WHEN MAKING SENSE, MAKES NO SENSE

One of the more harmful elements of works of fiction – be it book or film – is that they condition us to believe that in the space of a couple of hours, everything will suddenly make sense. 

The recurring stranger who keeps appearing everywhere turns out to be a secret relative. Missing a bus and meeting a new lover on the next one. Feeling uneasy in a new home then finding out you live on the site of a former ancient burial ground. Everything gets explained in the end. Each of the details are tied together in a tidy bow for you to marvel at in an ultimate “Aha!” as you turn the final page and close the book.

And so there we go in our own lives, constantly seeking to replicate this tidiness by striving to establish the meaning of things that happen to us. Looking at life as a plot, and trying to work out how every feature will fit into that tidy ending, where suddenly, everything makes sense.

But the older I get, the more I realise that actually, some things don’t make sense, and may never make sense, and actually, that’s not only useful but quite liberating to accept too.

Not every loose end will get tied up.

Not everything was meant to be.

Let go.

I remember being shouted down by a friend in my early 20’s. We had been having a lovely chat until I naively mentioned that I believed everything in life happens for a reason.
“No it does not!”, he snapped, with an argument so compelling I could find no way to respond to it. I have never used or even believed that expression ever again, and wince if I hear anybody else say it.  Tragic, unfair and unavoidable things happen in life and that’s the final full-stop for some particular tales. Sad endings. No silver linings. No hidden meanings. No wider purposes in which we might end up being thankful for them happening. Some things are just… shit.

But, I do still maintain that everything in life has the potential to teach us something. It just won’t always be a key feature – or any feature – of the plot. Because the plot doesn’t really exist anyway.

I don’t think life should sought be lived like a story. It does not subscribe to a specific genre and not all of its chapters or paragraphs will have any bearing on the summary. If life were to be any form of written literature, it would be more like a big poetry anthology. There might one in there about a bonfire burning on French farmland in the 1950’s, and another about a cat sleeping in the sunshine on a windowsill in Chatham. On the television, life would be a sketch or clip show.  There may be themes, and there’ll be plenty of tales, but they may not always connect, or fall like dominoes.

And once you learn to let go of any need for specific narratives, suddenly everything feels more free.  Ideas abound. Opportunities abound. Tiresome rumination about historic events trickles away. A quest for answers that may never be fruitful, gives way for a quest for adventure.

Living becomes electrified from the freedom of replacing the need for everything to make sense or to fit into a particular jelly mould with the acceptance that it won’t always. Some bits just need to be put to the side. Letting go of particular things, and focusing instead on how to make the best of the day ahead, whatever that means to you, be it your favourite dinner, a rejuvenating 5k in the rain, eating a biscuit in the bath, or enrolling onto a course that will broaden your career prospects.

How you feel will always be worth a billion times more than what you’ve done, or what will end up happening in that plot that doesn’t need to exist. You could be sat looking over the Peyto Lake in Canada – said to be the most beautiful place in the world – but if your mind is too focused on a recent rejection or trying to make sense of a cruel comment, you’ll step away from the bank and return home having not even seen any water in a place most can only dream of going. Alternatively, you could be stuck in traffic on the motorway, singing along to your favourite song, rhythm and energy flowing through you.

Throw the script on the bonfire, and with it, throw anything else which reduces the panorama with its distracting insistence to make sense of things that may never make sense, and don’t even need to make sense.

That’s what makes sense…

NEW VIEWS: THANKS FOR THE CACHE

With everything that’s going on nationally and in the world at the moment, you have to celebrate every pleasure where you can at the moment, no matter how small it may seem.

Geocaching is one of my favourite things to do in my free time these days because it combines exercise with nature, and I like the challenge of trying to find things. It’s a hobby that many haven’t heard of, but with 35 million players all over the world, it’s actually hugely popular. ‘Caches’ are hidden pretty much all over the place, most often in points of interest, and people of all ages like to search for them whilst exploring the world.

With International Geocaching Day having taken place this month, I’ve been trying to get into the spirit of it by getting out and doing it as much as possible to make the most of the light Summer evenings. One of my favourite things about it is that the GPS map of the geocaches gives you reasons to take turns you’ve never taken before, explore new places, and find out new things about your surroundings. Geocaching has guided me to disused Underground stations, memorials for historic events I’d never heard of before, and seemingly random spots that offer some of the most stunning of views. All places I may well not have ventured if not for the game.

