Old knickers and new friends

Bus

A bus in summer

At this time of year, waiting for the early morning bus at 0645, every day I notice the changing light.

This morning, for example, I had enough light to make out the dim, grey footpath and so avoid the drifts of last year’s old leaves and follow the dips and falls of the tarmac without stumbling.

Waiting for my bus I listened to a cacophony of birds; mostly their calls are a mystery to me, but I am able to pick out the owl from a nearby farm and the cockerel from another. They hoot and crow in some kind of avian version of duelling banjos, while their cousins of hedge and field whistle and warble freestyle feathery jazz.

On the bus I watch the palette of the sky build from charcoal through pastels to acrylic blues. The pink and lilac and lemon drain away as the day begins, leaving only a passing memory. Most of the other passengers are in thrall to small screens of worldwide information and miss the world unfolding.

The cars parked by the roadside are coated in crispy shells of frost this morning, which looks very pretty until you need to clear the windscreen and persuade the door to open. Early drivers scrape unenthusiastically, vandalising the intricate lace-work as their breath and the car’s exhaust steam in unison.

I wish the driver would turn the heating up, or at least not leave the door open while we wait at the bus station. She is warm in her cabin and forgets we are exposed. My feet are unresponsive blocks of ice, although once in the office I will regret my winter layers.

Off the bus at last, fumbling with ticket and lanyard and lunchbox and phone, walking briskly to thaw my feet and warm my body, thinking ahead to tea and logging in and emails, meetings, databases thinking ahead to people around me and cake shared and stories told.

A P Green Knickers front 300

“I can’t believe I’m almost twenty one!” said in the horrified tone of the young, gazing upon the serried ranks of aged oblivion before her, not saying but thinking “Will I end up like them?”

“Twenty one? I’ve got knickers at home older than that!” exclaims the crone to my right.

We three crones exchange glances of misty-eyed remembrance of being horrified at twenty-one.

All three of us roar and cackle, then I answer the phone on script.

“Crone Team, EBL speaking, How can I help?” while beside me the other two rock in silent appreciation of our wit and wisdom.

Rounds of tea mark out the day, then back on the bus, rewinding the morning journey, light fading backwards and more smudges of coloured sky, richer red and purple and apricot before the light fails altogether. Yet still there is enough light this evening to avoid the drifts of last year’s leaves and follow the dips and falls of the tarmac without stumbling.

At home, kicking off shoes, pulling on pyjamas, catching up on all the adventures of the day. A letter from the tax office claims I owe them money. My payslip includes a tax rebate of money they owe me. The two amounts are similar and will take time to sort out for no gain to either of us, but it could be worse.

I sit with hair washed, snuggled in my dressing gown and am thankful for a day of many small pleasures, of old knickers and new friends.

May your days be full of the small joys that keep us sane.

Namaste.

 

The end of days

Well, perhaps I overstate it when I say “end of days.” However, it is certainly the end of the financial year and our Highways Authority is spending up like tarmac was going out of fashion. The main trunk road to the coast is closed off and traffic being diverted via the road at the end of our village lane. This very same road, now carrying more traffic than anyone would have believed possible, is only semi-open because of roadworks which have closed off one carriageway, and using a traffic light system to control flow. I say “flow” but I mean “stagnant pauses of sufficient duration to calculate pi to a new digit.”

Naturally when Sigoth and I decided to go into town this morning to look for essential items – such as circular knitting needles and pastries and coffee – we went the back way, through some other villages to avoid the snafu that is the usual route. We had forgotten in our haste and cleverness that the road through the next village was also closed while work is being carried out there.

We took the scenic route. It was several miles out of the way, but it beat going back home and then queuing in traffic.

Tomorrow we are going to York for the Viking Festival to hear Beowulf and to enjoy traditional Scandinavian activities, such as shopping and drinking coffee. We will take the bus, and leave the stress of finding the way to someone else. We would have gone by train but there are no trains running this week. Being half term the railway line to the coast is shut down while they do some work on the bridge over the Ouse in York and thus amputate the East Coast from mainland England.

