Luncheon and some posh frescos

By Posted on Location: 2min read

Setting: A monastery in the beautiful Italian countryside that was converted for living in by none monks. The walls were decorated with the original Napolionic frescos from the time Napolean popped in for a visit.

Food: Bread, soup, pasta, more pasta of different variety, salmon, potatoes, fennel, strawberries, more strawberries, cherries, and some sort of pastry thing.

Drinks: Alcoholic and voluminous.

Guests: Of mixed nationality, perfumed and wearing loud jewellery.

Transportation: Open top car, driven by the Italian Stallion.

It all sounds pretty perfect. The food was good, the views from the monastery were stunning. Racing through the Italian countryside in an open top car in the sunshine was exhilarating and on arrival, windswept and grinning with a bottle of wine in my hands, we were met by a flurry of hand shakes and cheek kisses.

Cautiously we stepped into the monastery, I accepted a glass of prosecco and meandered through the rooms staring at the ceilings, floors and walls. The most impressive was the Napoleonic frescoes which included small smiling faces of some of the monks who had been there when Napoleon visited peering down from the ceiling.

Soup was brought out, and I quickly ate some bread to help absorb alcohol. My glass was being regularly refilled by many of the gracious men who passed by with a bottle in their hands.

But there it all kind of stopped.

At a K-town party (ie. one of my tribes’ parties, including the mother’s fancy dress party) there’s a general feeling that you don’t want it to all come to an end. People may be tired and in need of a moment of solitude, but there’s an overwhelming tug towards staying just that little longer. The accumulation of people, those friends, it’s all something incredibly special. There’s a just one more song feeling.

The monastery luncheon had a ‘done my due now’ feeling about it. And to add to that, the bathroom wasn’t exactly clean either.

 

[Written last year but not published.]

A small rant about the label on the back of my shampoo

By Posted on Location: 2min read

Naturally

Naturally healthy, gorgeous hair enhances a woman’s natural beauty. [Blah blah blah.] Magical paraben free formulas that gently transform your hair… naturally.

Yes, this example is from the label on a bottle of shampoo. Yes, I should avoid the shampoo for plain and simple animal testing reasons. There’s no bunny on the packaging. But why have ‘naturally’ as the heading, first word and last word of the paragraph. It’s like keyword cramming on a webpage. It’s completely unnecessary.

I’m busy washing my hair, and whilst normally I’d take this time to ponder life, I’m stuck thinking about this unnatural use of ‘naturally’. This marketing lark is seeping into my brain.

When I read the back of a shampoo bottle I expect some sort of ‘flowers and fruit make your hair beautiful’. But I think shampoo copy-writers could get a bit more creative. Every bottle is the same. They float between flowers, fruit and scientific nonsense.

It’s the science that annoys me the most. If there was some interesting factual information on the back I’d be intrigued. I am at heart a scientist. However, “has a unique microcirculation action” doesn’t count as interesting science. It’s not science. It’s not interesting. I actually find it frustrating because I’m not stupid, but I don’t understand how orange flower extract can have unique microcirculation action, and I don’t understand how momentarily improving the blood flow in some tiny vessels is going to make my hair more beautiful. Even if it’s true, is it really going to have an effect at a level that’s noticeable. I imagine the temperature of the water coming out of the shower will have more of an effect on my capillaries.

Rant over. Time to breathe.

Doodle a day - 17 April
An unnatural landscape.

Hunting spiders, wearing glasses and feeling scared

By Posted on Location: 2min read

As I write this I am wearing glasses. I haven’t worn glasses since I was fourteen, so they’re taking a little bit of getting used to.

As glasses go, they have the weakest lenses they possibly could without actually having no lenses. This means I can see everything just fine, except during that moment of adjustment when my brain has to catch up with my eyes. It leaves a conundrum. I’m sat in the living room talking to my family, but they’re watching TV and I am not watching TV. To avoid watching TV I’m staring at a much smaller closer screen, so I’m wearing my glasses.

It’s not that I’m rude. It’s that they’re watching one of these TV programmes where someone dies in the first few moments and then the rest of the programme is spent working out what happened. Sometimes, actually in my experience quite often, the clues come in the form of further dead bodies.

I don’t like being scared.

I really don’t like being scared.

I’ve never had a love of any TV programme that might give me nightmares.

In the middle of the scary TV programme there was a loud thud about our heads. My cousin, the Little Mermaid, ran downstairs in sobs, shaking, unable to articulate what it was that had terrified her. She leapt into her daddy’s lap and stayed there for some time.

The Short Aunty and I investigated. There was nothing unusual on first sight. Once the sobs and the shaking had calmed a little we learnt that we were hunting a terrifying monster in the form of a spider.