It was during one such occasion recently that a turn I probably wouldn’t have taken otherwise afforded me this beautiful panorama of golden fields and gorgeous horses:

It was a scene of pure peace against the external noise of current affairs, and during those moments of taking in the scenery around me, I felt I had discovered something very special and secret.

And these kind of moments make me wonder more generally, about what else is out there waiting to be found? What other beautiful views? What other contented creatures? Maybe sometimes we underestimate the potential for these things to be much closer than we think. Maybe it’s not always about going further, but simply going different. Not overlooking that plain old alleyway to our right, but wandering up it anyway and just seeing what’s on the other side.

Some years ago, I used to think that to see something really new and breathtaking you had to travel very far, but you don’t. You’ve never had to.

Not if you’re willing to look.

Song of the Day: Teenage Fanclub – Speed of Light

Classic Scottish indie. I borrowed this album from the library in 1999 and it doesn’t seem any less new now than it did then. Does this mean I’m officially old?

Actually, not sure I want to know the answer to that…

TIME TO BEE

Last week, it finally became my turn to catch that wretched Covid bug that has sent the world into a spiraling state of chaos so much over the past two and a half years.
It was inevitable, and I feel incredibly lucky that I made it this far without experiencing it, yet still, the feeling of being suddenly exiled into isolation upon sight of a double-line, will never be fun.
And so came about a prolonged period of virus-enforced rest during which very little was done that required use of a brain. Reading the television guide and making accurate use of the remote was probably the extent of it, certainly on the days when I felt at my worst, but sometimes there is value in being so still, and taking time out of the ordinary.
Whilst taking some time to bathe in the fresh air outside, I noticed things that in normal circumstances I’d perhaps be in too much of a hurry to notice. This bumblebee for example, fastidiously gathering nectar from a wildflower:

I was transfixed by this for a good while, watching it move from bud to bud, taking it for everything it could get before flying on to find more. I was impressed by its determination and ability to scope out what it needed, and lamented the fact the species is in decline whilst appreciating the efforts of conservationists to reverse this. In this moment, I realised I hadn’t actually thought about bumblebees for quite a long time.
Why would I?
But why shouldn’t I?

And then appeared this yellow ladybird, which I was equally in awe of:

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d really seen a ladybird, let alone a yellow one! I’d virtually forgotten they existed, and momentarily wondered in my viral haze if one of the more common red types had just been exposed to too much sun during the recent heatwave. I was intrigued so I – of course – googled it, and realised I had been holding a Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata (or in other words, 22-spot ladybird). I also learned that ladybirds, incidentally, are named after the Virgin Mary. Historic farmers would pray to Mary and request that she protect their crops, and felt those prayers heard when ladybirds appeared and consumed the insects that threatened them. It is a neither sun-blanched nor rare species, but why did it feel like the latter? If one were to land upon my shoulder as I walked to the car on my way to get somewhere, would I even be giving it this much thought, or would I just sweep it away and carry on?

I am not going to pretend that if I had the choice between staring at ladybirds and bees, or being around loved ones, that I’d make the same one imposed upon me last week, but the time did remind me that being still and silent enough to really observe things can sometimes exhume joy and awe from the slightest, most unexpected and hidden sources.

We spend so much of our time rushing around from place to place, ensconced in task to task. I promised myself after lockdown never to take that for granted again, and I won’t, but there’s never any harm in being reminded of the benefits and importance of time to pause. To stop. To notice. To enjoy.

To… bee 😉

Song of the Day: Mighty Mighty – Law

This is a classic example of a genre known as ‘twee pop’. Twee pop emerged in popularity in the UK in the mid-’80’s as result of a compilation cassette – C86 – issued by NME magazine. Sometimes known as ‘jangle pop’, twee pop is a subgenre of indie characterised by simplicity, harmonies and upbeat melodies. In other words, exactly the kind of music you want to listen to when you’re poorly. This track, from Birmingham-based band Mighty Mighty, was one of the songs on the original C86 cassette.

A CANTERBURY TALE

During a recent rainy Monday morning, I popped into Canterbury Cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site near to where I live.

