The Best Kind of Gift

There was a major milestone to celebrate within my family this month.

Identifying what would make the best gift caused a complete stress within.

I had a few ideas; but found myself frequently judging the merit of each using just their monetary value as the means with which to test their suitability. I felt compelled to spend a significant sum of money on the basis that it was such a massive milestone. It’s rude to be cheap, right? The more you spend, the more it looks like you love them, right? Of course not, but there’s still a part of your conscience that believes so, when all you want to do is give the perfect present.

This time of year is beset with the pressure to give good gifts to those around us, and often the measure of a “good” gift is seen to be in the bold figure at the bottom of the receipt…the greater the number, the more generous the gift! A Casio and a Rolex both tell the same time, but one would arguably be seen as far more generous a present than the other. Wedding presents are another example of when cost is perceived to correlate with generosity. According to many sources, ‘good wedding gift etiquette’ dictates that you should spend a minimum of £50 no matter your relationship with the happy couple, which I find horrendous. If that’s what you expect, then please don’t invite me to your wedding, we shouldn’t really be friends. But the question it makes me ask is – what makes £50 the value of that bond?

Quite honestly, I find this stuff sad and depressing. There is a quote I’ve seen on the internet dozens of times which captures one of the reasons why, you’ve probably seen it too, but I’ll post again anyway:

10dollars

If you are fortunate enough to have a lot of money, it’s pretty easy to be “generous”. You just have to go online, or into a shop, pick out the most expensive item, flash your plastic at the till, and job done. Five minute job. If you don’t have so much money, it’s a bit harder, though even then, it’s quicker and easier to buy something than it is to give your time to something.

But – hang on – why do we often make gifts about the monetary cost anyway? Trying to equate the value of family, friends and lovers into numeric figures, when maybe the real value of what we give is in terms of our time, shared experiences, or thoughts.

In the end I just couldn’t put a price on the value of what it was I was celebrating in my family. To do so felt arbitrary, shallow and sad. I gave them a gift, but it cost little money, just time. Even now, I question whether I was generous enough. That’s because all around me I’m seeing adverts and pictures of lavish gifts; presents presented as a surefire way to please others.

But then I think about all the gifts I’ve ever received. One of the best was a drawing a friend did, on an A4 piece of paper, coloured in with Crayola pencils. She had a fantastic knack for art and had drawn a custom, fictional woodland scene containing references to things that we had found funny that year. It was brilliant. It made me howl with laughter, and I even took it away to Uni a couple of years later, to pin up on my wall for when I was feeling homesick. It was the sort of thing that wouldn’t have been possible to buy. It cost her absolutely nothing. But that’s the gift I remember most from that year (16 years ago). That’s the one I consider the most generous, because it took the most time and thought.

The reality is that many of the gifts opened this Christmas Day will be forgotten pretty quickly. They’ll probably end up on the Facebook Marketplace or the shelves of charity shops, in order to make space within the home later on. That’s because it’s a natural human behavior to eventually get bored of “things”. And if you can sell-off those things to recoup some money to buy more “things”, then even better.

So why do we do it to ourselves? Why do we keep stressing in shopping aisles or feeling the pressure to save, save, and sell an arm for Christmas when there are actually a range of ways to be generous, or please those people you care about. Say something nice to somebody. Tell them why you like them and appreciate them. Show them you care. Contrary to what it may seem, expensive presents don’t necessarily do that.

I’m not saying we should forget about physical gifts altogether, absolutely not, we all enjoy opening things, I just disagree with deciding whether or not to buy something on the basis of what it’s worth in GBP. Buy it because you have thought about it, and you think it’s something the recipient would really enjoy or appreciate.

Give people love, thoughts and attention. Don’t make it about the money.

Because I know which is needed more in the world today.

The Correspondents – Pier To Pier

This musical duo are the sort from which you never quite know what to expect, but I like this short, rhythmic instrumental piece. I’d like to listen to it whilst missioning it around Tescos to complete my grocery shopping in the fastest time possible. I think it would help.

Tired of Spinning Around on the Web

Is anybody else starting to get tired of the internet, or is it just me?

Tired of seeing the constant opinions on what we should do and think, from who to vote for and what to eat, to how to correctly hang toilet paper.

Tired of the ubiquitous presence of comments pages and review platforms, which too often are misused to host volcanic eruptions of strong opinions which – once the dust has settled – tell us only that: Some people liked the service, but some people did not like the service.  Some people agree with the article, but some people disagree.  Some people like the mandolin, but others – controversially – consider the banjo to be their favourite member of the lute family.

