Five Weeks to Wed: Reflection on Youth

By the time I was seven I had the whole marriage thing wrapped up – my husband would be tall (at least a head taller than me), dark and handsome, I would be bedecked in lavish jewels and wear a big meringue dress (almost exactly like the one Jennifer Connelly wore in Labyrinth – see below). The ceremony, no less lavish than the dress (naturally), would take place in a beautiful church, with the reception in a grand country mansion. Guests would eat plentifully (mostly chocolate), and I would spend the remainder of my days tripping the light fantastic and dancing on sunbeams with unicorns. Or something like that.

Fast forward 27 years (ouch) and the reality isn’t so far from the dream. My husband to be is indeed tall (not quite a head taller, but let’s not, if you’ll excuse the pun, split hairs) and handsome, if not quite dark (but red haired will do nicely). The lavish jewels are out (clearly my seven year old self had no concept of money), the dress thankfully not quite in the meringue league, and the ceremony will not be in a church (this part I’m sad about, but as we are not Catholic we weren’t allowed to marry in the on-site chapel, and will instead do it outside on the lawn, weather permitting…). And much as I’d have liked a meal made entirely of chocolate, my 34 year old self has to acknowledge it’s not to everyone’s taste. But on one front I’ve trumped seven year old me entirely, for we are not getting married in a grand country mansion, but an actual bona fide castle (albeit because our original, far less grand and ergo far less expensive venue cancelled, but still..). And in Austria, land of stunning lakes and mountains.

With five weeks to go the nerves are kicking in, not about the marriage itself (fortunately), but rather about the plethora of things still to be ticked off the to do list. And the weather. Such a thing shouldn’t matter, of course, but as putting up a marquee will cost us an extra grand I would dearly love to see a forecast devoid of rain when it comes to marquee decision day (two days before the main event). And also, given that our loved ones are making such an effort to be there on our special day,  I would love to have sunshine as much as for them as for us. But what will be will be. I’ve learned a lot during this process about not stressing over things you can’t control. It hasn’t always been easy but it’s another part of growing up. And on the whole, I think we’re both doing pretty well. Next stop: tripping the light fantastic and dancing on sunbeams with unicorns. Bring it on.

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Thoughts from the here and now

I’m sitting in my living room, propped up on cushions with my laptop on my knee so I can work. It starts to rain, and the sound of the rain drops tapping against the window catches my attention. I stop working for a second and listen. It occurs to me that in my hectic city dweller life I rarely hear the pitter-patter of raindrops as they fall from the sky, nor any other natural noises, save for the occasional burst of bird song when the weather is nice enough to sit outside on the terrace (which faces away from the road, mercifully shielding us from the constant blaring of car horns). As I listen I make a conscious effort to breathe; in and out, long and slow. And I realise, too, that such moments – living in the moment – are rarer still.

Why do we race through our lives with such careless disregard for what is happening in the here and now? Are we really so desperate to get to the end of the book of our lives that we are prepared to flick through entire chapters?

Just thoughts, really. From the here and now.

Fin.

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Gratitude, Acceptance and Umbrellas

It’s been a while since I last updated my blog. This is, in part, because I’m currently focusing on addressing some of the issues in my life that are blocking my path to fulfilment and success. At the moment I’m reading two neuropsychology books, one on Hardwiring Happiness by Dr Rick Hanson (whose TED talk on the issue can be viewed here), and the other on conditions arising from neuropsychological damage, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, by the brilliant (and, sadly, now also suffering from terminal cancer) Oliver Sachs. Alongside the Chopra Centre guided meditations that I am trying to do on a regular basis (which I think I mentioned in a previous post), these books have been helping me to understand some key facets* of the human condition that need cultivating in order to experience true fulfilment. These are:

Part One: Gratitude

It sounds obvious, but how many of us really take the time each day to count our blessings? I think I’ve touched on this before, but now more than ever I am realising how important it is to consciously feel gratitude in order to overcome negative emotions like anxiety, jealousy and fear. It is only by recognising the value of what we have – primarily the people in our lives who bring us joy and make us feel secure and loved – that we can create a sense of calm and acceptance. Which brings me onto…

Part Two: Acceptance

This morning I walked past the elderly homeless man who sleeps in a doorway along my route to work. For a time, during January, he disappeared, and I hoped he had found somewhere warm to spend the rest of the winter. But no such luck. Recently he has been back, huddled with his worldly belongings on the grey concrete step. I have wanted to do something for him ever since I first saw him, but was unsure whether he would welcome being approached and offered charity. Today I had my chance, as I had slipped into my bag a slice of the delicious tarte au sucre that was left over from the dinner party I hosted on Sunday night. As I passed him I had the urge to offer it to him. He declined. And you know what? I stifled the selfish compulsion to feel rebuffed, and in that moment realised that acceptance is an important part of coming to terms with life. We can’t change other people; we can only change our own thoughts, deeds and actions. I’m glad I offered him something, even if he didn’t want it, because generosity is part of being human – it connects us to one another, and it makes us feel less alone.

Part Three: Umbrellas

Also on my walk to work today, the air was damp with the drizzle I’m coming to learn is characteristic of life here in Brussels. But rather than putting up my umbrella the second I felt a droplet of water on my forehead, I deliberately waited until the rain was sufficiently heavy to warrant me being protected from it. And in that moment it occurred to me the umbrella could be used as an analogy for life:

Life is about learning when you need an umbrella to protect yourself – and when you are strong enough to walk in the rain.