My car was having its MOT nearby, and with the rain showing little sign of abating, I was hopping from place to place for shelter. The coffee crawl was fun to start with but by about Americano number four I wanted to head somewhere a bit different, and looking out the window towards Cathy’s Bell Harry tower, I felt inspired to be a bit of a tourist for the day, and made my way over.

I have visited the Cathedral tonnes of times over the years. It has played a notable part in our family history, and there’s so much more I could write about it beyond the content of this post, but those can be stories for another day.

Instead, for now, I’ll just tell you a little anecdote about a particular tile in the photo above, the tile with the reddy-orange stain on it next to the black rug.

During one of my first visits to Canterbury Cathedral, in the early 1990’s, I was too young to really understand anything beyond a very basic, watered down version of history. I knew that the Cathedral was famous for being the site of the murder of somebody called Thomas Becket – who had clearly irritated somebody (King Henry II it turned out) – and that it had attracted many visitors due to the belief in miracles which took place at the site after he was killed.

It all sounded quite scary and gory to a seven year old, like what might happen on Eastenders or one of Bowser’s Castles, but nonetheless it was intriguing too. As we walked around the particular area where the famous assassination had taken place, my older sister pointed down at the reddy-orange stain and looked at me with a grimace:

“That’s the stain from his blood when he was killed.”

Suddenly, a scary story became scarier and my infant self felt a shiver down her spine. Numerous questions abounded within – will we see his ghost? Will we have our heads chopped off too, if we stand here too long?

Well, evidently we didn’t, as I sit here writing this almost thirty years later, but there was certainly one long-term impact of this narrative which has made me look incredibly foolish over the years, and that’s the fact that it was only an embarrassingly few years ago that I realised that my sister hadn’t been telling the truth about the unusual stain on the floor.

It had absolutely zip-all to do with Becket, not then, and certainly not ever! I have lost count of the number of people I have given this misinformation too over the decades since; no wonder my Religious Studies teacher didn’t look overly impressed as I shot my hand up in class during year 10 as we learned about Becket, to tell a bunch of nonplussed teenagers of what they could see at the Cathedral.

And there’s an interesting lesson in all of this I suppose. Not to believe everything you’re told, for sure, but on the flipside I ask myself: would I have found the Cathedral as interesting as a seven year old if it weren’t for my sister’s gory story? Probably not. Would that one piece of stone still make me smile and recall memories of a family day out in 1992, thirty years later? Definitely not.

So yes. There’s a lot of history in Canterbury Cathedral. And that small, almost invisible speck, is mine.

ICE, SNOW AND RED LIGHTS ON STICKS: A NORWEGIAN ROADTRIP

On the surface of it, the idea of a weekend away in which you spend almost half of your waking hours in the car may not sound overly appealing, but after being grounded from travel for a couple of years, any time away at all seems a privilege now, and that’s probably the way it should always have been.

We had booked flights to Oslo because neither of us had ever been to Norway and the tickets were really cheap. Granted, this meant going away with nothing beyond an acorn in an envelope for luggage, but that alone was quite liberating, and substantially reduced the amount of time spent packing for the trip. And the number of items that we could lose.

Our decision to rent a car from Oslo airport derived from the main perception that we’d had of Norway, that of green fjords and snowy mountains, and we were keen to see them during our weekend away. From research it became clear that in order to fulfil this we would need to venture several hundred miles north of the city; and from the safe distance of four months earlier, a ten hour journey in the car each way seemed a breeze. Yeah, we can manage that, just need a few snacks and a couple of breaks and we’ll be fine. And we really were, but we hadn’t anticipated some of the characteristics of Norwegian road-travel which we would encounter on the way.

The grand plan very nearly fell apart within the first thirty minutes of our arrival into the country. Just as we were about to be handed the keys for our rental car, we discovered that the allocated vehicle was an Automatic, despite our booking confirmation stating otherwise. The slightly nervy lady behind the desk, backed up by her more aggressive sounding boss on the phone, advised us that they didn’t have any Manual cars available, and that it was this or nothing. Neither my friend or I felt comfortable driving a car with an unfamiliar transmission type on unfamiliar terrain, so we had to almost consign ourselves to a whole weekend in the city but for the fortune of a rival car hire firm who happened to have just the one remaining Manual car available. We snapped it up immediately. The shiny red Suzuki Swift became not only our saving grace but our passport to the fjords and mountains which we had so nearly missed out on due to the rising prevalence of Automatic transmissions in Norway.