I actually quite enjoy reading what other people think, but what tires me out is when these features are used as an opportunity for some people to tell other people why, in their opinion, everybody else’s opinion is wrong.  Often in a vitriolic manner.  But perhaps that’s just my opinion (incidentally, does the word ‘opinion’ make anybody else think of an onion with a furrowed brow, half-moon spectacles and a tie?)

Tired of reading about what can help us, “live the best life”.  Maybe I don’t want to be practicing mindful cocktail-drinking somewhere flash, showing off my svelte, tanned figure in a Triangl bikini that costs the same amount of a month’s worth of groceries.  Maybe I just want to sit on my sofa, in a blanket, reading a book and listening to good music, eating a greasy yet utterly delicious takeaway.

And don’t get me started on those that use the internet to encourage people to talk about their mental health, yet in subsequent breaths or .JPGs with flowy fonts explain that to have good mental health ourselves, we should disassociate from those with “negative energies”.  Erm…

Make up your mind, internet.  Or just shush altogether.  I’m bored of seeing this dictatorial stuff, no matter how much I try and avoid it.  The content still manages to creep in.

Yet, here I currently sit, on the internet.  Writing my monthly blog.  Looking at pictures of cats that need re-homing.  Dealing with e-mails.

And sheepishly preparing for upcoming social events by salivating over PDFs of menus, knowing that when I get to the restaurant I’ll still manage to deliberate over what to have to eat.

I’m not so bored of those sides of the internet.

So perhaps I’m a contradiction too 😉

Song of the Day:  Mr.B The Gentleman Rhymer – No Character to Clear

I didn’t even know ‘Chap-Hop’ was a thing until this month.  This genre of music is ridiculously fun.  And funny.

 

If You’re Feeling Old…

sunriseSunrise in Snowdonia, April 2019

One of the (many) things you notice when looking back through old diaries, having written in them every day for over twenty years, is that you have pretty much always thought that you are old.  And you saw it as a bad thing.

There were a few fleeting, false dawns of maturity during your teens – worrying acknowledgements of the fact you would no longer spend birthday parties eating jelly and cake at the likes of Aqua-splash – but really it started at 21.  You’d reached the first major milestone since officially becoming an adult three years earlier, and this latest, permanent indentation into the more middle-y parts of your lifespan came with the gloomy realisation that you no longer had it, “all before you”.  Your youth became part of the past.

With each passing birthday since twenty one, that youth became a smaller and smaller dot in the distance, but your responsibilities became bigger.  The jelly got replaced by too many glasses of Prosecco, and sunny Saturday afternoons besides riverbanks got replaced by rainy Saturday afternoons in actual banks, where prim-faced staff in suits would go through every element of your personal finances and calculate that you might need to work beyond your death – perhaps as a ghost at a jolly Halloween attraction – just to have enough to make ends meet before you go.

When you turn another year older, it’s very easy to see the negative, especially when you start throwing the concept of ‘life milestones’ in the mix (but I’ve written enough about the absurdity of those on here, and bored enough of my peers in real life too). 

It’s rare now, that we acknowledge our birthdays without feeling some sense of being “old now lolz”… or “REALLY old now!”.  I’ve been very guilty of this in the past, as my diaries have shown.  Apparently I was feeling completely past it at twenty four, and every year since I continued to do so.  When the first grey hairs started emerging a few years back, I probably would have started researching Stannah stair-lifts if I’d had the time.

But this year I’ve decided to look at things differently, because actually I’m not sure it’s a bad thing to be “old” at all.  We shouldn’t feel negative about being old, we should instead just feel lucky that we made it this far, because lots of others didn’t.  We all know people who didn’t. Another orbit around the Sun represents another 365 gifts you were given, and okay some of those gifts weren’t the sort that might have you sprinting down the stairs on Christmas Day, but a lot of the others probably were, and any that did neither probably still gave you something to smile about or learn about in their own, special, understated way.

And more to the point – you’re not old anyway.  Your future self is telling you to shut the fuzzy up.  Nobody is old, because everybody is in fact – today – the youngest they’ll ever be again.  Isn’t that alone worth smiling about?  Enough to make you believe you’ve still got it in you to go out and do something crazy, like go out and join a dance troupe or take a night hike across the Hebrides?  On rollerblades?

34 was the first birthday in many, many years where I didn’t feel any kind of dread or resentment about my age.

And neither should you.

Song of the Day: Midnight Sister – Daddy Long Legs

Experimental pop duo.  I always like those.  And I really like this.

