Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Happy Things Round Up

Okay, I'll admit it. Even I'm struggling to find the good about this week (*rests head in hands briefly when remembering who's just got the top job of running the country*) but it is out there, I promise. 

1. Facebook is not necessarily all evil, stolen data and cat videos! Sometimes it's a force for good. See how the people of Aleppo are keeping their histories alive. 

2. A wonderful piece of craft, combining the words of the most excellent Michael Sheen with a whole-hearted swear, all in lovely stitches. If only embroidery had been like that at school. 

3. Something to bring a happy tear to your eye. A Twitter thread (yes, I know they're a bit of a bore but in the absence of a blog to send you too...) about LGBTQ acceptance and growth.  

4. For those of us who have mothers with opinions on what we ain't seen nothing till you've seen the WhatsAppMama Instagram account.  

5. Lucy Ellman has a new book out - hurrah! I've loved her work since Man or Mango: genuinely funny, inventive and take-no-prisioners writing. Long-listed for the Booker, but don't let that put you off. If you need shaking out of a reading rut, she'll do it.

5a. It's published by the amazing Galley Beggar Press. Support small presses where you can - they take risks where other, bigger, publishing houses won't. 

6. And finally, this. Because we need love around here, and lots of it. Plus it's going to look awesome in the bedroom when I've finished decorating in there...

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Getting In My Own Way

Surprised everyone I know when I took up yoga a couple of years ago, not least myself because I'd always assumed that as a curvier (insert own adjective and then burn it) person, all I would do is sweat a lot and embarrass myself in front of the thin, lathe-like yoga bunnies. And that I would get in my own way. 

Turns out I was right on 2 counts. 

I do sweat a lot and parts of me get in my own way but I'm never embarrassed. Everyone is too busy trying to get themselves into the same damned pose whilst worrying about farting/smelling sweaty/falling over. Yes, even the lathe-like ones. They have gut microbes too, people.

Even so, I couldn't help thinking that to fail to sit up very straight seems like kind of an epic fail. Except that I did a one-armed side plank later that evening, so nuts to that kind of thinking. 

Also, it was too damn hot. Why does yoga man never put his fans on? Does he secretly hate us? Or have a mutated genetic thingie that means he never sweats? I shall watch more closely next time to make sure he blinks...if I can keep my glasses on. Last time they slid all the way down my sweaty nose and landed with a sad thunk on the floor.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Now We Are 43

So today I reached the grand old age of 43 and how much better is it than 33 or 23? 


There's no getting away from it, and nor do I want to: I'm enjoying my 40s more than I ever did the previous decades. Becoming more comfortable in my own skin helps. I'm now more likely to think "fuck it" and go for a birthday swim without worrying about what people think about my thighs, backside or upper arms. Nuts to them, I love being in the water and no side glances are going to stop me. 

Plus, my short sightedness means I can't see the side glances. Ageing has many benefits. 

Of course swimming does make a person hungry, so this was my lunch, hoovered up within minutes of getting home...

 Seriously, this was a huge box of broad beans. I spent 40 minutes double podding the feckers. 
What hasn't been smashed has been frozen for emergency, post-swim, post-yoga dinners. 
BROAD BEAN SMASH (or, Poor Man's Avocado)
  • Box of broad beans brought from local farm shop for a fiver
  • Coriander
  • Lime
  • Sea salt
Look how cute they are when podded! Like little wee kidneys in the palest of greens!

How To:
  • Pod the beans and simmer in hot water for 10 mins.
  • Drain and leave to cool for 20 mins.
  • Sit down with a podcast and double pod those mothers (i.e. remove the grey outer skins). This will take a while and can be fiddly, hence the podcast as a distraction.
  • In a large bowl, smash the beans with a fork or masher until mostly smashed.
  • Add chopped coriander, lime juice and zest, and sea salt to taste.
  • Serve on toasted crusty bread. Add a fried egg if you need more substance to your lunch.
  • Revel in the glorious green. Eat. 
 And this is 3/4s of the way through, when I remembered to take a photo. 
Seriously, this tastes damn good and has none of the slimeyness of avocado. 

