Grateful

Well, this is certainly a departure. I know, I know. EBL is hardly known for her humility or tendency to appreciate the small kindnesses and glimpses of fragile beauty that surround her. However, as usual, it has been a week of events, and for once I am in the mood for some gratitude.

Yesterday and today, that is to say Stormday and Aftermathday, I travelled up and down and round about Yorkshire by rail. At least, I went to Sheffield and Leeds, which is a reasonable approximation. Naturally as my first two days of travelling since my operation it seemed only sensible to do this at the worst possible time when the national rail network was still reeling form the frankly bracing weather which we have been enjoying recently.

All my trains were on time, except one which was almost 10 minutes late. That was the one from Scotland, so perhaps it can be excused. So I couldn’t complain. Literally, I couldn’t. I felt cheated. The breakfast news team, whom I trust with my life, had lead me to expect more trauma and my loins were seriously girt.

Nevertheless, two days in a row of hurtling in slow motion along railway tracks while it variously blew, buffeted, rained, snowed and shone outside left me a little weary. The irony is that York is not currently flooded, although there may be some minor seepage. However the rest of the country appears to be submerging slowly and gracelessly under the ocean. Honestly, all the movies about Atlantis sinking implied it would happen more quickly and with considerably more men in leather kilts and sandals dashing about. Again, cheated.

Of course I am genuinely grateful not to be flooded. We had that here some years back and it was appalling. However, the English can’t face disaster with anything other than a self-deprecating quip, unless it’s with a broken beer bottle and a Spartan “come on if you think you’re hard enough” face. I find the quip less exhausting, but don’t push me.

By the time I was on the final leg of my journey home tonight I needed to relax a little. I was tense from a tiring couple of days and a distressing work issue. In a moment of weakness I opted for some relaxation music which I keep on my phone for just such an occasion. I played the very nice music and took some deep breaths and stared out of the window at the scenery.

The Derwent has burst its banks along much of the way, and was muddy and bubbly with the effect of fast flowing water charging down to join the Ouse, like a toddler on a sugar rush. It’s a perverse river in that it rises in the Moors, flirts with the coast briefly then heads inland in defiance of riverly custom and best practice. During snow melt and heavy rain it gets deep and fast and strong, and very brown from mud and silt and Moors run-off. Today the brown water and the muddy fields and winter-bare trees combined into a pleasing palate of neutrals set against a pinkish evening sky. It has been observed, I believe by Stephen Fry, but am too lazy to check, that nature is incapable of being ugly. Even in this time of horrible flooding the scenery is beautiful – except for the man-made parts. Nature, I concluded, even in times of flood and fear and raw sewage on your carpet, was awe-ful in the original sense of the word: powerful, frightening and still majestically and cosmically gorgeous. If something is going to destroy your words it is only right that it is epic.

The music played through the head-set like a soundtrack to my own personal movie. It set the scene for some inner dialogue and reflection, and I obliged, trained up by years of film watching and exposure to the tropes and truisms of Hollywood (and more lately Studio Ghibli). The music and the landscape made me feel grateful for being able to live in such a marvellous world. I was seduced into gratitude for not being flooded, for living somewhere so clearly superior to the rest of the planet, for having a safe journey to a warm home and loving partner, for just, well, everything.

I even started a list. I know some of you keep gratitude journals and I’m sure it is a worthwhile thing to do. Whenever I try the list is the same day after day: Sigoth, Offspringses, work colleagues, a job I enjoy nine days out of ten (because there are always some occasions when people are simply disappointing). The list may have the odd additional entry, such as Netflix or tea in bed or whatever ephemera have pleased me that day. Yet the core remains the same, my foundation for living, and I don’t need a journal to remind me of it. I know I’m blessed, even if I sometimes forget for an hour or two. Even if sometimes I get impatient with Sigoth or irritated by a colleague, just as allegedly Sigoth is driven to distraction by my quaint and endearing eccentricities (not nearly as infuriating as his faults of course). In my heart of hearts, I know.

