Advice on washing machines

Yesterday I tried to wash some clothes. I put them in the drum, added the purple goo to the drawer and switched the machine on. It beeped as normal and I settled down on the sofa, tucked myself under the blanket and began to read. I was disturbed two minutes later by the washing machine beeping furiously.

An error code flashed on the screen.

I turned it all off, turned it all back on again. The same thing happened.

I found the manual and looked up the error code. Except there was no such error code.

Our landlord has a team of highly practical men who do useful things like mend boilers, put up washing lines and sort out washing machines. These men know everything; they built the house. Within about half an hour my go-to-guy was at the door with the answer to the problem. He explained that the previous day he’d popped in to check the washing machine filters and had forgotten to turn the water back on.

24 hours later as I was loading the washing machine again, I realised that the error code H2O wasn’t an error code. It’s a chemical formula.

So my advice, less panicking, more thinking.

Cutting my hair with the fabric scissors

Last week I chopped seven inches off my hair. It took two snips of my largest fabric scissors.

But why?

Because, it’s just hair. 

Of course, I’m as self-conscious as any other woman in her mid twenties. I’m paranoid about weight, diet and remembering to do exercise just like anyone else.

From a financial perspective, my reasoning went like this… if I have £20, then I can pay for a haircut, which would make me look nicer? Or I can buy two books and spend a few hours curled up on the sofa reading. If you’re reading £20 and thinking ‘only £20’ you’re right. I’m definitely talking about the lower end of hair cut prices.

Most people I know routinely get their haircut. They use the same hairdresser, choose a similar style and pay the price. They’ve always done it, so they don’t take any time to ask why. A hair cut is a necessity. Isn’t it?

Choosing uglier hair is harder than booking an appointment. When a real hairdresser with talent cuts my hair, it looks wonderful. After all, I have a huge volume of long, thick, healthy hair.

But I want to own my choices – proactive choices based on my values and beliefs. I want to base my actions on thought.

Society’s expectations vs autonomous thinking

In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow, he describes this battle of balancing instinctual, inherited needs with the perceived expectations of society. In simpler terms, you need to work out how to be yourself whilst fitting in with society. Plus, try and be a positive contributor towards it.

All this requires, “a drastic change in attitude about what is important and what is not.”

To me, my haircut is of low importance. It has only a minor effect on my appearance. It’s true, I’m like anyone else who stares with envy at the photoshopped models. But once I get over the jealousy, I remember it’s chemicals and water-pollutants, hours of sitting in front of a mirror and some skill with a computer program. A haircut isn’t going to make me taller, thinner, prettier or happier.

Yet, I still fear being looked down upon, as if I am somehow uncouth. I have amazing hair. It’s the aspect of my appearance that instills open envy in others. In school I was told how wonderful it would look if I straightened it. I’ve been told to wear it down more often. I’ve been told to blow dry it. I’ve been told it’s amazing when curled. The possibilities of how amazing I could be if only I managed my hair better seem endless.

In the beginning

Not getting a professional haircut wasn’t the first step I’ve taken towards this neglect.

When I started buying conditioner, I bought it based on price per 100ml. Money was sacred.

It was quite a change from the luxurious conditioner that I grew up with – beautiful expensive bottles, decorated with exotic fruits and words like luscious and silky.

I love the smell. I love feeling how thick glossy and soft it makes my hair. I love long showers.

And then, I started reducing the conditioner I used. Nowadays I often don’t use it at all, despite washing my hair almost daily.

All small steps.

The hair cut

Whilst cutting my own hair might seem crazy, it wasn’t much of a risk. Before I cut it, it was twenty-six inches long. I took off 7 inches and what remains could be restyled and still considered long.

Building integrity

I’m grown-up and professional. Really. I’m sure that grown-up professional looking people don’t have hair chopped with fabric scissors.

At work, everyone else has beautiful, styled hair. In fact, so styled that I’m not sure what the natural hair colour is of almost half the women in the office. I see all this effort and yet, when I joke about my hair, I’m told that I’m not allowed to speak. That it’s unfair that I have such beautiful hair. Comments about split ends and thin hair follow.

I can tie my hair back and pretend, but I want to have integrity.

