A machine at the library made me sad

I love our local library.

Granted, it’s not the most attractive of buildings, but it is light and bright inside, has a great children’s section with a magnificent elephant rug, and smells glorious. You know, that smell of old books. A bit like petrol flavoured sawdust – that smell.

So, anyway, I have visited this same monument to papery loveliness since I was born, and I adore the fact that absolutely nothing has changed. Nothing. Except I think they have got a new computer, and perhaps a new easy chair, and there is now a carpet covering the crazy mosiac tiles in the entrance lobby…but otherwise time has stood still, and that is just how I like it. I like that there is a ritual to doing things, I like that that children are still made to ‘shhhh’, and that Kate reinforces this if I speak too loudly. I really like the staff at the library, that you can chat about the books you are taking back, or discuss where you have got to in the books you renew. I love the ‘stampy-stamp’ sound of the stamper, and weirdly feel a real honour when they have to glue in a new stampy page at the front of the book because the other one is full up, and you are the first person to have a stamp on this fresh white beauty.

Lush.

But then ‘The Machine’ arrived.

It’s a self-service machine. You pile your books up in a little box, and it scans them, and checks them in or out, or renews them, and there is a credit card and coin slot in case you have accrued a fine, and then it prints you out a receipt to confirm all or any of the above. But there is no stampy-stamp sound, no discussion of what is a ‘great read’ if you like ‘such and such’ as an author, Kate doesn’t get a star on her children’s book card. You don’t have to interact with any human being at all now to visit the library.

And that made me sad.

Thinking about it in a greater context made me even sadder. Modern technology allows us to save money, and undoubtedly increases convenience, but it is doing away with human interaction in so many ways.

There was a tale I heard recently of an elderly person who used to visit her local supermarket every day to buy some essentials. She would wait patiently until all other customers had been served so she could then stop and have a chat with the staff with whom, over this time, she had struck up a relationship with. It was only when she died, did a relative pop in to thank the staff at the supermarket for preventing this lady from becoming isolated and lonely. They were the only human interaction she would often get in a day. Great then, that there was another option to the ‘self-checkout’ (a term which now sort of lends itself a alternative meaning).

This, and ‘that Machine’ at the library has made me reappraise how I interact with people, particularly those closest to me. I am now aware of how long I spend looking down at a screen, how I ‘follow’ people I barely know, spend a healthy amount of time looking at the pictures of their new kitchen, when I could use that time to actually talk to someone I know instead. I interact with my friends over instant messenger, which is convenient, but I can’t see their face, hear their voice, and I’m sure on many an occasion I haven’t interpreted what they are saying correctly, because we are missing inflection. I’m sure there is also a delay in actually meeting up with friends sometimes, because the assumption is that we have already ‘caught up’ via ‘Whatsapp’. But there is only so much you want to type, to relay on a daily basis, to ‘bother’ people with often. Sometimes you need to be in the company of someone, put the world to right without substantive gaps in conversation (when things could have moved on anyway), and not measure how much someone cares about you by how recent their ‘last seen’ time stamp was. When you need a hug, a yellow smiling face just doesn’t cut it.

So here I am, trying to kick (in my view) my quite unhealthy habits of creating and maintaining relationships, whilst also hopefully setting an example to my daughter that a relationship with a person is far better than a screen.

Here’s hoping that will be the way of all things, that convenience and cost savings (at what cost?) won’t keep removing actual humans from our lives, and that, one day, ‘that Machine’ at the library can go back in the box where it came from, and where it belongs.

Screw it, let’s do it

Someone asked me recently why I don’t really ever post photos of myself anywhere. This. This is why.

I know my limitations, but admittedly I frequently indulge in outrageously sexy pics other people post..

https://www.flickr.com/photos/herbstanfang/3751566728
Credit: Voodoo donuts
https://www.deere.co.uk/en_GB/products/equipment/tractors/6m_series/6m_series.page
Credit: John Deere
http://makeitbritish.co.uk/footwear/meet-the-manufacturer-sheepland-slippers/
Credit: Sheepland Slippers
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/jeremy-paxman-winston-churchill-would-be-unelectable-nowadays-9987951.html
Credit: The Indepenedent

Salivating.

