Cooking Up Another Year

When you think about it, a calendar year is a bit like a casserole.  The end product contains a lot of ingredients and some of them stand out more than others.  There are some you like, and some you don’t, but you include those anyway because you understand that they’re a staple part of the dish.

Especially on the first couple of occasions, you will always start out with some kind of recipe, an ideal list of what the dish is going to include, but in reality your weights and measurements of each individual ingredient might be all over the place.  Your scales might be broken and Tesco might be out of onions (if you don’t believe this can happen, come to my local Tesco, and walk back out with twenty five per cent of your shopping list unchecked due to the sparsity of the shelves).  You may have no choice but to purchase some alternative ingredients instead.  They’re not what you intended but… you’re up for seeing how they go.  Why not.

When you finally get round to tasting your casserole there’ll be times when you mainly taste the dumpling (yum!), and other times when you might only be able to taste the tinned tomatoes (yuck).  If the latter happens, you’ll probably change your recipe and quantities accordingly, because you don’t want that happening again.  It’s the same thing when it gets to this time of year and you reflect back on the previous twelve months.  Some themes and events will stand out more than others.

Personally, I’m not a massive fan of recipes.  I find them useful in providing a bit of direction at first, but struggle to keep in tandem with them after the first couple of steps.  Maybe that’s why each time I cook the same dish it turns out different, and perhaps in a funny sort of way it’s not far apart from the subliminal reasoning behind why I’ve slowly learnt not to create too much in the way of specific, tangible goals for any New Year.

For all I know right now, 2019 could turn out to be the best year yet, or it could be the worst one.  A lot of that will be in my control (‘energies’ and ‘chakras’ and all that modern day jazz music) but a lot of it also won’t (reality, shit luck, the weather, one’s monthly cycle creating emotional havoc and – dare I mention a topic I loathe to ever mention on this site but – British politics).

Sometimes I suppose the best thing to do is understand and embrace this in advance, maybe stockpile some additional seasoning just in case, and prepare the taste-buds for some brand new flavours…

Song of the Day:  Boogie Belgique – Memory

Latest offering from continental masters of innovative electro-swing music.  This nice, chilled piece is perfect for Winter evenings.

 

Flashback to Old Photography #NoFilter

“…And here she is again, pictured with a friend who was unfortunately blinking at the time”

It was sometime in the late 1990’s and my mother was showing some photographs of my sister to my grandma (who was looking progressively bored with every photo that passed through her hands, bless her).

I’m not sure why, but the comment really made me chuckle – perhaps because of the way it was so politely put – and on those rare occasions when we pull out the old and dusty family albums, I still smile when I see that photo.  “‘Unfortunately blinking’. Heh heh.”

Not so long ago, imperfect photos like this were the norm.  The quality of our prints depended highly on a myriad of different things, including having the optimum levels of natural light, sufficient power left in the camera batteries, and whether or not our eyes could hold their own against flashes of extremely bright, whirring light.

There were no options to review, delete and re-take if you hadn’t quite been ready for the photo or if your hair looked a mess, and certainly no way of applying a filter to conceal a rash or wrinkles.  Your choices were a lot more limited, and with an allowance for around only 36 photos on each roll of film, you had to be a lot more restrained on how many you took.  Serial-snapping was not a thing unless you were extremely rich, which certainly wasn’t the case for those of us restricted only to pocket-money funds to buy the various means required to take photos.

You’d have absolutely no idea how the shutter-clicks would manifest until a few weeks’ later, when you’d pick up your prints from Boots, take yourself home, make a cuppa and begin to sift through with eager anticipation, being careful not to let your biscuity fingers touch the gloss.

One thing you were always guaranteed was an element of surprise and a range of reactions as you sifted through.  Some photos would come out great, but a lot of others wouldn’t.  In every roll of film there’d be the token blinking shot, and the mouth wide open shot.  There’d also be the ‘tooclosetotheflashandnowihaveaseriouscaseofmassivemoonfacegoingon’ shot, and the shot where – for some reason – things became a little confused during development and you had either a set of bright squiggly lines running through the middle or just a completely black photo.  Or whatever the hell happened here:

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There wasn’t a lot you could do about the photos you didn’t like, or the ones you didn’t want anyone to see.  Even if you hid them away, there’d always be the danger posed by that person who would take a cheeky look through the negatives to identify those deemed inappropriate for public display.  You could always get some amusement out of that, if not by way of finding something embarrassing, but from the fact that even your most favourite people on earth generally looked pretty damn scary in the negatives:

.negative.jpg

Jump forward twenty years or so, and technological advances mean we can all now have a gallery of personal photos made up of the kind of images we once thought we’d only ever see in glossy magazines.  Built-in filters, and drives that can hold thousands of photos, mean you can take a photo again and again until you feel it looks just right, and even if you don’t feel it get to that stage, you can edit it until it does The skill of a good photo is no longer about the person taking it, or even the subject matter, but the equipment being used, or so it seems.

