Too early, too loud, too kind, too many (46.2021)

The C Word It’s still November but here in the UK attention seems to have turned to Christmas already. The radio is full of ads advising us to shop and shop and shop and buy more food and maybe buy new furniture and generally buy your way into celebrating the Festive Season. There’s even a Christmas tree market open in my local park. And people are out there, buying trees. Already! What?! There should be a global mandate on not being able to mention Christmas until the calendar flicks over to December. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, every last string of glittering tinsel, every cheesy song repeated ad nauseam in shops, every twinkling light in a window. I just don’t like it in November.

We have settled our festive menu theme for this year and this year it will be Greek food. I’m not sure exactly what that will involve but we have a month to do some research. We might be able to get some pre-prepared items from our local Turkish grocery stores (yes, I know Turkish is not the same as Greek and there is a whole disputed history about the origins of certain foods between the two countries but the Turkish shops do stock Greek items too) but I’m hoping for some lighter, healthier (perhaps) and vegetable driven dishes. Any Greek menu favourites you have please let me know in the comments!

5K run? – I went for a run on Wednesday morning this week and according to the little wrist band thingy I wear I did 5K in distance in 35 minutes. I’m convinced this must be wrong in either time or distance because the last time I did 5K (a year ago) it took me 45 minutes. I can’t believe I am faster this year after a year of doing less running in total. But whether I did 5K or not, it was a beautiful autumn morning, cool but not yet properly cold; the leaves in the park all lit gold by the morning sun; a faint mist on the ground burning away during the half hour I was there. It was a good run and it reminded me why I like to do this. Now my struggle is to keep this positive thought in my head to keep me going as the mornings get colder and darker.

Celebrations I went out for drinks with colleagues after work for birthday celebrations this week. At first it felt exciting to head out to a bar after work, being around other people, but after a few minutes, when we took in the crowded nature of the place, and the overpowering “doof-doof” music that meant conversation was reduced to “WHAT?” and “SORRY I DIDN’T HEAR THAT” and “COULD YOU REPEAT THAT?”, we finished our drinks quickly and left, settling instead into a coffee bar with heated outside seating that sold snacks as well as alcohol. It was quiet, we could talk, and we could get little snacks to pick at while we chatted (the cinnamon bun was outsize and very tasty!). It was an early night – we all set off to head home around 7.30pm – but certainly it was nicer to sit and chat in a quiet place than in a crowded noisy bar. Personally I haven’t enjoyed crowded noisy bars since I was about 25. I’ll take the quiet place where you can sit and talk without needing to shout any day.

Find your Ikigai – This week we had the final session of the Find your Ikigai course that we started at the local yoga studio back in January 2020. If I remember correctly we had 20+ people in the room for that first session. A few less for the 2nd session, and then before we could have a 3rd session there was Covid and a lockdown and our course leader moved to Southampton, and then we had some online sessions, and I think we managed one more in person session after the lockdowns lifted (I definitely remember heading back to the yoga studio with my mask and carrying my own mat) and then a few more online sessions, but now we had the final session that wrapped it all up and we were only six. The course was supposed to be four sessions over four months so we stretched it out a bit longer. But it was a good course for all that.

Our leader said the whole point of the course being concentrated in four months meant that you really have to work hard throughout to prioritise the changes you want to make, but we all agreed that in the context of Covid, it was helpful to have it stretch out longer, as Covid was already enforcing changes on us from outside, and we suddenly had a lot of other things to think about. We also got to know each other a lot better. And for me, knowing how I work, I would have taken on board some of the things we learned for maybe a month and then stopped doing them. Whereas I’ve had a series of catch ups and reminders and reconnections over the past 18 months, and that’s helped me keep up with some practices, although a bit irregularly. (Like – hmm – yoga, meditation, gratitude…)

As the end of the year approaches, I want to put some time aside to revisit my notes from back in January 2020, to see what dreams I wrote down back then, and perhaps re-write and re-vision these dreams after living through almost two years of global pandemic. What do I want now? Or as we were asked during the yin meditation session yesterday, “What would make you happy right now?”

We finished with a promise to institute a series of self-care practises – and not the kind of self care practises that require you to spend a lot of money on scented candles or silk pyjamas or massages or spa days – although some people did fancy the idea of a spa day as a personal retreat. We had to list things we could do in 5 minutes, one hour, a morning/afternoon/evening or a whole day. (And we also had a reminder that self care can also take the form of cooking yourself nourishing food, making sure you drink enough water and get enough sleep.)