At this point I feel it highly appropriate to refer my honourable friends to the beat poem, Storm, by Tim Minchin. I love Tim Minchin (not in a creepy way). He is a Dawkins kind of a chap, and the poem is a paean to rational and scientific wonder. No hocus pocus, just honest glory in the natural world.

Isn’t this enough?
Just this world?
Just this beautiful, complex
Wonderfully unfathomable world?
How does it so fail to hold our attention
That we have to diminish it with the invention
Of cheap, man-made Myths and Monsters?
If you’re so into Shakespeare
Lend me your ear:
“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw perfume on the violet… is just fucking silly”
Or something like that.

http://www.releaselyrics.com/1187/tim-minchin-storm/

If the very nice relaxing hippy music doesn’t soothe my troubled mind, then a dose of Minchin does.

Meanwhile I’m off to get into pyjamas and shake off this unfamiliar and bizarre gratitude. What is the world coming to? I’ll be turning into a nice little old lady at this rate and I can’t allow that. (Actually there’s no real danger of that happening. Don’t worry.)

Do you have your core list, your foundations, that keep you going through thick and thin? Hold them fast and share them if you will.

Namaste.

 

What’s in a word?

wordcloud

Do the words we use matter?

In my world they do quite often because there are a number of technical terms which have to be used correctly or else Chaos Will Ensue. A recent example was a colleague who kept asking for a “radio buttons” on a web page. What she actually meant was just a plain button you click for “Next” but she had in her head the term. I don’t expect people to know all the technical lingo but it needed correcting before the developer got hold of it otherwise instead of this:

nextbutton

 

 

she would have got this:

radiobutton

and that would not have worked at all. Oh dear me, no, it was not what she was after.

Anyway, that’s how I earn my crust. I catch those kind of misunderstandings. I need to pay my mortgage.

Jargon has a role to play. It’s a valuable shorthand for people working in the same field (by which I do not mean agricultural labourers, or “ag labs,” as genealogists call them). It is useful and it only gets a bad reputation because people use it inappropriately, often to try and seem superior, or because they have no communication skills.

I work in IT and I use jargon when I am talking to technical people. I once made the mistake, some years ago , of doing it in front of someone from HR. I was going over a server issue with an engineer and we started talking about dirty cache buffers and hot fixes until my colleague spluttered a bit. So we took our dirty caching outside. Never wash your dirty caches in public.

Jargon has a special place and should be used correctly. For the rest of the time there’s just language.

Do we need to be careful of language? What I have in mind is the kind of language which doesn’t fit the rules but nevertheless communicates its meaning quite clearly, at least to those involved.

Teenagers are best at this. They invent new language all the time and I think it’s great. I love that language is squishy. In this I am quite schizophrenic. I am a complete grammar nazi about all kinds of things including the greengrocers’ apostrophe. I also enjoy the use of a good Oxford comma, which is a little controversial in some circles. Yet I love playing with language. If you understand me then it has achieved its purpose, and it really doesn’t matter if my sentences wobble all over the place like a drunken hen party at 2 am on a Friday night in the West End.

I write long and cumbersome sentences quite frequently. My brain just rambles on and my fingers scramble over the keyboard trying to keep up. I’m not great at editing, particularly for blog posts, so you are subjected to the end result without warning or immediate access to pain relief. I suspect anyone who visits regularly keeps their painkiller of choice close to hand. Admit it, the best way to read this stuff is after a large glug or several of vino or a couple of Mother’s Little Helpers, or both.

I admire compressed communication. It’s so efficient and clever. Again, teens are the experts here. Those coded grunts that teenage boys emit are incredible. You know the conversations I mean:

“A’right?”
“Gnnh. Urgh?”
“Eh.”

The girls achieve a similar level of data exchange in a slightly different format, let’s call it Venusian Chat. It’s a little more physical than Martian Grunt.

