Monday, November 14, 2011

Georgian Jauntings

One day last week saw me transported to an Eighteenth-century simple life of country ramblings and fresh air: a lot like the characters of the classic book of the same period that I was reading. 

I’ve struggled with it over the last couple of months, reading little paragraph by distracted paragraph. Bit. By. Bit. But, I finally finished Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. Probably the worst claim an English literature graduate could ever make. All I needed was a good couple days off work. I got my love of reading back at 8am each blue-skied morning, lazing around still wrapped up in my duvet engrossed in Austen. I finally know what all the fuss about this Mr. Darcey is, and yes, I loved the romance, and I loved the book. Worth the slog.

Similarly well worth the slog was the National Trust’s Bath Skyline walk, the 7km circular route that me and my mum tackled on the same crisp and cloudless day. I say 7km: we did about half of it, starting on North Road and ending up in Prior Park. There were multimillion pound Bath limestone houses all framed in firey Autumn colours. It was also hilly and muddy. I’ve been to Bath a lot but I have never seen the city from this high perspective before. Here’s to reading new old books and old new walks.

All photographs by me.

 “How beautifully leaves grow old..." John Burroughs

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Retro Green - Eco friendly 'oma' style

My late German grandmother was 'green' before I could even say the word, well before I was even born, and most definitely long before it came - along with 'eco' - the buzzword of the 21st century. And it certainly wasn't a conscious effort of her tabard-clad self to be seen as being eco-friendly.

My nan was however - even despite her inspiring effort to be resourceful - part of a massive crowd. Without generalising, it really seemed like the whole of Germany was equally as keen to be practical, economical and assert simple common sense. As a country, it always seemed to be miles ahead of England in their recycling culture. 

Indeed, Germany was one of the first countries to introduce a container deposit legislation, or ‘pfand’, whereby single use containers such as cans, glass, and plastic are bought with a deposit charge. If taken back to recycling centre then you can reclaim your deposit: 0.25. That's a little, but it amounts to a lot. Just as my Austrian ski bum seasonaire friends found out when they cleared their tepid flat out of hundreds of beer bottles and made a nice tidy sum.

Living off a paltry minimum internship wage and scrimping every which way I can just to save a few pence has really taken me back to my mum and nan’s daily routine when we stayed in her big farm house in Germany. I scold myself now for being embarrassed of my mum, and her mum, for going about their ‘strange’ habits. It wasn’t in my Nan’s nature to waste anything and only now do I understand that it wasn’t embarrassing or strange at all. They were doing it to save money. This in turn happened to be ecological. And all the while they were bloody cool for doing it.

Being eco-friendly 'oma' (that's nan in German) style

Catching water
My oma went to extreme lengths to catch any rainwater that fell by lining the house with millions of buckets, containers and watering cans, so she could water her plans during the baking summer season. A garden water butt might be a better option. In a country that famously moans about the amount of rain we get, do we really need to use our hoses as much as we do? On a smaller scale you can turn the tap of when brushing your teeth.

Keep your left-overs
It actually upsets me to think about the amount of food which is thrown away. Not only for the absolute physical waste, but for the fact that a lot of supermarket items have racked up some serious gold standard air miles. Most left-over’s taste even better reheated the next day and save you cooking up yet another meal after a long day.  Spare vegetables added to any meal. Potatoes, in true Bavarian style, can be fried up again and taste great with bacon, onions, eggs and seasoning. Even little things like oil left in olive pots can be used as an infused oil when cooking. If you’re food is going off still wrapped in its cellophane packaging, stop buying so much!

Any food waste can be kept for the compost heap and your garden will thank you by looking great. Egg shells are particularly known for providing a good source of nutrients for unfertile soil. If you don’t have a garden you don’t have to bin your food. Order a free brown food waste bin from your local council for any food waste: meat, raw food and tea bags included. Find out more about this and recycling in your local area by visiting:

And finally…
"If it's yellow, let it mellow,
…flush it down, if it’s…"
This doesn’t need explaining does it?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Life is Life

Kahlil Gibran writes the most beautiful words. I was given him on a tiny piece of folded up paper on my travels, and I now keep it folded up inside my locket which hangs around my neck close to my heart. I remind myself of his words in times of need. When your heart gets broken. Or, when bleary eyed in the morning and that box of cereal falls and spills out all over the kitchen floor, scattering in a hundred million directions when you’re already running late. Sometimes they are both the same. When I think that I am having a rubbish week I remind myself that life isn’t rubbish at all. It is just life being life, playing out exactly how it is supposed to be. Sweep up the mess and carry on.

Kahlil Gibran writes:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that hold your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”

But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.

Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.

When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or sorrow rise or fall.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be

The best gifts I have received recently have been books passed on from special people. Books which touch and affect you in a certain way, and make you want to pick up the giver in a big squeeze of thankfulness for being kind enough to think of you and pass it on.

