The Moon / Reasons to be thankful

I’ve just spent ages staring out of the window at the full moon. I find it utterly mesmerising – magical, even – that from all the way down here it’s possible to see the light and shadows of its surface. It makes me feel so small, but in a good way – like there is so much more to this universe than my tiny mind is capable of fathoming, but that somehow that’s okay, because in accepting that I also accept there is so much more possibility, so much more breadth of experience; so much more life to behold.

Today has been a GOOD day, for the following reasons:

1. I finally had my physiotherapy consultation at the Crystal Palace sports injury clinic and have been referred for a course of NHS physio treatment in Clapham, starting Wednesday. The recovery starts here…

2. I edited one 750 word story, wrote a new 1,600 word story and submitted both to competitions whose deadlines were today.

3. I received an email from the editor of my favourite magazine saying they would consider my recent pitch (but warning me they’ve received a lot of similar subject matter of late – which is totally fair enough and will only serve to make me more inventive in the future :))

4. The sun was shining brightly and warmly all day long – it’s finally starting to feel like summer is just around the corner and I LIKE it!

5. I spoke to two extremely special people in my life, who made me feel amazing and who I love beyond words.

6. I managed to cook a delightful supper (albeit from a recipe, but shhhh, don’t burst my bubble) of aubergine stuffed with chorizo, tomato, spinach and ricotta. NOM.

7. It’s a full moon – and as I said above, I just love a full moon (maybe I was a werewolf in a previous life).

Just wanted to share the above really. Because it’s all too easy to forget to stop and look around once in a while at all the wonderful things and people that we’re blessed with in our lives – and to appreciate each and every one of them for the richness that they bring.

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Reasons to be winter-ful

Unless you have been living in a cave for the past few days it cannot have escaped your attention that the nights are drawing in. Winter, dear friends, is coming – as we all knew it would (although we clung to the warm weather like limpets to a rock). But the demise of British Summer Time need not send us spiralling into a depression. Summer has gone, that much is true, but far from being summer’s miserable cousin, winter brings with it a whole new list of reasons to be happy. Reasons like:

1. We can invest in new bedding

When winter arrives and the sunlight hours decrease it is more crucial than ever that we get a good night’s sleep, not least to fight off the threat of Seasonal Affective Disorder. So as the colder months approach what better way to prepare than with some goose down pillows and a nice 13.5 tog goose down duvet? S.A.D? Not me. I’m Z.Z.Z…..

2. We can buy new clothes

Last year’s wardrobe’s been eaten by moths? Never mind, you can always clear it out and invest in some new choice threads to keep your smile white hot when the temperature drops…

3. Animal hats are back in vogue

…and animal slippers, ear muffs, slipper socks…

4. We have an excuse to get the hot water bottle out of retirement

What can be better than retiring to bed with a miniature heater and a good book? Cosy.

5. We can drink hot chocolate like it’s going out of fashion

For the rest of the year it would seem gluttonous, but when winter rolls around it’s perfectly acceptable to drink hot chocolate every day. Yum.

6. It’s CHRIIIISSSSTMAAAAAS

Okay, so not everyone loves the festive season, but surely everyone appreciates having some time off work?

7. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

Snow crocodile anyone?

See? Winter’s not so bad after all – embrace it!

The weight of the world

I don’t usually write poetry but today at lunch time I took myself off to Potters Fields to sit with the sadness I’m currently feeling for some people close to me, and out poured the following (pretty sure today’s post won’t meet the 200 minimum word quota I set myself but sometimes an artist must suffer for her work, and now is one such time):

The weight of the world

If heartbreak had a physical weight, this bench would have buckled years ago. So many came and went, sitting with their burdens when carrying them became too much to bear.

The late summer sun, whilst beautiful, seems now to taunt the hopeful souls who stroll and sit beneath it, catching the last rays before the seasons roll inexorably on.

Above the fading blooms two butterflies (who did not get the end of summer memo) frolic in the air, rising and falling on a breeze so faint it hardly stirs the blades of grass below.

Is this an end or a beginning? In some ways it is neither, but rather just a phase in the constantly shifting cycle of existence.

Why is it only humans want answers? Simple: Because the universe already knows.

(…and will you look at that, I’ve just broken the word count barrier).

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…

 

Don’t be S.A.D

Much as we may hate to admit it the signs are becoming increasingly harder to ignore; daylight hours are waning, the sun is slowly starting to retreat out of our reach and there’s a desperate aura surrounding the pavement drinkers that says that they know their outdoor drinking days are numbered. In the words of my beloved Game of Thrones (the most amazing TV series since 24, for those of you who may not be familiar with it and have clearly been living beneath a rock for the past year): Winter is coming.

It’s not as if we can bemoan the lack of decent summer weather this year, though as a nation of moaners I’m sure many people will. After last year’s wash out the past few weeks have been almost entirely pleasant – we’ve even had a mini heat wave for goodness’ sake! (Bless). You can’t say fairer than that, eh? And so as the nights draw in we must accept the fact that no matter how well the weather gods treat us, the summer season will never feel long enough.