It’s useful in many ways, yet so anticlimactic in others.  Insta-perfect picture after picture is nice for a while but there’s also something somewhat underwhelming about it, not to mention something quite sickly about the culture of vanity it has embedded into a society that used to be way better at laughing-off the permanent capture of its windswept hair or accidental gurn.  When did we start taking ourselves so seriously, and for what purpose?  I’m not sure I feel comfortable with the way it’s so easy to dismiss aesthetic imperfection these days.  I think that’s something far-better embraced, and appreciated.

I do miss looking through photo albums which – when you think about it – mirrored life itself – mixing the good, bad, messy, amusing, wonky, bizarre, the unintentional, and everything else within a combination of purely natural photos.

And I miss the suspense of not knowing what the photos would turn out like, finding one you love, and instantly being able to stick it up on the fridge door so that every time you reached for the milk, you manouevred the smiling wee face of great-grandma back and forth.

I miss the days when a ‘good photo’ was a result of chance, the ‘one shot’ that truly paid off despite unfavourable technology and too much sunlight.  They had more of an impact that way…

…Perhaps it’s time to buy a new-old camera, before I blink-and-miss the opportunity to…

Song of the Day: Sleepwalkers – Reasons to Give Up In You

Catchy pop-rock from Richmond, Virginia.  I fell in love with this track the very first time I heard it.  If you’re still looking for your Summer anthem for 2018 then here it is:

When Knowledge Isn’t Everything

I’m probably doing somebody I know and care about a great deal a lot of disservice in admitting this; but I can’t remember which one of them told me the most mind-blowing fact about our universe that I’ve ever heard:

“All of the light you see from the stars in the night-sky is thousands of years old”, said he or she, in a conversation probably influenced by a large carafe of wine and a ramekin of peanuts in a dimly-lit bar, “the stars you see tonight probably died many years ago, but because of how far away they are, they still look alive to us”.

The accuracy of the second part of that statement is prone to a lot of debate, usually by people with a greater vat of brain cells than I, who can rigorously punctuate each part of their explanations with the kind of knowledge you’d usually expect to find in a green-leather bound book with yellowing pages found on the bottom shelf of your local library.  (The book was probably written by somebody called Quentin H Pugh and first published in 1929.  It probably hasn’t been exposed to fresh air since 1931 and its main purpose today is residence for a small army of silverfish.)

Yet people are pretty unanimous about the first half of the statement.  Looking into the night sky is, indeed, like looking through a lens to the past.  Consider this: the light from the closest star to Earth (Alpha Centauri) takes four years to reach us, and that’s as quick as it gets!  By contrast, the light from the stars furthest away from us take thousands upon thousands – if not millions or billions – of years to reach us.  How crazy to think that whilst we can’t travel through time, we can effectively view different epochs of history in tandem with one another from the modern comfort of 21st century windows, all because of a bunch of science that the majority of us find difficult to truly understand.

In the past I have tried to engage with all that might have helped me understand all the what’s, why’s, how’s and when’s of everything there is to know about astronomy, but on each of those occasions my brain has switched off as soon as we started to transcend into the realms of Mathematics and other related gablurble.  Mrs Green’s GCSE Physics classes would have been the prime place to learn about things which I didn’t realise would interest me so much nearly twenty years later, but back then I gave up on trying to learn because all I really wanted to do was make hats out of paper-towels for everybody in the class – including Mrs Green – and call them ‘Moon Hats’.  The idea was that we could parade them in the corridors with all the cheap pride you might expect of pupils from the bottom set for Science; except I think the vast majority of them ended up in the bin.  (Moon Hats unanimously failed the generic teenage ‘Cool Test’, so I cancelled the patent application and gave up my dream of a career in fashion design.  I hope that, over the years, those toffee-nosed classmates have been able to find a way to cope with the guilt of this).

Trying to make me understand the rules of Science is like trying to  vacuum up a desert’s worth of sand in a pipette.  I just don’t get it; and if I were to even try it would only explode into a thundercloud of general mess and confusion that would rain havoc on all beneath it.  Yet, I am fascinated by the night sky, to the point where I’d even say that my ignorance and lack of knowledge only makes the whole concept even more exciting.