I have reached an unexpected stage in my parenting career where I have found myself with a modicum of time for things like blogging (apologies), dental treatment, moisturising and more importantly, reading! I am luxuriating in the fondling of pages, the feel of a smooth spine, the crackle of a new edition and the weird smell of libraries. It’s a glorious thing to be able to escape into other worlds, and learn a few things to boot.

Which brings to me to the title of this blog, and also the title of a short read by Sir Richard Branson. I didn’t really intend to read his book, but it was 10p towards ‘Dogs for the disabled’ and a long wait for a train. While the book contains a lot of motivational messages, lessons on life, and ways not to fly a hot air balloon that I will merrily dismiss, it did remind me that dreams can happen when you’re a bit brave and just get the hell on and do it.

I wanted to blog again. Really just for myself. It’s a beginning.

Everything else? Screw it, let’s do it!

Belonging, where you don’t.

About 10 years ago I fell in love.

It happened on a train to Bristol Temple Meads at some ridiculous hour in the morning on my commute to work, and I remember this vividly, whilst eating a minty ‘Chewit’.

Yep. A minty one.

I fell in love with heading west.

Sounds a bit peculiar, but every time I have headed in a westerly direction from my birthplace and current captor of Reading, I have always felt a little sense of adventure, of freedom, of going home. Something inside does a little jiggy dance and then I feel the need to exhale, in the same way you do after you’ve painfully counted down the miles until the next service station, and you finally get your ‘Welcome Break’.

I don’t know why this happens, but it does, usually just past Swindon when the landscape noticeably changes and the dreary ‘anywhere’ towns are replaced by rolling landscape, big skies, and eventually, coast.

I went on holiday to the beautiful village of Porlock recently, encased in the stunning scenery of the Exmoor National Park, and as expected, the butterflies of being reunited with my beau returned. I nestled myself in the feeling of big arms being wrapped around me, giving me a tight squeeze. I belonged. I was home.

Except I wasn’t.

I don’t know how to qualify this phenomenon, and certainly to date I have no plans to move. I am also a little nervous that if I did move, the heady spell of infatuation would eventually wear off, and I would discover a vile, foul mouthed monster, drinking endless cans of Stella, whilst picking his nose in a yellowing string vest. But when I need a little flirt occasionally, a little tickle, a cheeky wink, you are likely to find me heading down the A4, M4 or some other ‘4’ to get my fix. And probably cheese.

Yellow Spoon

We move on from food to cutlery.

So I have this yellow spoon. It’s really old (at least 15 years), pretty bent, and looking at it objectively, not the most attractive item in the kitchen. But if I could only ever eat one meal ever again, it would be with that spoon. I love it. It might be something to do with how lovely it is to hold with it’s worn plastic handle, how it is weighted, the fact that I eat faster than a dog scoffing chips and you can fit an untold amount of cereal on it, I just don’t know.

I wonder if everyone has a yellow spoon? Perhaps not yellow, or a spoon, but something that isn’t the most beautiful object in the world, but is used time and time again, for whatever reason, because somehow it has simply commanded the title “favourite”.

If you do own such a thing, I wish you many more happy times together.

Chewing it over

I have never really ‘got’ food’. As in, I do like eating, and everyone needs to eat, but I have never really been one to paw studiously through recipe books; and my definition of meal planning is to look in the fridge, see what’s most withered, and concoct a questionably edible creation around it.

Until now.

I have started to understand more the creative side of haute cuisine; it’s a bit like painting, but with an asparagus tip and a raspberry jus. What really appeals to me however, is how food is basically a wonderfully social thing. Really, thinking about it, so many countries make mealtimes the backbone of family life and time with friends, and this is totally genius! Everyone needs to eat, and sharing a meal is a collective experience, so there is at least something everyone has in common at that time. There is also the growing, preparing and cooking of the food which can involve lots of interaction and working together. The growing part is totally fantastic too –  I’m sure I will write at length about our allotment in time as it is becoming less like a muddy patch, and more something Tom and Barbara might own up to.

So with all this in mind, I have started to invest a bit more time into culinary experiments (some more successful than others), with a mind to sharing as many as possible. So far, actually, it’s been really great. On those days when it’s been raining, we’ve been potty training, and Iggle Piggle has almost broken me, it has been lovely to invite some friendly faces round and offer them a bit of cake. On the odd occasion where I have even managed a pot of something, turning up to a friend’s house to share lunch has been a bit spesh.

