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.




The grown-ups speak again

I recently shared with you some of my family’s verbal peculiarities in the form of odd sayings that became part of the very fabric of life. Since then of course my brain has been bombarded by other sayings jostling for attention and asking me why I hadn’t picked them and saying it wasn’t fair and slamming doors. Some of the sayings have had to go to their rooms and think about what they did until they are ready to apologise. I explained to them they were letting the family down, they were letting me down, but worst of all, they were letting themselves down, somewhat like the inflatable child with the sharp pin. But that’s another story.

Time for more sayings I think. On the whole this batch of child-terrorising phrases probably helps to explain the damaged psyche that is EBL today. Allons-y!

Don’t pull that face or the wind may change

Grizzly toddlers everywhere are subjected to this kind of verbal and psychological abuse. They are threatened with the prospect of a deformed and ugly face just when they most need a hug. Well, that’s the way it can sometimes seem.

I do remember that I was occasionally interested to see what kind of face I could mould, but never managed to keep it long enough to set, no matter how long I stood in the garden like a determined miniature gargoyle, chin thrust defiantly into the prevailing breeze. As a result I quickly uncovered the duplicity of this particular piece of adult intimidation, and also learned the implicit message that no one loves you if you are not pretty.

EBL is many things but you could not accuse her of prettiness.

Enough blue to make a sailor a pair of trousers

Another top saying from my grandmother, this particular phrase was utilised to acknowledge breaks in the cloud cover of England when bits of blue sky could peep through and make the end of winter seem a viable proposition. I don’t think it was intended to convey anything more than appreciation for a bit of decent weather, something of great significance in our soggy isles. At least, I never understood it to mean more. Who knows with grandmothers?

I never quite understood why sailors got the nice blue sky for garments, but it sounded pretty darn cool.






It’s a bit black over our Bill’s mother’s

Conversely my mother used this one when the sky was getting ominous with dark cloud and rain looked like it was on the way. And by rain I mean the proper stuff, not a puerile drizzle or heavy Scotch mist, but real, honest-to-deity-of-your-choice solid coat-soaking feet-squelching shoe-drenching hair-dripping pocket-filling neck-freezing rain.  The kind that, to coin another phrase, comes down in rods, possibly with cats and/or dogs implicated. Real English rain. It can go on for weeks like that. The phrase was employed with a certain degree of relish, as without such calamities we English have nothing to talk about and conversation while waiting at the bus stop can be terribly stilted.

Of course, I knew that one of my not-really-an-aunty Aunties had an attachment called Uncle Bill, and as our house looked out across a field to more houses I was convinced for years that his dear old mum lived in one of them. But we never visited. Probably because the wind had changed.

It’s not the cough that carried him off, but the coffin they carried him off in

This one was one of my Dad’s, and he would trot it out whenever his delicate little flower was hacking her lungs out with that lovely catarrh-ridden, phlegmy liquidy noise only available to single-digit-aged children or heavy smokers; not mutually exclusive categories of course, especially in those days when as a six year old I could run an errand to the corner shop for my mother to get a pack of 20 John Player’s No. 6. You couldn’t do that now. It’s health and safety gone mad, I tell you.

So I’d cough up, my Dad would chirp up, and I’d be traumatised with thoughts of death until the cold cleared up, about three years later on average.


Up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire and down Sheet Lane

Ah, the cosiness at the end of the day, that put right many of the preceding traumas. Bath done, teeth brushed, nightie donned, it was time to say goodnight and go to bed.

I didn’t go to sleep easily as a small child. When I was five I caught the measles and had three weeks off school because that was the quarantine period you had to go through. My grandmother was distraught as her own daughter had died at a similar age from measles and diphtheria. She sat up with me all night and every night and scared me half to death as a result, because clearly I was very ill, despite feeling quite feisty and rather bored because I wasn’t allowed to play with my friends.

After that was all over she stopped, but by then I couldn’t get to sleep on my own so my poor father had to sit with me every night until I nodded off. Usually he went first and started snoring very loudly, so I would climb over him and go downstairs to get my mother to come and wake him up again.

reading in bed

If possible I preferred to read in bed instead.

What bad stories did your parents use to try and pull the wool over your eyes?