I’m pretty sure that if somebody was ever able to have the patience and tenacity to get me to understand the finer details of why the light from stars takes so long to reach our vision, it would no doubt satisfy the part of my brain which is hungry for knowledge, and possibly even make me feel vaguely intelligent for a moment or two.  On the other hand, I feel it would serve as something like a cold bowl of porridge to the part that enjoys being able to wonder, and imagine.  Like all magic, once you know how the trick works it’s never as entertaining again.

And then you can’t help but transfer that concept to the more emotional elements of life.  Many of us are so concerned by the idea of not being ‘in the know’.  We like to feel informed and aware because it helps us to feel in control of the things going on around us (or we just enjoy being nosy), and there’s a sense of safety and security in that control.

And that’s all well and good, for sure, but sometimes it can be just as gratifying not knowing or understanding why things are the way they are.  Finding answers isn’t always an easy task.  It can take a very long time, cause a lot of stress, feed you inconsequential information that doesn’t really make you feel any better at all, and not lead to anything of any real substance.  In fact, you can get so side-tracked by searching for answers that you forget what your question was in the first place, because the things you found out along the way multiplied it into a dozen more questions.

I have often been guilty of over-thinking which has lead to worrying and nothing has made this more apparent to me than a recent circumstance.  I know that this is perhaps my way of trying to gain control of a situation, by identifying possible risks and working out how to overcome them in advance.  It can be a really good tool at times, which has probably saved me from a lot of embarrassment and/or broken bones, but much like your favourite pencil it can go blunt and become useless if overused.  When I think back to how much time I’ve probably spent worrying about things that never came into fruition it’s hard not to feel frustrated with myself, so I’m actively trying harder now to stem some of these thoughts and only think about what I need to, when it presents itself to me.  Because if you think the scope and the science of astronomy is what makes light-years hard to comprehend, the human brain is even more complex and easier to get lost in.

And there’s actually something quite comforting about recognising that.  Something relaxing about just stepping back and letting nature and fate do whatever it is they need to do.  More time to enjoy the beauty, mystery and adventure of it all rather than expending all your energies on navigation.

When I look up at the stars I don’t want to think about a bunch of algebraic formula that will never make any sense to me.  I just want to think about how tonight’s light is a gift from the past, and how amazing and mysterious the Universe is for supplying something that on the surface of it sounds so impossible.  And that’s where I want to merrily leave that thought.

Pugh and co can take their answers elsewhere...

Song of the Day:  Dreamgirl – Bollywood

Dream-pop from Kansas.  This is one of those amazing songs that you might feel a little indifferent to at first, but then you hear the inexplicable ‘it’, and the song is subsequently stuck on loop for a week or so.  The sort of rare song that makes you want to cry and smile all at once.   Enjoy.

Some More Little Things I Love…

A continuation of one of the posts I most enjoyed writing.

The welcome arrival of Spring always seems to make the little things stand out even more.  The first little shard of sunlight through the window reminds us of how much of an impact the weather has on our emotions, particularly when it immediately follows weeks of particularly grim weather.  That first glimpse of sunlight is just another one of those little things I love.

Along with these:

…watching re-runs of old British sitcoms and the warmth of the memories that the opening theme tunes and the canned laughter evoke:  Late ’80s/early ’90s decor – velvet sofas, fluffy carpets, and an array of unusual knick-knacks that clutter up the living room.  Marmite drizzled crumpets and Sunday evenings.  This particular sitcom was one of my favourites, and watching the theme tune brings it all back….

(used to giggle so much as a child at the bit where the maid both drops and catches the vase… would almost choke on my crumpet from laughter)

…Spontaneous adventures in good company: when you find yourself doing something with your day, that you hadn’t intended on doing, and it doesn’t even have to be anything costly!  A road trip to the beach.  A walk in the woods.  A cheeky takeaway…

…The moment when one of the few songs that you and each one of your friends absolutely loves comes on during a night out, and you all go mad with the excitement.  For my group of friends this is usually ‘Life’ by Des’Ree, or anything by the Vengaboys (but preferably ‘We Like to Party’.  Because we like to try and create a makeshift Vengabus using whatever chairs happen to be in the vicinity.  And yes, we are mostly all in our ‘dirty thirties’ with real life responsibilities and what have you…)

…When somebody who has clearly taken a shower in the last couple of hours brushes past you, and you get a fleeting scent of shower gel, and it makes everything around you suddenly feel fresh…

…Being a little bit lost somewhere in the great outdoors, but not having to care because you’ve not got to be back in time for anything in particular…

