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:

10dollarsIf 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 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.

 

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.

Ten Things You Do When You Live Alone

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Insta: @sophiekemz

1) Lock Every Window and Door Several Times Before Going Out

Leaving my flat takes an age.  In the warmer months, when I’d have the windows open, it took even longer.  There is not a drive away from my block of flats that doesn’t feature some kind of paranoia about whether or not I’ve closed and locked every single window and door, even though the reality is that I checked each about ten times before leaving.

2) Over-estimate How Much Mange-Tout You Will Need

Excess mange-tout seems to be a recurring theme in my flat… and probably my life in general, or so it sometimes feels.

I don’t normally have a lot of things in my fridge at a single time; I try to only buy the fresh groceries I really need and always like to use them up quickly, before they go off.  But mange-tout seems to be a little more stubborn than all of the other vegetables.  It’s flat little pods manage to mislead me frequently.  I always think that the contents of such a small pack should be gone within a couple of curries but… no… there is always a lot left over.  And I always forget, and buy more…

3 Eat Curry Every Day… Because You Can

…And because it helps use up all that mange-tout!  But also because before living alone, I would have to go out to a restaurant if I wanted to eat a Thai curry.  Now, I can make one every week if I so feel, and I can add as much crunchy peanut butter as I wish!  It’s a novelty that has still not worn off even now, after five months.  My stomach mightn’t appreciate it, but the rest of me does.

4) Arrange & Re-Arrange Your Bookshelves Until It Appeases Your OCD

The travel-writing books should take up the entirety of the top shelf, because they’re my favourites, and Bill Bryson should start the row because his surname begins with one of the first letters of the alphabet.  I’m happy if the remainder are just grouped by continent.

The second shelf should be for the various travel guides accumulated over the years, and the bottom shelf is the one for all those books with titles like, “The Little Book of Thinking Big” and “How Not to Worry” that I can turn to for inspiration when I feel flattened and depressed by the realisation that my mortgage, and ongoing need to buy bin-bags, have greatly reduced the possibility of needing the books on shelf two again.  Also includes a couple of anomalies in the form of over-sized journals to scribble in, and the Cilla Black autobiography.

5) Donate Cupboards to Things Others Wouldn’t

The Crisp Cupboard under the sink was quite unintentional but is what I personally perceive to be the jewel in my flat’s crown, and the first port of call after a hard day of work.  At the moment it’s in need of a freshen up; too many bags of Ready Salted left over from a cheap multi-pack from Tesco, but I’ll get there, and replenish without shame, with something a bit more exciting, like erm, Frazzles…

6) Consider a Jar of Pickled Onions a Treat Because You’re So Damn Skint

My philosophy with money since living alone is to try and make it stretch as far as possible by only buying the food and drink which I definitely need so that I can spend the rest of my money on trying to still have a life.  I’m quite happy with this arrangement, but there are still times when I feel completely torn.  I’ll never forget the time I walked around town for ten minutes deliberating about whether or not I should go back to the farm-shop and buy that jar of pickled onions in honey vinegar which cost £3.50 but looked at me seductively from the shelf.  I caved, as I often do for food, and, well,  I’m still enjoying them to this day, so perhaps it wasn’t such a needless purchase.

7) Celebrate Having Your Own Condiments

Never underestimate the power of this.  Your own condiments permit you to squeeze as much ketchup over your chips as you want, and it’s up to you, and you alone as to when you replace the bottle.  You don’t have to put up with that red spray of emptiness if you don’t want to, and if you see that thick, congealed bit of goo round the lid, take comfort in knowing it’s only your goo, a solace you can’t get from those provided in restaurants and pubs.

8) Over-Think

How much longer does the boiler have left?  Should I start saving for a replacement now?  How much will that be? What did that comment mean earlier? Was that a weird tone? Can a common cold be a symptom of imminent death? What am I doing with my life?  *And repeat*

9) Only Properly Clean the Place When Others Come Round

Well, I do like things to be tidy, no matter if it’s just me in the flat.  I’m not one to leave rubbish lying around or let the washing up stack-up.  I do like everything to be put away daily, and detest clutter.