This time last year…

This time last year I decided to give NaNoWriMo a go and it was fun. But having been there, done that and got some kind of metaphorical t-shirt, I’m not revisiting it again. Needless to say I have hardly touched the novel since. It frightens me a bit; I am too nervous to take it seriously although I still want to finish it one day. Ah “one day”, my friend, so soothing to the procrastinating mind!

I started to write here more often as a result of NaNoWriMo and made some lovely blogging friends. Yes, hello you, thanks for staying around.

Then things turned busier at home and I had a break and since then I kind of lost the power of writing. It melted away like dew in the morn, and all I am left with is unsightly grass stains from kneeling on the ground looking for it. My mind just feels empty and echoey.

To be fair I’m not really doing anything more interesting. It’s not like I’ve dumped you all for the cool kids over there. My knitting is behind schedule. I stopped making soups and cakes and other deliciousness. I gave up yoga exercises recently due to the pain in my shoulder (operation very soon, only another couple of weeks!). I fall asleep when I try to meditate. I barely read any more, although I did manage “Raising Steam” because it’s the law and I don’t need more trouble with the authorities. Otherwise I’m just too tired and flat and drawn out to do anything.

I get this every now and then, usually as a pre-cursor to another bout of depression. It’s often this time of year, so please feel free to regale me with tales of SAD lights and daylight savings and so on. They may even be true, although at the same time I do love autumn/winter for those faded blue skies and frosted cobwebs and candlelit evenings, and ooh and ah, the fireworks. Always fireworks with the noise and the smell and the pretty, pretty prettiness, hands jammed in pockets and neck aching as you gaze up at the pictures in the sky, sometimes through mist or rain damp on your cheeks, sometimes through clouds of your own breath gasping out in astonishment and delight.

It’s been a busy year and I probably need to relax, but I suppose months of over-working won’t clear up in a weekend or two.

What I do remember from last November was the feeling of joy and energy from making myself write every day. I have learned more about the usefulness of a daily journal; I don’t do it routinely, but I know it is helpful when and if I do. It’s what I’m doing now, so apologies if you thought this was actually going anywhere except to hell in a handcart.

So, tell me my dears, what do you do when you get the blues? I mean these tiresome old blues which leave you feeling like the Dementors have sucked you dry and left you in the gutter.

Meanwhile I’m pinning my hopes on the Doctor to #savetheday this weekend. No matter how tired I am, I’ll find time for that.

Good night my dears and Namaste.

Five Years

I was thinking about updating the blog, just to let you all know I am still alive, when this popped into my notifications:

5 years WPWell, knock me down with a feather! I have been lurking on WordPress for 5 years! I only started being more active about a year ago, when I decided to try out NaNoWriMo, and wrote up progress each day.

You see, I was thinking yesterday that now my major projects are nearing closure, I can get back to working on the work-life balance project. It’s the Big One for me, even more than OJEU tenders and new product developments.

So thank you to all who have flown with me (to coin WordPress’s phrase) and please now settle down as we continue to cruise, with possible turbulence at unpredicted intervals.

Here’s what I was doing rather than blogging or working.

DSC_0013Firstly I was making the Christmas cake. I make it in October and top it up with brandy regularly until Christmas so that by the time we cut it and eat it, it’s more a thick drink than a cake. In fact, designated drivers have to take their slice home in party bag. People like it. They tell me it’s very moist, usually giggling as they do so. I don’t allow seconds for at least an hour.

Shawl in close-upThe other thing I was doing was knitting furiously. By which of course I mean “as fast and hard as I could”. I wasn’t cross at all, quite the contrary. I wanted to finish a couple of projects to tidy up my knitting pile. As any knitters out there know, they do build up a bit. So this weekend I finished a present for a friend, and moved onto the end game for the Danish wool scarf. I will post a picture when that is completed too because the wool is Gorgeous with a capital G.

That only leaves me with the Norwegian Rose sweater which is the practice sweater prior to knitting The Killing pattern. That has been two years waiting so it will now be prioritised rather than all the other knitting for friends and relations. Finally.

Now I’m off to help the Local Offspring with packing stuff into boxes to move into the new flat.  I hope you are happy and busy and bright (or calm and content and quiet if that is your preference). What I mean is – love to you all!