I have complete sympathy as I myself have an irrational fear of dead mice.

Finding a spider in a room of children’s toys is not the easy. I took my glasses off for the search. I only ought to wear them for looking at close screens. This leads to a certain conundrum. When you’re going between hunting spiders, reading on your tablet and talking with your family – during the adverts – how are you meant to manage whether your glasses are on or off.

We failed, but luckily my Uncle located the spider. Tired and with no end in sight of the murder investigation, just more adverts, I went to bed.

In the morning the Little Mermaid filled me in on who had, or hadn’t, been pushed out of a window and exactly who the culprits were.

How to be blissfully happy – notes to myself

By Posted on Location: 2min read

I woke up this morning, and then waited in bed for a couple of hours until I wanted to get up. I made myself a cup of tea, shook the last of my cereal into a bowl, dropped the cereal packet into the recycling box (just a large cardboard box since the real recycling boxes have mysteriously disappeared) and poured on the last of the milk.

My food situation is a cross between a surplus and a famine. I have plenty of biscuits, tinned fruit and custard, having inherited the Nonna’s tin supply, but in terms of fresh food I’m down to an apple, a reduced-price mini-courgette and a lemon.

None-the-less this isn’t at all bad. There was enough milk for one bowl of cereal and since there’s only me one bowl of cereal was enough. With my cereal I returned to bed, opened the curtain to let in the stunning sunshine, and set about practising Italian.

I am very much monolingual, but I have a bilingual dictionary and a wonderful curiosity.

An hour later it was 11:00 am. I got up, switched on my old computer, Alexandra, because the new shiny fast computer is having a hiccup. Whilst Alexandra was loading up I floated around the kitchen, relocated all the washing-up to a single surface and made coffee in the magic pot on the hob. Black of course because of the milk crisis.

I meandered around the internet for a while, finding pictures that make me smile and stories that fill my imagination with wonder. I never sit still for too long. Today I drifted between the computer and the kitchen to the sound of Italian pop classics and the gurgle of the washing machine.

I am trying to learn Italian. Casually, on the basis that if it works out like my obsession over Ancient Egypt I’ll be fluent in no time. If it doesn’t then I’ve better things to do. My efforts to speak Italian are somewhat hindered by my lack of attentiveness to sounds and my beautiful Yorkshire accent. When we were travelling Betty and I split the language learning. I remembered what words we needed, she said them. I can read the road signs, she can order salami. Her ears are trained in the study of phonetics and so she at least knows what sounds she’s saying.

I swept the kitchen floor – it was foul – using a dustpan and brush. The hoover refuses to turn on after it’s last encounter with the hovel’s floors. That burning smell…

And then, because it’s sunny and I am happy, and when I’m happy I don’t really mind chores, I mopped the floor too.

Living to the theme of ‘A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink’

books and reading

I’m attracted to books that say that the thing I like doing will be important in the future. I love being told that I should embrace the wonder that is creativity, take time out to laugh, and that stories are everything. If a book suggests meditation and yoga, drawing and creative writing, reading fiction and telling stories, then as long as I don’t trip over the words, I’m sold.

When I read a book from The Mother’s bookshelf I expect something about leadership, or getting yourself organized, or maybe something on wonderful CV, presentation or interview creation. ‘How to be’s on topics like confidence, persuasion and courage. I go to The Mother’s bookshelf looking for books that are going to tell me how to grasp that elusive sense of life structure. I don’t borrow her books expecting they will tell me – draw, meditate, play, tell stories, dance when you want to and most importantly laugh.

I zoomed through A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, reading it in about three evenings. I was easily sold. It’s just affirmation of my own beliefs. The book wants me to step aside from the job lists and play.

There’s something rather cheerful about orange book covers.

Maybe I ought to diversify my reading.

The book did tell me a lot that I already know. Life is better when we make things, when we move and when we open our hearts. It can’t be a bad thing that I already knew many of the answers to the questions it posed. I do draw. I do dance around the hovel with the curtains shut, the music loud and laugh at myself. Expressing my emotions effectively is sometimes a bit of a challenge. It’s either all or nothing. But I like to think that I’m wise enough to once in a while stop and listen.

By the looks of the smooth pages, The Mother hasn’t yet begun ‘whole new mind’ development. However, its being on her bookshelf shows that she’s either actively chosen a book with chapters like Story, Symphony and Play, or she’s buying books without reading the description.

I’m going with the first option as in your own study, unlike in a supermarket, it’s not an embarrassment to wear your glasses. Just to clarify, I don’t believe people should be embarrassed about wearing glasses at all. Certainly not so embarrassed they lose them more times than they wear them.