“Yeah, like.”
“Y’know?”
“Totes.”
“Eek.”
* eye roll *
* elbows *

If we could capture that level of data compression for IT we would be able to stream HD video over 14.4k modems. It’s absolutely awesome.

The Offspring process information so differently from me and Sigoth that it makes our brains ache. They work in multiple streams simultaneously with little attention to detail but an overall grasp of the whole that is utterly impressive. The problem is that I am culturally unprepared for this, so often it appears they are being rude because they split their attention across the streams. Well, EBL, what an old fogey you are and no mistake. Lawks.

Our means of communication across generations is unpredictable. Blogging can seem like a way of imprinting ourselves upon eternity, or at least upon the lifespan of collective human intelligence. Hello, future, lok at me! Yet we only have to read Shakespeare or Chaucer, or even Dickens or Hardy, to know that words and meanings are as fluid as the dunes of the Sahara, ceaselessly shifting in the winds of change. What then is the point of worrying about Oxford commas or misplaced apostrophes? I can only catch glimpses of meaning in Anglo-Saxon poetry, and even less in cave paintings. Broad concepts are possibly understood, but usually imposed by my own cultural and time-bound perspectives.

I am therefore determined to enjoy being present at the birth of new languages, celebrating new words (“Selfie,” anyone? Omnishambles? Simples?).
While language lives and evolves and flows into new meanings, we are also alive and evolving which gives me hope. The alternative: Orwell’s MiniTruth and the shrinking dictionary.

Words matter, more than I can say.

Namaste.

Leafy Shoes

Autumn treeOccasionally I like to participate in blog challenges, and sometimes I even post the result. This week I was drawn into the weekly DPChallenge because so many of the blogs I like to read seemed to be writing extraordinarily wonderful pieces for it, and I became intrigued. The challenge has been posted by Rara:

This week, we’re asking you to consider things from a different point of view — to walk a mile in someone’s shoes. 

Well, I thought, that sounds like a bit of a giggle. Let’s try it out.

In previous lives I have run a few IT Helpdesks. You know the ones: you call up and a spotty adolescent rolls his or her eyes and tells you to try switching it off and on again. Then you call back and they ask you to open the computer up and reinstall the hard drive without a safety net. I have to say this should never have happened on my watch, although I have indeed talked a customer through opening up a computer to remove a CD their colleague had pushed inside the case for some inexplicable reason. I may have used the phrase “It’s fine, it’s just like Lego” a little more than necessary but we all survived.

Naturally I planned to write something that I always try to instil in my technical support teams about getting into the customer’s shoes.

Then my sub-conscious mugged me.

I sat at the keyboard expectantly and imagined my voice droning on at the team about how no one is born knowing Command Line. God, I was boring. I have a new appreciation for the patience of technical support staff now, given they were able to put up with that and not hunt me down with pitchforks and torches; although what they get up to World of Warcraft is their business so long as it’s not on company time.

So my brain stared at me and I stared at the keyboard.

“OK, Brain,” I said. “What else then?”

And all of a sudden I saw a picture of a maple leaf fluttering to the ground. I blame it on the fact I have been watching “Due South” all week.

“On no,” I muttered. But Brain was relentless.

Back in the autumn I attended a creative writing workshop, and even wrote about the experience in this very blog. If you remember it, or read it again now (I’ll wait – OK, ready?), I was rather overwhelmed at the fact I read a piece of my imaginative writing out loud to real humans. Today the Brain has decreed I should take this further and share it with you.

So, with a deep breath, I will. Allow me caveats first – it was a 5 minute exercise, and no time to edit. If I could just ask that you keep the giggling to a minimum I would be grateful Thank you, as they say, kindly.

For the piece we were asked to write about an experience of autumn, I wrote about how I felt as a two year old when we visited my aunt and uncle in Canada, and I saw the beautiful Canadian Fall. It blew my little English mind and is one of my happiest memories. In it I am warm and snug, with the cold air nipping my nose and my uncle holding my hand and telling me about things called Maple Trees, and my eyes are having a party with the colours.