After an evening in the city, during which we ate baked potatoes and took out a small mortgage to pay for the overnight parking, we set-off first thing the following morning towards Bergen, around five hundred kilometers north, on predominantly mountain roads. It was a long time to be sat in a car, but it was so worth it. Cruising round the perimeter of Tyrifjorden – the country’s fifth largest lake – within the first thirty minutes of our journey seemed breathtaking enough and I was incredibly excited to see snow-capped mountains in the distance, but this only proved to be the beginnings of some of the best landscapes we’d ever seen.

Before we knew it we were up high within those very same mountains I’d marveled at from hundreds of meters below. There was nothing to see beyond white: lodges caked in thick layers of icing sugar, some visible only by the tops of chimneys poking above the ground, and the occasional flashes of colour from kites being flown by people from Oslo Kiteklubb, decked out fully in ski gear. The sunshine, which gave the white rug around us a warming buttery glow, belied the temperature. When we stopped to take pictures and stretch our legs, we were reminded that whilst it may have been May and the sun may have been shining, we were still on land level with the Shetland Isles, and we felt it! After a quick photoshoot, it was a swift return to the Swift, and on we went.

The landscape on the journey continued to astound, regardless of the number of hours that passed and the number of joint-swiveling seat exercises required to prevent ourselves melting into the seats. Much of it evoked memory of studying Ibsen’s ‘Peer Gynt’ during school. Looking out upon miles upon miles of sparsely inhabited deep green valleys, forests and fjords, you can understand how imagination may run wild in these parts, and how well-known Nordic folklore such as trolls and elves came into being. I wouldn’t know where to start with trying to guess how many Norwegian square meters have remained untouched for decades, but I would imagine that it is a considerably greater percentage than those in the areas we are more used to here in the UK. I also wouldn’t be surprised if spruce trees outnumber people by about a thousand to one.

One of the defining moments of our Norwegian road trip came as we were on the cusp of excitement at being just forty five minutes away from our destination. After hours on the road we were absolutely exhausted and itching to take a break from the Swift for a day, and to actually feel the fjordland, not just look at it. It wasn’t the ideal moment for the Sat Nav’s loyal pink line to mysteriously break by a circle of blue on the screen.

Oh yes: archipelago = an abundance of car ferries. We needed to take a boat to the peninsular on which we were staying. Of course.

It would no doubt have been a wonderfully exciting addition to the trip, were it not for the fact that there was absolutely no sign of the life at the port and no boats about to leave any day soon. We had no choice but to go back on ourselves for at least thirty minutes, before taking an alternative, much longer, route which added a further hour onto our journey. We were tired and a little fed up by this point but still able to absorb an important lesson which would stand us in good stead for our return journey:

  • ‘Route Options’
  • ‘Avoid Ferries’

Of course, what we also hadn’t anticipated about our Norwegian roadtrip, and what would create a nail-biting delay on our tightly time-bound journey back to the airport on our final day, was the sudden appearance of a fella in a high-viz jacket waving a red light on a stick instructing motorists to wait for an undefined period of circa twenty minutes whilst the world’s slowest traffic emerged from the tunnel ahead during roadworks. With little in the way of visible signage to explain what the wait was about, we had wondered whether the stick denoted a temporary or more permanent stop to traffic, and even reached the point of getting out of the car to ask Mr High Viz, only to be met with a very stony-faced response which was thankfully followed shortly afterwards with a green light on a stick. Phew.

When we had turned down the Automatic car at the car hire at Oslo airport, and refuted Mr. MoodymanonthephoneatSixt’s assertion that “everybody else just takes Automatics, why can’t you?” we had done ourselves an even greater favour than we first thought. On the day of our return journey to the airport, further snow had fallen in the mountains and we were driving through it before the gritters had made their way up there. To say it was a precarious thirty minutes of driving would be an understatement. Not only was my friend driving an unfamiliar vehicle, across sheets of black ice, but a heavy goods lorry had decided that this was the perfect time to tailgate us, and became quite unjustifiably irritated by our caution, flashing its headlights and casting us a long, bullying beep as it eventually overtook us on an icy decline. My friend did remarkably well to manage this and keep us safe, and neither of us feel we would have quite known how to do this on a totally different gear transmission.

