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.

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.

A Post on Post

I think it is possible that the former occupant of our house received the most post ever. For months on end we were e-mailing an incredible amount of organisations to remove us from their mailing lists – from double glazing manufacturers to decathlon training outfitters, freemason organisations, and the one which tugged at my heart strings a little (and I had serious thoughts about joining). – ‘Friends of Ferrets’. Two years later we are still receiving letters for Mrs W, and ‘returning to sender’ has become almost a ritual in our household.

There is however one subscription that there is no way I will ever be able to part with, and that is Mrs W’s bi-annual wig catalogue.

Now I had little experience or knowledge of wigs until this arrived on our doorstep some months ago, but it has opened up a whole new world to me.

Firstly there is the choice (and considerable) price point between a synthetic and a real hair piece. It is a difficult decision, but having researched the issue thoroughly, I believe ‘real hair’ does indeed give you a more luscious look, but I am still unable to come to terms with the thought of stepping out with a head of hair manufactured by a foreign scalp. There is also the hassle of split ends and the thought of lingering dandruff or even head lice that seals the deal with synthetic for me. Even though this does, as warned, pose with it a greater risk if the wearer were to experiment with naked flames, or even ‘open the oven door’ in some cases. If attending an event therefore where unusually the host has brought in the caterers, the reason may not be purely gastronomical. And one ought to be cautious around the candelabra.

The main reason however, I appear to be so enthralled by these fascinating reads of follicle loveliness, is the rather endearing names given to each ‘do’. Rather than referring to each wig as a ‘bob’ or ‘elfin cut’ as one might given a conventional style, they are given monikers such as ‘The Virginia’, ‘The Sophia’, or if you are feeling rather racy, ‘The Mauritius’.

What is more, you may also choose from a wide range of shades such as ‘shaded wheat’, ‘platinum’ and the rather disappointingly named brunette choice – ‘medium’. For the older lady not afraid to sport some silver, ‘granite’, ‘truly mink’ and ‘sahara’ are also available. I am always rather tempted by styles in the fetching tone of ‘honey glaze’, but I then become rather distracted by a longing for gammon.

The Sophia
The ‘Sophia’ courtesy of naturalimagewigs.co.uk
The Virginia
‘The Virginia’, courtesy of naturalimagewigs.co.uk

‘Jacqueline Wigs’ and ‘Natural Image’, the two publications we receive also carry ‘wig styling and care’ tips which, of course, I too have a penchant for. Achieving a ‘wet look’ for example is possible by simply combing your ‘wig conditioner’ through from scalp to tip, and leaving for an hour for the fibres to assume a stylised placement.  An ‘up do’ may also be achieved for longer wigs by conventional means, but go easy on the hair spray as even a venture out in fine weather may mean a visit from the emergency services. The most important feature of securing the desired look however is to achieve a good fit on your wig. This is possible by adjusting the velcro fastenings inside the head piece, along with the ‘anti-slip strips’ which means the wearer may feel ever confident in blustery conditions. Vital I would have thought, particularly by the coast.

And so, I shall leave it here, sad in the fact I shall have to wait a further 6 months until my next wig fix, but rather excited at the thought of what the winter collection may bring. I shall be looking up tips on ‘hat hair’ in preparation.

A collection of random

Today I found the charger to an Eee PC that was my work horse for a number of years until it was replaced with a shiny big screened Dell. Regrettably I haven’t turned it on for years, but have had a lovely couple of hours reuniting myself with old writings, classic tunes and best of all, forgotten moments captured on film. I always tend to have a folder for miscellaneous photos, and these are always my favourite to rediscover. Here are a few gems from this evening’s little foray.

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The wife and I visited Vietnam and Cambodia on our honeymoon, and typically when Neil and I go anywhere, there are moments when we want to cry. But in a good way. Our driver greeted us with this sign in Hanoi. I am pleased to report spellcheck is alive and well in Vietnam.

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There is a famous children’s book in the US called ‘Make way for  Ducklings‘ set in Boston Common, and I found them. A bit star struck here as you can tell.

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Also Boston – and now it is Mr F that is often on that plane heading home from Logan Airport. Wave if you see him.

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My friend Kat who sadly I don’t see as often as I like, but when I do it is always an adventure. This photo was taken on a no.17 bus after a night on the town, when Kat engaged some pearly queens in a rendition of such war time classics as ‘There’ll be bluebirds over’. A verse in and the entire lower deck had joined us. There should be more singing on buses.

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Clearly I have issues. This was taken pre-toddler and when I was home alone for the weekend and happened upon some shaving foam. I would like to say this doesn’t still happen.

Addy Road

My very good friend Adeline Santos had the cheek to change jobs when we were both working as planners at Wokingham Borough Council. We made her our own version of a mix tape and named it ‘Addy Road’, featuring all of our favourites we used to rock to when the bureaucracy just got too much.

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The Euphorbia Wulfenii from my our old garden. One of my most favourite plants. It will be featuring in our new garden, and frankly, it doesn’t feel like spring without it.