The reason I am including it for this challenge is that in my little girl noggin I wanted to be up in the treetops too, with those brightly coloured leaves which I think I confused with fairies.

Autumn leaf

I want to be an autumn leaf, high in the trees, brightening and crinkling in the frost and sunshine. I can see for miles across the tree tops and everywhere are other leaves as bright and shining as me. We are singing in the light and cold air, just waiting to leap from the tree into the wind, and dance down to earth in our millions. We twist and shiver in the wind but the tree won’t let us go. We cover her in glory. We have to move on.

Why not have a go at this challenge yourself, if you haven’t already done so? Getting into someone else’s shoes is like an out of body experience. Have fun!

Namaste

Today I was a Rainbow

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday I had to go into town. It’s not a simple job, as I rely on the bus and they only come once an hour, except for some which only come once every two hours. It’s a ticklish matter to get appointments lined up so you can make the round journey in less than half a day.

I had to go to the nurses’ to have a blood test and I had a half hour window to get the jab then back to the bus station, otherwise it was a two and a bit hour’s wait.

It is fair to say I was a little tense about timings. Being a little tense about catching buses is my only excuse. It’s not much but it’s all I’ve got and I’m sticking to it.

Because I went out dressed like a clown whose clothes have melted in the hot wash.

I hadn’t quite realised when I got dressed this morning what I was putting on. This is not unusual, and in fact may be indicative of my suitability for working in IT. In fact, let’s say it is, and not worry about stereo-typing. It is certainly why I like to wear a suit. No worrying about what to put with what. I just find a shirt to go with it, and as my suits are pretty much either black or grey I am rarely challenged.

I may also have mentioned before that I am a little poor at identifying colour. I only recently found out that orange is in fact red. God knows what this thing called “orange” is. It may be yellow, but that still leaves me with a problem.

Anyway…

Indoors was fine as I had my jade jeans with a purple t-shirt and pink jumper. It kind of works. Sigoth tells me so, and he is good at colour what with being artistic and all that. He can draw things people recognise, and make art and paint.

But then to go out I put on my purple DMs with yellow laces, my scarlet coat and orange scarf and hat. In such elegant attire I sauntered to the bus stop.

On the bus I noticed that I appeared to wearing every colour in the rainbow. Oh, right, except blue.

But it was OK because my socks had blue heels.

So today I was a rainbow, albeit in disguise because no one saw my socks.

And the best thing about being EBL is that I don’t actually care whether I clashed or was cool. (I suspect the former.)

I can assure you I am not a little ray of sunshine at the best of times, but at least I can make the world a brighter place in my own, slightly warped, way.

There was some offensive fund-raising campaign recently where women were sponsored not to wear make-up for a whole day It was supposed to be really daring. Obviously I couldn’t take part as I never wear the damn stuff. And in any case – how rude! There’s far too much concern about how women look and dress.

So I think I’ll be a rainbow more often, and if anyone says anything to me, I’ll explain to them about the glories of creation and the miracle of rods and cones. And they will back away slowly while keeping eye contact so as not to provoke the crazy Bag Lady.

Indeed.

Namaste.

 

A Day with EBL

You know what it’s like – lying in bed at 3am unable to sleep for some reason or other. It wasn’t a Wednesday morning but it certainly has been on other occasions. And all I could think about was the song by Simon and Garfunkel. And that led to an idea for this post. It’s not very original but I am not here to be original, witty or clever, and doubly not so at 3 o’clock in the morning. If you are after that kind of shenanigans, I suggest you go elsewhere. Try Googling it.

I often wake up unfeasibly early and wait for the alarm. In the summer it can be quite pleasant because I can listen to the feathered psychopaths yodelling outside the window. In winter, as now, it is merely dark and cold, and all I can hear is the mouse in the loft. Note to self: check anti-mouse measures. It’s not like we don’t put up warning signs and use a sonic mouse device to send it away. At least it’s only in the loft, and not on the stairs….

