REVISITING THE YELLOW SQUARE OF HOPE

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Song of the Day: Weezer – Say It Aint So

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

KAYAKS & KINDNESS: breakfast in wales

A celestial-sounding melody echoed around the dark hostel room as rain pattered relentlessly against the window. As the phone from which the sound was coming vibrated against a vinyl floor, sleepy eyes widened to see a square of black glass, peppered with raindrops and the silhouette of the mountains of Snowdonia.

We are in Llanberis, North Wales, at 5.30am one Tuesday in August, 2021.

My friend and I had set our alarms with the intention to take a sunrise kayak trip across Llyn Padarn, a breathtaking, glacially formed lake which stretches two miles in length and twenty nine metres in depth at the foot of a host of rocky peaks, Mount Snowdon being the most famous.

However, a combination of Samsung’s contemporary cock-a-doodle-doo and the prospect of getting completely drenched was enough to make us reconsider the idea we had conjured whilst basking in the heat of the previous afternoon. But, if the last couple of years have taught anyone anything, it’s that you have to do these things when you get the chance. There haven’t been many opportunities to wake up away from home in the past year, and if you postponed all of your plans until the arrival of better weather you’d barely do a thing.

So there we stood, a few minutes later, shivering hands stoically inflating our kayak by the side of the lake. The skies were fading from black to a watery, charcoal grey and there was absolutely nobody else about, beyond a lone swimmer who offered us a chirpy greeting about having the lake to ourselves as she stepped out into the water and started gliding about contentedly.

By the time we were out on the water the sky had turned into a sheet of off-white wool and there was just enough daylight to make out the mountains behind the clouds. We paddled in a southeasterly direction, taking in stunning views of Snowdon behind the thirteenth century ruins of Dolbadarn Castle. To our left were a cluster of features symbolic of Welsh heritage and history: the National Slate Museum, the Llanberis Lake Railway, and the former Miners’ hospital building. With virtually the whole of this impressive body of water to ourselves, and so much around us to see, the early start had gifted us the kind of mentally energising experience which can completely shift internal paradigms and conjure new dreams. I want to do this every morning, and just who exactly says that I can’t?

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We savoured this moment for as long as we could though it was only a matter of time before the weather caught up with us. It was a beautiful morning but it was also extremely cold, and the water – whilst calm in its demeanour – had managed to find its way into our shoes and soak our clothes. Teeth were beginning to chatter. Fingers were starting to freeze. Minds were being seduced by the thoughts of warm hot chocolates and cooked breakfasts. It was time to get out, and shiver on the banks for thirty minutes whilst waiting for the kayak to be deflated enough to fold into the boot. Maybe I shouldn’t do this every morning. Or maybe I wear ten fleeces, boxing gloves, and a spacesuit next time!

After what was the quickest turnaround ever back at the hostel to get changed (nothing challenges the concept of time like the prospect of a massive hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows) we were stood on the pavement in the rain forming the queue for the cafe, Pete’s Eats. Each of the tables inside were occupied and we were still in a pandemic, so “budging up” could not be a thing in this instance. I watched through the window and willed the diners to eat up quickly, though my friend had assured me that it would be worth the wait, and she was right.

Behind us in the queue stood a man with his young son, discussing what they were going to eat. The rain was falling faster at this point, and whilst it seemed a sauna in comparison to shivering on the banks a short while earlier, it was still bitterly cold. I kept thinking about swirling my spoon round a receptacle of molten chocolate, and how the marshmallows would melt into a fluffy goo that would ooze down my throat and radiate heat round my icy insides. As transfixed as a dog by a bone I watched a pair of diners finally stand and take their jackets from the back of their seats, and when the waitress simultaneously approached the door we knew our turn had finally come. The newly vacant – and only available – table sat six, and it made no sense for just the two of us to occupy it, so we invited the man and his young son to get out of the rain and join us.