Could Coriander Leave?

coriander

 

August’s post was quite deep, but I felt a lot better for offloading it.  This month’s post is not as deep, but I know I’ll feel just as good for offloading on this important matter too:

Coriander.

It’s taken nearly thirty four years, but I think I’ve finally identified a personal bugbear when it comes to the otherwise wonderful world of food, and that bugbear comes in the guise of a reach green leaf which makes me groan whenever I see it on a plate, or read about it in a recipe.

Which is a lot.

Because for some completely incomprehensible reason, the modern world seems to have a bizarre obsession with lacing all and every kind of cuisine with “a few coriander leaves”.  And I’ve had enough.

The recipe could be going so, so well.  You could be salivating over the thought of the nice, sweet, coconut-y Thai curry, or the rich vegetable soup you’re preparing, but then comes that inevitable instruction about the coriander leaves.

There you see them, immersed within the dish as it’s presented to you in the restaurant.

And that’s when you get that sinking feeling, when you realise that a highly-anticipated dish is now destroyed.

They’ll try and convince you that they’re just there for a bit of extra kick.  But if coriander was indeed just a kick, it’d be the sort that could boot Earth to the other side of the solar system – taking all the other planets with it – without doing any damage to its toes.

If coriander was a person, it’d be the kind that persistently talks over you in a loud honk of a voice and tells you you’re wrong.

And if each bowling pin represented a different ingredient, coriander would be the sixteen pound ball that menaces manically down the lane and bundles them all over into oblivion.

The smallest sprig of coriander can take over an entire dish.  No doubt that irritates all the other ingredients, who try their hardest to taste pleasant to the tongue, only to be overshadowed by a little green leaf.

And it’s just not fair.  And we need to start recognising that.

Say no to coriander.  There’s a thyme and a place.

Song of the Day: Eerie Wanda – Big Blue Bird

One of my favourite musical discoveries of 2019 – indie pop band led by Dutch-Croatian singer Marina Tadic.  Pet Town is a brilliant album and perfect for this time of year.

A Typical Musing of a Single 30-Something

somethingnice

It’s not very often that I actually sit down and watch television, but I had read about Channel 4’s one-off drama, “I Am Hannah” and felt compelled to tune in.  Starring the talented Gemma Chan as the protagonist, the drama told the story of Hannah, a lady in her mid to late 30’s who was single, without children and – in contrast to the questions being thrown at her from her mother and various Tinder dates – not really set on an interest in changing either of those circumstances.  The only thing she was sure of, was that she wasn’t sure, but it was clear as the programme went on that the constant enquiries were wearing her out.  We saw her have a meltdown a couple of times.

The script resonated with me in a way that I haven’t experienced from television very often, and left me feeling an overall sense of relief.  I Am Hannah may have been a piece of fiction, but it was a real piece of fiction, no doubt influenced by the current state of society and the fact that more and more people are choosing to be single, and fewer people are choosing to have children, whether in a relationship or not.  Yet, considering the increasing volume of people making these choices and living this way, there seems to be very little acknowledgement or celebration of it as an option.

When typical conversations among groups of 30 year olds are about engagements, weddings, babies… it’s easy to forget that living any other way is actually pretty common, and an increasing number of people are doing it.  It’s easy to forget that happiness and purpose can be found down many avenues beyond the traditional ones, but it shouldn’t be, and it wouldn’t be, if only we spoke out about it more.  And if as a society we stopped with the echoes of defeatist mantras like, “you’ll find somebody!” when people say that they are single.  These only perpetuate the message that happiness depends on being with somebody else and that what you have right now will never be satisfying enough… and that’s a very dangerous realm of thought for anybody to get into.

I am 33 years old, in two months’ time I will be turning 34.  Tickedytickedytock.  For basically – well forever, since I am older now than I’ve ever been – I have sailed happily on a wave of open-mindedness when it comes to marriage and children.  It’s still very much my belief that life is a matter of fate, and is there to be enjoyed no matter what happens and which way you end up living it.  There is a massive part of me that feels more inspired by the thought of a non-conventional lifestyle – whatever that might entail – than one dictated by a set of milestones, and the race to reach each one “in time”.  Those milestones don’t stop (“So when’s the next one due?”) and quite frankly, I’ve not been to the gym enough recently to believe I have the stamina to cope with engaging with the race. That’s not to say I’m not interested in having a partner or children, there are many things about that particular avenue that are attractive to me too, but it just means I haven’t got my heart set on it.