But, clean the floors? Hoover? Polish? Dust?

Nah.  Life’s too short for that kind of nonsense.  I’ll save it for only when the visitors come.  And if I distract them with a Bourbon biscuit and a cup of tea, they probably won’t inspect the place anyway.

10) Assume Every Unusual Sound is a Ghost or an Axe Murderer

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve crept up nervously to the spy hole, convinced that I’ve heard a knock signifying an unexpected visitor, but of all the Ten Things, this is the one more likely to fade over time, once the surroundings have become more familiar.

I mean, I’ll still do the chain and activate the additional three locks before I try and sleep tonight but, I’m getting there…

More to come…

Song of the Day: Weezer – Longtime Sunshine

This is from the deluxe version of the ‘Pinkerton’ album, a disc I remember borrowing from the Library as a young teenager and falling in love with.  Towards the end of this beautiful song, they blend in elements of ‘Why Bother?’ – one of my all time favourite tracks – to create a mind-blowing version of jaw-dropping goodness.  Jaw-dropping if you like this kind of music, that is.  But I certainly do.

Das Dunia J’Adore pt. 2

“The World I Love part 2”

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Roatan (pronounced ‘rower tan’) is an island in the Caribbean that drifts around 40 miles away from mainland Honduras.

It’s a paradise that would arguably make anybody question why they don’t love the world, but aesthetic beauty alone is not enough to merit being the subject of my World I Love features.  If anything, I’m usually more taken by the scriff-scraffy places that might seem cold and uninviting on the outside, but which present you with an hospitable warmth or interesting story that take you by complete surprise; and in turn remind you why it’s never a good idea to make assumptions about a place, ever!

Nonetheless, Roatan Island, despite being undeniably beautiful, still managed to surprise me.

I was there on a group trip in 2013, and we had two nights to enjoy on the island, meaning that there was a full day with which to make the most of the surroundings… to eat fresh shrimp, to party it up in Tiki bars, to laze around in a hammock… essentially, all those things you associate with a stay in paradise, and more.

The Utopian surroundings were quite juxtaposed to the atmosphere within the tour group, however.  Unlike most of these kind of trips I’ve been on, there was a lot of politics on this one, and whilst there were some incredible people on the trip who I’m still friends with to this day, the underlying atmosphere between a couple of others, which bubbled away in the van we spent most of our time travelling around in, was particularly rigorous around the time we went to Roatan, following a petty argument about dinner arrangements.

So, when the prospect of a free day on the island, with no travel, was presented to us, I immediately decided that I wasn’t going to bother seeing what everybody else was planning and was just going to spend the day by myself.  Just me, my MP3 player, my notebook, and silence.

I took a towel onto the beach and lay down for what must have been hours, marveling at the beauty around me.  I thought about the contrast of reality – my rainy commute on the train and how hard I worked at a job which wasn’t always sunshine and singing, realising that only through that could I facilitate this.

And then I made a friend.  This little bee-themed fish, in the photo above.  He was flapping around near to the jetty not really moving anywhere from the undercurrent he was trying to swim against, and he was doing so for a long old time.  He was separated from the rest of his shoal (I half wondered whether there’d been a petty argument about dinner arrangements), and didn’t seem to have any intention of finding them.

Throughout the day, I would take a snooze and then walk along the jetty to see him, then take another snooze, and another walk, and see he was still there.  Whilst he wasn’t always in exactly the same place each time, he was always close to the jetty, and always alone… and in no apparent hurry to change that, either.

It sounds bizarre, but I became somewhat attached to my fishy friend.  Each time I took that walk along the jetty, I became increasingly fearful that he’d have moved on.  I wasn’t ready to leave the beach yet and with nobody else being anywhere close by, he was my companionship that day.

So, when I went and noticed him no longer there, I knew it was probably a sign I should get back to my hut, get changed and go and meet up with everybody else again.

There was a lot of laughter, loud music, dancing and cocktails that evening.  But if it weren’t for the photos I’d barely remember a thing of those.