 Follow with raspberry pancakes because it's your birthday and you damn well will if you want to.

Take a nap.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Middle Way or the High Way?

This year, after 8 years of living on my own, I made the headlong plunge into living with someone again. 8 years since my ex-husband moved out, 9 years since our relationship hit the rails so hard, I wasn't sure any of us would come out alive. 

It has been a strange 8 years by any stretch and come with the proviso that the Kid has lived with me 99% of that time. There is a big difference, however, between living with your lover and living with your child. The first and foremost being that you can, to a certain extent, dictate the rules to your kid, but it's not really on to try it with someone who's supposed to be your peer. 

And I should say right here and now that the Kid is now 21 and living at home while they save for a house. It's like having a flatmate but one who looks uncannily like you and who knows where all the emotional blackmail buttons are hidden...

So there I've been, mindlessly minding my own business and getting on with the job of living in a way I want to. Leaving clothes where they fell, changing the bedding as often as I wanted (once a week, whaddaya think I am?), sitting up in bed reading till midday, making only toast for meals. I have wandered where I want and with whom I want. 

I have filled the shelves with my own books and found things; the freezer with the foods I love; my days with the things I want to do. Slept in the middle of the bed. Had a bath as often as I damn well pleased. Smoked, not smoked, smoked again. Realised that living in a village surrounded by mud and oomska for 8 months of the year when I hate mud and oomksa (both of which are very different to gardening dust and soil) is no good thing for any sanity. Realised that living in a village where the light is gone by 4pm in November and the nights are so slow-black sloe-black that you could scream Milky-Woody-rhyming-couplets at the top of your lungs and no one would hear.

Left the country for the town, left the town for the city. Changed jobs, changed houses, hung the pictures on the walls I wanted. 

Dealt with grief and joy in equal measure. Sat with the feelings, absorbed and examined them, kept some for my mental backpack, lost others along the way. Turned vegan, turned back, went halfway there again. Took up meditation, fell asleep, took down meditation. Dealt with health issues, new births, old deaths. Ditched the TV. Read over 100 books in 12 months just because I could. Took up yoga and surprised myself. Surprised my family. 

Listened to Radio 4 and eddikated myself. Listened to 6 Music and discovered new bands. Went to gigs for the first time in decades. Saw films I would never have seen, discovered a love of the hokey horror and stilted speech of the old Hammer Horrors, Godzillas and King Kongs

Wore the clothes I wanted with no one around to ask "does my bum look big in this" or to put their head on one side and say "are you going out in that?" Lost 4 stone. YES you read that right - 4 stone: the slow drip of pounds coming off and back on and permanently back off again has punctuated the days of these 8 years. 

I have pupated. Shed the chrysalis of my old self. My wings are battered but they carried me and the Kid through the world with a strength no one knew I had till it was tested. I am me with a carapace, with balls on, with an armoury of self-resilience. I can deal with my own spiders (with much squealing, eyes shut and a need for a hefty drink afterwards) and empty my own bins. 

So pity the poor man, especially one who had imagined himself living blissfully, serenely, peacefully alone for the rest of his days, coming head to head with me over where plants should be planted or pictures hung. Do we build the chest of drawers now or next week or when the heatwave/my temper breaks? How many times has that dishwasher been on today? Have you used fabric conditioner in the laundry? Why do you have the bath water so hot? Does this meal have meat in it? Why do you do everything so quickly? Why are those pictures crooked? Do you really need to keep that? How many copies of The Crow Road do you have? How many pairs of trainers do you need? Are you really only using half of the wardrobe space?

I work fast, in order to get things done and out of the way, thereby giving myself more all-important lying-down-and-reading time. He does things carefully, with meticulous planning and measuring, and with exquisitely painful slowness. As he takes measurements, I hop from one foot to the other, whining about how it's fine, hurry up, yes of course it's straight. 