It’s half term. It’s damp and grey. The families we saw in town were looking the worse for wear, seeking entertainment at reasonable price in a very small market town where the highlight of the town trail is a couple of small rooms forming a Victorian office allegedly responsible for inspiring Dickens to write about Scrooge. It’s not a barrel of laughs for most under-50s.

On the bright side, Vikings!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend and that the weather, transport system and barbarian hordes in your vicinity are kind to you.

Namaste

Random Acts of Strangers

The news last night ran a story about a blogger who is performing random acts of kindness each day for a year. Apparently he is an Internet Sensation. Apparently he is pretty well off too, because it all seemed to be about giving away luxury goods or paying for other people’s dinner. I admit I sighed a bit, although I am sure he intends well, and I am glad he is doing it, if weary that such activity is seen as newsworthy (a bit like the recent naked selfies craze – honestly, is it so brave for women not to wear make-up? Mutter, mumble, snarl…)

Meanwhile, casting abut for a topic to inflict upon my loyal but battered readers, I came across the following in WordPress’s 365 Days of Writing Prompts:

Have you ever had a random encounter or fleeting moment with a stranger that stuck with you?

Well, I have certainly had lots of weird and wonderful encounters, usually on long train journeys or waiting for trains or sitting in hotel lobbies. It occurs to me that much of my job is taken up with waiting.

Most of them have been reasonably pleasant, some a bit creepy and some very profound. The most profound were not really fleeting if you call an entire morning substantial. When I was commuting weekly from London to Yorkshire and back I had several interesting and useful conversations on the train with various other people doing the same thing. It usually started with me trying to read a book about configuring Exchange Servers or how to do sub-net masking or the intricacies of Project Management (in summary, use wax crayons and post-it notes. I see now that Agile is flavour of the month we back to that again, except now it has some “cool” jargon to go with it; and yes, that does deserve quotation marks. Plus ça change…)

Anyway, the train people: they often told me things. Many of the commuters were senior manager types who were happy to share their wisdom to someone who showed an interest, so I had long conversations about Deming and Open Source and Servant Leadership and all kinds of groovy things. It made the railway coffee drinkable at least.

That’s a handy tip for you, gratis. If you want to have an interesting conversation on a long journey carry a prop, such as an inconveniently heavy textbook to signal your credentials as a person worth engaging. It’s amazing how often this works, but then train journeys are mind-numbingly boring and being able to talk to someone who doesn’t have their eyes on video games and their ears leaking bass lines is a real treat. Try and make it one that can lead to an introductory question and then you are away. Do not, however, try the trick I came across last week.

I usually book a seat for my journeys so that I don’t have to scuffle for one and can relax getting on the train. I am more than happy to move anyone on who has sat in my place, either in error, or hope, or stupidity. Last week I found a young female in my seat and asked her to move, but she claimed to have a reservation. She was clearly wrong, but as the seat next to her was free anyway, I sat in it. I don’t need to sit in the exact seat; any will do.

A besuited gentleman sat down opposite. She had put her suitcase on his seat, and he was going to move it but then realised he could sit opposite me as that was free as well. We all settled down and the inconvenient miss burbled on about how crowded the trains were and how she had just been to a wedding and it was totes amazeballs (well, she actually said “amazing,” but she said it quite a lot and she meant totes amazeballs; you could tell) and she had held a 6 day old baby and he was totes amazeballs too and now she was going home and that was, well, you get the picture.

The suited man and I nodded and agreed that things were, in general, totes amazeballs, and wasn’t it nice to see the sun after such a dull winter. If we were being a little condescending, forgive us. Speaking for myself at least, I was envious of her joy in small things and wide-eyed optimism about life. That’s because I am a curmudgeonly old Baglady, and if I mock her idiom it’s at least with some affection. Every generation has its new formula for speaking the English as they feel she should be spoke. For myself, I am intrigued: I was fascinated to meet a woman once who had left England for the heady excitement of Switzerland in her twenties and not lived here since the 1950s. As a result she did not know what some basic words meant in her alleged mother tongue, including “roundabout” as an example. How amazeballls is that?