My time on the beach, however…

Song of the Day: The Rentals – Elon Musk Is Making Me Sad

The Rentals are basically a tributary of Weezer so if you like either band you’ll like the other.  This piece is their latest offering, and I love the tune but having been perplexed enough by the title to look up the lyrics and meaning, I love it even more.

Frontman Matt Sharp, having recently lost his father, has been using his music as a form of escapism for his grief, and in this particular piece has conjured up an entirely fictional tale of childhood competition with science pioneer Elon Musk.  It’s music that’s come purely from the heart, and it shows…

 

Some of the Little Things I Love…

There is just something so inherently wonderful about some of the things that add colour to our daily experiences without necessarily being the most prominent part.  Here are a few examples of my favourite ‘little things’ – what are yours? 

…when you hear a song you absolutely love for that very first time, and it illuminates your next couple of days by adding a rhythm you’ve never experienced before, against the backdrop of something which you have…

motion: the first sip of coffee whilst sat on a moving train, looking out the windows as you pass through all the different towns, watching an entire collection of stories being performed live by strangers…

…when you make a passing interaction with somebody in the street, and they come out with some typically old-fashioned joke that’s safe for any audience, usually a pun, and it just ends up making your day…

…when elderly relatives regale the kind of random, hilarious, questionable opinion-infused story that you would just not hear being told with the same vigour by anyone else, ever…

…that first occasion each Spring when you suddenly spot the prevalence of rape fields, as though somebody has gone out and coloured in the landscape with a giant highlighter pen overnight…

rapefield

…that instant when two souls connect having only just met, and you quickly feel that you’re speaking with somebody you’ve known for years, who you instantly feel comfortable around…

…those interesting facts about the night sky – as well as the extent of the unknown which surrounds it – that make just staring up at the stars a unique experience each and every time…

…taking off on an aircraft at night, and how when you look down at the lights below the motorway traffic looks like a limitless red and white striped toothpaste that’s been squeezed out of its tube to break up an otherwise black landscape…

…when you land overseas at a similar time of day to the above, and how as you exit the little tin-can that’s been airborne for the past few hours you’re suddenly confronted by the unknown, your initial experience of it being that standard parade along the shiny floors and bright lights of the airport, reality only smacking you once you take that first inhalation of the outdoors, strange voices emanating from taxis, pining for your custom…

…a deep night’s sleep in a foreign bedroom on the first night of an overseas trip…

…running your fingers along paper that has gradually gone crinkled over time…

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…just standing and watching the sea, especially on an overcast day.  The way the waves just carry on, relentlessly, no matter what.  The sensation of knowing they’ve been doing the exact same thing in the exact same way since the beginning of time…

…the first sip of a glass of wine from a bottle shared with friends – a symbol of your permit to relax and take a break from all life’s other responsibilities for a few hours…

…climbing into a freshly made bed on a dark Winter’s evening as the opening credits to a favourite film roll by, the television screen beaming a warm, soft glow around the room…

…And many, many more… why not leave a comment sharing some of your favourite little things?

Song of the Day: Derevolutions – Take it to the Hoop

This is such a bizarre sounding song, I don’t even know how to describe what’s going on in it.  That’s probably why I love it.  It’s also great fun to exercise to, and is definitely one of the best musical discoveries I’ve made in 2016.

 

End of Summer Shorts

Erm.

Exactly how are we almost at the end of August, already?  I could’ve sworn it was just a minute or two ago I was clinking ceremonious glasses of punch with friends in recognition of the new year that had just arrived, and now we’re two thirds of the way through it…

In the absence of a burning main topic to write about this month, here are a couple of bits and pieces…

Something to Consider…

This week I came across an article on Social Media about a Chinese couple who realised that – unbeknownst many years earlier – they had both been in the same place at the same time, within just a few feet of each other, having their pictures taken.  They had only realised this by looking through old photographs later on…

In lives where we are meeting new people all the time I often marvel about the scope for similar instances of this.  Every day we are encountering other people in passing wherever we go; in years from now, will any of them ever become anything more to us than that?  Who’s to know whether those we know and are close with now weren’t once people we just passed by on the street?  People we moved into single file for (perhaps grudgingly!) on the pavement?  People we beeped our car horns at in moments of frustration?  People with whom we bemoaned the speed of the queue in the bank?