There will never be enough days spent languishing bare-legged and brown-skinned in the park, or sipping cocktails on a rooftop at the many pop-up bars that spring up like rabbits as soon as there’s a hint of summer blooms scenting the air. We will never eat enough ice cream (FACT), nor spend enough time building sandcastles on British beaches like we did when we were five years old. We will never have our fill of wandering by the river on a hazy summer’s eve as the sun starts its unhurried journey towards the horizon, pulling a veil of pink across the sky.

It’s true that winter creeps up like a thief, wrapping its cloak of darkness around our shoulders almost before we know what is going on. But lest we complain about the changing of the seasons we should remember the positives that each season brings. Winter may be cold and dark but it also offers cosy nights in pubs drinking mulled wine, and even cosier nights in sipping on hot chocolate. It also boasts the accolade of being the festive season, which brings families together and puts delicious food on the table. So you see, it shouldn’t be feared but rather embraced.

The changing of the seasons is Mother Nature’s way of showing us just how wonderful this world we live in really is. Granted, the seasons in this country tend to be particularly harsh, but if it was always summer and never winter would we really appreciate the summer as much as we do? What would we have to grumble about then?

Summer loving

For the first time this year it feels like summer has finally arrived, and it may even hang around a bit to brighten the collective mood of the nation. Temperatures are high and spirits even higher. We may not get much good weather here in Britain but when we do, by heck do we know how to eek every last drop of satisfaction out of it.

Yesterday I went to Brighton for a mini break with three girlfriends. It had been planned for some time so the good weather was a fortunate, though most welcome, addition. We arrived just in time to secure a good spot on the beach and whiled away a very pleasant few hours in the sunshine before retiring to our capacious hotel suite for a rest and some pre-drinks. Later on we braved the inordinately large number of hen and stag dos congregating on the sea front and made our way to a club called Audio, which played decent music but which was packed to the rafters with what I can only describe as utter pikeys. Nonetheless we had a great night and laughed our heads off, so we absolutely fulfilled our fun quota.

When we returned today the weather was so fantastic that the only logical thing to do was sit in the sunshine on Clapham Common with ice lollies and some summer tunes on the speakers. As I sat and looked around at my friends and reflected on the great weekend I was having I felt a deep sense of contentment, in part because I love the summer but in the main because I realised how fortunate I am to have so many wonderful people to share it with. After a bit of sunbathing I met some other friends in the pub beer garden for a quick drink before heading home and had the same feelings of good fortune and happiness.

It’s all too easy to take the people and places in your life for granted, which is why it’s important sometimes to just stop and look around at what you have – and to realise that despite the odd down day here and there, all is just the way you like it – lovely.

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..

The happiness quota

On the way home from work today I was ruminating on the idea of having a personal happiness quota. If such a thing exists I’ve already moved considerably further towards the top end of mine by changing jobs and taking the decision to reduce my working week to four days a week (even if it does mean less money coming in – though maybe best to reserve this particular declaration of happiness until after my first pay cheque’s cleared).

Another way I’ve increased my happiness rating over the past few years has been through incorporating competitive exercise into my routine (not that you’d know it if you’d been watching me over the past week, slovenliness having set in a little in the wake of my last race). And over the past couple of days I’ve managed to crank the score up further still by signing up to the Take Ten programme by Headspace, a daily ten minute guided meditation which already has me feeling more calm and in control of my life.

So, you may ask, if everything’s going so well what’s stopping me from hitting the top rung of the happiness ladder? I’ll tell you what: My commute. After months of travelling to work on the new extended overland train to Shoreditch I’d almost forgotten the trauma that is the Northern line in rush hour. Now I’m working in London Bridge, however, it’s proving unavoidable.

There’s are few things worse than spending the 20 minutes before reaching the office and the 20 minutes after leaving it face-in-armpit with a total stranger – especially now it’s nearing summertime when the airless tubes turn into human microwaves (readers of my old blog may remember the time a six foot four inch giant fainted ON TOP OF ME at the end of a packed tube carriage on the hottest day in summer – NEVER AGAIN).

If I’m to avoid a summer of discontent it’s becoming patently obvious I’m going to have to find an alternative way to cover the four odd miles from Clapham to London Bridge. And the obvious solution is to get on my bike and cycle there. Not only will it keep me fit (possibly negating the need for a new gym membership?), it will also save me considerable money on the cost of tube fare. So what’s stopping me from getting on and doing it? The fear of becoming a statistic after having an unfortunate collision with a lorry, that’s what. I know you shouldn’t live your life thinking ‘what if,’ but when it comes to road sense I’m woefully lacking – at nine years old I cycled round a roundabout the wrong way, nearly giving my parents a heart attack in the process.

All of which leaves me in quite the dilemma: Do I face my fear and cycle or face a summer of discontent on a smelly tube train? I think I know what you’re all saying: Get on your bike! Right? Right. Now where did I put that pump?

This was taken during my triathlon last September – incidentally (and shamefully) also the last time I did actually get on my bike…

You had me at first click

There are more ways for a man to meet his demise than one might think. The first time Johnny Barker picked up a camera he couldn’t have known he was setting in motion a chain of events that would ultimately lead to his.