Despite having lived here for most of my life, Reading doesn’t often inspire me, but I will take ownership of it on this occasion, as there is organised ‘The Reading Town Meal’. This is a mission to feed 1000+ people at a special lunch in the town’s ornamental gardens, using home grown fruit and veg. I think it’s an awesome idea.

Now I’m rather afraid I sound a bit ‘holier than thou’, which, obvs is totally not the case. This blog is, as ever, a mind dump of things that inspire me, make me laugh, and occasionally throw me off the rails entirely. I just wanted to share with myself really that something as simple as food can build upon two of the things I probably value the most; friendships and adventures.

And an excuse to eat cake. Brill.

Running with it

I have started running.

And blogging too again, apparently.

I have never had myself down as being a runner. Too many bits of me seem to move independently and require strapping down. Then there is my unladylike gait. And the thought of me in leggings…the thought of other people having to see me in leggings…it just didn’t seem kind.

Running also seemed to me without reason. I read somewhere once, that the reason why people wear all the gear is to indicate to others that they aren’t running to or from something, they are just simply ‘running’. Because.

Because…?

Now, I love walking. Walking relaxes me, it is at a slower pace and so you are afforded the opportunity to stop and notice and wonder; it is also a very essential part of getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’, but without the need for a sports bra.

Earlier this year however a friend turned to me and asked me to run with her. It is therapy that she badly needs right now, and she asked if I could be her running mate. I had decided when the hand struck midnight earlier on in the year that my mantra from hereon is going to be ‘why not’ – a strange little experiment I have going on to see where this might take me.

So far only to Little Heath Road and back, but you know…

And so this was my reason for starting running. I’m not sure I love it yet, but I am steadily making progress on my ‘Couch to 5K’ app, and it’s always interesting to see what you can do when you truly step outside of your comfort zone. All the times I have really done this, I have felt my most free.

People say they run to feel free.

And now I own leggings.

January looks mostly like this…

Happy New Year.

January feels like one of those months you survive in lieu of lighter evenings and warmer weather. Of course, these days there is a sense of occasion in that the Toddler celebrates a birthday. As of the 9th January, Kate moved in two years ago. Two! I know. I can’t remember life before, and I would not wish it without her.

But sometimes the grey cold days set in and instinct says to hibernate. And inspiration to do anything in particular is largely lacking. So one must fight against it. And at least blog.

Pop round for a cuppa.

The light at the end

It’s been a while. It’s been a muddle. When things are in a muddle, my head is in a muddle and the words don’t work.

But the skip goes next week. That’s a big deal. It means this big build is almost finally over. The instillation of a hob will complete domestic bliss.

Phew!

There are so many things to catch up on, domestic acitivies, celebrations of all varieties, superb outings of note, the toddler continues to grow and amuse, and today the ‘Kleenezy’ catalogue arrived. The festive edition. Oh, the things in there I have my eye on in there! Expect a full review. It’ll be worth it.

As ever I suspect I am typing to myself, but it feels oh so good to be back on it. And in less of a muddle.

Exhale.

Be back soon.

 

Working on it…

It’s now seven weeks into the build and we are all absolutely exhausted.

Yes, of course, the prospect of living in an environment infinitely nicer than our previous one, particularly minus the anaglypta wallpaper and omnipresent smell of granny (think carpet underlay) is very exciting – but the process of achieving a vision of semi-detached perfection is proving more difficult than I had anticipated. Hence no blog for quite a while.

It doesn’t help either that the Toddler has been going through one of her ‘phases’ too which has entailed random napping, much grumpiness, the necessity of cheerios to aid the putting on and removal of clothes, and (much to my dismay and feelings of failure as a parent) copious amounts of Peppa Pig. And Suits. And wine.

The latter two might have been for me.

It has long been said that a tidy home is a tidy mind. Right now, neither of these things ring true, and I have come to realise to what extent my immediate surroundings have an impact on every facet of daily life!

Still, not long to go, and oh my it is all showing great potential. I share with you a small window in to the madness…

Garage

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The time when…

As we sat round our little table eating dinner together. In the hall. Next to the ironing board and a spare bit of coving. Remembering a time when we didn’t have to bail out our bath with a bucket because we still had a waste pipe, and a time when we didn’t share our bedroom with a desk chair, umbrella stand and a decorative but somewhat cumbersome obelisk.