It fascinates me no end and I do believe that it happens more often than we realise… so, maybe pay close attention to the next person you pass…and those ‘moody people in the background’ which invariably feature in every photograph… as perhaps one day, they will one day turn out to mean much, much more to you…!

The Joy of Random Memory Recall

I love those moments when memories of incidents that made you laugh come flashing back into mind through no real logic at all, and have that same impact all over again.

There’s absolutely no reason why yesterday, whilst sat on a motionless Tube train, I suddenly remembered a lunchtime from way back in year 7 when an 11 year old I had clocked that the form tutor had accidentally typed ‘Jucy’ instead of ‘Lucy’ on the birthday list which was pinned to the class notice board.  That’s a memory from almost 20 years ago which in the large scheme of life had the significance of even less than a small plop in world’s oceans, but that had friends and I in tears of laughter for what was literally days when we first saw it, and which still raises a smile so many years later, brightening up an otherwise uneventful Tube journey.

Nothing quite cost-effective like a recycled giggle!

You Know You’re in Your ’30s When…

…An evening out with your mates consists of taking your KFC to a local lake and singing Michael Jackson’s ‘Earth Song’ at the top of your voices whilst looking out over the water as the sun sets.  Who needs bars and clubs anymore, hey?!

Song of the Day:  Socratic – Curtain Call

Good ol’ New Jersey indie-rock.  Really like this one.

And as the plows drive by,
Oh I can hear a hum in the night,
past the lights on city hall,
loneliness takes its curtain call.
I’m left with me and my need to believe,
It’s a wonderful life, afterall…

Thoughts from a Belgian Holiday

Sometimes you suddenly find yourself in one of those moments when your whole life (or what you’ve experienced of it so far) blends into just one single moment, a snapshot of time that could have been taken in any year.

I’m sat enjoying a glass of Jupiler and a weinerschnitzel in the central entertainment and dining area of a Center Parcs holiday village in the North of Belgium.  I’m surrounded by a mixture of couples and families, and when I lean back, palm leaves tickle the back of my neck.  The interior of this whole building has been set-up to look like a tropical paradise, and it’s a great little place to come on holiday.  It always has been.

It’s a Saturday evening and timeless Euro-pop hits reverberate around the large, glass dome building in which myself and all of the other holiday-goers sit.  Right now, the Macarena is playing.  It gets to the bit where the lady laughs because she (nobody could ever quite make out what, despite valiantly straining to hear) to the boy who ‘was no good’ (in fact, she didn’t want him, nor could she even stand him, poor guy…).  At this precise moment I could just as easily be looking into the display of a classic digital Casio watch at a date that reads something like the 30th of July 1996, whilst my older sister walks ahead of me, urging me not to dawdle as we make our way out of the ‘Parc Plaza’ (as the glass dome is more formally known) following an early evening swim.  Los Del Rio’s Macarena was probably playing back then, too, only at that time it was a brand new, chart-topping hit that had swathes of people across the Continent attempting to master its dance routine.  That’s quite the contrast to the tune now associated with 1:30am and the musical downturn on a night out at some sticky-floored bar with purple walls in Lancashire, or drunk old men jigging around at wedding parties with the remains of a mushroom vol au vent stuck to the soles of their white leather loafers.  In 1996, the tune was an emblem of class.  Or so my memory serves…

Why is it so easy to envision this moment of the past with such detail?  We used to come here – to this very same place – as a family, every Summer from 1994-1999.  We visited again in 2004 and 2007.  My sister came here last Summer with her family, and this year I’m back again with my parents.  With the exception of a few recreational additions dotted around here and there the place hasn’t changed a bit in 22 years, and that’s a good thing.  Familiarity is such that I can still remember my way around the whole village.  Virtually the only thing that’s changed since our jaunts in the 1990’s, is that these days I’ll opt to while away the time by quietly sitting and writing whilst sipping on a Jupiler, rather than scavenge around the adventure playground and pester the parents for a Chupa-Chup.  Other than that, time may as well have stood still for a couple of decades.