…The yellowy-brown Victorian brick so characteristic of Kent and its history.  My main mission in life is to end up in a house made of this brick.  I can’t explain it; it just makes me feel warm.  Like a brick in a kiln…

…Night-time drives when the roads are empty, the surroundings are ghostly (bar the bright lights of the BP garage), and the car rumbles with a heavy bass-line from the music you enjoy.  To me, this song is the epitome of a perfect night time drive:

…The first lunch out on a European city break in Summer.  Sat on a square sipping Coca Cola served from a frosted glass bottle.  The best tomato soup (with a swirl of fresh cream) served in a bowl you hope to never reach the bottom of, and maybe a naughty chocolate sundae with plenty of squirty cream too…

…Those moments when you literally do cry with laughter about something that has just happened or been said (in other words, not because of something staged on television or in theatre).  One of the best things about keeping a diary is that you record all these things permanently so that you can laugh at them all over again years later.  The other day I found myself recollecting a particularly lewd comment somebody made in class in 2003.  I cried with laughter all over again…

…Butterflies in your stomach.  For whatever reason.  And remembering that you just don’t know what amazing adventures you may be about to stumble upon, because nobody ever does, yet for every amazing thing that anybody in this world has ever done there was once a day when they didn’t know it would happen…

littlethings
(Herne Bay seafront, UK, April 2017)

The little things in life.  They really are the best.

 

Dusty Tapes

“Play”…

…An arrangement of sounds, not heard in years, return.  This time in full crescendo.

Background notes, that were never acknowledged back then – in those comparatively unpracticed ears – now dance around in the jubilant joy of finally being heard.

Maybe in a different setting, it’s just a cataclysm of nostalgic noise.  The kind that chews up the past and present and spits it out – full force – against the nearest pane, and leaves it there.

But once upon a time this same song was the soundtrack to the present tense of what would turn into a long-lasting memory:  A family holiday.  A day trip to the beach.  One random – otherwise non-descript – bus home from work, when you caught the first glimpse of that year’s sunshine reflecting from a rain-sodden rooftop.

And now, here it is, being heard again.  The same notes now juxtaposed with something new.

Dusty tapes, polished notes.

[The inspiration for this piece came during a particularly wet, grey and windy 12 mile walk I did a couple of weeks ago.  I did it alone in order to gauge a true level of current fitness, and so had just my headphones for company walking round one of the most remote parts of the county.  I’m not sure why it was, but the music all sounded so fresh that day, almost like I was hearing my favourite tunes for the first time ever.  I loved it]

Song of the Day:  The Cribs – The New Fellas

In the spirit of the piece above I’m posting one of my all-time favourite songs as ‘Song of the Day’.  To me (and many may disagree) The Cribs were the flagship of  the UK indie scene when it peaked during the mid-00’s.  I would regard their music as the soundtrack to my three years studying in Lancaster, and when I listen to it I can feel it all again.  Those dark, freezing October evenings in the North, smoking through a pack of Benson & Hedges in my room, poring over a set of text with a highlighter pen.  Looking out the window and seeing people cooking in the kitchens of the next block.  Cheap cottage pie and garlic bread for dinner.

 

January-cycling

 

Propel

 

^No, we all know that’s not true all the time.  Some things are just rubbish dressed as…rubbish…, and no amount of positive thinking, green tea or vinyasa yoga can change that (though bacon frazzles… they might stand a chance).

But, if there’s one good thing about rubbish, it’s that a lot of it can be recycled into something better.  Something stronger.  Something unrecognisable from its previous form.

Exactly the same could be said for some of life’s most ‘rubbish’ experiences.

Yes they can be tiresome.  Difficult.  Emotionally draining; maybe heart-breaking.  There’s no quick fix, and they’re often unavoidable.

Sometimes you can work through life’s rubbish experiences in a matter of hours, but other times it might take weeks, months or years.  Maybe sometimes you can never recover from a rubbish experience completely, maybe you can only increase your ability to exist alongside it.

Now I’m no psychologist and so I can’t explain the science, but what I do find wonderful – despite the paragraph above – is that often, you can only work out what it is you really want by learning to identify what you don’t. This understanding usually comes as result of…you’ve guessed it… rubbish experiences.

(On a similar note if anybody is at a stage in life when they have no idea what they want to do for a career, like I was a decade ago, then you could do worse than read a book called, ‘I Could Do Anything If I Knew What it Was’ by Barbara Sher.  For one of the exercises she asks you to list everything you’d hate about a job, e.g repetition, office work etc.  You then write the antonyms on the other side of the page and – huzzah – from that second list you have a pretty good summary of the characteristics of the kind of jobs you should be looking at)

Sometimes it’s only through experiencing a problem or feeling sensitive to upset that you think about what could help.  What’s the opposite of this feeling?   What’s the pathway to that?