The breakfast exceeded expectation, and neither of us held back. After the early start, the freezing temperatures and all that paddling, we deserved our massive hot chocolates and our morning feasts. Whilst eating we started engaging in a fascinating conversation with the man. He explained how they were traveling around North Wales in a camper van with uncomfortable seating, reliving his childhood holidays and giving his son an experience to remember. He also shared with us his voluntary work rescuing chickens and the values behind it, an incredibly eye opening conversation about an issue I had known very little about before we met. As we chatted and chatted, his son contentedly dined quietly on his toast. The pair of them consumed very little compared to us, and were gone within about thirty minutes, bidding us goodbye and wishing us a nice day as they put on their jackets and walked back out into the rain, back to their van and back to South Wales. My friend and I remarked about what a nice pair of people they were. The inspiring, kind-hearted man. His well behaved young son, who just let us chat, no screaming, no fuss.

We stayed in the cafe nursing our warm mugs for a little longer to bring our fingers back from the dead, then motioned the waitress over to pay for our banquet breakfast. She seemed a little stuck for words:

“Erm, well actually, there’s no need. That man who was at your table. He paid for you.”
“What? All of it?”
“Yes. All of it…he said he enjoyed the -“ (unfortunately we’ll never know exactly what, as her vocals were doing battle against the clattering of cutlery in the background at this point, but it’s fair to guess that dining with us had obviously not been the worst experience in the world).

Now it was our turn to be stuck for a words! But why? We had ordered so much more than them. We didn’t even know their names. We thought back to the moment the man had gone to pay for his bill. He had gone up to the counter, outside of our earshot, obviously not wanting us to know what he was doing. He clearly wasn’t after praise or anything in return; he knew he’d be long gone by the time we found out about his gracious act. He knew that we would never be able to contact him to say thank you, or identify him as a hero.

He was just genuinely, purely and beautifully kind. And after eighteen hard months of this pandemic, during which as a society we have seen some of the worst examples of human behaviour ever and been challenged in ways beyond comprehension, these acts of genuine kindness mean so much more than they ever would before. This was about way more than saving fifteen quid each, it was about just knowing that people like that exist, people who infuse the mantra to “be kind” into the world around them not just by posting those couple of words online to look good but actually by being kind. If I ever happened to meet this man again, I would thank him for that first and foremost, and then I would thank him for the breakfast.

We were still speechless as we returned to the car and looked out over Llyn Padarn again, taking in the same stunning views as the morning but this time appreciating the warmth of the heater and human kindness. Not every stranger we share a table with in life will pay for our meals, in fact the vast majority won’t. The vast majority might even snap at us to move, scrape their cutlery loudly against their plates, constantly curse, or use the last of the ketchup before it’s our turn.

But it’s not always about the vast majority, and a majority is still not everybody. The most inspiring and memorable people you will come across in life won’t always be those you have the most exposure to. They’ll often be the ones you encounter by chance, in tiny cafes in tiny towns on rainy days, strangers who aren’t after reciprocation, strangers who are just peaceful and kind, strangers who will always be strangers but who raised a smile and left an impression that you’re still thinking about several months later as you reflect back upon a year. Strangers who inspire a blog post.

Llanberis, North Wales, at 5.30am one Tuesday in August: the morning nature and kindness breathed optimism into the midst of a pandemic where it had so often seemed scant.

Little Things I Love Pt. 3

The other day, I was taking a sunny stroll along the Grand Union Canal when a family of ducks caught my eye and made me smile. I loved how fluffy the ducklings were – like five little buns gliding across the water – and how the mother managed to keep them alongside her as they ventured to a destination that presumably only she knew.

It’s been three years since I last published a “Little Things I Love” post, to follow on from the original, and so I think it’s time to write another – particularly after the past twelve months.

So, along with ducklings and the things already written about in 2016 and 2018, here are some more of the little things I love:


…The satisfying sound of a hoover whooshing up bits you couldn’t even see but will certainly feel better without…

…Discovering a new food which you think about for days and days after consuming for the first time…

…Being so engaged in something that you forget to look at your phone for a while…

…The smell of seaweed on days when you can feel the sun against your skin…

…Sunsets on the East Kent coast, a burning peach sinking into the sea…

…The first day of the year when it feels so warm you can just slip-on a dress and be fully clothed by free-flowing fabric…

…A buttery plate from where the spread has seeped through the crumpet…

…Staring competitions with sheep and lambs…

…People who manage to craft puns out of nowhere at all…

…Applying the ink from a brand new marker pen to flip-chart paper. A symbol of meaning business...