She kept on prattling gaily like a butterfly on acid, but once she learned I worked in IT (which is apparently like, not at all amazeballs, duh) she turned her attention to the gent. They always do, in my experience. It’s probably hard-coded in the DNA or something: here is a successful provider who could ensure she and potential future children were kept fed and warm.

Then she blew it.

“That’s a totes amazeballs pen,” she chirruped as he made some notes in his important manager’s leather-bound diary.

“Thank you.”

“Can I take a photo?” and she whipped out her mobile and snapped the instrument before he could blink.

“Wait, what? You’re not putting that on-line are you?” he gurgled, a bit panicky. Maybe he thought she was conducting industrial espionage on his calendar. Maybe she was. Damn good disguise Amazeballs in fact, like totally.

“I just want a picture so I can find it in a shop and get one.”

Pull the other one, love, it’s got bells on. How much writing do you actually do? Even I hardly use a pen and I write all the time.

The damage was done. He huffed a bit and stopped talking to her. I snorted a bit and sent coffee through my nose, in an attractive and ladylike way I’m sure. She realised she had gone too far and staggered off the train at York apologising for existing. I could have told her: watch your boundaries, especially in the nebulous confines of a public space. Try not to come across all paparazzi.

That is why a passive book is a good prop for conversation and a mobile phone-camera is not. Unless you are a secret agent, in which case, either is a good choice.

Weird travellers, I’ve seen a few. What are your brief encounters like?

Namaste.

 

Journeys

Regular readers will be aware that I spend a distressing proportion of my life lumbering about the country by rail, bus and taxi. I know it’s hard to believe but I don’t actually have a driving licence, nor do I really need one. Where would be the fun if I couldn’t moan about public transport?

journey-destination

So when I was confronted with this little piece of wisdom today I curled my upper lip into a practised sneer and muttered under my breath “oh, really?”. That was because the destination in my experience is of some significance and bears on the nature of the journey in no small part.

Still, I was game for a laugh so I gave it a little more thought, and that was because another thing I have come to notice in my experience is that clichés evolve for a reason. The reason being that a cliché is usually based on a wider truth recognised by the population as a whole. That is how and why it becomes a cliché in the first place.

I sat and gave it some cursory attention. “Why this cliché?” I asked myself. “What truth is hidden within?”

Waiting for an answer, I got my metaphorical head on and thought a bit more. “Life,” I pondered, as is my wont, “it’s a funny old thing and a kind of Journey.” This was no doubt the point the said meme was hoping I would reach.

To be obliging, I thought about the weekend I had just spent with the Offspringses home for the Chocolate Festival. We had a good time, playing games, eating treats, drinking wine and watching films. We visited other family members. We talked about stuff. What more can you ask for, and in what better company? I am so grateful my family is a friendly one that can spend a weekend together without screaming and shouting and slamming doors. Occasionally we even share the washing up.

That little leg of the Journey was spent well. We shared love.

I thought about all the actual journeys I take, and how I enjoy chatting aimlessly to complete strangers about this and that, playing games with their toddlers, hearing about a wedding or a break-up, learning about a new author or music, sharing tales of disaster and inconvenience, gently one-upping each other with calamities of the non-serious kind. I am especially fond of the bus ride from York to Whitby on the Goth weekend when most of my fellow travellers are of the pale and interesting variety. It’s amazing what conversations you can have with strangers. We seem to meet the essential part of each other when trapped together in a moving carriage for a couple of hours. Then we go our separate ways, possibly wiser, and frequently mutually amused.