Does The Mother therefore aspire to learn from a book that recommends humour? If so, this is a twist to a fundamental building block of my existence.

(Ok, yes, when Daniel Pink recommended comedy as a valuable part of life I did shudder and quickly read on.)

By no means do I actually have legs that bend like that.

I caricature The Mother as a very serious woman. This should be taken with a cellar of salt. Yes, The Mother is process driven, tick box addicted and overwhelmingly focused on check lists and the watch on her wrist. That said, she’s also an international adventurer. She’s ridden camels and elephants. The Mother tells stories. She incorporates different voices as her different characters. She brings them to life, and makes the Midget and I laugh. She draws. Not regularly, and rarely anything more than a house with a tree, but when she’s sat in the lounge with a glass of wine and I’m drawing on my tablet she likes to have a go. The Mother sometimes needs instructing that it is ‘time for a hug’, but if tragedy happens – like I come across a dead mouse – then she steps in to comfort me.

The prediction that the things I like doing matter to the future is reassuring to read. It’s nice to think that I’ll never have to live at 200 mph like The Mother does. I can guarantee I’d fail. I don’t think I’ll ever have her strength of attack, even after reading all the books on her bookshelf.

But it’s also a reminder to value these simple things today, even if the time available to do them is rarer than I’d like.

If I draw every day, am I an artist?

By Posted on Location: 2min read
a watercolour mess

Have you ever just paused and done a quick and instant list of all the things that make you happy? Apparently I did, one evening before bed. I know this not because I remember writing such a list, but because I found it in my diary.

Drawing jumps in at third place, yet I can go weeks without drawing anything. Sometimes I lose hours sat on the floor with a large sheet of white paper and a HB pencil. I’m really not fussy –  although a pillow or a cushion is crucial to cope with the Hovel’s solid floors.

Dedicating an entire afternoon to drawing isn’t really feasible most days. Or even most weeks. I have a job, and I do have to eat and sleep. Often I am visiting, or have visitors, or have to deal with the invading cobwebs and filth. Art just doesn’t find itself as the top (or third) priority most of the time.

As a side note, try turning up at work on a Monday morning, asking your colleagues how their weekends were, settle into your chair with your first cup of tea, and when the inevitable question of what you did arises, pause thoughtfully, then state ‘I drew a camel’.

It beats:

“See you tomorrow.”

“I won’t be in tomorrow, I’ll see you Monday.”

“Oh, are you doing anything nice?”

“I’m going to a funeral.”

End of side note.

Back to art, and pretty things.

I have a new solution to drawing often and therefore maintaining my happiness levels. The barrier for doing any art or any writing is never the art or the writing itself, but manoeuvring my bum into the right place, picking up the pen and forming that first line.

chopped up coloured paper

Pieces of the coloured mess hide in my diary (a benefit of a Moleskine notebook is the pocket) and scattered on my bedside table. Once you start, art is addictive.

Meanwhile, whilst I’m busy drawing, here is some art that I do rather like.

[Worryingly physics made the list.]

The final days of life; the first days of life.

The Nonna died, with my pink teddy bear and the Midget’s crying mouse in her arms. Warm, peaceful, painless. Death.

I held a tiny baby in my arms. One week old, the son of a friend, lips twisting ready to smile. Warm, soft, sleepy. Life.

And my mind is twisted by this circle that I so regularly ignore, the inevitable, the potential.

If I knew how to cry, I know I’ve got a world of emotion struggling inside me, but I don’t know how. I don’t know what I feel. First shock. The phone call stating that there was nothing more that could be done, the life support the Nonna’s body depended on would be switched off. Her brain, damaged beyond repair. Her life ended. Her breathing, once the ventilator was removed, steady but raspy. The snoring, predicted and normal, sounded a familiar imitation of The Mother.

Yet, throughout, her hand in mine was warm. The night passed and the sun rose, the sleepless night exhausting. Her breathing became more laboured. Gentle nurses injected drugs, brushed her teeth, applied lip-salve, and kept her eyes the picture of peace.

The end came eventually, as it does for all of us.

And in another room, a life was only beginning.

Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose

The Grump bought me this book as my birthday present last year. If you’re head over heels in love with writing, it’s a source of great joy, but for anyone who thinks they would be a better person if they only just read a wider and actually grasped what it was they were reading, then I think this book is also a star.

It’s filled with examples and extracts that land a punch. I scribbled down names of books I’m hungry for more of, and it comes with a suggested reading list in the back.

But for a book with such a general balance of different sorts of story, there was one whole chapter which seemed out-of-place. It was about this guy called Chekhov. Some strange Russian chap whose name floated meaninglessly through my brain.

