The North Winds Doth Blow

Tonight I watched the film Chocolat for the first time.  I’ve been meaning to watch it for some time as so many people have said that I’d love it.  And I did.

Not only did I enjoy the film (oh the outfits!  I want to look like all of the women in it! And Jonny Depp is still deliciously fanciable, even with a funny plait), it has blown my mind somewhat.  I’ve often found that books will magically come along & find their way into my life just at the right moment, but I’ve never experienced that serendipity with a film before.  Until today.  After a busy day car-booting & a dinner date with the parents, I curled up on the sofa with a bag of Revels and the most perfect film for my mood appeared before my eyes….

I have been somewhat grumpy over the past week or so.  I have felt out of sorts & unable to identify why.  A sense of malaise & difficulty in trying to escape from it.  Then Chocolat helped me to see what it is: freedom.  The desire for freedom.  In a totally ridiculous way, I felt completely identified with Juliette Binoche’s character: the drive for freedom, the need for independence, the conflicting allure of belonging.  The challenges facing her character spoke to how I’ve felt over the last week.  The urge to be free, not held down or held back, while also craving roots & a sense of community.  Now I’ve secured a strong sense of ‘home’, I’ve got itchy feet.  I don’t know what for, to what, where I’m going – or even whether the journey is literal, metaphorical or somewhere in between.  I just know that I can feel the north winds blowing.

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What not to wear

It’s 1.10pm on Saturday.  There has been a cloud hanging over me all morning.  It has been distracting me as I’ve gone about my day, doing lovely things: popped round to see my niece, who’s two today (Have to admit that she seemed more impressed with the chocolate lolly I bought her than the doll’s blanket that I’d made for her, but am sure it’ll be a “grower” present.  It looks fab in her doll’s pram even if not!); played tea parties with my niece & nephew (Mr & Mrs Potato Head joined us, along with Woody & Buzz.  Seems my whole family, not just me, is obsessed with Toy Story at the minute!); bought some stamps & sorted my float for Monday’s car boot (buying stamps never fails to make me happy – heavens knows why – but I guess the float falls under ‘useful’ more than ‘lovely’); went to a Scout fete (a bit disappointing on the bric a brac front but I won a tool set that’s going into the car boot boxes!); changed my bed (definitely not lovely, but the bed itself looks lovely now it’s done).

As I sit on my fresh, crisp bed, the cloud can be avoided no longer.  It is straight over my head.  What am I going to wear for my niece’s birthday part this afternoon?!  It seems strange that I haven’t written about clothes on this blog before.  I posted about grooming, toiletries, health kicks etc, but never about actual clothes.  This is odd as clothes are one of my big passions in life.  I love fashion.  Dress is my favourite art form.  I obsess about how I dress & observe other people’s dress like a hawk.  It’s distinct passion: I’m an avid Vogue reader (I have every issue for the past 12 years) but don’t really like shopping & I generally avoid obvious trends (probably snobbery, I admit – I don’t want to look like everyone else).  For me, the love is about style, but that requires cultivation – it’s always evolving & developing, like any craft or art – fashion is what pushes style forward. 

Anyway, enough of my thoughts on fashion else I’ll start to sound like a conceited fool (if I don’t already).  The problem is that today I am stuck; I don’t know what to wear.   My wardrobe doors are open in the hope that I’m going to gain inspiration but it isn’t happening.  All the individual times are attractive enough, but everything feels just wrong.  I wore my failsafe dress-of-the-season to my nephew’s party two months ago, so that’s out (I’m sure noone else would care but it’s a matter of personal pride).  My summer wardrobe is looking too summery & probably won’t be warm enough.  The outfits I’ve already sorted for autumn/winter are either a bit too avant-garde for a children’s party or far too wintery & warm.  Grr!

My psyche & my self-image are so intertwined (I guess this is the case for most people, it’s all a matter of to what extent & how much you obsess about it!) that this is becoming an existential dilemma.  I pride myself on having my own style but today this feels like I’m stuck in a rut.  I feel boring.  Drab.  I haven’t the time or the money to go out & buy something to wear, plus getting something new would feel like cheating – maybe I’m just a masochist (or a puritan) but I want to resolve this dilemma with my existing clothes because there’s really nothing wrong with them.  The clothes aren’t the problem: I am.  I feel bored & fed up with myself, and am taking this out on my poor clothes.  The feeling will pass but in the mean time I wish that ‘pass the pattern’ was here to help me.  Many a happy evening in my early teens was spent with her, getting our clothes out & putting new outfit combos together.  It’s funny to think that despite all the years & changes & ‘moving on’ since then, some things remain the same.  This isn’t the first I’ve angsted about how I dress/who I am.  Nor will it be the last, I’m sure.