As I fling paint, plants and pictures around with merry abandon, I feel him wince. Heard him say with more dismay than admiration, "god you're quick" as I rollered a triple length of wall within the same space of time he'd taken to do one. "Did you mean to get that much paint on you? Can you actually see out of your glasses now?"*

Surely, he suggests, as he gazes ruefully at the positioning of a plant he'd had his eye on for the back garden, now firmly set in the front, surely there is some middle ground. 

Middle ground. The OED defines this as "an intermediate position or area of compromise or possible agreement between two opposing views or groups." When I look up compromise (purely for the hell of it and because I'm stalling for time because really, really really, I know he's right but I'm not willing to let this go quite so easily), I read that "the secret of a happy marriage is compromise" but also that compromise means"the expedient acceptance of standards that are lower than is desirable."

Aha! I cry. Accepting standards that are lower than is desirable! And then I realise that he's not listening, he's looking at the crooked pictures again. 


*not really, was the answer. It was like looking through a yellow mist. Yes, our living room walls are yellow - it's like living in a bowl of custard and I love it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Round Up of Things What Have Made Me Happy

Today. Today there will be good news, welcome returns and adorable sea creatures to brighten your day. 

The Women's World Cup: isn't this image (from the Washington Post) just the most joyous thing ever? I found myself rooting for no particular team, just on the verge of weeping that this was happening on television in my lifetime. A world away from the dull Lynham-fronted Saturday match analysis the BBC used to show when I was a girl. Might I have been more sporty if this had been on then? Maybe. 

Tree planting: never been more important and good to know that we can all do a small thing for a big result. I'm planning a small (oh-so-small) orchard for the bottom half of my allotment, so can feel like I'm doing my bit.  

Exceptional news: from the country I love the most that I've never visited...Iceland. Is Katrin Jakobsdottir the first ever green prime minister?

Intrepid foxes: I have always loved foxes. Even as a hen keeper (part of a former life), I loved them. So this piece made me sigh a little with happiness. 

Congratulations!: to all same sex couples in Northern Ireland who'll soon be able to experience the unique hell that is planning a wedding. Seriously though, this is a great thing that set me grinning when I saw it. 

A Return: Herdy Shepherd is back on Twitter! A long time ago I curated my twitter feed so it's now all nature writing, farming, natural history, books, dinosaurs and artists. I am much happier for it, recommend as a life changer. 

Throwbacks: my Nan had a whole file of cookery cards from the 1960s and 70s, that special moment in time when the Western World did strange and possible illegal things with jelly and canned vegetables. This Twitter account takes me right back to those cookery cards, her kitchen and a simper time...without having to get involved with the actual end result. 

Books: finally treating myself to Grow Your Own Vegetables by Joy Larkom - apparently the veg grower's bible - and The Living Mountain by Nan Shephard. It is my birthday week after all. 

Charity of the Month: the Bloom Association. Set up in 2001 by Claire Nouvian, 2018 Goldman Environmental Winner, to fight against the destruction of the deep sea. 

"Her feelings quickly turned to outrage on discovering that the deep sea had been exploited by industries for nearly 30 years, and that no treaty or law protected international waters, even though they cover two-thirds of the planet. Consequently coral reefs, that can take up to 10,000 years to form, are razed in a matter of minutes by gigantic nets dragging ballasts weighing several tons, irreversibly destroying a biologically diverse landscape that is still virtually unknown to man."

It's an incredible little NGO that has punched above its weight in terms of achievements. Plus, they have a piglet squid as their mascot and they are just about the most adorable thing on the planet.  You can donate here

Friday, July 5, 2019

Art Make Good Now

I love illustrators and cartoonists, the way they can take a piece of reality and gently show you the absurdity or sublimity of it. So I'm dedicating a series of Friday posts to the visual gifters of this world. 

One of my absolute favourites is Tom Gauld - the sparsity of the line, the wry observation that makes you snort, the lettering, the adorable little people...

Hey, I said this would be about graphic artists I like, not that I would be giving an intellectual review of them. 