I don’t want to hide my choices, which is why I blog. Somehow it’s easier to speak through keyboard strokes. I’m giving you the choice of whether to react to my choices or not.

Back to the £20. I bought myself the Dalai Lama’s How to be compassionate – a handbook for creating inner peace and a happier world.

My word isn’t beauty; it’s kind. In the marathon of life, understanding kindness is going to make me happier than having prettier hair.

What do you do without thinking just because you’ve always done it?


A debate on vaccinations, and why my Father is the best


I’m sitting at my desk in the office at work and the discussion at the table turns to vaccinations. One of my colleagues is heading off to India for his holidays and has just had been injected three times as a precaution.

The conversation bends to recollections of our school time vaccinations. One colleague is wary of vaccinations. I briskly point out that the human body hasn’t had the chance to naturally evolve for international travel and with the wide range of things we can catch when we dash from country to country. I’ll take every help medicine can give me.

He nods, and says, “Suppose so.” But he isn’t convinced.

And then he’s says how we have an awful lot of vaccinations before we get a choice in the matter.

This makes me smile. I’ve had a choice in the matter for as long as I’ve had the skills to make the decision. In fact, for every vaccination I can remember.

The father has always been very clear that rules that apply to other people don’t necessarily apply to me. This isn’t because other people don’t have the option to bend rules, it’s because most people don’t consider that they can.

It’s all a matter of choices and consequences.

My Father, who is a great supported of eradicating polio, but has otherwise never told me what to believe about my own vaccinations, consented to me choosing for myself.

In his eyes, I was capable of making decisions about my health by myself. He adamantly refused to make the decision for me.

The Mother’s comment on the matter was, “Speak to your father.”

Which meant I was the only kid in the vaccination line at school whose form wasn’t signed. Instead I had a letter declaring that my father had passed such responsibility on to me – on the one condition that I was appropriately informed of the consequences of my decision before I made it.

Inevitably, I was the last person in the class to be vaccinated, every time. Someone had to discuss the vaccination with me and find me a pen.

I explained this to my colleague. He looked at me as if I was crazy. He asked how a twelve-year-old could make such a decision. This surprised me.

At twelve-years-old, I had no doubt that I could make an educated decision. I read every word on every leaflet and asked questions. At the time I found it all a slight inconvenience; I had to deal with the flustered nurse (always the one in charge). Then there was the problem of explaining to my classmates why my form wasn’t signed. It’s slightly embarrassing having atypical parents. Yet I didn’t doubt that the Father was right.

I’m glad he made me think for myself and recognise that at the end of the day, I’m responsible for me.

On quidditch

I’m stood at the edge the pitch terrified that any moment my little sister is going to be the one getting shunted into the ambulance that waits behind the goal line.

She’d say it’s a question of technique, if you and your opponent tackle well then you’re going to be fine. People get hurt when technique is bad. It’s why you’re not allowed to initiate contact from behind. Such behaviour would of course get you a red card.

It’s my sister who is on point. The person at the front of the formation of the team determined to win back that ball.

The guy with the ball is built like a hulk. My sister is 5ft3.

What ensues is terrifying. At a full sprint she throws herself into him. He staggers and stays upright. My sister bounces, rolls as if a stunt man on a James Bond film and gets back to her feet. Seconds later she’s at him again and he’s forced into getting rid of that ball rather than making a run for goal.

Sometimes they just go down. My sister neither gloats nor concerns herself with their ego. She’s already at the other end of the pitch with her mind set on the goals.

Of course, not all tackling is perfect. I’ve watched my sister charging forward, ball in hand, and get launched at from behind by a much taller chap. They both go down. The referee blows his whistle and the two of them stagger to their feet.

I breathe.

After checking this chap is alright, and assuring him that she’s fine, my little sister is shaking his hand with both of hers and consoling him on his disqualifying red card.

In fact, she shakes everyone’s hand, or gives them a hug, after every match. As does the rest of the team. This is a tribe of people who value each other.

It attracts all sorts of people. Some of the participants haven’t had a history of sporting prowess, something I can relate to, but here, amongst these people they’re wearing a team kit and despite being cherry faced and exhausted, they’re grinning.

They’re proud of themselves, proud of each other and proud of their sport.

A sport that I’ve been known to roll my eyes at.

