Escape to the country

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It may be rose tinted glasses syndrome that’s responsible for the long, unbroken childhood summers in that are forever etched in my memory, but I can’t help feeling the last few summers have been distinctly underwhelming here in this great country I call home-which is precisely why I’m squeezing every bit of enjoyment out of this one and have this weekend been down to Devon for a bit of country living in the August sunshine.

City living’s so fast paced it’s easy to get totally swept along with the tide and lose all semblance of tranquility. That’s why I love escaping every now and then to a place where the phone signal and electricity are intermittent and the pace of life considerably more sedate. Not sedate for the people who live here, perhaps, but certainly for those of us who are fortunate to be able to visit once in a while.

At first it’s quite a shock to the system being partially “offline” and adjusting to not having to check your watch every five minutes. But once you have adjusted it’s blissful going with the flow and spending time with nature instead of being constantly “plugged in” to one form of technology or other.

This weekend we’ve been to a village fete – where we spent ages trying to beat one another playing a simple game involving putting bits of pipe onto a board in the fastest time (take that Candy Crush) – and attended the obligatory post-event booze up in the local pub. We’ve also driven and walked through beautiful Devonshire countryside and sat down to a lovely roast pork dinner. If not exactly relaxing (we haven’t really stopped at any point to rest per se) it has at least been refreshing for our minds and bodies to take a break from the normal frenetic London lifestyle. Without the odd weekend like this I think I might go slightly mad, so long may they-and indeed this glorious and long-awaited summer-last.

 

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Forever young

I’ve never been a fan of beauty features, especially those interminable ones that harp on endlessly about the latest ‘miracle’ cream which most of us would have to sell a kidney to stand even a chance of affording. These days even girls in their early twenties are slathering on anti-wrinkle serum every night in the hope they will forever retain their youthful complexions. Whatever happened to growing old gracefully?

Lord knows I’ve done enough damage to my skin over the years through sunbathing and smoking alone. Fortunately I’ve now firmly knocked the smoking on the head, but I’m still partial to the odd high factor cream-less lay about on the Common, despite the regular health warnings we’re now subjected to (have the people making the announcements actually looked out of the window lately? It would be a miracle if the sun’s rays were able to penetrate the thick canopy of cloud that’s hung over us for the past few months).

But whilst many of my peers won’t use anything but the best on their skin to try and redress the balance of years of excess, I’ve always balked at spending over £15 on any single beauty product (with the sole exception of Boots No.7 Protect and Perfect serum, which is scientifically PROVEN to work, don’t you know). My mum, who’s in her sixties, still looks fantastic for her age and claims never to have used anything but soap and water, Oil of Ulay (as it was ‘back in the day’ – sorry Mum!) and E45 on her skin. So I’m praying to the God of Genes to keep me in good nick without a monthly shipment of Crème de la Mer.

What I have begun to fall victim to now I’m advancing further into my thirties is the latest tranche of fad food supplements. Only last week a packet of Spirulina powder plopped onto my desk (soon to be followed by a packet of Wheatgrass powder). Promising to “combat various forms of malnutrition, boost the immune system, protect against cancer, support detoxification, increase overall energy level, fight infections, counter obesity and relieve stress,” this is one SERIOUS super food.

The downside (because of course there is always a downside with these things) is that it tastes AWFUL. This morning when I mixed up my first dose with some apple juice and banana it smelt so bad I could hardly bear to raise it to my lips and take a sip. But I persevered, because if it does even half of the things it claims to do I might very well live forever – which will likely cost a fortune in skin cream, even if it is the £15-a-pop kind…

Epiphany on me

Every so often when I’m engrossed in a book, or lost in a song that’s so beautiful the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, I get a sudden rush of overwhelming anxiety. Why? Because in that moment it dawns on me that I will never be able to read all of the amazing books in the world, or hear all of the glorious music that’s been produced over the many years since music began. It’s obvious, of course, but whenever I think about it for any length of time it’s still a sobering enough concept to take my breath away.