If you’re unhappy with your state of physical fitness but use this negativity to develop the drive needed to stick to a disciplined exercise regime which consequently makes you feel tonnes better, then that unhappiness was worth recycling.

If a relationship breaks down and – after crying in your cornflakes and hiding from the world for a month or two – you become determined to get back into the big wide world, only to meet some amazing new people you wouldn’t have had the chance to meet otherwise, then that heartbreak was worth having, and worth recycling.

If something suddenly happens to expose some vulnerabilities in some context of your life, then you’ll identify the areas which you can make stronger and so that stress becomes…. (take a wild guess why don’t you)… yep, worth recycling.

No, not all rubbish can be recycled, but so much of it can.

Song of the Day: Sidney Gish – I’m Filled With Steak, and Cannot Dance

I discovered this lady last week, on Spotify, and have been listening to her new album on repeat ever since.  Her genius lyrics and jazzy, upbeat tunes have had me bopping around in many a traffic jam this week and the craziest thing is she’s only 22!! I am so envious of her youth and talent!

There’s a lot of tracks Song of the Day-worthy, but because the album is brand new it doesn’t have much of a presence on YouTube yet.  I think this one wins on account of the title alone though.

Things I Learnt in 2017

The dawn of any new year always manages to throw about those same range of emotions whilst we recap the past twelve months before anticipating the ones ahead.

Our pot of 2017, which bubbles away on the stove whilst we prepare to pop the cork of 2018, is bound to consist of the same ingredients as ever, just in different quantities, perhaps.  No doubt there’ll be a few spoonfuls of personal achievement, several slices of regret, a bit of cringe purée and some handfuls of frustration, as well as whatever else you decided to throw in this year to spice up the recipe.

These recollections serve as a good time to sit back and take stock of everything.  You will naturally ask yourself whether or not you enjoyed this year, and in doing so replay the happiest and the most challenging times that you experienced.  From those, you may find it easy to say whether or not you’ve had a “good year”, but perhaps just as importantly, you might ask yourself what you have learnt.  What lessons will you take forward to make the next year, an even better one?!

When I was about fourteen years old, the internet – and by default instant messaging programs – were just taking off.  The importance of completing Biology homework was suddenly rivaled in priority by deciding what font to best represent yourself with on MSN Messenger (I eventually settled on bold orange Trebuchet, after a lot of soul-searching and experimenting with other styles and hues, none of which ultimately felt right).  Of equal importance to this, of course, was your selected username.  For most, these were usually the self-deprecating lyrics of some nu-age metal band; for others, a range of lip-kissing emojis and asterisks (*)(*)(*) – input here for nostalgic effect).  Every now and then, though, somebody might present an inspirational quote, something which nowadays we see everywhere and take for granted, but which back then were a little more unusual to see…

It was the Danish nineteenth century philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, who originally observed that, “Life can only be understand backwards, but must be lived forwards”.  The first time I saw that quote it was as the selected username of a contact on MSN Messenger, some random girl from school (everybody added everybody back then).  I really didn’t think much of the quote at first, but something about it stood out, and with each passing year, the greater the appreciation I have that there’s some semblance of truth within it.  No matter how well we are taught during infancy and our younger years, we only really learn about life with experience.  It’s only through trying things out that we can begin to understand who we are, how we work, and what the big wide world is truly about.  And I don’t for a moment believe that we will ever really stop that learning, because all the whilst the rest of the world around us is changing, so are we.

The lessons I learnt in 2017 will be different to those of everybody else, but regardless, I think that it’s good to share these with one another.  We can learn a lot about life just by understanding what’s going on in everybody else’s worlds, and how they choose to deal with it.

1. If You Really Want It – Keep Moving for It!

In 2017, I achieved a couple of things – huge to me – which took a lot of hard work and patience to get.  A Triathlon was a classic example; I have never been a person synonymous with sport, I even got rejected from the Ultimate Frisbee club at Lancaster Uni because in the trials I couldn’t demonstrate that I knew how to throw the damn thing; so in signing up for a challenge which would comprise of a whole day’s relentless exercise I knew that I would either succeed or – most likely – be an embarrassing wreck of a failure.  I was so convinced by the visual of the latter, that I became even more determined not to fail.  So, with the help of the nice man at the gym I set a training plan and stuck to it.  For over a year, exercise was central to the calendar of the girl who had never really set foot in a gym beforehand; and the ultimate result was that I completed the Triathlon perfectly fine.