The only annoying thing about him is that he's exactly the same age as me and draws like he does whereas the last time I drew anything, my 6 year old niece squinted at it and said "why does the lady look afraid?" She was supposed to smiling at a squirrel. I will draw a veil over what she thought the squirrel looked like...

But for a quality visual feast for your eyes, you can see more of Tom's work here

Thursday, July 4, 2019

There has to be a beginning

In this case, a slightly delayed one as the post I tried posting twice over the weekend did most emphatically not want to and it was too hot to make it behave like a blog and not a recalitrant teenager.

So here we are. This is not my first time blogging. I ran one for years that closed simply because the weight of the situation I was living in felt like it was too much to allow me to write freely. We will see if this new situation does.

But I am tired, oh so tired, of how social media is so damn polarised. Micro-blogging isn't satisfying and Twitter threads are annoying. Also, it's getting harder and harder to find the good news in anything or the reasoned voice or the nuanced debate. It's all shouting and no platforming and seeing how controversial you can be just for the sheer "likes" of it. 

I don't likes it. If I want ranting and irrational screaming into the void, I'll stop taking my hormones and wait for the fact no one ever puts a glass in the fucking dishwasher to become overwhelming. As my boyfriend would say, hold my pint. 

So this blog is very firmly about the good and real and positive in the world, because I am in a place where good and positive things are happening (glasses/dishwashers aside), so I want to share it. My mental and physical health are better than they've ever been, just in time for the menopause, and I have the best walk into work ever.

We goes along the canal which is mostly calm and peaceful. The houseboats are starting to line the bank: collie dogs and terriers jump off as they moor and start chasing each other, there is a smell of bacon frying and the gentle sounds of a couple rowing over who did the most work at the locks..."If you can't cope now Sandra, how will you manage when we get to Birmingham?"

In the picture above, behind the row of trees, is my allotment. Waited 2 years for that to become available and then started the moving house process pretty much as soon as the paperwork was signed. Safe to say, not much has been done there yet bar sticking some membrane over the beds and strimming the wild patch.

But it is my long-awaited allotment on which I will grow raspberries and small fruit trees and flowers and you know, stuff. Plus, it's a 5 minute walk from the new house and is right next to the nature reserve as well as the canal. The reserve is rather splendid with orchids, foxes and badgers, slow worms and butterflies. There was a homeless man camping there for a little while but he seems to have gone now. I hope he has a house of his own too.

Then we go past the bus depot wall which has a pleasingly rusty, weather-worn surface. Eaten away by time and oxidisation (now isn't that a good word to say?), it's exactly the sort of wall that the Smiths would have posed in front of for an album cover before Morrissey became too, well, Morrissey.

So now, for the final stretch, I have This Charming Man playing in my head, looping the chorus over and over like a stuck piece of vinyl. Until I look up. 

The duck has something important to tell you: "Pause the shouting, settle on down and let the good stuff roll over you." 

At least, I'm sure that's what he would have told you if duck bills were engineered to say things like that. As it was I didn't ask, merely nodded and moved on after the shot, promising that this will be a blog free of nasty things. Let him contemplate all he surveyed while I crossed the bridge and made my way past Asda. Which is unphotogenic and nasty, so I didn't photograph that.

What I am reading this week: Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. There is a new Jackson Brodie book due out soon, so I'm rereading. The woman is juggling so many plots, it's making my head spin (in a good way) and there's nary a wobble in any of them.

What I'm watching: the Women's World Cup. Turns out I don't hate football after all. 

What I'm listening to: The System Only Dreams in Darkness by The National. Earworm courtesy of the Boyfriend. Also watched the Stormzy set at Glastonbury. That was something else. 

What I have been doing: yoga. Specifically a return to a proper class. It kicked my butt, oh me of "I've only got 15 mins, that'll do" home practise. 

Of the Before and the After

The Potting Shed by Lore Pemberton.  On my Christmas  wish list, Click on the image to get to her website. I had planned to pop on here and ...