The Snake Game

I clearly remember buying my first mobile phone.  It was a Thursday afternoon in late August 1999 and I bought it from Sainsbury’s, accompanied by two friends (Gemma and Aideen) and my younger brother.  Afterwards, we went to the cafe where my then boyfriend worked and all sat at an outside table looking at the phone.  Obviously I couldn’t use it straightaway as back then you had to charge new phones for something like four days before they’d work (well, perhaps I exaggerate slightly, but I’m certain that it had to charge for 30 hours before use).

How simple the process seemed back then: pretty much everyone had pay-as-you-go phones and you had a choice of four companies.  That was it.  Then one day, someone turned up with a phone that had the snake game on it and the world was never the same again. 

A decade on from the arrival of ‘Snake’ and buying a new phone is just so complicated.  My phone has been playing up for a couple of months now; at first, the problem seemed resolved by knitting a little phone sock for it (made from the most beautiful grey merino wool, no less) but as the weather has got colder, even this has proved ineffective.  Now I struggle to use it outside, which somewhat contravenes the very point of a ‘mobile’ phone.  The reason I haven’t replaced the phone sooner is that it’s just too complicated to find a replacement.  Questions to consider include:

How much do I want to spend per month?  What network offers the best deals suited to what I want?  Do I want a better camera?  Do I need an MP3 player?  How much will I want to use the internet on it?  Do I want to commit to a contract?  If so, how long for?  Am I better committing to a contract in order to get a better monthly price?  Should I stick with my SIM-only package or does the fact that no phone seems to last more than 12 months mean I should get a contract anyway?  What phones are ‘good’ phones at the minute?  How much do I want to spend if I buy a handset?  Should I let the nice black watch that Orange are offering at the minute persuade me?  Should I just buy the cheapest phone out there as I want to get a better proper camera anyway?  How often do I really listen to music on my phone at present?  How much is 500mb of data in real terms?  Do I want picture messaging?  Why can’t you get MW radio on any phone?  Is it worth trying to take my number with me?  Will a price comparison website help?  How many texts a month do I actually send?  I always ring the same few people so should I look for a good ‘friends and family’ type package?  What is Android?  Do I really need a smartphone or is it just marketing hype?  Do I want an I-Phone just because they are pretty?

Confused?  I am.  In the last 24 hours, I had managed to draw up some parameters for my search:  I didn’t want the cheapest, no frills phone available because I do like having a camera always to hand & I wouldn’t like to not be able to access the internet if needed.  At the other end of the spectrum, I don’t want an I-Phone.  Yes, I covet one because they look nice but I’m not a gadgety person so can happily live without all the apps and I don’t want to spend 420GBP per year on a contract. 

These parameters hadn’t really helped to narrow my search until my return journey from Manchester this afternoon, when I was – I hate to admit it – eavesdropping on someone else’s phone conversation.  The young man on the other side of the aisle (who was clearly pretending to be his dad judging by the date of birth that he gave in answer to the security questions) was on the phone to his mobile provider.  He was claiming that he had found an amazing Tesco Mobile package and could they match it?  Unfortunately the reception on the train was poor so I don’t think he got an answer.  However, I got the answer that I have been searching for: the deal sounded so good that I decided to check it out when I got home.  Having had a look, it seems like the perfect deal for me: a SIM-only package with plenty included.  But I’m still left with two big questions:

1) Like a lot of people, I have ‘issues’ with Tesco, so do I feel happy using their mobile service?  Referencing my Rough Guide to Ethical Living has reinforced my concerns, but it’s difficult to judge whether any of the other mobile firms are any ‘better’. 

2) What phone to get to go with the SIM-only package…I feel like this buying a new phone process should be straightforward, but instead there are lots of twists & turns.  It’s like I’m stuck in some consumer maze, with apparently infinite choices but actually a lot of dead-ends.  I feel like the snake in the old mobile game.       

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We are all on journeys all of the time.  Due to over-use by reality TV contestants and celebrities in their ‘most revealing interview ever’, a phrase so beloved by gossip magazines, it has become such a cliche to talk about one’s journey, but like so many cliches, its origins lie in truth.

We are all on journeys all of the time, literally and metaphorically.  Some journeys are big; others are small.  Some are inspiring; others mundane.  Some have a clear destination; others take a route that is not clear, either along the way or even sometimes when we reach our destination and look back.

I have been on lots of journeys over the last few days.  To Surrey and back; to Budapest via Paris and Amsterdam; to Manchester tomorrow.  To a village that I don’t know at all but discovered was near somewhere that I once went to a wedding; to a city that moved me profoundly on my last visit; to a place where I once lived.  To a place of trepidation and hope for the journey that lies ahead; to a romantic place where, many moons ago, I realised that I would rather be alone than…well, I still haven’t found a preferable alternative; to a place where I’ve experienced every emotion under the sun, the highs and lows of human existence, with a few extra thrown in for good measure. 