Phase two of this bizarre anxiety involves my ruminating that I haven’t read the right kind of books, or listened to the right kind of music. As I’ve grown up – and I should point out at this juncture that I still find it hard to accept that I am, in fact, grown up. Indeed when the prodigal and only child of the family returns home for a familial visit my parents also often have some difficulty believing this – I’ve always thought my capacity and hunger for knowledge would increase and my tastes would mature, not unlike a fine wine.

By my early thirties I was certain I’d have moved beyond childish chick lit ‘novels’ and the kind of soulless popular music that’s relentlessly and indiscriminately spewed out by endless commercial radio stations. I would, I thought, be reading Proust and Tolstoy, listening to Beethoven and Chopin, spending my spare time studying philosophy and going on cycling holidays to French vineyards with my similarly-inclined peers.  

But alas, ‘twas not to be. At thirty one I’m ashamed to admit I still spend most weekends drinking cheap cider and falling out of clubs (playing – you’ve guessed it – popular music). I still haven’t read most of the Orange and Booker Prize-shortlisted tomes I acquired some years ago in a fit of pique at my own ignorance of the workings of the literary world (‘you want to be a writer!’ I’d scold myself. ‘How can you write without reading the works of the great writers?’)  And the sum total of my knowledge on classical music and wine would fit on the back of a postage stamp (and still leave room to spare).

The interest in politics and international affairs that I thought was a rite of passage of getting older never quite materialised. Nor the savvy business mind which would easily decipher tax codes, pensions and such like. Instead of a one woman dynamo I stand before you as an empty, muddled and ignorant shell. I am a caterpillar that failed to undergo metamorphosis and turn into a butterfly. I am a Monopoly piece that didn’t pass Go.

I suppose a psychologist would say that the root cause of my anxiety is my feeling small and insignificant, not knowing my place in the world and worrying I will never make my mark. And I suppose with that analysis they would be pretty spot on (in fact I’ve surprised myself by trotting that out without too much thought and whilst simultaneously wondering what to cook for my dinner – who says we women can’t multitask? Oh, I did, in yesterday’s post. Damn).

But hang on just one cotton picking minute. What about the things I have achieved, the books I have read, the music I have listened to? What about the friends I’ve made, the stories I’ve written, the places I’ve visited? I may never know my Beaujolais from my Fleurie, or be able to discuss the merits of Aristotle’s theories over Plato’s. I may not develop a discerning ear for classical music, know the background to every international conflict or be the next Jane Austen. But I’ll tell you what I will do. I’ll write for pleasure, read for pleasure and continue listening to music that makes my hairs stand on end – even if I heard it on Radio 1.

And above all else I’ll do my best to be a good person and make other people happy. Because no amount of knowledge, maturity and finesse can make up for not being able to do that.

I took this photo when I went on a walk by myself along the beach in Lombok. It reminds me of a quiet, reflective period in my travels – appropriate for this post, which actually made me feel surprisingly emotional as I wrote it.

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How can I describe you?

Your beauty and your ugliness go hand in hand, they cannot be separated. You have many faces. Like a kaleidoscope you dazzle all who look upon you. Some see truth, some see excitement, others see only sadness and despair-but all have strong reactions.

You are the opposite of bland.

You are a mirage, ever-shifting and changing. You offer life, yet you bring death. You are never quiet, never still. You suffocate, intoxicate, annihilate. You provoke debate.

Like a boa constrictor you wrap yourself around your prey while they are unaware and squeeze the life from them, bit by bit. Like a Venus Fly Trap you lure your victims in with sweet nectar before drowning them in toxic secretions.

You twist and turn, you ebb and flow. You smoke and burn, you shrink and grow.

You breathe the collective sighs of thousands.

You build up and you break down. You belong to everyone and no one.

You are the sweetest of scents and the foulest of odours. You are music, you are movement. You are passion.

Your light may, at times, diminish. But it will never be extinguished.

You are a multitude of things.

London: How I love you.

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This is my favourite view of London, it signifies everything that’s great about this crazy City in which I live.