Drunkenness and death and harmony

Today was an office closure day, following the Bank Holiday on Monday. The company I work for has a set number of these in the year when they close the office and enforce a day’s annual leave. It can be inconvenient for project deadlines but I didn’t care today because the weather this weekend has been glorious and it continued to be glorious today.

I sat in the garden eating lunch and enjoying the peace of nature around me. The local sparrowhawk swooped down upon a cluster of unobservant sparrows and narrowly missed spearing some dinner. A cat pounced into a shrub and emerged carrying a small bird in its mouth, and looking superior as it tip-toed along the wooden fence. Drunken butterflies whirled madly from the buddleia to the mint and back, weaving unsteadily like the English cricket team retaining the Ashes. Fortunately I did not notice any urinating upon the grass, although no butterfly was able to confirm or deny that particular rumour.

Nature red in tooth and claw invaded my peaceful garden. I admit I didn’t mind. I was in a circle of life kind of mood.

In fact I was more interested in an observation of Sigoth’s that cabbage white butterflies are hard to photograph because they close their wings when they land, whereas the Peacocks and Tortoisehells tend to open them out for display. I watched the various butterflies and Sigoth was right, as usual. It took him ages to get the picture of the cabbage white with its wings open, but at least it kept him off the streets and made sure he got plenty of fresh air and sunshine.

butterfliesDrunken butterflies are a feature of the late summer garden, along with the honking of geese flying south and the chatter of swallows and martins converging on the telephone lines before setting out for Africa. In this way is our little village connected to far continents.

I have been failing to complete some meditation every day and I notice the difference. My brain is whirling like the butterflies. The birds reminded me of our connections to the rest of life and for that I was grateful. You and I are connected even when I fail to update this blog or to keep up with yours. I carry you still in my heart. One day this project will be done and I will have more time for other matters, such as our chats here.

Meanwhile my dears, I send you all my love.


Addiction with EBL

Humans see pattern everywhere, even when they don’t really exist. Usually there is no pattern, just coincidence. Sometimes the patterns collapse into meaning.

I am not prepared to say whether my experience this week was coincidence or some kind of spooky world consciousness kind of thing. I was feeling frazzled. I was tired and a little worried that by agreeing to take on a project on top of my existing workload (which is already out of control), I was losing the battle with my over-active God-complex.  I was open to a new way of looking at things.

I agreed to take on a project that is in an almost desperate state. One that is likely to fail. One that could be damaging to my mental equilibrium. I agreed to work extra hours instead of reducing the time built up during last year’s marathon effort delivering a major OJEU tender and system migration to unreasonable timescales. Yes, I agreed to take on a Death March Project.

I can’t resist being told that no one else can do it, that no one else has the skills / experience  / capability. How stupid am I? I bet you never knew people fell for that line of nonsense.

“EBL saves the world again!” scream the headlines. “Without her we would all be lost!”

It’s official. I am insane. But there are those words: almost, likely to, could be. I grew up watching too many superhero cartoons.

I got back home after being away for a hectic week at work, and decided to relax by catching up on some blog posts. First of all I found that Rohan7Things was expounding wisely on self-discipline and Internet use.

“That’s good stuff,” I thought, frittering time away by using the Internet. “That’s what I need to do – after all, I have cut back on my blogging, so that’s all good. Hah, this stuff is easy!”

Who am I kidding? How deluded can I be? Pretty deluded it seems.

Next I read Rarasaur, who fell off a wagon. Even the mighty Dino of the Blogosphere, the Blogosaurus herself, has limits. Who knew?

I looked at my life. It snarled at me.

There I was thinking I was doing well because I resigned from Governors. Already I have been told I am about to be asked to pick up some jobs at our local Quaker meeting, and already, without knowing what they are, I know I will say yes.

My reasoning is this: all work and no play makes EBL a dull girl. If all I do is work, then I don’t enjoy my life. I need to be involved in activities outside work for balance. So it’s good to take on those jobs, right?


Let’s say a friend has given up some voluntary work because it was too demanding and she had been doing it for nine years and felt stale and tired and wanted a break. This is all hypothetical, you understand. This friend has a fairly busy job and is often away from home. She works quite long hours, although not excessive hours like junior doctors. No more than 50 a week. Quite reasonable really; usually only 45 in fact. Civilised hours.

Now she has been asked to take on a trusteeship and another role in her community, on top of her other voluntary commitments for fundraising.