To an interview and a job offer that mark a new path, a new journey; a return journey that highlighted how far I’ve come from my own past; a trip that symbolises the penultimate step in a long journey that is drawing to a close.  And buried within these were countless smaller journeys, as captured in these photographs of my afternoon stroll up Zrinyi utca.  Amid all the grand journeys, sometimes we need to stop and observe those tiny details that capture our hearts and captivate our souls.

Luxury Thursday

Yesterday, I received my first comment on a post from a stranger.  This has made me ridiculously excited; no disrespect intended to the people that I know that read this & say that they like it, but to receive a compliment from a stranger is immensely reassuring, as one feels more certain then that they are not just saying that because they know you & feel that they ought to be nice.  The particular post in question was ‘Fat Saturday’, from 23rd October.  This seems an awfully long time ago now, but the comment got me thinking about the whole ‘Fat Saturday’ idea again.  My particularly favourite bit of Konig’s ‘Fat Saturday’ concept is her suggestion that you should change your sheets, even if you’ve only changed them the day before, because clean sheets are one of life’s little luxuries that you can manage even if you’re broke.  My mind then began to wonder further: what little luxuries never fail to cheer me up even when I’m broke? 

When I live alone in my last flat, I had a thing about keeping a bottle of champagne in the fridge at all times.  It became a bit of a talisman: no matter how bad my day was, nor how strapped for cash I was at that particular moment, there was this bottle of golden luxury in my fridge.  Strangely enough, I didn’t crack it open that often – simply having it there was enough.  A moment of luxury every time I opened the fridge door, even if it was 7.45am on a Tuesday morning and I was trying to figure out what I could mackle together for my lunch.

My champagne fixation has passed – maybe because all luxuries become mundane once we become accustomed to them; maybe because I’m on the wagon.  Other luxuries have arisen instead though.  Having a bath is one of them.  I’m somewhat obsessed with them.  I was actually thinking about all this while in the bath.  When I say having a bath, obviously I don’t mean a quick dip with a soap and a flannel.  I mean the wallowing experience of bathing, the ‘I’m surrounded by so many pots of stuff that if I used them all then the bath would be cold (and very slimey)’ kind of bath.  Another factor that makes bathing such an indulgent, luxurious experience is the time of day.  In the evening is okay, but then it’s often about getting ready for going out or unwinding before sleep, rather than the experience in itself.  At the wrong time of morning, a bath just feels like you’re a slob who hasn’t got up early enough.  But the afternoon!  Having a bath in the afternoon is my idea of decadence, especially if it’s between 3pm and 5pm – the time when most people are coming out of school or work.  If you don’t believe me, try it next time you’re off on a weekday with not much planned.

Having a bath also allows you to do the kind of pampering that would cost a fortune if you paid a beautician to do it for you.  So after my bath, I also treated myself to a mani/pedi – a luxury I can’t afford in a salon, but one I can afford in my own bedroom.  I even lined up my nail polishes to see which one I fancied, a la a nail bar (sad but true).  And I put on my favourite playlist.  In fact, I got so carried away with my ‘Luxury Thursday’ idea that I dug around in one of my drawers to find my favourite T-shirt to wear.  It’s a sailor-style number, hence is normally reserved for the summer months, but today I thought what the hell and have put it on under my shirt.  It’s barely visible but it makes me happy to know it’s there.  I’ve also put on my favourite shirt & the new brooch that I received from my penpal yesterday.  And now I feel on top of the world.  I may only be going out to do the talking newspaper this evening, and going to a village pub after, but why shouldn’t I do it with my own little luxuries thrown into the mix?  Long Live Luxury Thursday, that’s what I say.

Twelve Hours

This morning, I woke up at 8.30am.  As I write this post, it is 8.30pm.  The day started with me feeling a bit (well, very) meh about life; it ends with me feeling pretty contented and with a warm fuzzy feeling of mellowness – all seems well with the world.  So what’s happened in the intervening twelve hours?  Here are my twelve highlights that helped to switch my mindset from meh to mellow:

#1 Putting on a silk scarf that I love and haven’t worn for ages but it always reminds me that people care about me as it was a gift when I was v ill last year.  Also hadn’t worn it with my winter coat before, & have to say that it looked pretty chic. 

#2 The woman in the train station ticket office saying ‘I haven’t seen you in a while’ – this made me smile all day.  So lovely to feel that you are recognised and not just an anonymous face in a crowd.

#3 Beautiful sunny day and stunning scenery on way into Birmingham; just sat staring out of the train window at the crisp and bright winter’s day in all nature’s glory.

#4 Wandering around the city centre, imagining myself as a nineteenth century flaneur.  Taking in the sights and the smells, making notes on people’s outfits, people-watching in general.

