Friday, May 27, 2022

Folding Away

Earlier this week, as I sat in the quiet cafe, music playing quietly enough for me to ignore it and, on the yellow formica table top in front of me, a hot chocolate cooling from molten lava temperature, I paused in my reading to look up and consider the question that has stumped philosophers for centuries...

Is there anything more comforting and more guaranteed to give you a feeling of wellbeing than sea-cold toes thawing in warm dry socks while you drink hot chocolate?

Some serious consideration of other comforting things - the first chilly night under a winter duvet, a hug from someone you genuinely want a hug from, soup and toast, a cup of tea after a night on the tiles -  I have to tell you, dear readers, that no, there is nothing more comforting than that. 

With one of the eternal mysteries of life solved, I returned to split my attention between the second book of the day and that hot chocolate, upon which the crest of whipped cream was slowly, tantalisingly, melting down the side of a mug so big, I could have put my head in it. 

I'm not long back from a quick break to the sea where I did little else other than watch the waves, eat, walk, sleep. Repeat for 2 days. I spent some time picking up pebbles and examining them. I spent even more time reading and writing (took 6 books with me and read 5, leaving Shuggie Bain for a time when I can deal with desperate poverty and lost lives, i.e. not yet). It was bliss and I came back feeling both well fed and well rested. 

I did, despite my age and the fact everyone else over 40 on the beach were wearing sensible stout boots and walking shoes, paddle barefoot in the shallows. Why would you not? Yes, it might have been so cold I could barely feel my feet after 5 minutes and, on 1 occasion, actually raining, but I hadn't gone all that way to not get my feet wet. 

If anything, I just wondered at the people in the stout boots. Did they not want to recapture that feeling of childish glee, that abrupt sucking in of breath that comes when the foaming waves carry themselves over your toes and you realise the water temperature is closer to ice than bath?

Their dogs weren't so inhibited and bounced soggily up to me hoping I was carrying biscuits or would throw the salt water dripping ball for them. Some just wanted a pat and 1 enthusiastic retriever (is there any other sort?) wanted to pause a foot away from me to give himself a vigorous shake. The owner was mortified. 

I just laughed and mopped up the worst with my scarf. That scarf did a lot of standing in for a towel over the 2 days. 

Going through the photos, I realise I mostly took closeups of rocks and pebbles because I find them fascinating and have promised myself to, one day, properly get to grips with geology. No fossil finds, but lots of lovely glittering lines of quartz running like galaxies through the rock. 

I've kept a couple of little videos of the sea on my phone to return to when times get stressful. Which they will. I'm learning to take those times as part of the ebb and flow of life (I do this at the age of 45? Truly I am the enlightened one!) and not to let the stress overwhelm. Let it flow, man, it'll pass. 

And whilst it was tempting to burst back home and insist to N that we "move there instantly and run a little B&B and I will run a craft shop as well and you will run your garden design business and it will all be splendid", I resisted. I think sometimes he takes these flights of fancy seriously and then frets that he'll come home one day and the house will be for sale. Maybe, if I was 25 years ago but still the me I am now, I'd take them seriously too. 

For now, they are daydreams occasioned by being in a nice place and having the usual irksome details of daily life (who's turn is it to cook, who did the last lot of laundry, did you feed the cats already, why are your shoes there?) left behind. 

For 48 hours, I could allow myself to focus on nothing but the sea and the tides. I embraced that lovely Italian idea of far niente, pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness. Something we don't do enough of as adults. I saw no news, no social media and no emails. I did gaze for a long time at the sea, and the long bluing horizon. 

So I'll fold those impossible daydreams away with the post-holiday washing, put them on the shelves with the strange rocks, and not think of them again until I'm back there. Or somewhere else with cobbledy streets, pastel coloured houses and a pub serving the best seafood I've eaten in a long time. 

And for the next week, whenever I turn out of a pair of socks or my bag or a coat pocket, and a small gift of sand sprinkles the carpet, I'll allow myself a moment or two of unfolding. 

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Inhale Deeply

Hello! Well, it has been so long since I last blogged that, coming back to it this morning, I couldn’t remember what I’d last written and consequently lost myself for an hour this morning, rereading, following back, plunging into that memory pool, occasionally asking myself if I’d really meant to write that. 

Generally yes. What I mean to write, I write. 

April and the 1st week in May were…bonkers. So much so that I’ve reached 7th May and fallen at its feet, kissing the ground with gratitude. I think I will lie here for a little bit and recover. 

treated myself to some freesias because why not?

