore it. I’m trying to do as much of my shopping as possible offline, from bricks and mortar shops in my home city and this is working well for me. I have had to resort to ordering one gift online, but I’m really hoping that is the limit for this year.
I’ve also found that it is a mistake even to check online to see if local shops have the things I’m thinking of in stock because the result will not necessarily bear any relation to the stock they actually hold. For example, I failed to find one particular item in town yesterday so I looked online and found the local branch of a stationery chainstore claimed to be carrying it. I changed my plans for this morning and walked into town, only to learn in the shop that they didn’t have any stock and the item was discontinued so they were unlikely to have any ever again.
Some you lose.
Despite this setback, since I was in town so I thought I’d just check in the bookshop where I found three different versions of the very thing I was looking for and also several other inspiring items, making significant inroads into my gift shopping.
Some you very much win.
Speaking of local shops, somewhere in the past three months, whilst I’ve been busy with my move, the niche beauty retailers Space NK have opened a branch in my home town which is just perfect for gift shopping. Note that: gift shopping. Not walking in, trying on perfume, then deciding you just can’t leave the shop without buying it for yourself.
As soon as this fragrance hit my wrist, I knew I was lost. It is exactly what I want to smell like right now. It’s not a favourite of yesteryear, it’s not something that reminds me of a particular place or time (although I am getting a slight hit of 1970s bath cubes, which I can’t imagine anyone as sophisticated as Jo Malone was intending). It is right here, right now, au courant, fresh new me. I love it.
How is the approaching holiday season making you feel? Are you full of fresh ideas, enjoying established traditions, or wishing you could hide in a cave? Shopping online, or enjoying searching in local stores? I’m fascinated by how everyone approaches the season with different intentions.
I am slowly regaining my balance after a hectic autumn into which I have crammed enough life experiences to see me through at least a couple of years. I am enjoying my new job, settling into my new home, and just beginning to feel myself unfurling from the inevitable tension all these changes incur.
Since I moved flat, I have been able to walk to and from work (a journey of 2.1 miles each way) which is proving good for my fitness. Whilst I am still technically living within the city, I am in a rather more open area than I was previously, and the photo above is a taste of part of my route. It is good for my soul to have views such as this to enjoy, whilst still having the security of walking by a well-lit and well-used main road; indeed I feel I am enjoying the best of both worlds.
Part of the romance of the flat I am now renting is that it is close enough to the railway tracks to hear the hoot of the trains. I had a pleasant surprise the morning after I moved in when I realised I could see the trains from my kitchen window. When we stayed with my maternal grandparents in York, we loved being able to hear the trains in the distance as we sat in my grandpa’s music room, and I am sure that is why we retain an affection for the railway.
My new home is just slightly larger than my old one, although it is still a one-bedroom flat. The extra space has allowed me to reinstate some items of furniture from my family home that had been stored in my garage for the past fourteen years. These came out in amazing condition, needing just a good clean to be as good as they were the day they left my parents’ house. These include the dining table from my grandparents’ home in York, and the wardrobe that my parents owned and used for many, many years and which I always coveted. It is good to see such old friends again and to know they are back in use.
As part of my re-entry to normal life, I have booked my place at the next meeting of the writers’ group that I was attending before circumstances rudely interrupted my routines. I am starting, too, to think of my next knitting project, although I really must put some effort into finding homes for things around the flat before I go too far down that road.
It is good to reconnect with my blog and to write a bit about my new home. I’m looking forward to slowly picking up where I left off, and to having some new projects to share with you in the coming weeks.
I hope the last few months have been kind to you and that you are approaching the last few weeks of the year with a happy glow. Whilst this season can be chilly, dark and tiring, it is also full of shining lights and happy faces if you look in the right places.
Take care, and I look forward to being back again very soon.
As I write this, it is eight o’clock on a Sunday evening and I am waiting for a delivery from a famous online retailer. I am pretty sure this delivery is not going to arrive and, if it does, I am not going to be able to do anything productive with it because the weekend is over. I already have an incredibly low opinion of this retailer as they have on many occasions proved themselves to be useless as a purveryors of goods. I always have bad experiences when I shop with them and I try fairly hard to avoid using them. Yet every so often I cave in, always on occasions like this when the product I need is too unwieldy to carry home from the town and the firms I actually trust cannot deliver it in the timeframe I desire. This particular online store convinces me that they offer next-day delivery seven days a week. The crazy thing is, this company’s next-day delivery turns out in real life to be exactly the same as everyone else’s after-the-weekend delivery.
To be fair to them, I knew what to expect; I knew even as I was placing the order that it wasn’t going to be delivered when they promised it. Yet I fooled myself into believing this would be the one time they actually come through and deliver. I am exactly that kind of a fool.
I understand that huge numbers of people use this firm and have really good experiences with them, but that doesn’t help much when I’ve stayed in all day waiting for something that hasn’t arrived. In fact, the only way I can see it could possibly be delivered today would be if I gave up now and went and sat in a lovely warm bath, because I believe they have some sophisticated tracker that knows when you are stark naked and covered in bubbles.