Did I mention she is also a carer? Well, she is.

Then there is her desire to pursue, in a completely selfish manner, some trivial hobbies for her own amusement. She had a rota for those but it has fallen apart recently.

She has just agreed to take on a Death March Project.

I have to admit that looking at it, it doesn’t sound so clever. Even so, I suspect I will still say yes.

My father died of stress in his sixties. I need to take that seriously.

But I will still say yes.

Only the good die young. What’s the point in living longer if you do nothing with the time?

Perhaps the first step to dealing with addiction is to recognise the problem and admit to being powerless over it. What I need is a Twelve Step Programme for Workaholism, like this one here. I scored 15 / 20 on the test, which is a bit scary.

So that’s another project to do – dealing with it.

How common is this, and is it because of the period of change our societies are going through? Or am I just a hopeless case?




Every day we learn new things about the people around us; at least, I do. Often it is humbling. People you have known for years, not very well, but well enough to remember their preference for milk and sugar, the name of their pet and where they went for their holiday last summer. It may be a colleague, or the woman you talk to every morning as you queue for your coffee in the coffee shop, or the man who sits opposite you on the train. You get talking, you learn a very little about their life, and, God help you, you form an opinion.

At least, if you are like me, and a lot of people I know are, you form an opinion. This person has got to the stage of complaining about their neighbour, or their boss. You might venture advice on how to make up. You look at photos of the grandchild, or the dog (always making sure you never muddle them: was the baby called Toby and the dog Frankie, or was it the other way around?).

After days or weeks or months or years you feel you know them, and you may feel they are a bit mundane. You might feel they could have done more, been more, earned more. You might be frustrated with their shortcomings.  Alternatively they might talk about the other things they do, singing in a choir, or painting scenery for the AmDram Society, or helping out with Scouts or Guides, or teaching tae kwon do to pensioners, or whatever. You might wish you were good at something too, and dream about taking up flower arranging or jazz cornet or dressage.

Time goes on and familiarity breeds contempt, benign or otherwise. They might have raised hundreds of pounds for Multiple Sclerosis but it’s not the Nobel Peace Prize, is it? All they did was jump out of a plane: it’s just falling, gravity does the work. Why do they keep going on about it?

Then one day you get a glimpse of something deeper. You learn about a personal tragedy that would have brought you to your knees and left you gibbering in a darkened room for the rest of your life. Yet they go on. They continue to moan about the boss and run the Guide camp and arrange flowers as if nothing had happened. Except something did.

People are amazing. In all probability you, reading this, are handling or have handled, or maybe will handle, some disaster that would destroy me. Perhaps I have done the same for something that may have been more than you could take.

When we learn about what others manage we are often shamed or humbled or inspired. We believe that suffering engenders nobility.

“She’s such a brick,” we say. Or “He’s a saint.”

My observation is that in most cases we manage because we must. This does not reduce the achievement or the suffering. I believe it merely is.

We manage because we must and sometimes that generates enough rage or despair to give us the energy to change it, or at least to survive it.

Part of my mind, the sneaky bit at the back which I prefer to ignore, suggests slyly that the rest of us glamorise this to paper over the fact that until we knew about the Tragedy we thought that person was a bit of a loser. We feel guilty for writing them off as ordinary, because ordinary suffering is not noble, and our own suffering becomes tawdry in comparison.

Am I too cynical today?

Perhaps we need to feel heroic, if only to ourselves, in order to be able to manage. And we manage because we must.

I learned of three people today dealing with tragedies of one kind or another. One laughed; one cried; and one said “we manage because we must”.

They are all amazing people. They have given me strength to manage too. Once upon a time someone else gave them strength.

We all share in one another’s pain, probably with no more than Six Degrees of Separation.

And so the light in me salutes the light in you. You are amazing.




Waking up alone

My dears, I know you think I am posting but it’s actually a magic pixie who is posting on my behalf while I am away for work. That’s why if any of you have been kind enough to comment I have not yet replied. I am thinking of you all, though, never fear. Be brave, I’ll be home for the weekend.

I dislike being away from home. I have moaned about it often enough. However, it occurred to me the other day that what I actually dislike is waking up alone.