But, whilst that may have been a useful and healthy way of thinking for 33 years… tickedytickedytock makes you put it underneath the microscope a bit, particularly when you see so many others out there formulating mathematical equations as to when they should meet someone, when they should marry, and when they should start trying for a baby.  Then you wonder if you should be doing that yourself.  Then you remember you’re not sure you want those things anyway.  Then you get up, go and make a coffee and get back to the billion and one other responsibilities you have as an adult – work, paying Road Tax, hoovering.  Then before you know it you’ve turned another year older.  TICKEDYTICKEDYTOCK!

“But what if I get to 40 then think I’ve made a mistake” says Hannah, to a friend who looks incredibly awkward about the question.  And therein lies the nutfuck.  The prospect of trying to prepare today for how you might feel in a tomorrow in which you might be a completely different person, that’s assuming you’re lucky enough to still be alive.  Yes, who’s to say you won’t change your mind and become desperate for a child?  Equally, who’s to say you won’t remain feeling indifferent to parenthood, or – even worse – end up regretting having a child?  But, the response to this dilemma isn’t like stockpiling bottles of water because you’ve heard a draught may be ahead.  You can’t apply that sort of premeditated logic to this. This involves human life, and I can think of nothing more inappropriate than going through the motions of having a baby I feel indifferent about now just in case I later decide that I want one.  I’d like to have a Wagon Wheel right now though, that’s something that I am certain of.

And actually; maybe that’s the only path which is a necessity to take in life.  Concerning yourself only with the here and now and letting nature dictate the rest.  Being fulfilled by what you have right now whether that’s a husband and kids or an evening with friends and a delicious lemon meringue in the fridge.  Making decisions on the basis of how you feel right now because that’s the only emotion you’re sure of.  Putting together the model kit that represents your life without any set of instruction or illustration of the final image, only working out on a piece by piece basis of how it’s meant to connect.

We’ll all have a completely different structure in the end.

And how cool is that?

Song of the Day: The Derevolutions – Spinning Twister Sound

This pretty unique band is so vastly under-rated yet they write upbeat Summer tunes like this.  What is going on in the world.

 

 

Monday Evening Motivations

I’m sure the people in my life are going to get quite fed up of me extolling the virtues of Faversham at some point soon.  Maybe they already are and are just being polite… but I’m pretty sure 90% of the stuff I bother to post on social media these days relates to Faversham in some way and I probably talk about it in similar proportions too! I can’t help it.  I just find it a really fascinating, bizarre, quirky place that is pretty much in a world of its own… but it’s a very nice world to be a part of.  Even when it’s not.

So – apologies – but this month’s post is only a continuation of that trend.

And one of the things which I am most enjoying about living here is that – particularly in Summer when the days are longer – I can spend my evenings after work in the places which were an inspiration to me even long before I moved here.  Oyster Bay House.  Seasalter Beach.  Oare Nature Reserve.

I’ve started to make ‘Monday Evening Motivation’ an unofficial official thing.  Time after work which I would usually spend in front of the tv, aka mundane Monday evenings, are now about being alone and immersed in some sort of nearby nature instead.  Walks I’d usually reserve for a weekend are now Monday’s desserts, and I love it.

I would encourage anybody who reads this to consider doing something similar.

These photos were all taken during such occasions:

20190715_204509

20190709_200441

20190701_195936 (1)

If you’ve not had a lone soiree with the great outdoors lately, I hope that these pictures might just inspire you to. So much to see and feel.

Song of the Day: Baseball Gregg – Pleasure & Pain

I don’t know too much about this band or this song, but it’s a perfectly chilled Summer tune.  Enjoy!

The Phenomenon of A Favourite Record

faith no more the real thing

My favourite album – ‘The Real Thing’ by Faith No More – turned thirty years old this month and quite simply I am in awe of that, because I’m still listening to it after all these years, and it’s still sounding as fresh as it always has done.

I’m not an especially young person – which is somewhat depressing to admit – but only in very recent years have I started to acknowledge how long I’ve actually been around for.  Up until what still seems like not long ago, many things still seemed ‘new’, but somewhere between then and now, some of my friendships passed the quarter-century mark, and some of the music I grew up with celebrated similar anniversaries of dancing around in my lugholes.  I can clearly remember when these things were still brand new to me, which is why this realisation seems so bizarre.

Older generations will understandably think little of these timescales in comparison to theirs, but to me they’re still amazing.  Time itself is amazing.  We live, day-to-day, feeling as though today isn’t that different to yesterday, and won’t be that different to tomorrow either, but somewhere it all changes.  Life is only punctuated by the sleep which separates one day to another yet somehow, somewhere, we turn from babies throwing tantrums to fully-blown people.  Possibly still throwing tantrums.