Well, all I can say is this is absolutely the last time. It is even more the last time than the last time I went through this. I would not order from them again, even if they were the last retailers on the planet, which I believe is their corporate goal.
Right, I am going to do some washing up as it involves bubbles and might fool them into thinking I’m in the bath.
I love the fact that each and every human being is made up of a glorious mix of traits – no-one is wholly one thing or another, however much we might like to label ourselves. We are not wholly confident, nor utterly unconfident; no-one is flawlessly beautiful and neither is anyone so ugly that they cannot be allowed out in public. The most that we can say about anyone is that they exhibit more or less of a particular trait than a handy comparable person. A person may be more shy than a sibling, or prettier than a friend; less successful than a boss but more successful than a neighbour.
I would generally consider myself to be less self-confident, for example, than I would wish to be, although this is improving with age, and there are scenarios in which I am as self-confident as anyone. I think of myself as socially rather awkward and I used to rue the fact that I didn’t have a huge circle of friends. Again, as I’ve got older that has mattered less and less and now I look back and wonder whether I didn’t have that type of circle because I neither needed nor particularly wanted it. Perhaps I am not shy so much as insular.
When I read advice about self-confidence (which I do, because I love a bit of self-help advice which I can then totally ignore), one thing that leaps out at me is the concept of self-consciousness. In particular, the idea that we often fall into the trap of believing ourselves to be the centre of attention and all our faults glaringly obvious, when most of the time no-one is watching us and no-one cares what we are doing.
I can only assume that the people giving this advice are in that rare minority who take no pleasure in watching other people. Me? I am always watching. I love seeing what everyone else is wearing and carrying and doing and thinking. Quite often, I am studying with a critical eye, although I try to keep my observations largely to myself. It would, therefore, be disingenuous to assume that people are not, in their turn, studying me and making sometimes harsh observations. I don’t think any of us have it in our power to prevent this and I don’t think we should wish to because it is through observing others that we come to an understanding about what people are and how we can all coexist in this world. Pretty much all creativity includes some form of watching other people and if no-one was watching, then there would be no stories, no films, no TV, no music. This mutual studying of each other helps us to understand both our similarities and our differences.
We all have times when we think we have done something stupid and we want, more than anything, to curl up in a ball and avoid human contact so we don’t have to be reminded of our mistakes. Perhaps next time we feel like that, it might be useful to remember that someone might have been watching, someone might have seen it, someone might think less of us, but it doesn’t matter. There will have been times when they have felt exactly that way too. They might be so busy watching us and making judgements that they walk slap bang into a foolish situation of their own.
What I have learned from observing people who seem more self-confident than me is that sometimes they are just better at masking their insecurities. They are, in their way, actors who step into the part of “life and soul of the party” when they encounter others. It doesn’t mean they are better than, or any worse than, the next person, than you, than me. If we choose to we can all emulate them: put on a mask and play to the gallery before we retire to the peace and comfort of our own skins.
In my youth I was rubbish at taking photos and I do like the fact that the digital age has revolutionised photography. I think the most important thing I’ve learned about taking photos is the importance of keeping my eyes open, seeing the details. Although we can capture a wide vista in a photo, often it will include elements that would preferably not be there; the lens tends to record a lot of things that our eyes simply edit out. I like a nice close-up shot like the berries in this photo, but this is not a good photo because for some reason the soft-focus areas have pixellated. I could crop them out, to be sure, but then I would end up with an oddly-shaped photo. Either way, it would not be perfect, and that’s the point – does it need to be?
I think keeping your eyes open, getting a clear view of both the vistas and the details, is an important life skill. I think the more we get used to how things look in real life, the better we will become at judging our own efforts fairly. Let’s not edit out the less than perfect things in our photos and let’s not edit out the less than perfect things in our lives. Let’s live it as it comes.
Here are two examples of today’s efforts:
The chutney labels aren’t perfectly applied; the filling escaped from the tarts and the pastry crumbled on a couple of them. Instagram would not approve. My tummy, on the other hand, has absolutely no issues with either of these efforts, and my tummy is far more important than Instagram. It has also been around longer, so I guess it knows more about real life than Instagram does.
Considering those tarts I have to conclude that they will look a whole lot better when I cover them with custard at luncthime. Maybe many things that don’t look so good on their own would look better with custard? It’s just a thought.
Continuing with the theme of moving home, I find myself evaluating many of the things I use, deciding if they are things that I want to pay to move across the town I live in. Some things are so ingrained in my life that there is no need to query at all, which is the case with most of my furniture, although there are a couple of pieces I don’t love and I may use the move as an excuse to unburden myself of them.
It is the little pieces that I think about, the books and magazines and, most keenly, bits and pieces in my kitchen. I have more tea caddies than I need, for example, and once I’ve made this year’s chutney I will be able to thin out the empty jam jars.