A young waiter, with smooth skin and a hairstyle that looks as though he took along a picture of legendary children’s game ‘Kerplunk’ with him to the barbers, approaches my table.  The child inside of me – that has never quite gone away – imagines that he’s the sort of person that 10 year old me would have had a bit of a crush on.  10 year old Sophie would probably have walked through the Café very slowly each day in hope of catching sight of him, with my head and neck at the most peculiar angles if it meant I could increase my chances of doing so.  A swift glimpse would be sweet enough; but success at scoping out the moniker on the name-badge would be akin to a lottery win.  I’d send half a dozen postcards home to my school friends talking about “fittie waiter Jean-Luc” (and pronounce it, ‘Gene Luck’) as though he was some imperial being that I would one day end up marrying, even though we had never, and would never still, exchange any words.

For the 30-year old me, Jean-Luc’s (not his actual name) role within my holiday is much less of a romantic dream and more-so a formality.  I need Jean-Luc’s assistance in helping me settle the bill for my beer and schnitzel, a process which is straightforward enough back home, but becomes marginally more complex with a language barrier in place.  When it comes to foreign language, I would in no way consider myself to be an ignoramus, far from it.  I can speak basic French, basic German, basic Bahasa Indonesia… but barely a single word of Flemish, the native language of this part of Belgium.  Nonetheless, I would like to try.  Nothing annoys me more (well that’s not true, but figure of speech and all that jazz), than people who go abroad and don’t even try to accustom themselves to the local language.  As Jean-Luc approaches my table, I desperately rack my mind for any hint of what ‘Can I get the bill please?’ could possibly be in Flemish.  A number of foreign words and phrases learnt during school pass through the forefront of my mind in no logical arrangement – die Speisekarte, bitte!, je voudrais to pay, das schmeckt gut!, entschuldigang!, – but sadly, none of these is the one I’m looking for.  None of these are even Flemish, so when Jean-Luc eventually arrives at the table I’ve pretty much lost all chance of communicating with him in the way I would wish to.  Still determined to do so, I open my mouth and my brain does one final, last-minute rack of the limited foreign phrases within.  Consequently, something comes out:
“…N’errr…”.
There we have it.  That, my friends, is the shameful extent of where my modern language skills (or lack of them) has got me today – emitting a sound which when written phonetically is a word that doesn’t even exist – in any language – and which tapered off once I considered it probably more communicative to wave my debit card around in front of Jean-Luc.
“Follow me” he responded, and took me to the counter, where I settled the bill with no further issue beyond feeling completely hopeless at life.

The language barrier can be an enemy – as the example above indicates – but it can also be a friend.  Sometimes it’s bliss not to have any idea whatsoever of what the people around you are talking about.  There’s no danger of having an unpleasant commentary – which is usually enforced upon you – perforate the positive holiday vibes.  Yesterday we’d gone into a service station just north of Brussels, where a group of men were sat wolfing down plates of chicken and chips, a scene which I’d otherwise think nothing more of.  That was until we passed by their table as one of the party was regaling a story… “an’ ‘e (or ‘Annie’, I’m not quite sure) cayyyyme in and pisszhed all oahw-vah the floorrr”, he said, with a strong, Scouse accent.  Welcome to Belgium: a land of culinary excellence, enchanting forestry, and citizens who are incredibly polite and each own a bicycle with a basket on the front. The first noise you’ll hear is an especially vocal Liverpudlian who knows somebody with an unfortunate urinary habit, possibly the flame-haired little orphan of musical fame, Annie.

Another advantage of not knowing the language, is the amusement that can be sourced from looking over at other people, and imagining what they’re saying.  At the table in front of me as I ate my schnitzel, were a young-ish couple.  They were clearly having a romantic evening meal, their faces drawing ever closer together as they finished their drinks:

“What’s say, baby!  We’ve done dinner…wanna sleep together?”
“Hell yeah, sweet-cheeks”
“Great stuff.  Grab yer bright red waterproof Regatta jacket love, you’ve pulled”

In reality, the conversation was probably more like:

“Do you know what my favourite thing was about those chips?”
“That they came served in a paper cone?”
“… well, yes.  Yes that was my favourite thing about them.  *Short, awkward pause*.  Have I got any basil stuck between my teeth?”