July 1981. Great British Summertime is in full swing, and eight year old Johnny is sitting on the wall outside his terraced house in his grey flannel shorts, watching as his mother, sister and a cacophony of other female relatives and neighbours prepare for the annual street party.

“Come on Johnny,” his sister Sally scolds as she simultaneously pulls a string of brightly coloured bunting out of the front door and sets off down the road. Johnny watches open-mouthed as the bunting keeps on coming out of the front door as if by magic, until Auntie Pauline appears at the other end of it and delivers a well-aimed kick to Johnny’s behind as she passes by.

“Oh good Lord, Pauline!” Johnny’s mother exclaims, running back into the house with the enthusiasm of an athlete. “I’ve clean forgot about the trifle!”

Johnny slides off his perch and scuffs his shoe against the wall, loosening some pebbles which tumble in a mini avalanche onto the Tarmac beneath. He shoves his hands into his pockets and sighs.

“What’s wrong with you boy?” Auntie Pauline asks with a less than playful cuff around Johnny’s ear. Not a slight woman, the body weight behind the gesture almost sends him flying, and an expression somewhere between shock and satisfaction briefly registers on the old woman’s pinched face.

“Nowt,” Johnny says with a shrug, “besides being having ‘owt to do.” He dodges yet another swipe and half skips, half runs down the road to his friend Terry’s house.

Two hours later and the street party’s in full swing, with crackly music blaring from Tom Warner’s old wireless radio. The scotch eggs, sausages and cucumber sandwiches have all but been devoured and the small children are tucking into the jelly and ice cream.

Distracted by the sight of an unfamiliar man in their midst, Johnny pushes his plate to one side. The man sidles up beside him and gives him a wink. He is wearing a long cream mac that is completely at odds with the warmth of the day, and in his hand he holds the biggest camera Johnny has ever seen.

“You like this?” asks the man, his mouth widening into a crooked grin. Johnny nods, and the man holds the camera out in front of him like a prize. “Why don’t you have a go at taking a picture with it?”

Johnny gulps and looks down at the camera. He takes it from the man and gingerly removes the lens cap. Holding it to his face he squints and looks through the viewfinder, pointing the camera into the crowd of people.

And then he sees her. She is sitting at the far end of the table, her hair in blonde pigtails tied with red ribbon. She is wearing a blue gingham dress with a lace collar, and a smudge of her mother’s red lipstick stains her lips pink.

As I said at the beginning of this story, there are more ways for a man to meet his demise than one might think. And that day when he set eyes on Jenny Warner, somewhere deep down in his subconscious, Johnny knew he had met his.

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I couldn’t think of a better shot than this to accompany this post. It’s one of my favourite pictures from my travels, taken of me and my boyfriend (before he was my boyfriend!) on the beach in Borneo. Looking at it makes me very happy.

My earliest memory

If memory serves it was a summer’s day, the kind that has us Brits rushing for the strawberries and cream and slathering on the high factor sun lotion. My recollection doesn’t stretch to what I was wearing at the time but common sense would suggest it was some form of seasonally appropriate attire. For the purpose of adding colour to this story let’s say it was a yellow dress with white trim, matching white socks and shiny red shoes with gold buckles.

We were standing in front of a big grey house, my mother and I. As I looked up at it in wonder I thought I had never seen anything so gigantic in all my life. It had creepers growing up its walls, and large, foreboding windows which, despite their size, revealed nothing of what was within. We walked down the gravel drive and followed the path around the side of the house until we reached the garden at the back.

It was a large garden, with neatly kept flower beds containing multi-hued sprays of chrysanthemums, roses, bougainvillea and clematis (am I overdoing my artistic license here?). The air was thick with the scent of lavender, and busy little insects tended to the flowers like nurses to the sick. Dotted around the garden were other visitors like us, drawn by the fine weather and the prospect of tea and cake.

But there was another reason why they came – why we had come. Inside the house, on the upper floor, was a long landing. It wasn’t just any landing, it was also a gallery. Lining its walls were portraits of long dead ancestors of the house’s owners, the kind whose eyes follow your every movement, waiting.

We stood on this landing, my mother and I, and I felt a sudden stab of fear. I clutched her hand tightly as we began to walk, the floorboards squeaking underneath our feet. Slow and tentative steps I took, conscious that I was pulling back, not wanting to proceed – but she didn’t notice, or at least seemed not to. I remember trying not to look at their eyes, those soulless black holes that demanded attention but offered nothing but sinister stares in return.

Halfway down the corridor I stopped dead. A chill ran right through me as I looked up into the eyes of one of the paintings. Nothing happened, per se, but to this day I can remember that sensation of abject fear.

I know it sounds far-fetched and I imagine those who don’t believe in ghosts and such like will be scoffing as they read this. All I will say is that when I recounted this story to my mum a year or so ago she couldn’t believe I remembered our visit to that country house – because I couldn’t have been much more than two years old at the time. Now how’s THAT for spooky?

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I took this photo whilst walking around the beautiful gardens surrounding Sydney Harbour. It’s blurry background seems quite fitting for this mysterious and slightly chilling (but true!!) story.