Pearly white pearls of wisdom

Why is it that some of the simplest lessons remain so difficult for us to comprehend?  Last night my friends and I were discussing exercise while waiting for our badminton court to become free.  We agreed that our eating habits were reasonable enough, but our sedantary lifestyles were at the root of our problems.  We all grasped that it was a simple equation: Eat the same + do more = get fitter.  It was only this morning that I realised that this was probably a rare moment of insight.  All too often, we are quick to blame various other factors for our physical woes: supposed wheat intolerances; slow metabolisms; genetic make-up; menstrual cycle… The list goes on, when really in many cases it is a simple case of readjusting the eating/exercise balance.

Why do we look for other excuses?  Is it because we view healthy eating and/or exercise as hard work or unpleasant?  Or is it to simply free ourselves from any blame or responsibility?  Maybe it’s a remnant of an earlier age, when humans sought explanations in the mystical or religious for things that they couldn’t comprehend, like crop failure or pestilence.  Maybe this habit of turning to the unfathomable has become hard-wired in our brains, so that the adhering to the obvious pearls of wisdom is never as simple as it seems it should be – hence failed health kicks, failed diets, failed New Year’s resolutions, failed dreams.

I was thinking about all the seemingly simple pearls of wisdom as I was getting dressed this morning.  Under the bathroom sink, I spied my electric toothbrush.  I love my electric toothbrush.  It cleans my amazingly well, yet is never abrasive.  My teeth are my pride and joy, and it’s only when I’ve used the electric toothbrush that I feel fully confident about flashing my pearly whites (I am paranoid about my teeth yellowing, but my hygienist reassures me that healthy strong teeth are really more of a cream colour than pure white.  The desire for white teeth is part of the ‘Simon Cowell affect’ – we are so used to seeing celebrities with artificially whitened teeth that our view of what teeth naturally look like is becoming distorted – another pearl of wisdom to bear in mind). 

So given my love of my electric toothbrush, why does it sit largely unused under the sink?  Because despite how easy it is to use & recharge, I fall out of the habit of using it and revert to the hard, horrid manual toothbrush.  In the same way, I routinely fall out of the habit of eating cereal for breakfast and end up eating toast, even though it actually takes longer to make & leaves me wanting to eat half a packet of biscuits by 11.30am. 

I am geniunely baffled by why the pearls of wisdom are so hard to stick to.  But today I’ve made an effort to get back into good habits.  I had muesli for my breakfast & used my electric toothbrush.  My teeth have felt lovely and clean, so much so that I’ve spent the day licking them.  Looking like a fool is a small price to pay for pearly whites and sticking to those pearls of wisdom.

Badminton

I really, really like badminton.  I like ‘thwang’ noise that the shuttlecock makes when it hits the racquet.  I like that many badminton players still wear old-fashioned looking white shorts.  I like the fact that it features in Disney’s Robin Hood (Ooo the Robin Hood fox – he’s my number one Disney hero of all time – but that’s another blog entirely).  Most of all, I like badminton because it is the sport behind one of my Greatest Ever Sporting Moments.

I was 14 at the time.  By that stage, I had embraced being classified as ‘rubbish at PE’.  Like many people, I found that the invisible forces at school had put me into the ‘rubbish at PE’ camp rather than the ‘good at PE’ camp.  It’s taken me many years to realise that this categorisation is not strictly true; I’m actually not bad at some sports.  Anyway, aged 14, I happily accepted being ‘rubbish at PE’.  One day – can’t remember which, but it was an afternoon – my friend & I were braced for being typically inept at the new sport being introduced to us: badminton.  We had a new PE teacher, the kind who actually like to encourage pupils regardless of whether they were deemed good at sport or not (she also never made us do anything that she wasn’t prepared to have a go at herself – a quality I found very admirable.  This meant we never did hurdles with her; instead we leaped our way over garden canes balanced on very small cones).  My friend & I started out poorly, as usual.  But with a bit of perserverance on our part, and a lot of cajooling on the teacher’s part, we improved.  Before we went to get changed, the teacher said she was really impressed with the two girls who had started out unable to hit the shuttlecock but had progressed to playing a game by the end of the lesson.  My friend & I looked around to see who she meant; she had to actually tell us that it was us that she was referring to. 

It seems a bit sad to admit, but even now – 14 years later – that moment fills me with pride.  I can remember it so clearly – that sense of achievement which is so much greater when it comes from doing something we don’t think we’re very good at, rather than something we find easy. 