From the ice and snow, the unanticipated delays, the lengthy tunnels and breathtaking scenery, it’s fair to say that this roadtrip had been one like no other, and back when booking the trip earlier in the year we could have had no idea about what would be awaiting us.

We returned the Suzuki Swift to Oslo Sandefjord airport just an hour before our flight was due to depart, and having set off from our chalet south of Bergen at 5:30am. We had spent a long time in the car but seen so much of the country that way, way more than we would have seen otherwise, and it only compounded my growing belief that there really is no travel quite like slow travel, no matter how much time it takes and how narrow the window with which you have to do it.

SUNSET

The sun sets every day.
No matter where you are,
No matter what you’re doing.
And it’s been doing so for billions of years…


The sun sets as people dice onions, dust cupboards and stand in queues. And as they fill up petrol tanks, buy yoghurt and watch the news.
The sun sets whether you’re happy, hopeful, scared or depressed. No matter how your day went, that orange duvet permits you to rest
.

And it never gets any less impressive.


Yesterday evening I met with a friend and was due to head home at around the same time the sun was due to set. The original plan was to get home as quickly as possible – calling in at Sainsburys to pick up a sandwich – and curl up in front of the t.v whilst devouring it.

Even though I was feeling peckish and daydreaming about supermarket aisles, something prompted me to head to the nearby hamlet of Conyer instead, where I could take a short stroll along the creek in the springtime evening sun.

As I walked, what first appeared to be a blazing bullet hole in the distance gradually blossomed into a marbled blanket of pink, orange, peach and purple that cloaked the entire sky. It felt like one of the most tremendous sunsets I’ve ever seen, an evening of magic for which I hadn’t paid a fortune – but instead had the fortune – to enjoy.

As I walked around in wonder, I thought about how easy it would have been to miss this. I thought how about how I could have easily been swapping sunsets with sandwich aisles at that very time, and how much of a shame that would have been. I’d never have even known what I was missing out on, and that ignorance too, would have been a shame.

I marveled at just how much richer my day had become simply from enjoying a show that has happened every day since time began, and wondered how many of the previous episodes I’d lost to dicing onions, dusting cupboards, and standing in queues. And I know that I’m not alone in that, as I only saw half a dozen others during my walk, out of thousands who could have been there. Yet despite what could have been perceived a lack of interest, the show went ahead anyway. I liked that.

I set myself a personal goal for the Summer: see more sunsets! Give that splendid show an audience more often! I think I’ll enjoy this one, and suggest you do it too!

Song of the Day: Dosh – Um, Circles & Squares

I am very much into instrumental music at the moment whilst working on a number of different projects. I find it much easier to keep focused on what I’m doing without the shift of mental direction that lyrics can enforce.
Dosh is a multi-instrumentalist based in Minnesota and this is a nice, whirly, almost meditative piece, which is great to study to. I bet it also sounds good whilst walking underneath a sunset 😉

REVISITING THE YELLOW SQUARE OF HOPE

There’s a field near to my home which I first encountered on the same day that we were plunged into lockdown for the first time, in 2020. It seemed to pop out of nowhere and I remember that initial view so well, a golden field of rapeseed baking in the unseasonable warmth of a Monday teatime in March. It somehow seemed to bring instant comfort. I had been strenuously trying to “walk-off” the anxiety surging within about the prospect of weeks blocked from everybody I cared about, whilst also trying to process unfathomable stories of death worldwide, and the only thing I knew I wanted to do in that moment was to keep walking and to take any turn I’d never taken before, and see somewhere new. That’s how I ended up discovering my “yellow square of hope”.


During such a dismal time, nature served as the most wonderful nurse. Like many, I felt that the daily walk we were permitted to do served as a bit of a lockdown lifeline, an opportunity to get into the fresh air and to see other living things, even if we couldn’t engage with them: Fellow walkers. Joggers. People walking dogs. Swans and ducks. It was as close to normality as one could reach back then, and it meant everything.