As I lie in the dark I am waiting for the alarm to go off at 6 am. Well, that calls for a little daydream believing, I think. I try not to tap my toes in case I disturb slumbering Sigoth. Lucky Sigoth and his slumbering.

So finally it’s six o’clock and I rise, wipe the sleep out of my eyes, and head for the shower. Sigoth makes me a cup of tea, otherwise I won’t get out the door. Bless him. He doesn’t even drink tea; only coffee. It’s his one flaw.

Dressed, showered, tea-ed up and teeth brushed, it’s down stairs for a few minutes of the breakfast news. This helps me to establish whether (a) there has been a national emergency which might allow me to stay home, and (b) keep an eye on the time. Usually there is nothing more interesting than finding holes in Lancashire.

I get to the bus stop at 6.45. This can be quite eventful. Sometimes there is an owl vs cockerel duel going on, trying to see which can shriek the loudest. Once or twice I have been greeted by a peacock and his missus. The other day it was an East European lorry driver who was lost, asked for directions then couldn’t understand the answer. I drew him a map in the light of his headlamps. Truly all life is here, while the rest of the village slumbers.

The bus gets me to the train station by 7.15 and my train comes at 7.23. It’s usually on time these days although it goes through rough patches. They often seem to lose the driver on a Monday morning.

The station is crowded with school children heading into town because they attend one of the independent schools. That’s “private schools” in plain words. Where I live there are quite a few comfortably-off folks, who wouldn’t dream of letting their children attend the local school, even though it is above average. In the case of the Catholics who want a Catholic school, I have a little sympathy. Otherwise, not so much. I should know – I went to such a school.

Usually I can find a seat on the train, although it is always busy. As well as the children, there are lots of people commuting to work in one of the cities along the route. I like earwigging on their conversations, but am less happy when someone falls asleep on my shoulder. Especially if they dribble. I only think of this song here because I seem to recall an advert for British Rail that used it. Anyway, I like it (the song of course, not the rail journey).

After an hour or so we reach the city I am commuting to. I scramble out, pushing past standing commuters, suitcases en route to the airport, and confused travellers who don’t use this train on a regular basis. Then it’s up the stairs or escalator and across the bridge to fight my way through the ticket barriers and out. The office may be almost in sight – what joy!

The office is actually a 10 minute walk away and I will usually pick up lunch and a coffee on the way because I won’t get time to go out at lunchtime. And by now that early cup of tea is wearing off and I need a caffeine injection. One morning the machine was broken and I had to make do with decaffeinated. It tasted fine but lots of my colleagues kept asking me if I was alright as I looked so tired. I had several cups of tea made for me. Bless them all.

Most of the time I am in the office I am in meetings or being chased up and down by people needing me to tell them something, Overall, it’s quite manic, whatever the day of the week.

Regular consumers of this blog may recall that I am an IT project manager (among other things). Much of the time I am required to act as a translator (from geek to human and back), a complaints bureau (have you tried switching it off and on again? Really, it will probably work!), a mind reader and a gazer of crystal balls. I try to hold it all together but sometimes it goes wrong.

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist a second Led Zep. Be grateful I haven’t made the entire post a Led Zep tribute. Now there’s an idea…)

After a frantic day I get to rewind the whole journey in reverse, although without the coffee. Otherwise I wouldn’t sleep. Oh, wait.

Let’s finish the working day as we started with S&G.

At last I’m home with Sigoth and what could better sum that up than Beethoven?

Obviously there is the demented mother to feed and water, but she has her own song, that I have also mentioned before.

It’s funny how these songs are mostly not ones I would ever choose for a Desert Island; a number of them I haven’t actually heard in years and it was entertaining finding them again on YouTube. But they did seem to just pop into my head as I went through the day’s schedule. Looking back at the list, it appears I am working in a parallel universe which is at least 30 years behind us. The tunnel near Garforth must be a wormhole. It explains everything.