The reason that startling revelation hit my consciousness was that last weekend I had a bug. Not a software bug, a proper virus. No, not a computer virus… A mean little germ got into my guts, settled down, had descendants and it resulted in me with my head down the loo at 3 am and periodically thereafter until the internal wars of digestion had seen me ultimately victorious and employing a full and healthy set of antibodies to send that old germ packing like the Swiss Guard at the Sack of Rome.

During this period Sigoth exhibited the better sign of valour and ministered to my every need from a safe distance to make sure he didn’t fall foul of the same bug. Very sensible of him really. We can’t afford to have both of us laid up because of the mother.

I still didn’t like waking up without the chance of a snuggle. Just a few precious minutes before the next busy day begins is all I ask.

When I am away I wake up alone. I often wake up alone at 3 am just because it’s not my bed and not my room and not my village. There are cars and party goers outside and random guests in the corridor and air-con gurgling. None of these noises help me sleep like a baby, except that babies often sleep by waking up at intervals and yelling for comfort. I don’t yell but neither do I tend to go back to sleep.

It happens sometimes when I sleep in at home and Sigoth gets up early, usually when I have been away and not slept well for a few days and need to catch up. Then I wake up in the luxury of my own bed, and roll over to find a big empty space that should be full of snoring Sigoth. There are times I fall asleep in my own bed before he comes up at night and wake up in the morning after he had gone downstairs and I am disoriented by solitude. My fuzzy brain wonders if it’s the future and I am alone forever; whether he is ill, or has died, and I’ve forgotten; whether he left me for some reason I cannot quite bring to mind or have blocked out; whether he no longer cares.  My desperately accumulated sense of being safe and happy and at peace is shattered in a moment of uncertainty and I begin to suspect I have been fooling myself for thinking anyone would stay with me.

I hear a sound, turn my head, and there he is with a tray of tea and a crossword, and the angels are blowing trumpets on the landing and turning cartwheels in the bathroom because he is back. Fireworks roar across the ceiling, exploding by the wardrobe and drowning out the dove burbling at the top of the chimney. Choirs reach a crescendo and the crowds dance in the street. There is the end of war and famine and sickness and poverty. The whale is saved. Hell, every last endangered arachnid and crustacean is saved while we’re at it, even the ugly ones. The sun has got his hat on.

This time.


The weight of the world

I don’t like to crow about how brilliant I am – it would only depress the rest of you. However, over the past year I have been working on losing some of the stones I gained while I was suffering with mobility restrictions. Thankfully last year I eventually had a couple of operations which have improved the situation no end. There are still days which are hard, but on the whole I am pretty much pain free and able to walk gently, so long as I wear the right support apparatus and don’t over-do it. Or move about when there’s an R in the month.

So, the stones. I have lost about five of them since January 2012. For those of you reading in American that’s 70lbs. I have no idea what it is in kilos, but assume about 35.

I’m not here to gloat about that. I am still a little above the mid-way point on the BMI measure so I am just about right which is a very strange feeling because I haven’t been this right since I was in my 20s. Having children is fattening, both before they are born and after, as you finish off their leftovers.

Anyway, I thought it might be fun to try out the Global Fat Scale that the BBC so kindly provides, and it turns out I am Gambian. Who knew?

The best bit about this little bit of BBC hilarity was this quote:

Did you know?

If everyone in the world had the same BMI as you, it would remove 13,630,341 tonnes from the total weight of the world’s population

I felt quite alarmed. If we all put on any more weight will the Earth break? Might she rip the space-time continuum with her porkiness and tumble through the resulting hole into another dimension?

What if she starts consuming pies directly? I envisage chomping Earth-mouths opening in the street outside Greggs the Baker, and customers tumbling into the crevasse clutching their pastry purchases and screaming, the sound dying slowly as they fall into the centre of the planet. “Noooooooooo!”

Suppose she decides enough is enough and goes on a diet? No more fruitful abundance. Oh no! It will be global famine on an unprecedented scale, and earthquakes at least three times a week as she tries to lose the blubber by shaking about. What kind of gym would a portly planet use anyway?

What if she goes in for cosmetic surgery? The Galactic Medical Aesthete would use a meteoric scalpel to carve humanity from her body surface and restore her to her youthful dignity. We would end up in the bio-hazardous waste.

I think I need some chocolate to calm me down.

Enjoy your dinners tonight, my dears. While yet you may.