To think that there can be music out there which still feels as magic to listen to as the first time you heard it, decades ago, is remarkable to me.

 The Real Thing has traveled with me for most of my life.  Having a big age gap between my older brother and sister was a blessing in introducing me to great music at an age where without them, my choices probably wouldn’t have extended much beyond the top 10.  I used to hear them playing this record in their bedrooms or through their Walkmans (the cassette ones with the metal headphones that had that awful, itchy foamy stuff around the ear-pieces) on long, family car-journeys.  And then I got into the music too, and this one remained a firm favourite.

I’ll refrain from going into detail about why I like this record and what it has meant to me over the years, as that sort of thing is unlikely to interest anybody else, but I just want to take a moment to publicly appreciate records like this, and music’s meaning and power generally.  It’s not just a fleeting form of entertainment, but it can also be a life-long companion, and a soundtrack to many cherished and perhaps not-so-cherished yet significant moments.

Do you have a record that means to you what The Real Thing does to me?

Song of the Day: Faith No More – Epic

An obvious choice for this month’s post, but a good choice all the same.  I was torn between this and, ‘From Out of Nowhere’ which I love just as much. The final couple of minutes – largely instrumental – are particularly emotive.  I just can’t believe this stuff is thirty years old.  Well done FNM.

Let’s Be Boats

20170516_210201

 

This year I have started to get back into sailing.

Actually, that’s somewhat of a fib… as it makes it sound as though I used to sail all the time.  I didn’t.  I went on a couple of school trips to a place called Calshot, near to Southampton, during which I complained about the rain and getting wet (!), and concocted various reasons to excuse myself from activity so that I could instead sit and gossip from the sidelines with my friend Hutch, who felt the same way I did.

Back then, I had nowhere near the same amount of enthusiasm for nature and the outdoors that I do now.  Nowadays, there’s not much that gets my adrenaline rushing more than being completely exposed to the elements, even vulnerable to them.  The idea of being on a boat in the middle of a rainstorm, with saltwater splashing into my face, is actually quite appealing to me, hence why I was keen to get back into the hobby I never had, especially living so close to a sea I seldom otherwise… see (sorry).

Out on the boat the other day, I realised that sailing is a hobby which gives me thrills and energy, and really does “put the wind in my sails”.  I then thought about that expression a lot.  We use it all the time, and we know what it means, but I don’t think I ever quite had the same appreciation for it that I do now.

When the wind hits a sail at the correct angle, a boat moves forward with much aplomb, crushing the incoming waves with ease.  What’s impressive about this is that the wind is, of course, a natural force.  The movement of the boat does not come at the press of a button, but a set of natural conditions to which you have to work your sail accordingly in order to get the most from it.  Get your boat facing the right way, and tighten the sail to the right extent, and off you go.  Nature takes care of the rest, and movement becomes effortless.

And perhaps that’s what everything we do in life should be like.  All of those natural things that fuel us – passion, interests, hobbies, talents – those are our winds, those are what can get us moving along on an exciting ride, but only so long as we are facing the right way, and have set ourselves up correctly.  Wind against a flapping, neglected sail won’t do much at all, in the same way that you’re unlikely to do anything thrilling with your interests if you don’t align all the other relevant conditions, like the time and place to execute them, and the way to execute them.  Take care of those, and nature will do the rest.  Things will move.

If we can align things so that we can feel the wind in our sails more often, then who knows what adventures we’ll have…

Song of the Day:  Benji Hughes – Baby, It’s Your Life!

“Have fun with your life”.  Well said, Benji.

 

 

 

Strength

People talk about strength as a positive trait, something which everybody should aspire to have, but I’m not sure I agree with – or like – how it is all too often portrayed.

Somebody who feels very passionately about something, and is particularly forthright and unwavering about what they believe in, may often be labeled as “strong”… but what’s not strong about acknowledging the merits of different opinions, and possibly even changing your own?

Likewise, we tend to label people as “strong” when they don’t seem to be fazed by life’s challenges, but what’s not strong about admitting to struggling, maybe even crying at times?

And “strong” people are often portrayed as life’s ‘winners’ – consistently achieving, succeeding, getting the gold – but what’s not strong about not even wanting to compete in the first place?  What’s not strong about not needing to win?

Strength is defined only as the ability to apply force against resistance, but people seem to forget that this force can come from a multitude of directions.  Personally, I think the truest forms of strength are those which also embody elements of “weakness”.

The strongest people I know don’t even realise it about themselves.

To me, that’s what strength is.

Song of the Day:  Bnny Rbbt – Anchor

This song is sufficient measures of both weird and cute.  It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.