Namaste.

Fluffy bunnies

“Fluffy bunnies” is a term we use in our household to denote a sudden and unexpected change of direction in the conversation. As an example, imagine you are driving along with your Significant Other, talking about interesting and important things to do with Life, the Universe and Everything. One of you suddenly exclaims “Ooh! Look! Fluffy bunnies!” and points excitedly to some smallish brown mammals in a field at the side of the road. If you are lucky the Pointer will not also be the Driver.

Thus a post will start out musing over fund-raising, Robbie Williams, Muppets and Saturday afternoons then end up discussing the relative merits of the gnarly-buttocked cyclist and feminine beauty routines. If that’s your cup of tea, make sure you are sitting comfortably and I’ll begin.

Last night was the monthly Village Quiz, which Sigoth and I write to help raise funds for the support of said institution. It’s usually pretty well-attended, although last night happened to be a bit thin on the ground. Nevertheless, Much Fun was Had by All. However, last night was also the night the BBC was showing Robbie Williams at the London Palladium singing swing and collaborating with the Muppets. Who could resist? And thanks to the wonders of modern technology, in particular BBC’s iPlayer, I didn’t have to.

So night wore into day and Saturday dawned. Naturally it started with a List. Saturday almost always does in my experience. I had correspondence to sort out, some technology to wrangle, an Anglo-Saxon document to download and a bit of on-line retail research to perform. Once these chores were done I could sit back and relax. Sigoth also got through his list in time for lunch, after which we sat and watched Robbie strut his stuff, and chortled at Fozzie Bear’s jokes, Miss Piggy’s singing, Gonzo’s chickens and Statler’s and Waldorf’s sniping. Saturday afternoon heaven! Did I mention the roaring fire? No? My bad.

So far, so good. The day was going to plan. My list for the afternoon (oh yes, I don’t just have A List, I have Time-Bounded Lists, with deadlines and even, occasionally, risk logs) contained some allegedly pleasant but necessary activities, one of which was to take time out to remove my nail varnish. I know, most people don’t have to put that kind of thing on a list. I do. I’m not very good at the feminine arts, and only recently discovered nail varnish, but I’m enjoying it as a novelty for the present. It’s shiny and pretty and makes a change. It’s just that it takes a bit more management oversight than I would like in an ideal world.

Of course, just when it seems safe to go into the water, the Great White bites you on the bum. I got distracted by catching up on other people’s blogs. I have fallen terribly behind lately, what with Work and Stuff, and I wanted to read what people had been writing while I was away. It was great to pick up the threads again, and I spent a goodly while at it. Some of you have been awfully prolific.  I am ashamed even more by my lack of contribution.

Time went gone by, in its timey-wimey way, and I needed to do other things. My nail varnish slot was past. Well now, what’s a girl to do? In my case it’s sit down and write a blog about it instead of doing the actual thing required.

Bikes in London and CopenhagenThat made me wonder, philosophically speaking, why I am so resistant to spending that time on myself. I like the nail varnish, I actually do, to my utter surprise. I like the fact it has lycra in it, to make it harder wearing and last longer. I amuse myself by thinking about the miracle of lycra and its many functions from adorning my nails to adorning the gnarly buttocks of road warriors on fantastically over-priced bicycles. I mean, how much do you have to pay out to cycle from A to B? How many gears, when you get right down to it, do you actually need for cycling up the High Street? I’m pretty sure three is more than enough. And the clothing! Compare London cyclists with Copenhageners as in this picture. It’s enough to make Gok Wan weep. The English just aren’t very good at style; it probably explains my nail varnish issues. Any excuse.

And so, my dears, I have fluffed my bunnies. I have navigated skilfully from a morning of productive activity to an afternoon and early evening of time-wasting and prevarication. Now I have to cook my mother’s tea and then it’s over to Strictly and Borgen. It’s a question of whether I can multi-task between the tangos and waltzes in order to de-polish.