I can tell you one thing I shall be glad to leave behind when I move out of this flat and that is the bath. I have disliked the bath here since the first time I got in it. I haven’t disliked it enough to take up showering instead, but it is a terrifically uncomfortable bath to lie in. I have started viewing possible flats to move to and I am eyeing up the baths and dreaming of lying there in comfort.
I also catch myself thinking along the lines of “the last time” I will do something in this home. Whilst I am a fair way off actually doing things for the last time, I am aware that time is approaching and thinking how strange it will be. Of course, when the time comes to, for example, make the last cup of tea in this home I will be so busy that I won’t really mark it until later.
Speaking of the last cup of tea, am I the only one who occasionally broods on the fact that one day I will drink my last cup of tea? I probably won’t know it is my last one, but it is sitting there, at some point in my future, like the bullet with my name engraved upon it. It’s a concept that fascinates me.
I don’t think the buns in my photo will be the last buns I bake in this home, but those are definitely the last sprinkles I will apply here. That’s hundreds, or even thousands, of things I will not have to take with me when I move!
I worked a fair bit on the cushion cover the weekend after I dug it out of storage, but didn’t add much at all this week. Looking back at the previous photo, I have put the last few touches on the leaf to the left of the rose, worked a reasonable amount in the top right-hand quadrant, and most recently started working on the top left of the rose itself. I am finding it quite hard to determine if I’m using the right colour wool a lot of the time, and I find I need to refer to the photo on the cover of the pack to aid me, particularly with some of the pale pink, white and pale apricot shades. I am not sure how precise I am being, but perhaps it doesn’t have to be precise anyway.
This is definitely a good project to work on right now. It has the right balance of being something I can put down and pick up with minimum fuss and the chocolate button temptation of doing just doing one more little bit. It is satisfying my craving for some colour in my life whilst being less taxing than knitting a garment. I think it is a case of cometh the day, cometh the project,
I don’t know how many stitches I have added, but one thing I do know is the steps I walked on Saturday, grocery shopping and flat hunting: 25, 662! 11.73 miles! The Apple Exercise app gave me a medal and my feet thoroughly deserved it.
I am back immersing myself in New York, 1974 by watching episodes of Rhoda which was a spin-off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It is about Mary’s friend Rhoda after she moves back to New York from Minneapolis. It is rather sweet and may well be the reason I never felt the urge to watch Sex and the City – surely just the same thing a couple of decades later….
If you watch the modern iteration of Dr Who you may be familiar with the departure of David Tennant’s Doctor and his final, despairing phrase: “I don’t want to go.” Knowing that in the next two months I have to leave the flat I’ve been lucky enough to live in for the past fourteen years, that same feeling is constantly with me.
I have been looking back at the photos I took before and just after I moved into the flat, and so much has changed, although core elements have stayed the same. There was always a bag of knitting beside my favourite seat, and books, and cups of tea. Even in the very first photos I took, there is a teacup on the window-sill.
Looking at the photos, though, has led me to ask one vital question – what did I do with that green needlework cushion? It’s there, sitting on the green chair in this photo in February 2005, but by the time I took my Christmas photos it had disappeared from view. I simply don’t remember what I did with it. I remember making it and I really liked it, so I’m surprised that all memory of it has been so successfully erased.
The green chair is one of my favourite possessions, and still has a proud place in my living room. I inherited it from my parents who inherited it from my grandparents. I would dearly love to have it re-covered in a Laura Ashley fabric, but that plan is definitely on my “if I won the Lottery” list.
When I moved into this flat, I was downsizing from the house I had lived in with my parents, and I had no idea what furniture I would use in my new, solo, flat-dwelling life. I have to keep reminding myself as I think of the new move to take place, that I am in a much better position now. I know that the items I have are, on the whole, the items I will be moving with. This time I have no illusions of shaping myself to suit the space, I know that whatever I move into will in time become my home, filled with my things, and reflecting my personality. That is my definition of a home.
Whenever I am inclined to express feelings of superiority over my lack of long-term works in progress, I need to be reminded of this item. This is the project that I have been actively failing to work on for the longest time. If I may borrow a term from the disc jockeys of my youth, this is a rave from grave.
For much of its life, this project has resided on the top shelf of my wardrobe. It has come out into the daylight every so often, and a few rows have been added before it has returned to its roost.More frequently, it has been pushed aside to allow access to equally disregarded things below it.
The thing is, I really want to make this and to enjoy using the resulting cushion; it also has sentimental value for me which increases my desire to see it complete. Every other time I have worked on it I have set it aside in favour of some knitting project, but perhaps now I am in a knitting lull it is finally time to give this some love. I am always disappointed when I look at it to see how little I have achieved in all the years I’ve had it, but I can make visible progress if I just do a little bit each day.
I can but try.
(If I put in some significant work on this, maybe I will also finish that Christmas bauble from 2008. Just a thought.)
Are there guilty secrets lurking in your wip stash, or on the top shelf of your wardrobe?