Of course I also have had journeys where my companions have been pretty hard work. There was the young man who thought I was an angel sent from God to save him, which was quite disconcerting as all I did was nod briefly at him when he sat down. Then there was the cactus enthusiast who spent a long bus journey telling me about his cacti and succulents.

Those legs of the Journey are spent well whatever the case. We share our humanity, sometimes easily and sometimes painfully. But we share it.

I might have started to think about the journey from then to now as well, but I was getting fed up with all the metaphysical nonsense and my brain was starting to fizz. Time for a cup of the brew that refreshes.

“And what is the destination anyway?” I mused as I filled the kettle. “What is it all about, really, when you get right down to it?”

Because that’s what clichés are good for, reminding you of the eternal questions, right there.

I thought briefly of the sparrow flying from the wintry tempest through the warm hall and back out into the dark.  That was the Journey. And, as with National Rail, the final destination remained out of sight and ultimately was cold, bleak and mysterious. Take that, you metaphor. (I blame it all on the film we watched this weekend, which was two solid hours of trope layered on top of metaphor and served up with a refreshing side salad of imagery. It means I will be having trouble processing reality for the next day or so.)

My destination, I concluded as the water boiled, was just that: the place I end up. I suspect it will be defined by rather than define my journey. I look at my mother and see she has ended up in her current situation as a result of her choices and decisions years ago. I worry that I will regret mine, but all I can do is make the best of the current service station facilities and hope that the next fork in the road (or points on the line) will let me veer in the right direction. I would quite like to avoid Crewe if at all possible and preferably Birmingham New Street as well. Certainly ending up at Warrington Quays would not be welcome. I have nothing against the places in particular but those stations are abominations.

Meanwhile, for the next few days I will be away in London for work, and hopefully fitting in a trip to the British Library. That’s a destination worth reaching. In the meantime, enjoy your journeys and send me a post card so I can read about where you are at the moment. Is it a motorway café, a main line or a siding? Perhaps it’s a cul-de-sac or a traffic jam or a picturesque bridle path? Feel free to engage the metaphorical muscles, but please remember I am not an angel, nor a cactus expert.

Namaste.

Pilgrimages

canterbury tales

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

And bathed every veyne in swich licour,

Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,

And smale foweles maken melodye,

That slepen al the nyght with open eye-

(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

 

Geoffrey Chaucer, Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

http://www.librarius.com/cantales.htm

The past is another country, and certainly the medieval period is a very foreign one indeed. Not only did they talk funny, a strange mix of Old English and Norman French which eventually became our beloved mother tongue, but they also seem to have had different weather. A droghte of March, I ask thee! It has not been very droghty at all, although it has been quite draughty at times. That naughty Zephirus.

It is true that I woke up this morning to hear the rain pouring steadily outside: it was proper rain, unrelenting, but not associated with Zephyrs of gales or sleet, just plain rain. So naturally my first thought was “oh, April showers” followed somewhat inevitably by “nice day for a poisson d’avril” because I’m sorry but my mind works like that – even at 5.30 in the morning.

Of course, my mind did turn next to pilgrimages. I have to pack this evening to chug away for work across the borders into West Yorkshire. It will be a pigrimage alone, but at least I will have some little chums to eat with during the evening at the The Tabard, or whatever equivalent we can find. I anticipate a jolly evening when we get the real work done, along with some long hard hours in meeting rooms during the day with less productivity. There may even be tales, and some of them may be a bit ripe, although not as ripe as old Geoffrey’s, which were very ripe indeed.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying I am unlikely to be troubling your in-boxes/reader feed over the next few days. My gift to you. Instead I shall be slogging away in project initiation hell, which is a very special kind of hell I can assure you, and trying to keep my calm. In this regard I am thankful for listening to Thich Nhat Hanh yesterday reminding me of the value of mindfulness. I even tried the telephone meditation at work today which meant I was reasonably courteous to the annoying sales rep who was client-bothering. And by “reasonably courteous” I mean I told him to ring someone else and not bother me again, but fairly politely.