Do you put off minor tasks for no good reason? Do tell!

Namaste.

Misty wanderings

The other day Sigoth and I went Christmas shopping. It’s a little early for us, but I had an unexpected day off work, and time is galloping by in the run up to seasonal festivities. Mostly I have placed orders on-line, hoping that the pictures of the products do not lie. However, where stocking fillers are concerned nothing beats a trip to town.

That’s not what I want to tell you about though, you will be pleased to read. It was the journey back that I wanted to share, although to no great purpose.

North Yorkshire landscapeI live in a small village in North Yorkshire, and I love the peace and quiet we enjoy for most of the year. I particularly like the serious quietness of winter, when the earth settles down for a snooze and the cold freezes all the frantic activity of nature to let things take a rest. At this time of year, in our northern hemisphere, the light is relatively brief. So as Sigoth and I were driving home at about 3.30 it was already getting dark.

Sigoth remarked that it was only 3 weeks until mid-winter after which the days would start to get longer again. He is a creature of the sun and light and warmth, and he is looking forward to spring.

I sat and stared out of the window at the hills around us. There were no lights along the road, or across the fields. Everything was grey and there was a slight mist forming. It was ancient. This was the experience of our forebears, as they too prepared for a feast to shut out the worst of winter. I was glad I did not have to worry about wolves.

The hills rolled onwards forever, smudged in grey. Briefly I did see a light in a distant farmhouse but soon it was hidden by the trees. The road was unusually quiet so there were not too many headlights coming towards us.

Sigoth said he didn’t remember it getting dark quite so early.  I disagreed.

I thought back to 3.30 on winter afternoons when I was at school, cycling home in darkness and sleet, my knees blue and my hands frozen into position on the handle bars, my books dragging me back. When I got into the house I made tea and toast, or hot chocolate and a bacon sandwich, trying to thaw my unresponsive fingers as I waited for the kettle to boil.

At the top of Golden Hill we saw the local market town spread out ahead of us. The lights glowed in the fuzzy air, each with its own perfect halo. We carried on past town and headed for our village. There’s a point along the main road where you can see the houses on the ridge like a line of lanterns showing us how much further we need to go.

Our house was dark, except for the annexe where my mother sat with her electric coal fire and chatty television, dozing in her chair. We unloaded the car and gave thanks for the ancient Aga warming the kitchen. Of course we made tea.

The garden was invisible now as the mist and dark grew heavier. The house enfolded us against the cold and wolves, and I drew the curtains.

Sigoth planned when he was going to go and get the Christmas Tree. I put the shopping away and together we made chowder.

On Thursday night the pub is having a curry night, so we’ll walk through the village, stumbling in the dark and slipping on the old fallen leaves and the mud, while we look for constellations in the sky (unless it’s cloudy).

The dark and misty hills reminded me of Hardy’s poem “The Darkling Thrush” partly because of the opening lines, but also because it ends on an uncharacteristically cheerful note for Hardy.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

And so, in darkness and in light, may we all sing joyfully.

Namaste.

 

First World Problems

firstworldproblemI have recently found myself feeling grateful for a number of things, most of which I consider quite basic. I’m not sure what is wrong with me; EBL is not naturally a grateful or sensitive little flower. It must be all this darn meditation I have tried to incorporate into my routines.  When in doubt blame a Buddhist.

The thing is, once I started noticing it, I also started noticing how most of the stress factors in my life were in fact first world problems.

Let’s back up a moment and take it from the beginning.

The gratitude thing began recently when I started thinking how pretty the water was when it sparkled in the shower cubicle’s light. Our shower has a light and extractor fan which we always turn on if it’s too cold to have the window open, to try and prevent condensation. This means on dull, dark, winter mornings the water glitters as it comes out the shower head, and I think it’s shiny, shiny, pretty. Then I think how lucky I am to have access to plenty of good, clean, hot water to use on a daily shower.

