Tag Archives: senses

Today it will be mostly…scorchio

What is that strange yellow orb in the sky?

What is that strange yellow orb in the sky?

A couple of weeks ago, I took a cup of tea out onto the sunny 10th floor balcony of the office I work in, for a quick lunch time break away from my desk. It was like stepping out of an aeroplane on the first day of a Mediterranean summer holiday – a wall of heat hit me as soon as I opened the door. I’m talking truly scorchio here, the kind of temperature more commonly felt lying on a sunbed with a good book, a cold beer and the tss-tss-tss of cicadas in the background. Bear in mind that I work in the centre of Manchester, the rainiest city in England and you will understand my shock. Much as I enjoy the heat, I think what I love even more are the expansive clear blue skies. There is something about the quality of light and the glint of sunshine sparkling on every reflective surface, be it the water of a swimming pool in France or the roofs of the cars on the city street ten floors below me,  which lifts my spirits even if I did not realise they were down. The joy of a clear, sunny day is a rare treat in my neck of the woods and one to be treasured irrespective of how many layers of clothing I have to wear to be comfortable outside in it. I have felt my heart sing under a crystal blue sky with ice on the ground in January, as loudly as it does when I hit the tarmac in Turkey or Crete.

I am not sure if there is an evolutionary reason why sunshine is such a pleasure, a release of
endorphins to make sure I soak up enough Vitamin D perhaps?  I should probably research it but I’m feeling lazy (sorry). Or maybe it’s just the shock of the new? A novelty because, having lived most of my adult life here in the north west of England ,truly clear, sunny days are precious gems. Perhaps if I lived in Australia or Africa I would take it for granted and never ever appreciate that little thrill that comes from turning my face tfacing the suno the sun, closing my eyes and taking a moment to enjoy the warmth. If I had to live and work every day in a hot, sunny climate would I crave a cloudy, rainy day instead? Would a grey sky thrill me as much as a cloudless one does now?  Somehow I doubt it. There might be relief from heat and light, but no joy surely.

Admiring the sunshine and shadows on my legs on a beach in Turkey this year

Admiring the sunshine and shadows on my legs in Turkey this year

I also find that I slow down a little on sunny days, irrespective of temperature. Those lovely deep blue skies are such a pleasure that I always relax and enjoy it, knowing how fleeting they may be. My pulse and breathing slow down and the tension in my neck and shoulders dissipates. It makes me want to stay outdoors, and to sit for a while with a chilled beer (if it’s hot) or if it’s in December and cold,  a cup of tea and a McVitie’s digestive biscuit. Bliss. Sometimes I’m just so English…

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DON’T Curb Your Enthusiasm

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There are occasions in life when everyone asks themselves “Is it me? Am I abnormal or what?” I have asked myself this question lots of times over the years and have come to the conclusion that I am most definitely NOT “normal” (in the sense of “similar to most people I know”) with regard to…well quite a lot of things actually. I will give you a few simple examples and then explain further.

  1. I like classical literature. I also like detective stories, fantasy and sci-fi, light comedies, young adult fiction, biographies, mysteries, ghost stories, holiday trash and general modern literature. In fact I’ll read the back of a cornflake box given half a chance.
  2. I listen to an eclectic range of music. Nirvana, Ella Fitzgerald, Justin Timberlake, Stravinsky, Wham, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, Adele and Youssou N’Dour. There is something listed in every single genre on my iPod.
  3. I enjoy world cinema. And big blockbuster events, rom-coms, zom-rom-coms, period dramas, action, sci-fi, small indie films and old black and white weepies.
  4. I like food. Period. There is not a single cuisine that I will not eat with relish. Indian, Chinese, Mexican, English, Spanish, Italian, French, Greek, Middle-Eastern, Japanese, Thai, Turkish etc., etc. Sweet, savoury, sour, salty, bitter. Fishy, meaty, veggie, spicy, crunchy,  smooth and creamy. Love it all. Except beetroot of course. Food of the devil.
  5. I am interested in history. And art. And the history of art. And cosmology, botany, geology, social sciences, dance and drama, astronomy, natural history, psychology, physiology, language, etc., etc. Basically I fascinated by the whole world and all of the wonders of life.

Well,  what am I getting at?  The fact that I am constantly surprised, and often disappointed and a little saddened by other people’s rather limited and restricted interests and enthusiasms. I struggle to understand how some folk can be so narrow in their likes and how wide their dislikes spread.  I get that everyone has personal preferences and tastes and I am not so un-discerning that I don’t have personal favourites, of course I do.  But (cliché alert #1) variety is the spice of life and if you have only a few “likes” then life must be pretty dull and uninspiring.