#5 Friendly assistance from a receptionist while trying to pick up a parcel.  It wasn’t her problem, she didn’t really have to help me, but she did & we formed one of those strange elusive, fleeting bonds that you sometimes get when you’re thrown into a situation with someone.

#6 Eating my sandwiches in the sunshine by St Philip’s cathedral, feeling like I was in slow motion while people and pigeons swarmed around me at high speed.  Being able to take one’s time when everyone else is in a hurry can feel like such a luxury.

#7 Mince pie fudge.  No explanation required.

#8 Doing a reccy for a job that I want to apply for and realising that it really does seem as brilliant as I had hoped from the description.  Came away buzzing – bring on the application form!

#9 Cracking open the first tin of Roses before Christmas.  My mum and I have a ritual of burying our heads into the tin as the smell is so heavenly.  This never fails to make me happy.  As does eating a few of them.  Even if I have eaten 100g of mince pie fudge already today.

#10 Making progress on a rota of speakers that I’m helping with: a couple of emails done, a phone call returned, and only half a dozen or so out of 52 slots left.  The satisfaction of filling in gaps and ticking off names, making order out of chaos.

#11 A happy hour of crafting, stitching together two more Christmas tree angels that I’d decided to make as presents, accompanied by the football commentary on the radio.  Perhaps not a combo to everyone’s taste, but it’s a fail-safe recipe for me.

#12 Knowing that the final hour of my day is going to be spent curled up, pjs on, with a spot of comfort TV (oh the joys of Kirstie’s Homemade Home!) and two final cups of tea.  Bliss. 

And by recording my contentment in this way, should I wake up tomorrow feeling meh again then I can re-read my list to promote mellowness again.  Who knows what the twelve hours of tomorrow’s day may hold?  Fingers crossed that it will at least involve some more of today’s tin of Roses.

Be Still

It’s 9.35 on Sunday evening & I’m sat in bed, enjoying the sound of nothing except my fingers hitting the keyboard and the bedside clock ticking away.  I feel ensconced in a cocoon of stillness, wrapped up in it, held by it.  The stillness feels divine (with both a capital and a lower case d) because it has been a particularly busy weekend, a crowded and noisy (although thoroughly enjoyable) one.  Quaker meeting this morning was like an oasis of silence in the middle of it all, like the brief silence between songs on a record.  The last forty-eight hours has been full of talking and music and laughter: dance class, giving a paper at a history conference, a jolly & jovial Christmas fayre, a barn dance (combining the booming voice of the caller, very loud music & the sound of 50 odd people dancing away on a wooden floor, all contained with a slightly-too-small village hall), silent meeting, family visiting, evening meeting… Our evening meeting is extremely unusual in that it is a programmed meeting, with a speaker.  We are one of only about three Quaker meetings in Britain to have this as well as the silent meeting; in other countries, it is a far more common practice.  This evening, the speaker had chosen the hymn ‘Be Still’ as part of the meeting.  Singing that, which is a lovely song and refutes all those awful images that people have of hymns being sombre or even dirge-like, signalled a shift: all the noise and the hustle and bustle seemed to melt away, leaving me feeling a lot calmer.  And now, sitting in bed, I feel even calmer.  I feel still.  It’s a good way to be on a Sunday evening – calm and still and quiet, before the noise and clamour and busy-ness of a new week commence in the morning. 

Do Something Amazing Today

Bleak is the word that I would use to describe last night.  It was the kind of night where you feel your own life is haunting you.  The kind of night where if my life was a Hollywood film, the scene would have shown me sat a downlit kitchen table, head in hands, with a large bottle of Scotch & a tumbler that magically refills itself with ice.  But, alas, my life is not a Hollywood film and I didn’t hit any hard liquor.  I didn’t even venture towards the kitchen for a brew.  I stayed in bed, tossing and turning, in the vain hope that by rolling over 180 degrees, I would be able to confuse my mind and forget the terrors that were keeping me awake.

And this morning?  This morning I have that horrible drained feeling: the hollow behind your eyes sensation combined with a dry, sore nose.  And empty all over.  I feel good for nothing, but fortunately I have a restorative appointment at 1.35 this afternoon: I am giving blood.  I love giving blood.  It is one of the most fulfilling, life-affirming experiences imaginable & I would highly recommend to everyone (If you think ‘Oo I don’t like needles’, ask yourself this: would you turn down a blood transfusion or other critical medical treatment on the same grounds?).  I made my appointment after my last session, so it’s just a coincidence that I’m going today, but the appointment couldn’t have fallen at a better time.  When you’re in your own depths, sometimes you need something to take you out of yourself, to consider others, to simply do something useful for someone else.  I know it will raise my spirits.  And you get a cup of tea & a biscuit thrown in for nothing.  What more could I ask for?