Nonetheless, I preferred my own version, which was made all the more funnier when one of the two – the bearded male with the paunch – tripped over a randomly-placed child’s high chair as the pair got up to leave.  Inner snigger.

And speaking of leaving, it’s probably my turn.  The bill for my weinerschnitzel has thankfully been settled now, thanks to the help of my old pal Gene-Luck, and it’s time for me to snooze.  Nonetheless, this has been great fun.  An evening of writing, relaxing, and observing.  Bliss.

Song of the Day:  Ezra Furman – Anything Can Happen

This chap from Illinois is my current musical obsession.  If this ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ song doesn’t get you up and moving about, nothing will!

 

 

September Shorts

A selection of things that got me thinking… happy Autumn x

Saturday Morning Coffee

I’ve decided that Saturday morning coffee tastes the best.
I like to make myself a nice frothy cup of the stuff, and look out the window at the rooftops, trees and the sky.  I just appreciate the time to be still, to really absorb how slowly the clouds move, and – in an infant-like way- wonder how high I can actually see.  And even though it’s just a standard view from a window… once again I’m reminded of how mesmerising nature can be just to look at; how soft and how calming.  I find that the coffee accompanies this moment well, and once these fifteen minutes of solace are up, it’s back to action…

When’s your favourite time for coffee?


Blogger’s Response to a Response

Minor rant time…
I have found myself becoming increasingly irritated with the number of virals I see all over the internet – especially on ‘news’ sites – about somebody’s ‘hilarious/genius/spectacular/any other superfluous adjective’ response to something else.  I’m talking about those photographs of hand-written notes, or instant messenger screenshots pertaining to a personal conversation that somebody feels they simply must ‘share’ with the world wide web so that it can be viewed 5 million times over:

‘Mum’s hilarious letter to teenage son’
‘Woman’s stern reply to Man’ etc etc

I’ve seen around a dozen of these on the internet lately and every time I read them I can’t help but wonder whether what appears to be a quest for internet fame has made a redundancy of the basic principle of being genuine.  It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if people just wrote these things on purpose just to earn some large-scale acclaim, and that’s what gets to me.  Things become a lot less powerful or funny if they’ve been edited to entertain to the point where they deviate from sincerity, and so seldom whilst reading these things do I ever think they’re clever in any way.
And in writing of the above… I realised I’m probably making further steps to officially becoming a grumpy old lady… but whatever, I just wish these things wouldn’t be considered ‘news’.
Now, to screenshot the above couple of paragraphs and send it into The Mirror online…

The Sandal That Couldn’t Go On Holiday

Slightly fitting to the above, and further to something similar I wrote about in May, I’ve always found the most amusing things in life to be the quotes or situations that haven’t been scripted in advance.
Most recently, there was an incident involving a shoe and a Eurostar departure lounge, in which a somewhat perplexed looking assistant had approached a friend and I with a rather grotesque looking dark brown sandal dangling from her little finger.

“Is this yours?  It’s only just been found… must belong to somebody who recently passed through security”

Despite any possible urge to claim the sandal as our own, we confirmed that it was neither of ours, and the assistant carried on and asked the next sets of people the same thing, prompting the same bemused replies.
A few minutes later, a puzzled sounding call came out from the tannoy…

“Err if anyone’s lost a brown sandal, please come to Customer Services to claim”

But it seemed that nobody did; at least not in the initial 15 minutes after the announcement.  Perhaps they were concerned that an immediate appearance would identify them to all around as the careless owner of the dark brown sandal, or maybe they had no idea that anything of theirs had even been misplaced, and would arrive in Southern France about to merrily take a stroll along the promenade only to find that they would have to do so with just one shoe.
…I will forever ponder the ultimate fate of that sandal…

Song of the Day:  Way Yes – Macondo

Soothing stuff for an Autumnal Saturday morning.  Fresh out of Ohio…