The secret? I just kept going.  There were many occasions when I was tempted to abandon my scheduled bike-rides or gym trips, but I knew that if I did so I ran the danger of lulling into the bad habits of my former laze of a self.  So, I just put one foot in front of the other repeatedly, until I was twenty miles away on a bike, with no choice but to cycle another twenty miles back.

I am not intending for this to read as a ‘yay for me’ post.  Yes, I am proud of myself, but I am also aware that people complete athletic feats like this all the time, many of which eclipse my own.  I’m sharing this only because I want anybody who is reading this who perhaps feel that their own ambitions are beyond reach, to know that they are not.  If I can complete a Triathlon, you could probably open up a gin bar on Mars if you wished to.

In knowing what you want to achieve, you have taken the first step towards it.  Now, you just need to take the next one.  And the next.  And the next. And you need to keep on taking those, regardless of the voices within that may tell you otherwise, until finally you’re there.  Just keep moving.

2. Silence the Questions, Thrive in the Reality

Perhaps a more personal one here, but one that may resonate with others.

I learnt that I am done with wondering ‘what if’, as is so tempting to do all too often.  I don’t want to waste any more time considering whether or not to do the particular things I’m inclined to do in fear of the range of impacts they might have.  A little rationality to prevent us making silly mistakes? Sure.  But sometimes… in fact… increasingly often… I have discovered it far better to know and to deal than to ponder and avoid.

I think most of us, generally, are far better at dealing with the things we’re aware of than the things we’re not.  It’s the not-knowing, and the questions, that tend to give us the biggest headaches, cause the most anxiety, and waste the most of our precious time.  So it’s time to take that step out for good.

Much like if somebody gives us their opinion on something we have said or done that they disapproved of, it may not always make for the nicest hearing, but it at least enables a sense of trust in what that person has to say.  If they then reassure you that your new outfit doesn’t make you look like a jammy dodger you can cut out that period of worrying that they’re just being polite, because they’ve already demonstrated they’re not afraid of being honest with you.

In life you can only really find things out by seeing them for yourself.  And I would far rather do whatever it is I feel like doing, and learn from the experience – even if it doesn’t result in the kind of outcomes I thought I was after – than sit and wonder ‘what if?’ forever.

So in 2018 it’s time to think much less, do much more.

3.  Reach Out; Keep Connected

This was not a new lesson for 2017, but rather an annual e-Learning refresher course of sorts.

Going back to Kierkegaard’s sentiment about understanding life retrospectively; back when I was teenager I was extremely fortunate to have pretty much the same people around me for years and years.  Perhaps the biggest change might have been that somebody would move to a street on a different side of town, or that my best-friend would move up a set in German meaning that I no longer had a buddy to share forbidden snacks with under the table (we’d have to indulge at recess instead).  The everyday company was consistent, and that was welcome in so many ways that I perhaps didn’t even realise back then.

“When we all leave here tomorrow, we’ll just be a bunch of lights scattered around the UK”, said my good friend, mawkishly, after several glasses of wine (and probably a few shots of sambuca), on the last night of University, a few years later, before we all left that little town in the North-West that was to brand itself into all our hearts permanently.  We had lived in each others’ pockets for a whole three years, but it was now time to disperse, and until she made those comments, I don’t think I had ever really appreciated how nice it had been – nor how lucky I was – to have had that consistency each day.

In adulthood, I struggle to think of any recent years in which the people I feel closest to or see the most of haven’t physically moved around.  People are moving in and out of this neck of the woods all the time, re-settling here, there and everywhere until before you know it you’re visiting old friends in new UK towns, and meeting up with new friends in the trusted old surroundings of your local pub.  We may move around ourselves too, or change jobs, or meet new people that introduce us to other new people, who introduce us to other new people, and so on.  It’s nice to meet new people, but any change that involves saying goodbye is still hard.

It’s life; and to some extent it’s what happens, but the saddest thing would be to let so much change turn the vision of a loved one’s face from colour to sepia print before you’ve even realised (to put it in an unashamedly maudlin, Birds of a Feather opening theme-esque way.)

This year I have remembered why it’s important to reach out to those you haven’t spoken to in a while, keep connected, know what’s going on in their world.  Don’t be idle, and let the people you quite like having in your present end up in your past.  And if that does happen, be reassured that you can easily bring them back with just one small message, so send it.

It’s not the newest lesson, but it’s probably one of the most important.

Wishing you all a wonderful 2018.