It was also a time during which I discovered – and fell in love with – much more of the area around me, especially my yellow square of hope. There was a particular route around it which I enjoyed doing each day for the first few weeks of lockdown, a route also including a pond favoured by swans and a gorgeous view of the church spire, but also one twinged with the lingering regret that I wasn’t able to share its beautiful discovery with the people I was missing. I longed for the day when I would be able to retrace that route with them, the day when all of the fear and sadness would be over, the day when I’d be able to take a moment to reflect back and be even more appreciative for their company than I ever had been before.

It would happen some day. The bright colours and soft, warm winds convinced me of that every single time I went on that walk.

Yet despite (fortunately) having plenty of opportunity to have since made that moment, I’ve found myself not really wanting to walk that route again because of its association with a really sad time. Perhaps others have found this with their equivalents. It’s a time nobody really likes to think about though on the second anniversary it’s only natural that we find ourselves doing so.

Nonetheless, the other day, I decided to go there. It was my first real walk in days having been in bed for a week following some surgery. Nurse Nature, with her fresh air-filled inoculations, was needed again and I was prepared to finally resist the mental block that had prevented me from returning previously. I was so excited to see it.

Yet despite it being exactly the same time of year, I was to find that my yellow square of hope looks markedly different now. Still a square, but somewhat bare, almost as though it only glowed when it knew the world needed some sunshine.

But though we are no longer in lockdown, the world still needs some sunshine, perhaps even more so, as it faces a war-shaped battle at a time when people are weary enough from the previous one.

This wasn’t quite the return I had in mind during those 2020 daydreams, but I’ll keep returning and perhaps that yellow square will appear once more. I certainly hope so.


Song of the Day: Weezer – Say It Aint So

During an anaesthetized slumber last week I found myself able to search for only the tried’n’trusted on Spotify: enter Weezer’s Blue Album, which I’ve been enjoying since I was ten years old (thank you to my older sister for having such a great taste in music and buying the cassette in the ’90s). Every single song on this album is amazing to be honest, but if I had to choose a favourite, it would be this one. What an incredible band.

SHOPPING IN JAKARTA (2015)

‘Indonesia’ – a name that will immediately evoke images of the exotic.  An archipelago characterised by colour: blue seas, white sands, lush green palms and dazzling yellows of Durian flesh alongside the ravishing reds of the ‘rambutan’ (it means ‘hairy fruit’). Not to mention, of course, the ‘Angkots’, which are painted in bright purples, blues and oranges and zip dozens of huddled passengers wearing colourful hijabs round dusty streets whilst blaring out that same old D’Bagindas album from 2010 through speakers that crackle under the pressure of the driver’s desired volume. Sun-faded knick-kacks, accumulated over decades of travel, dance around on the dashboard, never failing to resist gravity with each sharp turn the vehicle makes.

…And the ominous dark grey skies that hang over the nation’s capital, Jakarta, as I sit alone inside a fast-food outlet at Arion Mall in the east of the city.  Outside, the rain hammers down on traffic that will choke up the streets for hours to come, but the inevitable arrangement of horns thankfully cannot be heard from the refuge provided by this Mall.  Instead, I am heckled by a quartet of teenage girls who marvel at the colour of my skin.  Tourists don’t really come to these parts.  I am here visiting friends who grew up in neighbourhoods not far from here, and if it weren’t for them, I doubt I would have come here either.

The young girls ask me a series of questions and take it in turns to pose with me in a picture. Picture after picture.  The forced smile slowly dwindling into complete lack of expression with each flash from a Blackberry emblazoned with emoji stickers.  I have humoured this contact for a while, but now I really just want to be finishing the half-eaten plate of fried chicken that sits before me.  The girls ask for my Instagram username and when I eventually return to a place with WiFi I’ll suddenly see that I have four new followers.  They’ll upload the photos from our meeting and decorate the captions with #foreigner.

Before I leave the Mall, I decide that it’s time to buy some Batik garments.  I have always liked Batik, with its bright, bold colours and patterns.  The clothes are always so unusual, and so unmistakably representative of the country I have come to love since completing a voluntary internship in 2010. An assistant with a huge smile approaches me.  He is wearing a waistcoat and looks like he could be about to break into song.  “Hello Miiiiss, can I help you?”