Francine Prose whittled on about reading Chekhov, teaching Chekhov and falling more and more in love with Chekhov. She talked about reading Chekhov on the bus – and I think if you can read a book on a bus it’s got to be pretty absorbing.

So, when passing through Oxfam, this slender 99p book, A Russian Love Affair by Anton Chekhov, jumped out at me, I thought – why not. After all, Francine Prose knows how to write a good book and she thinks reading this 119 pages is worth my time.

Turns out she was right. I love Chekhov. He uses beautiful sentences like: ‘On the table was a watermelon’, in the middle of a scene of adultery. He’s on my list to Father Christmas.

As a side note. The book is part of a series of books by Penguin called ‘Great Loves’. Oxfam had, past tense, a few. One of these other slim volumes was by a name I recognised but not due to his literary prowess, but the notoriety of his antics in the bedroom. Of Mistresses, Tigeresses and Other Conquests by Giacomo Casanova is sadly only a few extracts from the longer 14 volumes of memoirs.

Another Christmas wish.

Books by Philippa Gregory

The Little House

Gosh.

I picked this book up from a charity shop, purely on the name ‘Philippa Gregory’. It’s not historical fiction, which is what I normally associate with Philippa Gregory. Instead it’s the story of a seemingly normal woman, living a seemingly normal life in a little house.

After leaving it on the bookshelf for a few weeks, maybe months, I picked it up. Buying books, and then leaving them to mature before I actually open them is normal for me.

I opened the book for the first time mid-morning on an ordinary day. It wasn’t with intention to actually read the book, but as part of an investigation into how the books clustered on my shelves were written. My obsession with writing often leads me to investigate how a certain author writes. On this particular instance, I wanted to see if Philippa Gregory was writing in first or third person.

What a mistake.

Open book midway through, read a paragraph. And then I’m not entirely sure what happened. Hours passed. My legs went numb. I closed the book, shocked.

Quite honestly, I think it’s the best Philippa Gregory book I’ve read. I have no idea what happens in the first third. I’m much too scared to find out.

The Lady of the Rivers

It’s no The Little House, but unlike The Little House I can imagine myself able to reread it  without fearing for my emotional stability.

Character driven, and you couldn’t help but love Jacquetta. Despite the hints of magic and the high relations and influences of a royal court she seemed so incredibly normal. You want to be her friend. The plot was more subtle, there was no great race for a conclusion, and really there is no true conclusion, but the continual plod of history. This, surprisingly, didn’t feel like a bad thing.

The Kingmaker’s Daughter

The Kingmaker’s Daughter, however, was more traditionally structured: it had a clear beginning, middle and end. Anne certainly developed as a character as she grew older and got bashed through history, but there was something tragic about her. I was angry when I turned the final page (I might have sworn loudly), and it got me thinking that sometimes there’s something nice about happy endings. Sometimes I like a likable character and a happy ending.

A happy ending allows you to have closure and finality with a book. Maybe it isn’t as powerful. I don’t know I have as much residual emotion from books that just end happily.

Thinking about The Kingmaker’s Daughter makes me feel a little angry.

It’s party how real the characters feel. I can see myself in both, but whilst you like Jacquetta, I fear  Anne incorporates more of my natural manipulativeness and tendency to hold a grudge. Anne and I hold our feeling close.

Then there’s The Little House. Just thinking about The Little House makes me feel truly horrified and hollow.

That burst of emotion, that comes with the final kick of the last page, tends to stick around. I recall being stunned and not able to think straight when I finished the Little House. I recall feeling like my soul had been twisted and that I wasn’t quite real when I finished The God of Small Things – another stunning book.

Both The Lady of the River and The Kingmaker’s Daughter were recommended to me by The Midget.

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

Marian edits surveys. She makes sure that the questions result useful answers. Meanwhile she deals with the questions of love, marriage and babies.

As Margaret Atwood’s first novel,  published in 1969, it doesn’t feel as dated as I feel it ought to.

Whilst this book wasn’t as gripping, or as horrifying as The Handmaid’s Tale, which is the only other Margaret Atwood book I’ve read, it subtly got to me. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, it makes you question your own beliefs and values, but I think it was somehow more personal. It felt written for confused 20-something women.

It seems right that I should read The Edible Woman before embarking on survey work as part of my life’s monotonous 9-5 routine. In all honesty I’m quite intrigued by the challenge, but I can see how on repeat it could easily become deliriously dull.

As a side note, The Handmaid’s Tale is horrifying, but certainly worth a read.

Bought in a charity shop after enjoying The Handmaids Tale also by Margaret Atwood.