If you were a-travelling, my dears, who would you travel with and what tales would you tell?

Meanwhile, may your journeys be sweet.

Namaste

 

Journey

On Saturday I took the train to Leeds to see my female Offspring and spend a day together. I was pleased to do this for a number of reasons: firstly, to spend a day together; secondly, I have not had enough energy to do any such thing for a long time so it was great to be able to even think of doing it; thirdly, Leeds has some marvellous shops and I was looking forward to investigating the markets for wool and Waterstones for books. Inevitably I was mugged by literature but I resisted the overtures of the yarn, enticing and entangling though it was, by reminding myself sternly that I already have at least three bags full of wool (yes sir!) waiting to be knitted up into jumpers. I did compromise and buy a pattern though.

It was the journey itself that stayed in my mind though. I try and listen to music while I am travelling on order to relax and to drown out the wittering that goes on among the other travellers. I really don’t need to hear all about what she said to him or he said to her, or why it’s not fair that stuff happens. On Saturday there was a particularly loud and slightly creepy old bloke across the aisle from me, chatting up young women. He would start off fairly innocuously by asking them where they were going and showing a genial interest, then telling them he was off to see trams somewhere or other, thus appearing harmlessly eccentric. Everyone loves a harmless eccentric. It always ended up with him asking if they liked leather though, which amused everyone concerned. He really was pretty harmless.

So I played my music and turned it up a little and watched the scenery slide by outside. It was bright and sunny, and the stretch of track we were travelling over wound its way through the Howardian Hills and into the Vale of York, then on to Leeds through some rather attractive countryside. Really it’s one of the nicest routes there is. It’s not quite the Ribble Valley Viaduct but it’s a good second, especially around Kirkham Abbey.

The train runs past Kirkham Abbey between York and Malton

The train runs past Kirkham Abbey between York and Malton

With the music playing it felt like I was in a film, in the establishing shots at the beginning. Here was EBL living in Yorkshire, which looked rather pleasant and had a peaceful background track to make you feel calm and probably to lull you into a false sense of security. I watch too many murderous television programmes to assume we were in for a heart-warming tale of everyday folk. It amused me to work out who in the carriage were the undercover policemen (almost certainly the creepy bloke, but who else?). I thought back to the Due South episode on the train of singing Mounties (All the Queen’s Horses, S2:E14, in case you were interested) and wondered if a handsome young Canadian was about to appear with a guitar and start off a round of “Scarborough Fair”. I hoped he wouldn’t be the one that was killed. Then I hoped I wasn’t either.

Outside the scenery continued unabated. I decided to pay it a bit more attention as no Mounties were forthcoming.

Unabated scenery sans Mounties. This was taken on a sunnier day than Saturday

It was one of those days when the clouds were in layers. Do you know what I mean? There were some that were very low and dark and rather wispy. Just above them was some which were a bit more grey but substantial, then above those there were the big boys, full of rain and menace. There weren’t enough of them to imply definite rain, just enough to suggest it was a strong possibility at some point in the not-too-distant future. I regretted not bringing an umbrella then remembered it was pretty windy and revised my regrets to not bringing my hat.

The layers of cloud made me think of the Earth wearing veils, like Salome, and dancing her dance, not for the head of the Baptist, but for the sheer joy of being a living biosphere in a thinly populated universe. Around the Sun she weaves, inflaming the star to greater heat no doubt, and keeping our home warm and bright and growing. It’s a careful balance she maintains, keeping her orbit in that Goldilocks Zone of not too hot and not too cold, so I hope she finds the joy of the dance is as endless and sustaining as we find the light of the Sun.

By the time the train wheezed into Leeds it was much more dull and chilly outside, and I was already working out which was the nearest good coffee shop to the station. Female Offspring was waiting at the barriers and we set off for coffee, croissants and retail mayhem. The creepy guy was not far behind me, but we lost him in the crowds. I hope he had a good day too.

How was your weekend?

Namaste

 

 

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.