Five minutes could be something like meditation, dancing to your favourite song, sending a message to a friend. One hour could be: cooking a meal from scratch, having a bath, painting your nails, sitting still and listening to a whole album from beginning to end, doing an hour of yoga or going for a run or a walk. A day portion could be: a long walk in nature, meeting up with a friend or friends for coffee, writing, drawing or painting, doing a jigsaw puzzle. A full day could be something like a spa day, or a trip away to the countryside or the seaside. I’ve started to make a list of things that I could do – either every day or once a week or once a month or once every few months. These are meant to be little things that feed your soul. Time you take out where you prioritise yourself. Time spent in a state of ‘flow’ when you are totally engrossed in something and don’t notice the passing of time.

Kindness On the way to Ikigai at the yoga studio yesterday, I realised I’d forgotten my water bottle so I popped into a shop to get one. (Yes, plastic, I know I know, but I don’t buy them often and I do re-use them.) I checked my wallet. I had 65p in change of £20.00 in a note. “What do you want?” the man in the shop asked me as I stood looking at the drinks cabinet. I explained I wanted a litre of water but that cost £1.00 and could he change £20.00? “How much change have you got?” he asked me. He took my 65p and said I could come back and pay him the other 35p later. I was dumbstruck by this. “You are a very kind man,” was all I could say. I walked by the shop today to drop off the cash I owed him but the shop wasn’t open. I’m now on a mission to walk there every day until I find the shop is open and I can pay the money back.

This happened to me once before, but that was at our corner shop where we have been in for tinned goods and spices at least once a week since Covid, so I assume the guy recognised me and figured I was no flight risk (and in the scheme of things, they’ve probably made 10 times the 30p I owed him in profit from our purchases over the past year-and-a-bit. But I did drop the money back. The guy looked surprised when I did.)

Winter jigsaw puzzle season starts Yes, after a long hiatus over the summer where we started to fill our evenings with Midsomer Murders, we have officially kicked off the winter jigsaw season. I think the last one we did was the monster 3000 piece puzzle that took us three weeks or more and nearly broke us. We’re back doing 1000 pieces again (we have 13 of them stacked up in cupboards around the house) and completed our first one in just two days. Two evenings to be correct. When you talk about being in a state of flow, jigsaw puzzles are definitely one of those things. You can lose yourself in a puzzle for any length of time.

Book count I did a count of the books in the house this week – books that I physically have stacked on a shelf somewhere that I want to read. There are 92 of them. Ninety-two!! Last week I bought five so I already had 87, which is two years worth of reading at my current pace. And for my birthday this year I am going to Rochester, home of the UK’s biggest second hand bookshop, according to the sign on the building that I saw from the train on our various journeys to Kent over the past year or so. Rochester also has a cathedral and a castle and in December, a Dickensian Christmas market, due to the town’s association with Charles Dickens. But it’s the book shop that I’m looking forward to the most. And the afternoon tea. Because it can’t be a birthday without an afternoon tea. Although if they could provide the afternoon tea in the bookshop that would be ideal, but that’s probably not practical due to book damage from excited patrons dusting cake crumbs in between pages or dropping scones jam side down onto the covers or spilling tea over the shelves.

Book Club(s) Meetings On the subject of books, I had two book club meetings this week. First, Yoga Book Club, which again, come Tuesday night, had a string of “I can’t make it” messages pinging to the WhatsApp group. And the woman after my own heart again sent the grumpy message about “being in a book club requires the basic commitment to read the book and show up to the meeting.” But we ended up being six, so the meeting went ahead. After discussion of the book (Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo), we drifted off into discussion of other books, and suggestions for books for January. For sure the people who vote for a book are not going to be the ones who show up to discuss it. There had been a mention of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar in the WhatsApp – I would go for that (a) because I already have a copy and (b) because the suggestion was to not pick first-release books that are only available in expensive hardback. That said, the book for next month’s discussion is a recently released book called Magpie by Elizabeth Day which I haven’t read and – unless my library gets a copy in I can borrow – I won’t read for the next meeting. (Did I mention I have 92 other books to read already?) But I might still show up just to hear it being talked about.

Then there was Work Book Club. There were only six people here as well, but it seems here also the host hadn’t read the book, and so for those of us who had read the book there was 15 minutes of discussion (The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili), trying not to give any spoilers for those who haven’t read it, and then some discussion about books we might want to read for the next meeting (I’m super excited – the book we voted to discuss is Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead which I know I’ve been going on about in this blog several times already). I’m not sure I’ll re-read the book for the meeting but I will probably watch the film if I can find it online somewhere. I’m really looking forward to discussing this book at last with other people who have read it.

I hope this week you find yourself with too much of a good thing in your life.

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