Time to think (37.2021)

This week, I have been concerned about wasps: the winged insect kind, not white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. They have built a nest in my neighbour’s roof. I don’t know how long they’ve been there but on the weekend I saw a lot of flying things caught in the sunlight over their roof while I was doing the washing up, and then I saw these flying creatures were coming in and out of gaps in the tiles on our neighbour’s roof. Wasps are not usually welcome creatures but I read up on them. I did not know that they are hunting insects – predators – and that actually pick away at garden bugs. But they are also stinging insects and in October when their child-wasp rearing duties are done they become grumpy and aggressive. I have a bee sting allergy – not sure if the same allergy is triggered by wasps – but I am anxious about getting attacked in the garden next month if the neighbours don’t do anything about it. (And we have informed them, and they don’t seem inclined to do anything about it.)

That said, our garden is full of spiders at the moment. Someone told me it’s spider breeding season, so I’m guessing these webs are full of lady spiders waiting for the man spiders to show up. Every time we try to leave the house we end up doing that special kind of dance you do when you walk into a spider’s web. Do spiders catch wasps? Unhappily, the wasps’ take-off and landing path does not lead them in the way of the spider webs in my garden.

This week I had a headache. So what, you say. People get headaches all the time, you say. Take an aspirin and get over it you say. I rarely get headaches and when I do I can usually identify the cause (dehydration, sitting awkwardly, drinking too much coffee, need an eye test, not enough sleep) but in this case none of the usual causes were to blame (I have been drinking lots of water, I did lots of neck and shoulder stretching, I haven’t had a coffee in days, I had an eye test in December, I’d been sleeping very heavily). And to make it worse, the headache lasted for several days, which is not typical for me either. I don’t usually medicate for headaches (because I don’t often get them and they typically don’t last long) but in this case I was reaching for asprin – and aspirin didn’t shift it. The only thing I found that helped was going out for a long night walk after taking an aspirin and something about that helped shift the aching for a day or two. But I think the ultimate source might be something postural as I went to take off my shirt yesterday and experienced a sharp pain in my neck from bending and twisting. Perhaps my body is experiencing a form of shock as my step count has dropped dramatically since our return from Madeira. Perhaps my body is trying to tell me it doesn’t like being still.

This week I prepared for International Book Club: Not just getting on with re-reading Wild, which I am doing, and enjoying, and trying to let the book wash over me and not re-imagine scenes from the movie in my mind with Reese Witherspoon’s face. This week I watched a webinar with Cheryl Strayed which I think was meant to be a promo for her new book but ended up being a long talk about Wild and about grief. I didn’t really pick up how much the book was about grief when I first read it. I know she was hit very hard by the death of her mother but I kind of missed that in the book. In the webinar she talked about the attraction of wild places to help you feel whole and that was part of her inspiration to do the walk. She observed that people want to put grief in a box which is why people say, “You’ll get over it,” – but everyone grieves in different ways. What if you don’t want to get over it? She said that if she could have articulated what her grief felt like, she would have said she wanted to keep her mother alive by telling stories about her. Reading Wild is making me want to get up and go walking though.

This week I’ve been listening to my playlist Once upon a time on vinyl. It’s what it says on the tin – a playlist of all the albums (and a few singles) I used to own. It’s full of songs that remind me of high school holidays when I had nothing to do all day but sit and listen to records and play endless games of solitaire and write letters. (Wow, wasn’t that a great life!) And while thinking about that time, I realised that perhaps this blog makes up for the letters I no longer write, because I don’t. And that’s a little bit sad. It also reminds me that not all the music from my youth still appeals in my grown up years. Some songs just don’t sound as good when you’re separated from the teenage hormones that attracted you to a particular band or singer. 

This week we made plans to go to Switzerland. Not forever, for a long weekend. We had planned to go last year but that trip was cancelled at late notice. But our friend has birthdays every October it seems, so following an invitation, we did some research and flights are booked. By happy serendipity, the UK government is also set to ease some restrictions around travel and testing, so we may not need to have an expensive Covid test on our return. What I’m more anxious about is our friend asking us to make sure we are familiar with the rules of Texas Hold ’em poker before we arrive. Hopefully we’re playing for chips and not cash!

This week I gave my new running shoes a test. And the results are: Shoes 1, Michelle 0. My running fitness is poor, and doesn’t do justice to my lovely new running shoes. I’ve tried starting in the middle of the Couch to 5K programme, but I really don’t think I am ready for 25 minutes of straight running. Also, I stuffed up by accidentally pausing the programme, so I’m running with little bits of walking and I’m thinking, “Sanjeev (my preferred Couch to 5K voiceover guide) would normally have notified me that I’m halfway by now, and I should have heard the mid-point bell.” I check my phone and see the podcast is paused. I allow myself an internal “Argh!” and then turn for home. In total I probably did more than the 25 minutes of vigorous activity I would have done by following the podcast but it certainly wasn’t 25 minutes of running at a steady pace. It was jogging, walking, more jogging, more walking, a short sprint when a good song came on the playlist, some walking, a few more short sprints with the good songs, and then a walk back up the hill to home. 

This week I’ve been into the office twice. As required by the management, I am starting to commute again and be in my old office space again. Monday was not the most productive of days – I had an IT issue that the IT guy (Wow! An actual IT guy at my desk!) spent two hours trying to fix but was not able to, so in the end I had to move to another desk. Then in the afternoon one of my key systems was on a go-slow, with every click of the mouse raising the blue spinning circle of death. It could take several minutes to work through the folders and get to the file I needed and then another minute or two to open the file, and then I had to remember why I wanted the file in the first place… 

Thursday’s visit was more productive. Whatever Monday’s fault was, it had fixed itself, and the slow system had picked up speed. Several of my colleagues were in the office too, and one of them came and asked me for help, just like it used to be in The Before. That was nice, to have a spontaneous human interaction, to be able to help someone, to have conversations that were not pre-arranged. And I was able to take my coffee cup to the coffee bar and get an oat milk latte, just like in The Before!

This week I did a wardrobe check. As I am going to need my ‘good’ clothes more, and as we are coming to the end of summer (sad, but I have to admit it), I’ve gone through the wardrobe and done an appraisal and sort of my clothes, put some things away into storage and bringing some lighter winter things out of storage, in case of a sudden cold snap and in anticipation of my trip north to Fort William which is now less than two weeks away. 

This week I’ve seen a lot of posts about Angela Merkel who will soon be stepping down from her role as Chancellor of Germany, a job she has held since 2005.

Having looked at my own wardrobe this week, I have to admire how she has simplified her own work wardrobe by having just one style of suit in many different colours.

She’s a chemist by profession, and has brought her scientific approach into her political life: “For me it’s important I deliberate all options … running through scenarios, and not simply theoretical experiments in my head.” Not one to rush into a decision then. “I am, I think, courageous at the decisive moment,” she said, according to a 2007 biography. “But I need a good deal of start-up time, and I try to take as much as possible into consideration beforehand.” A woman after my own heart! 

Angela Merkel German Chancellor Beer

Angela Merkel grew up in East Germany, and that had an impact on her shopping habits. “I still buy something as soon as I see it, even when I don’t really need it. It’s a deep-seated habit stemming from the fact that in an economy where things were scarce, you just used to get what you could when you could.”

I wish her well for whatever she takes on next – I can’t see her going quietly into retirement – and she will leave a gap on the world stage. Think of how dull those G20 meetings are going to be without Angela there, providing a reassuring female presence in her three-button jacket, amongst all those grey men.

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