Truth is, I did something I’d promised myself not to do since going freelance, and I’d over committed. In order to fit it all in, I worked over the bank holidays and weekends, push-push-pushing words into those coherent sentences that funders like.  

So. Many. Damn. Zoom. Meetings. Daily, twice daily, thrice daily. Finally, at the suggestion “we catch up via a quick Zoom”, I snapped and demanded an old fashioned phone call instead, unable to face another disjointed conversation full of “oh you’re frozen again” or “hang on while I share my screen.”

And I physically zoomed too: one 7 day stretch saw me dash between Birmingham (again), London and Gloucester. I have seen more train interiors this month than I have in the past 2 years. I have driven to Ely. 

But. Now May is here and the deadlines have been met. I have felt the weight of them fall from my shoulders like a heavy overcoat. 

sweet peas planted out in April

N is cantering through his last month of work. In September he starts a Masters in landscape architecture. No one chooses to be made redundant but there is no denying the freedom, once the period of adjustment and mourning has been got through, to go in a completely different direction that it gives you. 

Speaking of which, never have I ever heard so many tone-deaf comments as I did when the news was first announced. Redundancy is up there in the list of the Big Life Stressors (bereavement, moving, illness, divorce, redundancy, etc) and yet his shoulder rang with the metaphorical thumps of people saying “think of all that free time!”, “wish I could be made redundant!” and “it happened to me and I was over the moon!” 

The problem with comments like that, as well meant as they may be, is they diminish how the person actually feels. That period of mourning and adjustment as you realise the future you thought was secure has just been snatched away, that the small work ‘family’ you’d been part of will soon all be moving on without you, is necessary. Trying to cheer someone out of it just makes them feel worse. 

And now he's through that - jubilant to be leaving a work environment that had steadily grown more toxic over the past 2 years, coming out of meetings with deep sighs, shakes of the head and a wondering "I don't have to worry about that any more". There are plans for the future, university in September and then the wedding at the end of the month. We’re in a good place. 

Shelves at the Coffin Works. One of the helter-skelter visits I did. 

My poor allotment. I managed 1 trip up there, nearly 2 weeks ago. To be fair, the ground was so dry, it needed a mattock to break it up (it's a clay soil so when it's dry, it's solid). It needed the recent drenching. Tomorrow, recently nadgered ankle withstanding*, I'm planning a few hours up there, taking my sandwiches and my time over the jobs to do. There are seedlings ready to go in, another brick path to be built and, no doubt, strimming to be done. I love No Mow May but if I went with that at my plot, I'd never recover the ground. 

I have alpines to plant on the tricky dry bed, cornus cuttings that have rooted and need a place to be, a couple of achillea that 'fell' into my basket and a honeyberry (lonicera caerulea) which I also failed to resist. 

May is full of green and so beautiful that, now I have the time, I'm standing to stare. Trips to garden centres that are bursting with lushness. Going to see friends one evening, the lanes were so soft with new growth, bluebells shyly scattering the grass, that I had to stop the car to stare properly. I'm going to do that more, not just now, but this year in general. 

Things I have read and seen:

  • Earthed by Rebecca Schiller, Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym, Unreliable Memoirs by Clive James and South Riding by Winifred Holtby, which stayed with me for days afterwards and I'm recommending all over the shop. 
  • Dinosaurs: the Final Day with David Attenborough. Just mind-blowing. Astonishing finds and research pinpointing the moment of asteroid impact that did for the dinosaurs. And continuing the asteroid theme, Don't Look Up. Funny and poignant, Meryl Streep acting it up a storm. An allegory for our environmentally-stricken times that can also make you laugh. 

There are 3 more weeks of May left before we tilt into the birthday pell-mell of June and July (our families seem to cluster around here and November-December for birthdays) and I can allow myself the luxury of Days Off. Things I will do in May:

  • Eat asparagus in a variety of ways. 
  • Ditto new potatoes
  • Make elderflower cordial
  • Inhale deeply when I'm around flowers
  • Admire the wisteria at the allotments
  • Watch butterflies
  • Quit Twitter because, ugh**
  • Yoga
  • Write
What does May hold for you?

*the arthritis means that when I've been too much on my feet, I get unsteady, leading to Undignified Trips and, in this case, Falls. I've been resting this thing since Wednesday. Lots of ice etc. 
** Done!

PS If I've missed any of your posts and/or comments, I'm sorry. Slowly getting myself back into order. 

Two Go To An Island

Oh Lindisfarne, you are so beautiful and strange. Driving over the causeway, a mild frisson of fear that maybe you've got the tide timin...