…Victorian-style lamp-posts. Generally…

…The smell of old, family photos and fond memories they trigger…

…Moments when you lose yourself in a good piece of music…

…Big, tall pine-trees and the smell of barbecues…

What are yours?

Song of the Day: Weezer – Aloo Gobi

This is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard from one of the best bands I’ve ever loved and if I had to pick one song to listen to for the rest of my life it would be this one, which is pretty funny when you understand the meaning behind the lyrics.

Day of Reflection

Today’s National Day of Reflection marks a year to the day that we sat nervously in front of our television screens to be confronted by the directive that would change our lives quite dramatically. An issue which had been bubbling away on the side for weeks was becoming increasingly vociferous, and with that evening’s press conference in March 2020, the switch was finally firmly pressed, and the lights went out in an instant.

The resounding message absorbed within the deafening silence which followed?

You can’t see your family or your friends until further notice, and no, there’s no time to just go back and fetch your jacket. Settle down and get comfy; you’ll be here a while.

I umm and ahh about how much I want to include in this post. I documented most of my thoughts here at the time, in order to refrain from turning totally insane during the period when the only people I spoke to face to face were dog-walkers or shop assistants. I think we’re all suffering from pandemic lethargy too much at the moment to really go over those things again; but one day, when we’re much less muddy and feeling more confidently in the clear, it’ll certainly be an interesting few months to reflect on.

However I think it’s important today to differentiate between the lockdown and the pandemic – hand in hand though they may be. A lot of us will think of this past year in terms of the myriad of effects on our day to day lives. We have missed out on so much, and it has been utterly heartbreaking at times, but I don’t actually think all of the effects of lockdown have been negative, and I will write about why another day.

For now though, for today, it’s about reflecting on and respecting the worst affected victims of this pandemic. The ones who don’t get to reflect back over the past year at all. The ones who were unable to live as fully as people should be able to, before they had to leave. The hundreds of thousands (or millions worldwide) of their relatives who lost somebody special this past year in the cruelest of ways, who couldn’t grieve in the way people need to, who couldn’t say goodbye or hold hands a final time, and who couldn’t feel the comforting hugs of friends and relatives as they mourned alone.

The other effects of this pandemic, heavy though they may have often felt, somehow also feel so light against this.

Thinking of everybody who has been affected in such a cruel way today, and wishing that each individual within the startling figure we have seen rapidly rise over the last twelve months, will be remembered as exactly that, an individual.

To Be A Cat in a Pandemic

This little fuzzy face has absolutely no idea that there’s a global pandemic happening at the moment.

She wouldn’t even know what a “pandemic” is, let alone any of the things that come with it:

Lockdown? Fine by me. I don’t really venture beyond the sofa or back garden anyway.

Isolation? Also fine. Can’t stand other cats. They make me hiss.

Furlough? Is that when my fluffy coat starts malting in the heat?

Vaccine? Ah… know of that one, sadly, but fortunately my next trip to the vets isn’t for a good while yet.

Stock-piling? Never heard of it. My servants take care of all of that sort of thing anyway and if I’m still hungry I can either stare at them long enough for them to question whether they’ve already fed me, or just catch another mouse or bird.

Why are all the human things looking so glum on the television? Why do I never get the house to myself anymore? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m loving all of the additional snuggles and cuddles, but in a year I’ve seldom had the opportunity to crawl across the kitchen worktops in the quest for any edible scraps. Anytime I try now I just get spotted quickly, and snapped at.

Strange times indeed. Better take the twentieth nap of the day. Had a great dream about a frog earlier. Hoping for something similar this time.

Pandemic? Purr.

The Tier 3 Party

And so, Kent – like many other parts of the country – falls into Tier 3. The strictest and tightest of them all.

To celebrate, I’m having a party. Sadly, you are not invited.

Nobody is.

I hope you can understand the position,
behind your unfortunate omission,
from a guestlist made up just of me…
But only one can attend the “Tier 3 Partee”.

It’s Bring Your Own Booze,
which means I get to choose,
from what’s already here,
wine and gin, but no beer.