Rolling your eyes at acceptance, and inclusive teamwork is ridiculous. Rolling your eyes at people helping each other become fitter and develop confidence within a safe, encouraging environment is ridiculous. Rolling your eyes just because these people chose their sport from a book that they loved and a story they are passionate about is ridiculous.

When I was younger I would tell my sister where it was and wasn’t acceptable to play pretend. She would look at me terribly confused and wonder why it was that one situation wasn’t suitable for playing Famous Five or something similar, but another place and time was acceptable. My mind would be racing wondering who would see, who would think us stupid or childish.

I never ran, because I would look stupid running. I never wanted to go to the gym, because I wouldn’t know what I was doing. I fear team sport, because I’ll just let someone down. Rolling my eyes is a defensive strike. I’m saying, your sport is silly, but what I’m feeling is a terrible fear because I can’t let my guard down like that.

I don’t know how.

But my little sister does. She’s at point, she’s got the whole team behind her and she knows it. She knows her job isn’t to get the ball herself, her job is to push, to fight and trust that there are two men poised behind her are ready to catch.

She hurtles towards a man twice her size and there’s no fear holding her back. She might be only 5ft3, but 5ft3 is all of enough when you know who you are.

I’m proud of her.

You can’t go wrong just planting seeds, can you?

To celebrate either Jesus’ birthday or my own, the Short Aunty and family bought me some exciting gardening stuff.

This morning I planted the first of my 850 seeds for some leafy salad thing. Supposedly, in just three weeks it will be ready for my sandwiches – potentially saving my 50p a week on buying lettuce. I checked the packet very very carefully and you can plant in February. You can even harvest in February if you plant right at the beginning of the month, but it started snowing so I thought I’d wait a few weeks.

So today was the day.

Now, after having seemingly thousands of seedlings last year on every available surface, I decided the best option was only to plant a few seeds at a time. After all, imagine if they actually grew and I had 850 lettuces? I’m not sure you can freeze lettuce.

salad seeds planted

Rummaging around in the shed I came across a packet of onions. Googling the planting of onions I learnt that you’re supposed to use fresh seeds. Seeing as there was nothing to lose and you can’t just put seeds in the bin, I planted them as well.

chilli plant

As for actual plants in my little house. The chilli plant that I sowed in December (I’m sure chilli plants aren’t meant to be sown in December) is growing marvelously. By this I mean it isn’t dead. I got this particular seed from a Mexican restaurant in London, not from my dinner, but in a small packet post-dinner alongside a mint.

parsley plant

The supermarket parsley isn’t dead either, or at least not all of it is dead. I know that with it being a herb you’re supposed to use it in food. I do on occasion. But there’s so little of it I’m afraid it won’t survive me eating its leaves.

The coriander was less successful.

My question is, what would have the best chance of success with my eager but unrefined gardening techniques?


The challenge of reading widely

reading widely - overwhelmed

When a piece of writing has an attitude and throws a different opinion my way, it makes me consider my stance on the world. It’s true for both fiction and non-fiction.

I assume it’s the same for everyone, but how far do you go, how far should you go, to find such writing?

Reading enlightening fiction

My reading list is littered with non-British stories that describe an unfamiliar culture.

Recently, I read Naguib Mahov’s Palace Walk. The story is set during the First World War in Cairo, Egypt. The characters deal with a set of circumstances that are as likely to happen to me as being beamed to the moon in a Star Trek style transporter. Voluntary housebound women don’t fit into that familiar ideal of a ‘strong independent woman’. To them, me, going to work, paying my own rent, living in sin would be just as alien.

It’s an excellent read. Naguib Mahov’s characters are rich, lively and make for an entertaining tale.

I came across the book because I asked my Egyptian friend what Egyptian-centric books he’d recommend.

Not everyone treats reading as an adventure. My friend Maple, who gave me The Hunger Games, reads for escapism. Her shelf is filled with books that are safe, reassuring and can be relied upon not to become too uncomfortable. I don’t believe this is bad, or inferior. Reading is a form of magic that fills many roles within a person’s life. But I can’t help feeling she’s missing out.

Why do you pick the stories you do?

