A bricks and mortar Christmas

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.

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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.

 

A new dawn

Walk to work

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.

 

Lady in waiting

Waiting

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.

 

 

 

Looking out

Dark berries
Keeping my eyes open

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:

Chutney labels
Those labels
Treacle tarts
These tarts

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.

Evaluation

Last sprinkles
The last sprinkles in this home

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!

Inevitable

2005 Moving in
2005 Moving in

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.

Complexity

Life should be
Life should be as peaceful as this…

Starting a new job in a field I have little knowledge of is really testing my ability to adapt, which is making me think about life as an older person.

I think it’s a pretty common perception among younger people that as we get older we struggle more to learn new things. We might call it getting set in our ways or, less kindly, believe that older people no longer have the capability to change with the times. At the same time, we stress how important it is to keep challenging our aging brains so as to keep them active.

I wonder, though, if the fact that we take longer to assimilate new information as we get older, is due to us having a greater experience of just how complex most things are. At thirty we see the world as black and white, right and wrong. We look at the most up to date piece of data and we build our rules upon that, constantly adjusting as new pieces of data hit our consciousness. In some ways, we emulate robots by doing numerous incredibly fast revisions, reshaping the world every second. At sixty, we take a longer view and say, wow, over the course of each minute we need to make 60 revisions to the way the world is and that’s really complicated and I’m rather daunted by it. We can also tend to think that it is better to get to the end of the minute and act on the collected data rather than make all those micro-adjustments. It doesn’t mean that either of us, young or old, is less capable of getting to the same point, but it can look like older people are slow, or reluctant to learn.

Experience is something you only really come to value as you get older. Young people are still full of wonder and life is an adventure. They don’t want to know that everyone has done it all before. They do not want to face the idea that they are no more unique than anyone else.

I think we can all learn from each other. When a younger person has more knowledge or experience of a particular thing than you do, take advantage of it. When an older person throws in a hint of caution or wants to apply the brakes a bit, consider whether they are acting on their own experience and could have a valid point of view.

Always keep in mind that life is incredibly complex and it’s just not easy.

... but life is a lot more complicated
… but life is a lot more complicated

Bye-bye summer 2019

Berries & Lichen
The fruits of our labours

I can’t remember a year when the arrival of September has coincided so exactly with the arrival of autumnal days. Over the course of the weekend, the temperature here has suddenly dropped from highs of 30℃ to 20℃ and the sun that was scorching on the last day of August seems merely warm and pleasant now that September is here.

I am settling bit by bit into my new work role and letting my routines unfurl themselves in their own time to fit around the new schedule.

I unpicked the socks I was knitting and now I have nothing on the needles. Nothing has grabbed my attention and there are no pressing gaps in my wardrobe that need to be filled. The ice-cream pink jumper will still probably be my next garment, although I don’t know when I will start knitting it; when the mood takes me is my best estimate. I have an idea that I should knit a warm hat for my Helsinki trip next February, but I’m not sure.

It is definitely time to be getting back into a writing routine, not only for my blog posts, but also back to working on my novel. I had a very interesting conversation with a gentleman I met today who is also working on a novel, and it was inspiring in a quiet, comfortable way. It started when he brought out not only his 2019 diary, but also his 2020 diary which he was already carrying around with him – a very impressive action. In fact, if I had not been working at the time, I would have been very interested to delve into his “everyday carry” bag to see exactly what he was toting around; rather like a fully interactive, real-life YouTube video.

All in all, though tangible progress is rather hard to see, when I refer back to my Word of the Year (Establish), I think I am moving in the right direction.

 

Not that

New sock
Not that but this!

There is a computer service known as IFTTT which allows users to write simple little commands which their computer will action automatically under certain circumstances. The initials stand for If This Then That. An example would be If an e-mail arrives from Harry then move it to the Harry folder. It makes sense because this type of thinking is hard-wired into the human brain – If the sun is just above the horizon then it is early morning or late evening; If the rain comes then the crops will grow. Routines, which I wrote about at the beginning of the week, are often based on the IFTTT scenario.

So what does this concept have to do with the knitting in my photo? Well, the knitting leads me to propose a different concept – NTBT. Not That But This. My photo is clearly not a progress update on the sleeve of the Basilica cardigan which I had just started in my previous blog post. I didn’t get more than a few rows of that completed before realising that this is not the time to be embarking on a complicated pattern. This is the time for sock knitting (enter sock wool, stage left).