I have friends, dear, intelligent, thoughtful people, who refuse to read anything written more than 50 years old or to watch black and white films. Others that only read (or watch) non-fiction, or a single genre of fiction/film.  I know fussy, faddy eaters who won’t try anything with a hint of spice or herbs, or sniff at one pot dishes where the ingredients are “mixed up”. Lovely, funny, kind people who disdain ALL sciences. Or arts. My own beloved brother shocked me last week by admitting that he had no interest whatsoever in natural history. I could write a whole separate blog entry about why I think that is weird but getting back to my original point…personally there are not many topics that I am not interested in, not many genres of books I would refuse to read, films I’d refuse to see, music I wouldn’t listen to at least once and few foods I’d refuse to eat. Except beetroot  – it really is deeply unpleasant.

Why am I so enthusiastic for so many different things? Well I have a natural curiosity, a greed for sensory pleasure, and a fear of missing out on anything. I also suspect that there is a deep,  sub-conscious reason…I want to avoid being pigeon-holed or becoming a stereotype. You know the sort of thing I mean; I am a middle-aged, middle class, white woman in suburban Cheshire and therefore I must prefer to read “chick lit” and “aga sagas”, watch rom-com films, listen to Michael Buble, and to drink only white wine and eat grilled chicken with a light salad. Bollocks. It’s not that I don’t like doing those things (I am quite partial to all of them) but I don’t want them to typify me. So, I enjoy  the odd pint of Guinness as well as a glass of sauvignon blanc, I read “A Game of Thrones” as well as Jane Austen, watch “Boardwalk Empire” as well as “The Great British Bake-Off”, and listen to Linkin Park as well as Take That. I am not contrary or rebellious by nature but I hate being pre-judged…

The diversity of my enthusiasms is genuine and I honestly do have way more likes than dislikes in life. Anyone who is a personal friend and linked to me on Facebook will testify that I click “like” an awful lot more than I moan and groan. The odd rant slips in but I like to be a “radiator” not a “drain”.  My favourite people are the ones who are happy and enthusiastic about life – their energy and warmth is contagious. I tend to hide from the energy sapping “I don’t like THIS, THAT is boring and the OTHER is not my cup of tea” brigade. My philosophy in life is that you’re a long time dead and that you should make the most of every opportunity.  There is so much to enjoy and enthuse about so (cliché alert #2) open your mind, broaden your horizons and don’t be dismissive of new experiences … yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. Sorry – I know that you’ve heard it all before but in short,  as my old Dad is fond of saying, “don’t knock it till you’ve tried it”. You never know, you might LIKE it. Unless it’s beetroot – yuk.

Evil foodstuff...

Evil foodstuff…

Musical escapism

field of dreamsEveryone has songs or pieces of music which they associate strongly with certain times and places in their past and which automatically spark memories or emotions long forgotten. For me there is one piece in particular which awakens all of my senses, instantly transporting me to a grassy field, miles from anywhere, on a perfect spring day…

I lie on my back gazing up at a blue, blue sky watching occasional feathers of white cirrus drifting slowly by. My fingers brush the cool, soft grass and the scent of fresh “green” is intoxicating. Overhead, the sun is warm, while a cool breeze brings both a pleasing tactile sensation on my naked arms and a delicious smell of meadow flowers and May blossom. My eye is distracted from the clouds by a sudden speck in the blue, rising ever higher. I tune in to the song of the lark, complex, beautiful and joyful. My heart fills with the perfection of the moment and I am moved, almost to tears as I am swept away by the achingly beautiful and emotional music of  “The Lark Ascending”.

This Vaughn Williams’ piece affects me the same way every time I listen to it, even in a windowless office, plugged into my iPod and pondering some tricky conundrum of information management. It has an actual physiological effect on me whenever I listen to it. My heart rate lowers, my shoulders relax and my breathing slows because this sublime piece of music has the power to take me to a very personal and private place in my head where nothing, nothing matters apart from The Moment. And how precious these moments are. No fretting about the past, no worrying about the future, no distractions from the bustling, noisy, insistent “look-at-me-listen-to-me!” world around me. The demands of work, friends and family are forgotten as I close my eyes to lie on the grass in my field, absorbed in the gentle, sensory pleasures of being alone outdoors in a field in May, utterly relaxed and at peace with the world.