‘It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be’ is Paul Arden’s mini wonder book about making the most of yourself. As the sub-line says, it’s ‘The World’s Best Selling Book’, and that is exactly the author’s case in point. Although written for those in the creative industry it applies amazing well to life in general by being full of positive advice that you already knew deep down, but had somehow lost along the way.

“Do not covet your ideas. Give away everything you know, and more will come back to you… Ideas are open knowledge. Don’t claim ownership. They are not your ideas anyway, they’re someone else’s. They are out there floating by on the ether. You just have to put yourself in a frame of mind to pick them up.”

People are always anxious to be doing the right thing (whatever that is anyway!). One of the most important ideas to take away from the book is to avoid looking back into the past; we should always be concentrating on the now. Sometimes it’s hard not to look back into the past wondering ‘I shoulda, coulda, woulda’ (cannot express more thanks to little Eds for that one). Equally as hard is not to have some kind of outlook for the future. 

But worrying is futile; what does it achieve, apart from a splitting migraine? Worried about a future job? Concentrate on doing things now that can get you there: don’t think “We’ll make the next [job] good. Whatever is on your desk now, that’s the one. Make it the best you possibly can.” As Arden also says: “Being wrong isn’t anywhere but being here. Best place to be eh?” As a self confessed worrier, I have found this to be the best piece of advice to soothe a worried soul and it rings true with another book, ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle, which preaches similar ideas.

As with life and all advice, we have to negotiate a myriad of contradictions. But life isn't supposed to be easy: "Failures and false starts are a precondition of success". Arden, regarded as the top dog in the field of advertising before his death in 2008, was himself fired five times. 

As a book that can be easily read in a single hour sitting, Arden encourages us to aim for our highest goal. If a stranger and a piece of work can remind me to try my best and quit worrying in less than an hour then I hope to pass this book on to the next special person.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Concrete Circus

Too often lately, I’ve been reduced to banging my head on the coffee table as I’m forced to watch another episode of (insert one of the following here), Jeremy Kyle, Jersey Shore, X-Factor, Holyoaks, as I ‘catch up’ with friends. Just when I’m about to throw the remote across the living room in a rage about the feces on TV, I stumble onto a programme like this and my faith is instantly restored. 

Channel 4’s documentary ‘Concrete Circus’ aired last Monday and showcased some of the world’s best up and coming urban sport stars who have teamed up with four uber-talened film makers (Stu Thomson, Brett Novak, Claudiu Voicu, Kendy Ty). The result of this artistic combination? Jaw dropping, awe inspiring footage and editing which is both a thrill and joy to watch.

Recent news has been stuffed full of the sickening ignorance of those participating in the London riots. Commentators and young rioters themselves have been quick to jump on the band wagon by complaining that today’s ‘yoof’ are bored out their minds; trapped in an ugly urban landscape which has nothing to offer them. This documentary is living proof that you CAN make the most of whatever environment you are born and brought up in and not all hoody wearing adolescents are looting yobs.

While social commentators have attacked the internet and social networking sites as stoking the flames of the London riots, pro BMXer Keelan Phillips is one of the many urbanites from Leicester who is riding on the international success of his YouTube footage. Danny MacAskill, on the other hand, born and bred on the Isle of Skye (population 10,000), has gone from the un-concreted, picturesque jagged backdrop of the Inner Hebredes to one of the world’s top BMX riders.

If anyone else was shocked to hear about the BBC’s decision to broadcast a radio programme under the heading “Is there a problem with young black men?” following last week riots, then Paul Joseph, the professional Parkour or free-runner, would be the young black antithesis of this. Joseph’s performance (these are, after all, creative displays) are seemingly unreal, as he twists and turns through London’s concrete maze. If there was one critique to be made with director Voicu’s film in which Joseph appears, it would be that the dark and violent undertones of gang culture sit uncomfortably in the post-London Riot context it will now be watched in.

These young directors and sports stars have heaps of raw creative talent, and are articulate even whilst donning hoodies, god forbid. OK, so we can’t all become professional skaters or free runners, but this documentary definitely inspires to get out there and make the most of whatever you have got. Check out Stu Thomson’s earthy ‘Industrial Revolutions’ featuring Danny MacAskill below. (Beautiful music by Ben Howard, who, incidentally, rocked out this Saturday at the Boardmasters Festival in Newquay and made our weekend.)

Watch the whole documentary on 4OD:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

'Cat's Dream' Pablo Neruda

How neatly a cat sleeps,
Sleeps with its paws and its posture,
Sleeps with its wicked claws,
And with its unfeeling blood,
Sleeps with ALL the rings a series
Of burnt circles which have formed
The odd geology of its sand-colored tail.

I should like to sleep like a cat,
With all the fur of time,
With a tongue rough as flint,
With the dry sex of fire and
After speaking to no one,
Stretch myself over the world,
Over roofs and landscapes,
With a passionate desire
To hunt the rats in my dreams.