My memory of that day came flooding back to me this evening as I returned to the same sports centre.  I’ve been back a number of times since but today was the first time since my schooldays that I’d played badminton there.  I wondered where the years had gone: my school badminton partner is now married with a child; the women I was playing with tonight are also married or cohabiting; I’m probably older than the teacher was then & I certainly wouldn’t fit in my maroon gym knickers and netball skirt anymore.  All those years have flown by, yet that feeling of pride still returned as clearly as the day I first experienced it.  I guess sometimes we all need reminding that we have skills and talents that aren’t always obvious or that we don’t even know we possess.  It feels good.

The Battle of the Toiletries

At the end of my bed sit two boxes & two piles of stuff ready to go into boxes.  I am doing a car boot sale next weekend & this has incentivised me to purge my belongings.  I have the urge to clear out every few months or so – I wouldn’t say I was a hoarder & I’m certainly not a shopaholic, but I just seem to acquire so much stuff.  Toiletries are the worst offenders.  I am convinced that my toiletries come alive – like the toys in Toy Story (I appear to be obsessed with these films, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing!) – and conspire against me as I sleep.  They are almost certainly magically reproducing themselves in my drawers & cupboards as I type.

For 32 months, I have been waging an outright war on my toiletries.  Back in the dark, confused days when I first began my quest to sort my life out, I had some strange, instinctive urge to address the toiletry situation.  At that time, it was a very nebulous sense that if I could control the amount of lotions & potions in my possession, then I would have the key to controlling the rest of my life.  Since then, the motivation to tackle the toiletries has been something of a shape-shifter: financial, ethical & environmental concerns have all played a part, the latter issues becoming increasingly important to me. 

The battle has been monumental.  And the term ‘battle’ is no exaggeration (well, maybe it is – but it’s certainly been a fight).  I just don’t know how I end up with so many random beauty-related items.  I have a penchant for Space NK but I drastically reduced my spending there; this desire to simply consume the items I already possess has been sufficiently strong to stop me consuming new purchases – I haven’t wanted to buy things until I could honestly say that I don’t already have 27 multiples of the same things at home. 

Obviously there have been some items that have been bought in the last 32 months.  I didn’t have a nuclear winter style stockpile of toothpaste, for instance.  I also use body lotion at a rate of knots, so I have genuinely needed to replace that – although it has surprised me how much less I’ve been buying since I’ve become more conscious of my product ownership levels.  There are, though, far more items that I haven’t needed to buy than those that I have… 

Bath oils: there are still 7 bottles of good quality bath oils in my cupboard (birthday/Christmas gifts seem to have boosted supplies whenever they’ve been dwindling).  Deodorants: 5 – two crystal rocks (these last for years, but one is running low so I have a spare) and three aerosols – I don’t use aerosols!  Where have they come from?!  I think freebies are the answer, & I can’t just chuck them so I’ll have to make the effort to use them up.  Lipbalm: I drown my lips in lip balm at night & use a good slather in the mornings too, yet I still haven’t bought any since at least November 2007.  When I was in hospital last year, a kind nurse gave me a tube of soft paraffin (like Vaseline but better) as the treatment had dried my lips out, but even so it seems slightly ludicrous that I could ‘survive’ for so long with what I already have. 

Don’t get me wrong: I love toiletries (maybe that’s part of the problem!) and I have no intention of stopping buying/using them altogether, but the level of consumption makes me uncomfortable with myself.  It seems, well, a bit obscene.  All the plastic, all the air miles, all the carbon footprint, when I haven’t even been using most of it.  It just sits in my drawers & cupboards gathering dust.

But today my conscience has felt somewhat alleviated.  Rummaging round as part of my car boot-related purge, I came across a box containing a talcum powder, two contact lens cases, a bottle of Clarins cleanser, a Clinique powder compact, a Lancome night cream, some Eve Lom TLC cream, some Nivea body lotion & several perfume sample bottles – all this manages to hide itself away even after 32 months of warfare.  But I think this was the final toiletry stronghold.  Aside from that box, during today’s purge I really felt – for the first time – that I may have conquered the enemy.  The situation seems finally under control. The bath oils & deodorants will get used up in good time.  Most products are now down to one item & possibly a spare ready to replace it.  And now I can finally go out, guilt-free, & buy lovely, delectable, over-priced, cunningly marketed soap-based products safe in the knowledge that I really do not have the same thing at home already & that my bathroom cabinet is not single-handedly creating a hole in the ozone.  Not a bad discovery for a Monday evening.

I haven’t posted for a few days as I’ve been busy writing in my journal instead.  I try to be as honest as possible in this blog, but sometimes I need to write privately in order to simply figure out what’s going on inside.  And what’s been going on lately is a heavy dose of nostalgia.