The path I’m currently treading makes me feel ever more keenly that it isn’t possible to protect ourselves from the negative things in life – they are an intrinsic part of it. What matters is working on our ability to face them head on; to be humble, selfless and brave.

*Interestingly, one meaning for the word ‘facet’ in the dictionary is ‘one of the small, polished plane surfaces of a cut gem’ – it struck me this was also a good analogy for life, which has so very many different aspects, hence the image I have chosen to accompany this post.

Justin-Maller-Facets-90

I never knew facets could be so beautiful.

The Reluctant Runner

It’s 6pm and I’ve just walked back from the tube station in the peeing rain without an umbrella (after leaving it in the office). It is also cold – bitterly cold – and so I have put the kettle on and am about to crank up the heating. And eat a biscuit. What could possibly spoil this perfect picture of cosy winter bliss? An eight kilometre marathon training run in aforementioned peeing rain, that’s what.

This is a watershed moment, I know – one I will look back on only hours from now (once I’ve stripped my sodden clothes away from my smarting skin and stopped sneezing, that is) with a sense of pride and achievement. I will congratulate myself for having had the strength of character to succeed where countless others would have failed. And, after a hearty and well-deserved meal I will retire to bed with a peaceful mind and a happy heart. (I may also, it must be said, wake up with pneumonia and spend the next week doing no exercise at all as a result, but for the purposes of this blog post – and indeed the likelihood of me making it out of the door in the first place – positivity is key).

I cannot, and therefore will not, fall at the first hurdle of winter, for I am made of sterner stuff. Somewhere beneath this thick blanket of resistance and lethargy there is an athlete just bursting to get out and pound those pavements…Maybe she’s hiding under this biscuit…

Summer’s out

Summer is officially over, and its passing couldn’t have been more definitively marked than with this recent spate of gloomy, wet weather. It seems churlish to complain given that this year we had the first prolonged spell of summer sunshine for quite some years, but since complaining’s what we Brits do best that’s clearly not about to stop us.

The thing is, whether people* (*by which I primarily mean men) subscribe to the concept of weather influencing people’s moods or not, the fact is that, well, it does. I may not be able to offer up concrete evidence of this, but it’s just so obvious when you look around on a warm, sunny day and compare it to a cold, grey one that people are noticeably happier on the former.

Once Summer has officially handed the baton over to Autumn and we’ve settled into the routine of darker nights and colder days it’s not as hard to cope with. The worst bit is the transition period, when we can’t quite bring ourselves to let go of the memory of long, lazy days in the park and picnics on the beach. Such a disparity builds up, then, between what we want the weather to be like and what it actually is like that we start to feel out of sorts, irritable and downright grumpy. Until, that is, we partake in either of two fail safe antidotes to post-summer sadness: 1. Start looking forward to Christmas
2. Book a holiday somewhere that guarantees sunny weather
Or, in my case, both…

 

Great Britain? There’s nothing great about this weather..

With the exception of the usual glorious solitary week in April, so far it’s been a pretty average spring. There’s been much cloud, much rain, much grumbling. Snatched snippets of conversation on the commute to work bear testament to the disaffection of the masses; everyone agrees that they feel cheated. But what, exactly, have they been cheated of?

Anyone who has spent any length of time in this country will know the weather systems are at best erratic, at worst downright awful. Granted, they are becoming increasingly harder to predict with each year that passes, but that doesn’t change the fact the weather in Britain has never, in fact, been Great (apologies for the awful pun). And yet, hearing people whinge on about the substandard weather day in, day out, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the climate in the United Kingdom is usually on a par with the Seychelles, and that the current weather systems are playing havoc with the ‘norm.’

One can hardly blame the steady stream of Pac-a-mac clad tourists for feeling deflated as they traipse from one London monument to the next, rain pouring off their visors. But those of us who’ve lived here our whole lives have no excuse. We were born into this soupy greyness, punctuated only occasionally by phases of clear blue. We are familiar with the short-lived summers, the breezy autumns, the freezing winters and the dreary springs. We know the drill, so why do we persist in complaining? Because complaining is what we, as a nation, do best.

When you think about it, it’s probably just as well the weather never quite lives up to expectations in this country. Why? Because if we did have an unbroken summer of tropical heat, what would the commuters have to complain about then? The heat and lack of air conditioning on the trains, that’s what. When it comes to complaining we Brits are nothing if not consistent; and not even a change in weather front can alter that.

No wonder inspiration’s thin on the ground today..

Bank holiday ramblings

Today is an April showery-May-the-4th. Not having anticipated this in the wake of several glorious days of sunshine, this means I am umbrella-less, and therefore at the mercy of the weather gods. The situation is further compounded by two factors. Firstly, not only is today April showery in nature, it is also blustery. This, perhaps, bodes not well for a rooftop (ergo ‘open air’) party in East London. Secondly, sleep deprivation levels are high, my fail safe plan of having a quiet night in to prepare for the weekend having been woefully unmatched by the plans of the other residents in the abode in which I slept. Hence there has been no morning run around Regents Park (though see earlier point about rain-does this let me off the hook on that one?)

In short, conditions for embracing a full on weekend of social engagements are far from optimal. But you know what? It doesn’t even matter. Because not only is it a bank holiday weekend (I’ll admit it smarts slightly that I won’t be paid for Bank Hol Monday, since Mondays are my official days off now I’m part time), I’m also en route for baby cuddles in Herne Hill. And everyone knows baby cuddles make EVERYTHING better.

As i don’t have a snap of today’s cuddle, here’s one that was made earlier (ie last time)