Matias Hampton Court

Matias Sakorai. A legend in his own right and my intern buddy when we were both learning the social media trade in Kew Gardens. A 118 body double, he is also in a heavy rock band and arrived from Brazil to the UK with nothing but a set of kitchen knives (apparently an essential) and a bottle of Jack Daniels he bought in duty free. This photo was taken on our first assignment to interview the Chairman of a Digital Leaders think tank, and we of course got lost. Epically so. Carrying thousands of pounds of camera equipment on the tube.

Fun times.

 

23 things I need to rein in

  1. My admiration of well pedicured feet (I know people can see me looking – but how do they make their feet look pretty?).
  2. The amount of time spent reading posts such as ‘the definitive ranking of banana flavoured things on Buzzfeed (regardless of how compelling and potentially useful this information may be).
  3. My obsession with Gabriel Macht.
  4. And Suits.
  5. Or possibly just Gabriel Macht.
  6. The number of times I tell people my interesting hedge trimming fact (not a euphemism).
  7. The need for all curtains to be striped.
  8. Number of Peppa Pig episodes watched.
  9. Excitement at finding an episode of Peppa Pig I have not yet seen.
  10. Need to sort smarties into colour groupings then eat them in order of the white light spectrum.
  11. An inner itch to knock over the plates display in John Lewis (afraid one day I will).
  12. My secret delight in sometimes hiding my husband’s slippers.
  13. My love of filling in visitor books.
  14. The frequency with which I listen to this song.
  15. Smelling chlorine on my arms after swimming.
  16. My prejudice towards people who incorrectly pronounce ‘aitch’.
  17. A growing obsession with watching the man who is always cleaning his camper van.
  18. An enjoyment of chewing wooden coffee stirrers.
  19. My predilection that a cup of tea looks lonely without a biscuit.
  20. An uncontrollable urge to make lists of everything on Google ‘Keep’.
  21. And my blog.
  22. Re-homing slugs found on our allotment plot to other peoples.
  23. Never going to bed early enough.

Night then.

7 May

Today, a play date with my Goddaughter and her Mummy, finding out that socks and sandals are bang on trend (no, really) and surviving gift shopping with a teething toddler. Just.

I am also attempting to make this cake as it is my Mama’s birthday tomorrow. Except our shop doesn’t sell rose water so I’ve had to substitute it with vanilla essence. Oh, and I did take a special trip to the big Waitrose for the edible rose petals, but I left the shopping bags in the hall when I got home, and the toddler found and snaffled them, so I have just sent Neil to the garage for a packet of malteasers instead. Otherwise it’s totally in the bag.

Watch this space.

3 May

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I have few regrets in life, but one of them is that I didn’t choose the right subject for my undergraduate degree. I think if I had my time again I would have chosen psychology or philosophy (over Geography), or perhaps a combination of the two as they seem inextricably linked.

Looking back at that time I wonder really if anyone has enough life experience or maturity to make such a big investment of time and money to influence what career path they take.

Such musings have recently come about as I have become drawn into wanting to understand, well, everything really! I recognise that Neil and I are fast changing as people at the same time as trying to be there for someone who is developing in her own right. This journey is both scary and deeply fascinating.

In my rare moment off duty, I sometimes kick back with a copy of Waitrose Weekend and a can of rice pudding, coz that’s how I roll, and more often than not I’ll see if I can continue my love affair with TED. There are many people on there who are teaching me that everyone pretty much is a philosopher, and that whereas you can’t change what has gone before, making smart decisions now can certainly change what goes after.

The talk by Chip Conley in this list is particuarly worth a watch.

Random Acts of Kindness

OK, so laseek I was handed a very worthwhile mantle by a friend – to achieve in a month 32 random acts of kindness ( i.e. one for each year I have been on this earth), and they can be as grand or as spontaneous as I wish.

I have to admit to being rather excited by the prospect of having little missions to achieve each day, and pulling them off is going to be an interesting feat as I generally lack both time and money, but perhaps that is the point. Doing nice things I guess doesn’t need to be difficult or even costly. Let’s see how we do.

RAOK #1

Inspiration for this one was taken from a very useful resource. A few weeks ago I borrowed from our local library a book called ‘Toddler Calm’ (worth a punt wasn’t it!) which claims to provide a cmprehensive guide for harassed parents attempting to tame their offspring. I thumbed through it a few times, – it was quite a nice read, but like all these things, an ode to common sense with the odd anecdote reassuring the reader that whatever your child is currently doing, they should have grown out of by the time they reach 25. It did amuse me however that what I refer to as the ‘panic page’ in this book (often the one you search In the index for at 2am, when you are at crisis point and can’t find the calpol) was remarkably well worn. This particular page was essentially setting out what qualifies you as a competent parent and how to go about rearing a secure and emotionally stable human being. As my RAOK I thought I would stick on this page a quote passed on to me when a Kate was born, which for me, sums up everything and makes every day count. I hope whoever picks up this book next finds as much comfort in these words as I have.

Random act of Kindness 1

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