Song of the Day:   Suburban Kids with Biblical Names – Do It All or Don’t Do it All

Suburban Kids with Biblical Names were a sweet little Swedish twee-pop band that churned out a number of classics in the ‘00s, when the genre saw a resurgence of popularity.  I have recently started listening to them again; and this is one of my favourites:

Melburnian Coffee

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To tell you the name of this street would be ruining it for the both of us, not that I even know its name, mind.  I suppose I could take a look for a sign of some sorts, but there’s a special feel to this place that makes the thought of turning it into just another thing we can reference on the internet somewhat unappetising.  I’m not sure I want this location to be something else we can process and place into a systematic order of some mundane variety, like a map…

…So let’s just leave the context as a tiny back street in central Melbourne which is decorated in a range of interesting graffiti and art, not far from the prominent Flinders Street.  I discovered it accidentally whilst trying to find a sweet looking spot for some coffee, and am now sat on a wonky stool on the pavement with my notebook out.  Perfecto.

Nosing at the graffiti it begins to stagger me how when it comes to street art like this, we seldom see it until it’s complete.  Until it’s done.  Finished. We are left wondering who imprinted these images upon these walls, and what thoughts were going through their minds when they decided that they wanted to put them here?  What are the messages they were trying to get across to those passers by, and those who wanted to sit on the other side of the road drinking coffee?

Just as I find myself starting to get a bit deep, I’m distracted by the overwhelming smell of cardamom.  In this particular moment it comes across as an unmistakable sign of being abroad, much like how the skies over the CBD match the metallic greys of the skyscrapers which penetrate its landscape, yet the air remains so hot and humid.  Typical Southern hemisphere city.

The Hispanic cafe owner approaches my table and pierces the bubble of solitude that has encased me for the past hour whilst I’ve been lost in my notebook by serving up a warm pastry and explaining that it’s on the house.  Time alone in a city comprises of a staggered sequence of the briefest of interactions, to the point where they become the subject of a closer focus.  This was one of today’s more pleasant ones. Earlier on, whilst walking north along Swanston Street, a lady had tapped me on the shoulder to tell me that my dress was tucked up at the back.  Mortified, all I could think to do was stutter out the fastest of thank you’s, avoid eye contact, and fixate madly upon a menu on display in the window of a nearby dim sum cafe in an attempt to hide my face and compose myself.  Why do these things always happen when we’re alone!

That said, I doubt anybody really noticed or cared anyway.  That’s the mistake that we’re all guilty of making sometimes.  We assume that we attract an audience whenever we slip up but the truth is that everybody’s probably too busy dealing with their own dramas to even have seen, let alone care.  People are too busy thinking about what to have for dinner, or the wording they should use in a text message they’re apprehensive about sending.

The older I become the more I understand that worrying about what others think is a bit like having a vaccination to protect you from contracting a disease.  A shot of Hepatitis into our system will help our immune system to fight off a more prolific onslaught of the stuff, should we become infected.  A small fragment of worrying about what people think helps us to become self-aware and identify the impact our actions can have on others, and that’s a very valuable thing, but if you worry too much, it can be pretty dangerous.

As I think about this, the street art catches my eye again, and I find myself considering these mystery artists with even more respect than I did when I first set foot down this street and admired the talents on display.

This recollection, over coffee, of the time I unknowingly flashed the people of Melbourne because my dress had caught onto my bag suddenly seems to be not too dissimilar to the time when these artists imprinted their hearts and souls onto a brick wall here in the city centre, on display for a thousand sets of eyes to cast judgment upon.  In the act of expressing themselves, they knew that a lot of people would love their work.  They also knew a lot of people would hate it and, most certainly, they knew that not everybody would understand it in the way it was intended.  But, there the images are anyway, unable to conceal themselves in the window of a dim sum restaurant in the event of shame, unlike me.

And the other beauty?  Everybody will find a different meaning within these images, and everybody will have their own personal favourite.  Everybody will walk away thinking about what they’ve been looking at and considering the messages within…

A lady with a big yellow umbrella leads a group of tourists around a corner and into the street.  “And so this street is….” she begins to explain.  I close my ears because I don’t want to hear.

Sometimes it’s nice to just not know.

It’s time to go and meet my friend at the station.

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Song of the Day: Amanda Palmer – Map of Tasmania

Amanda Palmer is best known for being the front lady for the Dresden Dolls, but as part of her solo work she produced an entire album of songs about Australia.  This is my favourite.  For many months I genuinely thought this was a song about her fondness for a navigational device.  It’s not.  At all.  See if you get it quicker than I did…

Airport Romance

There are a lot of things I dislike about airports, and they mostly oscillate around the concept of waiting.  