It is a little mad undertaking building work, and our strange state of being at the moment is particularly enhanced by the addition of the Toddler who still requires regular nutritional input, restorative shut eye, and enough available space in which to swing a small broom at a Peppa Pig ball (our favourite activity of late). Fortunately she is taking ourtopsy turvy state of affairs infinitely in her stride, though we do find ourselves wondering to what extent she will remember this funny time in our lives…

As we post her out of the front window to avoid having to move the kitchen cupboard currently blocking the front door.

You see my earliest memory was at 18 months- Kate’s current age. I have somewhat unusual memories of my childhood, but like our daughter, I wasn’t born into the most conventional of families. Here are the top 10 most memorable incidents I was party to.

Notably, all involve my mother.

1) The time we visited a National Trust property in Kent, and as is normally the case, my Mum was enthusiastically reading the guide book aloud to my Dad and I (despite the fact we had our own copies). By the time we had completed our visit, we had picked up probably 20 or so Japanese tourists who thought we were the official tour, and our journey home was delayed considerably as we felt obliged to pose for souvenir photographs.

2) The time my Mum was forced to wear just her bathing suit on a trip to a French Aquarium after failing to remember her change of clothes following a dip in the swimming lake.

3) The time we were locked in a small shed at a confectionery factory in rural France and forced to watch how sugared almonds were manufactured in German, after my Mum’s attempt at the local dialect failed to both establish our nationality and the fact the owners were just about to go out for lunch. We finally managed to escape the shed to find the owners gone, and a small note wishing us a pleasant onward journey and hoping that we had enjoyed our visit.

4) The time when I was 5 and my Mum removed my brand new sandals whilst I was crabbing in Cornwall, just in case they were to fall off my feet and into the sea. On the removal of one shoe she stowed it in the front of her pac-a-mac, and was just reaching for my other foot, when the sandal left it’s stowage facility. And fell in the sea.

5) The time my Mum felt too embarrassed to explain to our dinner host that she disliked cheese immensely, so convinced me to wrap up her considerable wedge of blue stilton in a napkin and stow it in my rucksack for her. It was a hot and sticky summer evening, and we had been booked immediately onto a tour of a French Countess’ castle after dinner. I’m sure not one of the tour members did not question my personal hygiene.

6) The time my Mum was stuck in the ‘rapids’ of a local swimming pool, and too embarrassed to admit she could not swim against the artificial current created, was carried around in a figure of eight for 45 minutes. My friends and I were waiting for her at the pirate ship the entire time, and had no idea where she was!

7) The time we arrived at another one of Mum’s ‘introductions to culture’ on holiday, when she exclaimed how lucky we were not to have missed the shuttle bus (as a big bus bearing a picture of the attraction we had come to see arrived in the car park). She hurried us on to the bus, and began it’s descent down a very steep and winding road to the bottom of a very large hill. It was only once we had reached the bottom, that Dad had been given time to consult the map and had discovered we had in fact parked outside the attraction we had come to see, and had caught the shuttle bus back down to the town centre from where our journey had begun. It was a long walk back to the car. Which I seem to remember was largely carried out in silence.

8) The time we had to eat 34 horrible chocolate ice lollies because Mum didn’t properly understand the offer in the cheap Spanish supermarket, they wouldn’t all fit in our caravan ice box, and Dad’s constitution means nothing is allowed to be thrown away.

9) The time Mum walked with gusto to secure us a sunny table on the patio of a local pub, misjudged where the door actually stood, and instead walked into a large plate-glass window, subsequently falling into a large plant pot and squashing an unsuspecting Japonica. Much to the delight of all the lunch time patrons.

10) Another occasion when Mum fell in a huge muddy puddle prior to us dining with friends in a posh country pub. Suspecting the Maitre D wouldn’t allow her entry in her earthen state, she spent the entire time walking perpendicular to every wall so as to conceal her embarrassment. I suspect people thought Dad was her carer as the Maitre D spoke to us very clearly and concisely throughout the duration of our visit.

I feel no shame in writing this post as I suspect Kate may be writing a very similar one featuring me in 31 years time.

I hope so.

 

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