The origins of the words nostalgia are connected to the Greek for pain & homesickness.  When I discovered this, it made complete sense & spoke very clearly to the emotions I encounter whenever I’m feeling nostalgic: it is like some kind of yearning for the past, for some time & place that went before.  Over the last few days, I’ve been wistfully thinking of a particular street.  Many moons ago, a friend of mine rented a house on that street for a while, I can’t even remember how long for.  Over the years – as memories blur & the rose-tinted spectacles get stronger – that house has become iconic of a time when I felt happy & free & loved.  Of course, it was never quite as blissful as my memory suggests.  It was amazing & fun & naive in a way that could just never be now, but it was also a time of frustration & confusion, things unsaid that should have been said & that now will forever remain unuttered – ‘Mistaken shyness can be costly’, as Joan Armatrading once sang.

Why my memories of that house on that road should feel particularly poignant at the minute was troubling me.  And then today it struck me… It’s about letting go.  Nostalgia is partly about pain, a sense of loss – losing something, even if that something never truly existed quite as we remember.  I’m not entirely sure why I’m feeling a sense of loss at the moment.  Maybe it’s because the end of my PhD – almost in sight – marks the end of another period in my life.  Maybe it’s because I’ve had an exquisite weekend, one that reads like a checklist of all the things I love & value – in many ways, my weekend symbolises the future, how I dream my life would be.  That is fantastic & amazing & I’m incredibly grateful to be in such a position.  But this move towards the future also marks a move away from the past, leaving it behind.  I wouldn’t want it to be any other way.  I don’t want to go back to the past; if I did, I could still be living my life in a similar way, doing the same sorts of things – and making the same mistakes.  I also know I can’t go back to the site of my nostalgia; the place may still exist, but that moment in time has long gone – if it was ever really as I remember anyway. 

Maybe this is why I cried so much at Toy Story 3.  I am happy & excited to be moving on, but that doesn’t stop me feeling wistful for what is being left behind.  There are things I will miss.  There are things I will always remember fondly.  And Henry Street is one of them.

Having an Oprah moment

Today has been a bit rubbish. Actually, I should rephrase: Today I have felt a bit rubbish. Not totally awfully bad, just enough to be in danger of shouting / bursting into tears at any given moment. My ‘bit rubbish’ mood is probably because I’m tired, but this knowledge doesn’t really help to improve how I’m feeling. One thing that does usually help, though, is to compile a ‘gratitude list’. I like to think of this as having an Oprah moment, as Oprah Winfrey promoted the concept on her show. Basically, every night you write down three things that you are grateful for that day. You then re-read the list in the morning. The writing it down & re-reading it is the key to making it work; simply thinking it doesn’t have the same impact. Apparently experiments have proved it can make a real difference to people’s moods & outlook on life. It has certainly worked for me in the past: I used to do it every day, then gradually I found that I couldn’t stop at just three things. When it got to the stage where I was regularly listing 60 or so items, I figured I was in a happy enough place in life to cease writing the list. But everyone needs a reminder sometimes! So here is my list for today so far: 1) My white towelling robe. I put it on after a shower & then like to pad around my room while various lotions & potions sink in. Everyday this ritual makes me feel like I’m in a spa when actually I’m doing glamorous tasks like making my bed. 2) Plums. One of my favourite sights in life is a very full fruit bowl. Maybe I have unconcious Marie Antoinette fantasies. An ex once made me stop using a glass cake stand as a fruit bowl – he said we didn’t live in Versailles & he was fed up of bruised apples (every time the washing machine went onto the spin cycle, the apples would fall off the stand, off the table and roll across the floor. Annoying, I admit, but the fruit looked so lovely all piled up). Anyway, today the fruit bowl was very full with plums & I had the most beautiful juicy plum while waiting for the kettle to boil. 3) Clouds. Today has seen some amazing, huge fluffy white clouds drift by my window. How can cotton wool clouds not make you feel happy inside? 4) Ian, the nice man at the Co-operative Bank call centre. I received a letter informing me of an error on my account. Somewhere along the line, a transfer hasn’t gone through. Phone up telephone banking & in a three minute conversation, I am utterly charmed by Ian & his flirty ways. Thank heavens it wasn’t video calling as he would have seen me blush! Best of all – he waived the fee I’d been charged. He also gave me his ‘direct number’ in case I have ‘any further problems’ – not entirely sure this was necessary, but it made me smile. 5) The news that Lucy in the BT ads is pregnant. I don’t know why, but I feel emotionally invested in this BT family. Maybe it’s because I secretly hope that I look a bit like her; maybe it’s because I’ve always had a penchant for ginger men. Whatever the reason, I’m genuinely pleased that she’s pregnant – especially as I voted in the poll twenty times! Well, that’s five reasons to be grateful not three, and I could write a few more, so I guess the gratitude list has worked its magic once more. I am ready to face the fundraising event I’m going to this evening in a far happier mood than I was earlier. Maybe today has not been so rubbish after all!