I have seen how the cat asleep
Would undulate, how the night flowed
Through it like dark water and at times,
It was going to fall or possibly
Plunge into the bare deserted snowdrifts.
Sometimes it grew so much in sleep
Like a tiger’s great-grandfather,
And would leap in the darkness over
Rooftops, clouds and volcanoes.

Sleep, sleep cat of the night with
Episcopal ceremony and your stone-carved moustache.
Take care of all our dreams
Control the obscurity
Of our slumbering prowess
With your relentless HEART
And the great ruff of your tail.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Eulogy For Our Home.

Our old house. The things it had seen. The ups, the downs, the laughter, the tears, the arguments, the break-ups, the make-ups. Who knew that one could form such a close attachment to a pile of bricks and mortar? 

But of course, houses become much more than that. So much so, that they become more than part of our lives but part of the family. Throughout life’s adventures, there has always been one solid, silent structure which can offer support. They require the same love and attention as any other child, not to mention the same seemingly bottomless monetary needs. Similarly, they must endure the same torment and abuse that rival siblings dish out on each other. While my mother did her best to ruin my 5 year old reputation by decking me out in stripy braces and bowl-cut bobs, our house was fitted with epileptic inducing carpets (yes Mum, I’m sure any pattern resembling a collision of 80’s acidic colours and Aztec designs will hide a multitude of stains). And wow, the faded beige Formica fixtures and the infamous brown bathroom carpet. Carpet. And bathroom. God knows what sins that carpet concealed.

And yet, I fear that many people may underestimate the connection between occupant and house. I have lived in the same house for the first 24 years of my life. Indeed, I may never live in another house for as long ever again. For despite all of its shortcomings, it was that uniquely familiar, musty, lived-in smell as I returned home from many travels away that immediately reassured me: ‘I’m home.’ It was the smell of the richest, red wine gravy on the perfect Sunday roast. 

I knew my way around it inside and out. Blindfolded. Knew which slight movement the bent key needed to open the front door. Knew how to perfectly reverse my car around the blind-bend driveway to impress the new boyfriend. Knew exactly what pressure the kitchen tap needed, and could always rely on the friends who didn’t to drench themselves. Knew, in the middle of the night how many tentative steps it was to the sock drawer to warm my numb feet. I always knew, that it was always there.

It came as no shock when after years of blood, sweat and tears my father finally packed in the family business. I didn’t even bat an eyelid when the parents said they wanted to sell up and move abroad. Cheap holidays in the Algarve. Perfect. The house was duly pepped up, packed up and sold within 6 months.

Then, it slowly dawned. I had packed up nearly a quarter of a century of memories. I reluctantly said goodbye to the same elderly neighbours whom we once feared when we snuck into their gardens to retrieve our lost tennis balls. It was only when I stood in the empty doorway of our house and stared at squares of discoloured wallpaper where family photographs had hung, that it finally hit home; this wasn’t home anymore. I shed a tear as a door to my past closed. It felt like, no it was, the end of an era.

Having the carpet literally ripped up from underneath me resulted in a restless and uncertain six months. Uprooted, misplaced and with no base to return to, I felt like a complete lost soul. At the same time however, as I sofa hopped from one friend to the next with one bag of clothes, there was the realisation that I didn’t need half the things that I once considered fundamental to feeling at ‘home’, or even just to live a day-to-day life. Most of the belongings and objects were clutter that I could do without.

Cornwall being the beautiful although often more than uncomfortable Royston Vasey-esque place it is, it turned out I knew the family that moved into my old home; the boyfriend’s family of my childhood friend who once lived two doors down in the very same street. I stopped by one day and stood uncomfortably as I rung the door bell as a stranger, and not as a daughter who had, once again, locked herself out. It was so surreal walking into that same but different hallway. I felt dizzy. I had to stop myself asking why they had hung that god awful clock on the wall forgetting for that split second that I no longer lived there. Different faces but contented smiles beamed down from new family photographs that lined the walls. Kids giggled and ran riot in the garden outside just as me and my brother used to. There was the consolation that my home had gone to a good home. And that home smell. It was no longer there. My home had transformed into just another house, but into someone else’s home.

As I stepped off the plane in Portugal on my first visit to the new family abode the heat smacked my face with an air of the unknown. I had mourned the old house, but now was impatiently excited to see the new home. How uncanny to see the familiar of all our old furniture from England in new and clean surroundings. Not a brown carpet in sight (although there were a few new Aztec print mats). I even quietly gave a sigh of relief when I saw all my pointless clutter in my new room. But something still just didn’t feel right.

When my brother arrived a few days later everything slotted into place. It made perfect sense. With the family all back together, the house now felt like home. I learnt that home, most definitely, is where the heart is. The white washed walls of the new house suddenly became our new home: a blank canvas in which to paint the next twenty five years of memories.