Waiting to drop off a bunch of heavy, cumbersome baggage that’s been grazing against your palms for hours during the preliminary parts of the journey. Waiting for your plastic tray of personal gear to catch up with you when passing through security. Waiting for the relevant gate to be listed on those otherwise clinical-looking departure boards.   Waiting for the attendant to call out your designated seating area so that you can finally board the only thing you came here for. Waiting to take off.  Waiting for the in-flight pretzels. Waiting for the air hostesses to finish pushing their trolleys to the other end of the aisle so you can finally get to the loo and relieve yourself of the complimentary Pinot Grigio and one too many coffees.  Waiting for landing. Waiting to wait through whatever processes come on the other side…

…But then there are also a lot of things I love about airports, and I’m not just talking about the inevitable excitement that comes from taking a holiday abroad.

I like airports because, to me, they compress the concept of globalisation into one single premise and make you feel like a citizen of the world, rather than of a single town or country.  Every day, any international airport will press its fingertips against those of multiple others, connecting countries that may otherwise feel much more distant; and that alone produces an emotional intensity so easily felt within the confines of the terminal.

For starters, airports surpass any time zone.  You might arrive into London at 3am, and in the cold, fresh light of the Big Smoke, Wetherspoons and Nandos may have firmly shut their doors for the night, but at the likes of LGW you are more than welcome to order yourself a bunch of chicken wings or a half pint of lager and act like the day is still young.  To one of the planes currently making its way into the airport, it’s still the middle of the afternoon right now.  If somewhere in the world lives, then so does the airport, no matter what its coordinates.

Then there’s the fact that an international airport amasses the smallest of spaces into which people from all over the globe may enter.  Take London Heathrow, for example.  The airport itself takes up a space of only 8 miles squared, yet it’s the predominant server of an island which is 93,627 square miles squared.  That’s 0.008 percent of the UK’s land that acts as the most major gateway for the rest of the world who wish to enter it.  This essentially means that within that small, tiny space that may otherwise cause so much frustration due to the extent of waiting, you’re also experiencing the wonder of dancing around in that narrow stem of a much wider funnel; a stem that enables familiarity, and camaraderie, with people from a wider range of cultures and customs.  No matter your native tongue or culture, you can all share a mutual frustration when take-off is delayed, or gasp in unison should the jet traverse through a rocky turbulence that takes you all by surprise.

I also like the fact that when you sit and eat dinner at an airport, your neighbouring diners are making plans that involve up to 200 different countries.  The couple next door are looking up Amsterdam hotels on TripAdvisor whilst the guy behind you speaks in Arabic on a video call.  A small, fractious child runs between the tables clutching onto a Spanish storybook, shouting words you don’t understand, at her parents.  Aussie backpackers congregate around a set of USB ports and upload the latest in their photos of a round-the-world trip to Facebook.  You may be sat considering your own trip, your own nearest and dearest… your day job… your life admin… but yet you, too, are one of those strangers that represent your own small corner of the globe, no matter how obscure it seems against those listed on the A-List departure boards that surround you.

The most interesting parts of the World are those we don’t necessarily see when flicking through guidebooks or browsing the internet.  It’s not about the perfected images of the biggest skyscrapers, the most prosperous cities, or the luxury islands.  Instead, it’s about the lights on at 11pm in the bedroom windows of suburban street houses, the rubbish spilling over the tops of dustbins, the queues at the supermarket checkouts, and the excited teenagers trying on mascara in the shopping malls.  It’s about the activity that takes place behind – or beneath – the picture perfect imagery… and the airport encapsulates all of the above, and more.

I’ve yet to focus on the most notable bit.  The bit that truly pulsates through my veins when I’m hanging around at an airport.  That is, the raw emotion of those hellos and goodbyes that reverberate around airport halls in a wide range of vernaculars. Statements like “I love you” , “I’ll miss you” animatedly expressed in every language within just eight square miles of a single country.

A billion stories behind every statement.

A billion stories that found their way into that narrow stem of global symbolism.

A billion stories being narrated in front of the entire world.

Or so it seems.

So it feels.

This is airport romance.  And any passenger can access it.

Song of the Day:  Deer Tick – Card House  

One of the newest country-rock offerings from Rhode Island band, Deer Tick.  This isn’t normally the kind of music I listen to but there’s something really endearing and addictive about this song.  In addition the new album(s) include several pieces of music that have blown me away, including Pulse, Me and My Man, and End of the World.  Highly recommended.