In absolute honesty my reverie is not rooted from a single, specific memory but rather a nostalgia for a time in my life when I lived in rural Lincolnshire and was lucky enough to enjoy many an idyllic afternoon lying in a field, reading or walking across open country and listening to the glorious song of the skylark. The moment I first heard Lark Ascending I was taken back twenty (plus!) years, to that period in my life which was filled with big open skies, fresh country air, and birdsong. Of course it is easy to view the past wearing spectacles of the rose-tinted variety, and in reality there are many things that I don’t miss about my few brief years living the rural lifestyle. For a start our unheated and distinctly chilly farmhouse suffered a regular influx of spiders, which, judging by their size, could only have been the offspring of some unholy union between Shelob and Aragog. There are stories there for another time… In the interim I’m going to hit rewind, listen again to Vaughn Williams and enjoy fourteen minutes of sheer bliss.

The farmhouse we lived in  in North East Lincolnshire in the mid 1980's

The farmhouse we lived in in North East Lincolnshire in the mid 1980’s

Thoughts from an autumnal garden

Looking up through the canopy of my glorious silver birch. Nov 2012

Late on a perfect October afternoon and the first leaf raking of the autumn. Residual heat from the gradually sinking sun filters through the semi-naked branches of the ash, birch and laburnum to warm my bones. The damp, earthy smell of the fallen leaves rising from the lawn with every thrrrupp, thrrrupp of the plastic rake. The whole sensory experience that comes with gardening is a pleasure and I soak it up. I know that many people loathe chores like this and see gardening as a tedious extension of housework. There are times when I agree with them; when I’m in a rush, distracted by other worries or overwhelmed by the long list of chores that need to be done, then I find it hard to enjoy. But not on a day like this. I am making the most of the shimmering, golden light, the smell of mouldering leaves and the persistent calls of the gold finches perched on the rose arch.

As I gather the foliage into piles on the lawn it occurs to me that there are parallel reasons why I enjoy both gardening and writing. The first of which is “me time”.  I am a social animal and thoroughly enjoy the company of my family and friends but I am also perfectly content with my own solitude. Gardening gives me space and time to think, to sort through my mental jumble and nurture ideas just as I nurture seeds in my potting shed. Writing too, gives me “head space” and it is this time to think, about the world, my relationships and about myself, that I treasure. Some might call it navel gazing and my head certainly fills up with scrupulously examined belly-button fluff  at regular intervals, but I do believe that self-awareness should be part of everyone’s mental good health regime.

In both writing and gardening there is an element of cultivation which appeals to my nurturing nature. Germinating the seeds of an idea is as delicate a procedure as persuading your half hardy annuals to sprout in the potting shed. In the same way that over or under watering will cause your precious seedlings to wilt and die, over or under thinking an idea will prevent it from achieving its full potential. Often with garden hoe in hand,  I will have an idea and then spend a lot of time pondering how to develop it into something substantial enough to be worth writing about. Only for it to wither and die under close scrutiny. Occasionally, though a little gem will take root. “Confessions of a Tea Snob” was conceived whilst weeding the herbaceous borders, or to be precise, whilst sipping a drop of the brown stuff on a break from weeding the herbaceous borders. (Admiring the effects of your hard work in the garden over a mug of steaming tea is a must).

The mug was a gift from my son – smart boy.

Stretching the analogy still further, editing is the literary equivalent of weeding. Removing the unwanted dandelions, bindweed and brambles, whilst keeping ivy and alchemilla mollis under control is akin to stripping out the superfluous sentence, pruning the repeated adjectives and separating your mixed metaphors 😉

Since I wrote the above autumn has moved forward into November and there is now barely a leaf left on the trees in my garden. It is not looking at its best. Mud and decay dominate at this time of year, but I’m planning to get out there still, if the rain holds off. I have 3 dozen white tulip bulbs to plant before the hard frosts begin and the prospect of how stunning they will look next spring is enough to make me brave the damp and cold. Our resident Robin will no doubt be hopping around close by, in the hope that my trowel will turn over something wriggling or scuttling, and, if I time it right, I’ll be able to listen to the blackbird as dusk settles. How can it be a chore when there is so much to enjoy? Go grab a hoe or a trowel and get outside in the dirt. Listen to the birds, feel the soil under your fingernails and smell…autumn. It will help clear your head and free your imagination. Who knows what bright ideas you may come up with…