Reading critical non-fiction

I’ve started reading a book of Noam Chomsky’s articles that was leant to me by one of my colleagues after a discussion about inspirational writers. They’re calculated critiques of the media and governments. I understand little of what I read. My knowledge of American politics is what I’ve gleamed listening on conversations between friends and family. My understanding of Barack Obama doesn’t go much past he has a cute dog (I assume the same dog still exists right?). And I’m sure George Bush is a fool (that’s what the media says right?), but the only fact that comes to mind is that he likes to paint.

Not great wisdom have I.

(I can feel the Grandfather despairing.)

But I like that the articles are challenges. They point out the blindness caused by a limited perspective. It’s difficult to verify what I read. I don’t know enough to form my own defined opinions, but from such articles hopefully I will become better at not instinctively accepting the perspective given to me.

It’s telling that this was the book recommended by this particular colleague. He’s a rather sceptical, witty man.


Where do you find writing that inspires and challenges you?

How I read (My struggle with The Hunger Games)

Reading under the covers

Too intellectual? You’ve got to be joking

I love Star Trek books and historical fiction. I’ve got a fondness for certain physics textbooks, but I’ve never read War and Peace, or the Great Gatsby. I’ve not read Shakespeare* since school.

So do I feel smug or horrified when the Mother describes me as ‘too intellectual’ for the book she’s reading? Is it praise or is she slighting herself? She recommended Hollow Tree House, Little House on the Prairie and Daddy Long-Legs, and they’re all amazing books. It was the Mother who handed me Jane Austen and most of the business-flavoured self-help books I’ve read belong to her.

Can you even be ‘too intellectual’?

Just because you read the words on the page doesn’t mean you understand the depths of their meaning. On the rare occasion one of my literary friends comment on something they’ve been reading, I’m in awe of their insight. They can see why I feel what I feel.

Which is worrying, because how can I expect to write well if I’m blind to the method?

It’s true I like books that challenge me, that make me think. These aren’t necessarily inaccessible books. They aren’t limited to ‘intellectuals’. Plus, who does the Mother think she’s kidding, she’s the one who set me on this trajectory. She’s the one who demonstrated that learning isn’t an activity reserved for children, it’s a lifetime habit.

If I’m ‘too intellectual’ for a story, the Mother most certainly is too.

How to enjoy The Hunger Games

I confess, I struggled to read The Hunger Games.

The struggle wasn’t because it’s not a good book. My young cousin, the Little Mermaid (whose 3 hour abridged telling of the story is available for recital at family dinners) adores it. As does my grown up, married, ex-colleague Maple who kindly gave me my copy.

So if it is ‘good’, why did I struggle?

Because it takes a different method of reading to what I’m used to. Like getting back on the bike, or going out for that first run, it’s harder than it once was.

Which is how I realised that I read differently now.

There’s a pencil in residence beside the bath, and sticky notes peering over the Chekhov sitting on my bedside table. I’m scribbling opinion in the margins, I’m underlining repetition even if I’m not sure why.

This isn’t how one enjoys The Hunger Games. Such a story is for reading under the covers with a bright yellow torch stood up like a lantern; Katniss’s adventures need swallowing whole, like those of Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy. The appeal is in the tension, the forward motion. You’ve got to race through it before someone arrives to tell you to turn off the light.

Which no-one does because I’m all grown-up.

With Chekhov I cherish the words and the way they’re sewn together like an elegant tapestry. I reread the same paragraph three times in case there’s anything else hidden there. With The Hunger Games I was frustrated, challenged, bored perhaps. At least until I let go and accepted I didn’t need full sentences, or even every paragraph. A skim of the page was enough. The what happens next.

Once I let go, I was addicted.

Which means now I’m fighting an inner conflict. Was The Hunger Games a good book, or not?

What I’m certain of though is that I’m not ‘too intellectual’ to read it, even if it’s a children’s book. After all, it made me think.

So I have another confession to make. Before I read it, I considered that I might me past such books. That somehow such a story could be beneath me. I was wrong.

How do you read?


*It’s true I’ve watched and loved Julius Caesar, Henry V, Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure on stage, but recently when given a list and asked which play I’d prefer to see next I didn’t recognise any of the names–I had to tick all the boxes.

Iceland: Dark and white; hot and cold

Dark and white. That’s how I’m going to remember Iceland.