I immediately reply in basic and broken yet better-than-nothing Bahasa Indonesian that, “I like Batik.  I look for Batik”

The assistant’s smile extends further and he begins to rifle through the collections passing me every single item of Batik to try on.  He’s a natural salesman who no doubt has Rupiahs flashing in his eyes as I strenuously attempt to voice my approval of each piece using a very limited vocabulary of “Saya suka” (“I like”) or “Bagus” (“good”).  Having trialled around a dozen or so garments, I eventually emerge from the changing rooms with the couple of dresses I have selected to go on and buy.  The assistant eagerly waits by the door, enthused to hear about how I got on.  He is pleased with the items I’ve chosen, but is also keen that I reconsider my decision not to buy a surprisingly rather dreadful-looking black and red piece.  Whilst watching him redundantly point out all of its merits another dress catches my eye, and it looks like the size I see on display would fit me perfectly.  I go and take a closer look.

“Errr maybe not this dress for you Miiiiiss as we only have this size, and errr you have fat”

For a second I take offence though it’s hard to continue to do so when it’s clear that none was meant.  What amuses me most is the way in which a steadily growing rapport could suddenly cease due to a moment of lingual naivety. I smile at my new friend – my new attentive stylist – as he goes on to initiate the payment process before we bid one another Selamat Tinggal (goodbye) forever. Who could’ve guessed that this inconsequential scene, which lasted only 20 minutes and involved a man whose name I can’t even remember, nor probably never even knew in the first place, would’ve stayed in mind in the way it has all these years later? What is it about the characters we meet when travelling? Is it something to do with the language barriers, and how they enable us to view people in different ways? The smiles, the looks, the way in which any verbal exchange ends up holding considerably more weight because it took more effort? Maybe it’s to do with the scope for brutal honesty that is actually somewhat refreshing, for it is harder to maintain tact when you can only speak a few words of the language.

I go out into the rain and join the traffic on the Transjakarta busway back to my friend’s house.  A five minute journey takes half an hour due to the clogged nature of the traffic.  Equatorial rule dictates that daylight is limited, and so it’s already dark outside.  It’s September 2015 and this is worlds away from the Indonesian experience of 2010, where I taught English to orphans in the beachside city of Padang, West Sumatra. Padang hosted a landscape much more reminiscent of the opening paragraph to this piece, but it doesn’t matter, because these real, rugged, unfiltered experiences are all just a part of the world I love. A world that hides beneath a map. A world that doesn’t make the guide-books because it’s not always deemed interesting enough, but a world that’s real and which leaves a permanent impression in the mind of a 29 year old (back then!) woman who originally set off only to eat some fried chicken in order to pass the time whilst waiting for a friend to finish work.

Song of the Day: D’Bagindas – Apa Yang Terjadi

The most apt choice. It would feel impossible not to hear this song at least five times a day whilst out and about in Indonesia, impressively during each of my visits there (2010, 2012 and 2015).

JANUARY ON THE MARSH

It was early January and it was grey, cold and wet.
Extremely wet.
Rain ricocheting off the kerb and into your already sodden boots wet.
“Why on earth did I venture out in this muck when I could have stayed home and watched ‘A Place in the Sun’?” wet.
“I need a new cagoule and a waterproof bag” wet.

And don’t get me started on the cold.
It was very cold.
Knuckles rattling round pockets like Maltesers being shook in the box cold.
“I could be on the sofa with my hot water bottle and duvet” cold.
“Should have brought along some soup” cold.

And we may as well discuss the grey.
Murky, dirty, shirty grey.
Doom and gloom, CHRISTMAS IS OVER, back-to-reality, grey.
“I could be in a restaurant having a colourful lunch” grey.
“Definitely didn’t need my sunnies today!” grey

And I wondered why I was out doing this lengthy trudge. Through puddles, past roadkill, and wading through sludge.
But I didn’t need to wonder for long…

Seasalter Beach, Graveney Marshes & Faversham Creek

Song of the Day: Moondog – Do Your Thing

How on earth has it taken me until now to come across Moondog? A blind composer and poet who was known for standing silently on New York pavements for hours at a time in the 1950’s and 60’s, and died in Germany in 1999.
This song was written in 1978, but is still completely on point.