So that sets me up for the day noticing things I usually take for granted. As well as clean water for making tea (even more important than showering I would suggest, although colleagues and close personal friends may beg to differ), I have all kinds of miracles at my fingertips. Like fridges – so I get fresh food and keep it fresh. Or safe public transport.

Anyway, you get the idea, I’m sure. Generally I keep thinking how lucky I am to live in a country where I have access to clean water, food and shelter. I admit not all of my fellow countrypersons are as lucky as me, so that just makes me feel even more grateful.

Obviously I don’t spend all day in a self-congratulatory miasma. Rather than feeling smug I decide to take myself down a peg or two by chastising myself for worrying about all my first world problems. In case you haven’t come across the term it refers to those irritations in life which people like to complain about but which actually only reinforce how fortunate they are. For example, worrying about the fact my new mobile phone case clashes with my handbag. Not that it does worry me, in fact, but I imagine some people get upset by such things. I prefer to think of myself as quirky. Plus having a purple phone case and red bag is really sticking it to the Man. Oh yeah!

Here are some of my terrible worries.

  • Logging on to the WiFi in the coffee shop from my phone will subject me to more spam.
  • I need to write a post for my blog or people will think I have died, but I have nothing to write.
  • My nail varnish is chipped. Now I’ll have to spend 10 minutes sorting it out.
  • Tesco appears to have run out of halloumi and have replaced it in the order they have delivered to my door with cheddar.
  • The hotel doesn’t seem to provide BBC4 on its TV. Can’t watch re-run of Borgen.
  • My train was cancelled and I had to run to another platform to get an alternative service, as well as losing my reserved seat.
  • How can I be expected to carry two mobiles about with me; why can’t IT set up bring Your Own device?
  • I have to stream the episode of Borgen I missed instead of downloading it and my broadband is not fast enough.
  • In fact I have to endure rural broadband speeds all the time; Facebook takes actual seconds to load.

It’s all a bit embarrassing when I look at it. Honestly, EBL, get over yourself!

I was just wondering how you all get through your days. Do you ever find yourselves worrying over nothing like this? Or have I just embarrassed myself in front of the whole Interweb? Share your wisdom, people.

Namaste.

 

 

Trees

I like trees. So I don’t understand why I have never visited the Yorkshire Arboretum before.

However, EBL is not an entity to let history stand in her way and without further ado Sigoth and I hied ourselves thither recently to investigate.

Arboretum

The Yorkshire Arboretum is not far from EBL Towers, at Castle Howard (that’s “Brideshead” to non-locals). It is set in 120 acres of land by Castle Howard, half the site being clay and the other half sandy soil. This part of the world has interesting geology, being on the edge of Lake Pickering, a glacial run off from the Ice Age which only drained a few thousand years ago.

berry collectionIn any case, this variety of soil (much of which clay was transported liberally around the grounds on our boots) means that there is an astonishing variety of trees to look at. We saw all sorts of berries on various Sorbus: red, white, orange, pink. So pretty.

 

We also met trees with pink or white trunks, adding a little variety to shades of brown and grey. Sometimes the neutrals need to spice it up a bit!

trunks

Now, I don’t know what you read as a child but I was a devotee of the Narnia stories, and the proud owner of a boxed set of all seven books. One of the things I learned from those stories (apart from the fact that Evil means “always winter and never Christmas”, too  much Turkish Delight is not good for you either physically or morally, and especially when served en sleigh, and that hiding in wardrobes does not always guarantee the appearance of a portal to a magical world) – apart from those things which are of course true, I learned that trees have spirits. I even learned they are called dryads. I was particularly honoured to meet one at the Arboretum.

yorkshire dryad

The café was a welcome finale to our wanderings. I really can’t understand why we have never been before!

May you wander happily where it pleases you, and wipe the mud from your boots with contentment in your hearts.

Namaste.