I grabbed a ball of Opal Sport Exclusiv out of my stash and made a start. I am enjoying the gentle greens and greys of this yarn’s colourway, so soothing on the soul (oh, wait, should that be the sole?), green being a calming colour. It isn’t quite as soft as the sock wools I normally use, being a blend of 60% wool/25% polypropylene/15% polyamide, but it’s what I had on hand and I’m keen to use up some old yarns. I have a further three lots of sock yarn which I’ll try to get knitted up over the next couple of months, all from West Yorkshire Spinners – a plain grey which may be too boring to knit, but we’ll see; a grey with cream and brown; and a grey with cream and red.

The big change that is coming up is my return to full-time work after a year without a formal job. Between that and knowing that I want to keep aside plenty of time to pursue my creative writing, I anticipate that my knitting production will slow down significantly for the next few months. My main plan for the autumn is to minimise my yarn stash and tidy up the storage in my knitting cabinet, which currently looks like this:

Knitting cabinet
Not exactly inspiring

I’m not sure if I have talked about this piece of furniture before, but it is a music cabinet which belonged to my maternal grandfather who gave music lessons after he retired. One of our favourite parts of our grandparents’ large Edwardian terraced house in York was his Music Room which was on the first floor (upstairs from the ground floor, this being an English house). The bottom part of the cabinet swings downwards to about 45º and I have some knitting patterns stored there, but that area isn’t being used as well as it could be. The real bugbear for me are the Rowan magazines. These are all issues that I love and don’t want to get rid of, but the size makes them difficult to store effectively.

Once the yarns and storage are sorted out, I think my next garment will be the big pink jumper of my dreams. I will have to order wool for that and I don’t want to start it until I am more comfortable about the amount of time my new job will leave for knitting.

So these are my meandering thoughts for a Friday morning. I have a busy weekend of Grandparenting to enjoy before I start work on Monday. Exciting times. I hope that you are all looking forward to the weekend.

Routines

Peace
Boer War Memorial, Norwich

Some people thrive on routines whilst other people loathe them, but we all rely on them to some extent. However much you might seek to escape, to live a life of sponteneity, you can’t deny the subtle tug of the turning seasons, the rising and setting sun, the moon as it waxes and wanes. If you live upon the planet Earth, you are programmed to obey its routines.

My photograph marks that autumn is approaching and, for me, a change of circumstances and unavoidable change of routine. I will be commuting past this statue twice a day in increasingly murky weather as the year recedes from my grasp. I won’t deny that circumstances need to change and that I welcome the murky weather and quite look forward to the brand new year that will chase the old one away. I could live without the change of routine, though; I hate to change my routines. There is always a period of discomfort when I’ve lost the old routine, but not quite set up the new one.

Knowing my routines are destined to change sends me into a flurry of preparation. I try to imagine what my new circumstances will require, how I will be able to fit the important things into new timescales, what, indeed, is important and what I can simply kiss goodbye to. Yet, if experience has taught me anything (debatable), it has taught me that there is a limit to how far you can go in planning a new routine; the specifics will only gradually fall into place during the early weeks after the change happens. No matter how much I want to have everything thrashed out today, it is not yet the right time to determine what I am going to need with me on a daily basis, what I am going to have time to do on my new commute, where and when I am going to shop. I will need to live the new life for a bit before I can fathom out what does and doesn’t work and adapt myself accordingly; only then will I be in a position to settle in to my new routines.

This leads me to conclude that routines are not things which we can consciously set up, maintain, dispose of, or lose – they are not really subject to our control. Routines are adaptable, although they give the appearance of being solid. They are a landscape and our life runs through them like a river, carving patiently through the bedrock, altering it a millimetre at a time. Sometimes life, like a river, is in flood; other times it idles peacefully along, occasionally it forms an oxbow lake where we sit becalmed for a while.

Changing my routines does not come easily to me and in the past I have been guilty of fighting change. Perhaps I can ease the process by allowing my routines to evolve to suit me as I move forward, rather than seeking to set the routines in stone first then fret when they don’t really work.

It isn’t easy to get a handle on all this stuff that existence brings with it. I can’t help but feel it would have been useful if someone had mentioned to me fifty years ago that life isn’t anywhere near as clearly constructed as you’d think and that you’ll never really get the hang of it. So, if you’re young, and you’re reading this, please feel free to take that as my lesson to you.

Tune in on Wednesday for some knitting content, because I have a finished object to share.