But – hip hip hooray!
Faversham’s new Aldi opened today.
I can now stock up on snacks
and a dozen kayaks!

BUT OH NO!

They only sell two seaters,
between them less than two metres,
so I’ll just have to leave them ’til Spring,
along with pretty much everything!

At my Tier 3 party there’ll be a cake,
because in lockdown we’ve all learnt to bake,
but hundreds-and-thousands are banned
so it’ll taste a bit bland…

The cake will have several tiers
so it will last a couple of years,
because I can’t eat cake that quickly.
Indeed, I find too much quite sickly.

I will also be hosting some games,
but please don’t shoot me down in flames
just because I’ll always win.
The opposition is just a bit thin.

But the very best thing about this event?
Is that I won’t even realise I went,
‘Cos when the games are done and it’s time to head,
I’ll just roll down the hall to my very own bed.

No need to R.S.V.P

Love,

The Tier 3 Party





C-19 Internal Monologues Part 9: The Wobbling Bridge

Since I last wrote, life has started to feel a little more normal.

We are still in “lockdown”, but many of the restrictions have been eased.  Crucially, we are able to see our friends and families again, albeit at a distance, outdoors, and certainly not in large groups.  But still, that alone is a very valuable something.

The death toll has continued to grow, but is slowing.  For the most part, society seems to have accepted both the challenge – and the need – to be socially distanced, and this is helping.  Businesses and hospitality outlets are there for us once more and we each draw comfort from the familiarity of this.

The smell of pizza by Faversham Creek and the ability to take it home with you.

The technician booked in to come and do the repair.

It still remains tough for everybody, especially health workers; and leading on from my last post, I do not see fit to draw any kind of comparisons, or surmise that there is anyone out there who is not still battling against the pandemic in some way.  But here are my own personal thoughts and reflections, which may resonate with others.

It’s perhaps only now, when the lockdown – in its strictest form – is a thing of the past, that I realise how huge and how difficult those few weeks in March and April were.  Weeks without seeing anybody I love in the flesh at all.  Weeks when telling a random stranger in passing that he had a cute dog was the limit to the social interaction I had away from a screen.  When 8pm on a Thursday was a rare opportunity to see evidence of life outside the window.  When I felt naughty just for looking through my parents’ living room window whilst dropping off some items.  Weeks when I knew that no matter how hard I was finding it all; millions had it worse.  Weeks of feeling like I didn’t have the right to feel sad about any of it because of that.

In June, we might be able to see people again; but the problem hasn’t gone and neither has the emotional friction.  We still can’t go in to or stay in anybody’s homes that aren’t our own, so if your family and friends live hours away, which is the case for most people I know, this doesn’t really make a lot of difference. And unless your loved ones live either with you or within walking distance, that purifying cry, hug and bottle of wine (actually, sod it, make mine a Buckfast) which we want – and deserve  – to share with them will also have to wait.

And it’s because of things like this that the current time feels somewhat purgatorial: neither a beginning nor an end, but a wobbly drawbridge between the two, where we’re still very much afraid of falling off, and so are treading with caution.  Yes the end does now seem in sight, but by now we are all much the more weary from carrying our individual little suitcases of trauma to the point where our hands are really starting to hurt.  Many are bereaved.  Many are without jobs.  Many have seen their relationships fall apart under the pressure of lockdown.  Many are lonely.  And many others have just had way too much time to think.

And at a time when we are so much in need of coming together; we are learning – through incidents unrelated to the pandemic – how fractured we still are as communities and societies.

And that just makes this sad situation feel even sadder.

I still very much believe that there will be massive positives – globally- to come from the various struggles of 2020, which wouldn’t have been possible without them, but it feels far too early and uncomfortable to be looking at it that way just yet.  Nonetheless, it’s good to keep that in the back of our minds.

There has to be some good to come from this.

There will be some good to come from this.

Until then, I’ll be keeping myself occupied with good books, good music, online quizzes (becoming a pro – as are you – and her – and him – and them), YouTube videos about the twenty flavours of Pringles that I won’t believe exist…

…and dozens of air-hugs.

Song of the Day:  Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – Pure Cinema

Everything about this – the song, the lyrics, the video – is simply breathtaking.

 

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.