Iceland in the darkness of winter
11am in Reykjavík.

Cloud hung over Reykjavík all week; we had only occasional glimpses of the stars or the moon. Yet the cloud was a continual grey abyss. The moon, shone brightly, just as it does through my skylight at home in the middle of the night when I’m trying to sleep, but this was half nine in the morning. We shared the breakfast table with a tea light.

One moment, the air would be clear. The next instant a storm would saturate the sky drowning everything in white snow. The mountains across the bay disappeared to such an extent that when I told the Father there were mountains across the water he assured me that I was wrong, he said the only thing out there was the cold North Atlantic and in the far distance, Greenland.

As the snow cleared I was proved right. Yet I only knew this because I’d seen the phenomenon a few days earlier when the Midget and I had fought our was back along the coastal path home, unable to determine what was path and what was road.

Iceland, church tower
Amazingly, 90 degrees and no ore than 3 minutes from the picture in the previous post.

Except where the geniuses had placed under-floor heating beneath the pavements. This might seem excessive, but hot water in Iceland is magic. Electricity and heating are super cheap because of the magic the scientists and engineers generate out of the powerful tear of the tectonic plates (2cm per year). In Iceland, electricity bills are at a flat rate, so Icelanders keep their twinkle lights on all day and all winter.

Underfloor heating in Reykjavik for the pavements
Under-floor heating.


The Midget delighted in having super-hot showers for as long as she liked, guilt free.

The Blue Lagoon, Iceland
The Blue Lagoon.

Showers aren’t the only way to enjoy all this amazing hot water. Swimming pools in Iceland are in their high twenties (Celsius), but this is nothing compared to a 40 degree thermal bath.

Have you ever been to Iceland, if so, what did you think?


Not setting a new goal, but choosing a direction

everyday is another chance

There’s this whole new year thing coming up, all that evaluating life and setting new goals. It’s the sort of stuff I do obsessively anyway. I’m self-centred, overly introspective and often get lost in daydream about the bigger picture whilst being completely ignorant of what’s going on in front of me.

The Mother taught me that goals should be SMART. That is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. This was reiterated at work where my ability to point out floppy goals is seen as very useful. (Although we do screw up ‘timely’ on a regular basis.)

Anyway. My plan as such, and I pretty much always have a plan, is not to set another SMART goal. Nope. I’ve thought of a whole new aim that I’m very excited about.

You see I kept coming up against these blog posts that suggested that you should have a word for the year. I could have sworn I read one by Gretchen Rubin – but maybe it was someone else… Of course in Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert has a word for herself, and says cities have words. From her prison cell Rarasaur has a word.

So I thought I could have a word too.

But I don’t want a word that describes me. I’m obsessed enough thank you very much.

I’ve been pondering it, and I’ve decided on a simple word: ‘kind’.

Not because I’m unkind, but I know I can be a little difficult at times, and stubborn, and overly critical, or pushy, or grumpy. Or all the above all at once.

‘Kind’ isn’t a complicated concept. I ain’t going to forget it and it’s something I can try to be every day without too much hassle.

It’s up to you to determine if it works.

A bunny in the bathroom (or should that be a hare?)

We paused to open presents and eat dinner, but work in the bathroom progressed despite Jesus’s birthday or the family visit. I sketched out some of the people who will occupy the walls, whilst the Mother painted in the borders.

The Midget keeps trying to learn to do a French plait, but gives up when her arms start aching. The Short Aunty thought it would be a good idea for the Little Mermaid to also had her hair out of her face (and the paint pots), so I did hers too. The three of us cousins, all with matching hair styles, reminded me of when the Mother used to dress the Midget and I in matching clothes. We must have looked quite amusing.

The Little Mermaid clearly has a share of the creative genes. She quickly got to work painting James the rabbit at the end of the bath.


I drew the outline but all the paintwork is all hers.

I admit, the rabbit isn’t exactly very ancient Egyptian, but for James exceptions can be made. The Egyptians did have hares, at least the art suggests they did.


I took this photo last month in the British museum. The painting is originally from the tomb of Nebamun, an official in the 18th dynasty.

What’s the most random thing you’ve found yourself doing over Christmas and Boxing day?