Four Simple Pleasures…

Well, the picture is my first attempt to upload a photograph from my phone directly to the blog and it seems to have gone smoothly.  Frankly, this amazes me as I appear to be radiating negative karma today.  I’m not sure what the matter is, although I suspect it’s simply a hefty dose of PMT – the ‘I’m constantly on the verge of crying &/or shouting’ kind of feeling – combined tiredness (second night on the Angel Train, so hopefully that will help somewhat).  All day, I have tried to be productive but have seemed to fail.  The last two hours, for example, have been spent trawling the internet looking at cars.  This is, I suppose, useful prep for going car shopping with a knowledgable uncle tomorrow but it doesn’t feel like I’ve achieved very much. 

Interspersed with my attempts at productivity and usefulness, however, have been moments of sheer joy that arise from simple pleasures.  And that is my ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ theme for today: four simple pleasures.  These pleasures have been:

1) Changing my bed.  This may not be everyone’s idea of pleasure, but it has bought me enormous gratification as I have spent the rest of the day safe in knowledge that I am getting into crisp, clean sheets this evening.  The pleasure of anticipation, I guess.  There is not a more lovely way to end the day than clean sheets and clean pyjamas.  I may even live life on the edge and have a hot water bottle too.

2) A Belgian bun for my lunch.  It was particularly sticky bun, the kind where your bites get smaller and smaller in the hope of prolonging the treat.

3) Going to the Post Office.  As the photograph indicates, I had rather a large bag of post to despatch.  Again, the Post Office is not everyone’s idea of pleasure, but I love them (the result of either too much Postman Pat as a child or being a bossy, matriarchal, village sub-postmistress in a former life).  Scales, stamp, scales, stamp, scales, stamp – I find the whole process quite soothing.  And in the current climate of threatened privatization of the Royal Mail, I feel it is my civic duty to use Post Offices and the postal system as much as possible. 

4) As well as ‘giving’ post, I received exciting post today too: the January issue of Vogue arrived on the doormat.  Again, there is a certain anticipatory pleasure surrounding this; it’s been lying on my bed all afternoon, injecting a bit of escapist glamour into my grumpy mood.  And I’m now going to have a very indulgent five minutes flicking through it before dinner.  A slice of heaven between two covers.

So, I guess that my four simple pleasures go to prove that today hasn’t been so bad after all.  And it’s still only 5.50pm.  Who knows what simple pleasures may lie ahead?  Clean sheets may just be the start of it.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my own way was to be four simple pleasures, three finished parcels, two children’s gifts and a morning of charity.

Three finished parcels…

As I went to bed last night humming the tune of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, I realised that I had the meter of my own version of the song all wrong – trying to fit the first two days to the tune that accompanies days eleven and twelve.  This has meant a bit of revision of the phrases, although the gist remains the same…

On the first day of Christmas, my own way was to be a morning of charity.

On the second day of Christmas, my own way was to be two children’s gifts and a morning of charity.

I admit that the lyrics are definitely contrived to fit the tune, but I still am excited by the challenge of doing it (maybe I’m just searching for a new blog ‘project’ now that my X Factor boycott is over – bizarrely needing something to fill the hole in my life left by not watching a programme). 

And today’s contribution now that I have the tune more firmly sorted in my head?  Three finished parcels.

I have spent this evening wrapping, packaging and addressing three parcels containing presents.  They are now on my bed looking pretty festive with Christmas trees stamped over them.  One is bound for Newcastle, one for London and one for Australia.  As well as symbolizing gifts for family and friends, these particular parcels also represent far-flung family and friends – people that I won’t see over Christmas but who nonetheless are in my heart during the festive season, a time that is so centred on our loved ones.  While I will think of them anyway, it’s lovely to feel that now I’m coining my very own Christmas song, this particular line – mentioning them only obliquely through reference to the parcels – will serve as a reminder of those in distant parts; out of sight does not have to mean out of mind. 

On the third day of Christmas, my own way was to be three finished parcels, two children’s gifts and a morning of charity.

A brief aside… about chucking things aside

Almost three years ago to the day, I started seeing a therapist who I would continue to go to pretty much weekly for the following year.  The first task that she set me for ‘homework’ was to not tidy up before I went to bed that night; I had to leave everything where it was, just to see how it felt.  This memory, long forgotten, suddenly popped into my head as I looked at my desk & wondered how I managed to cover it in so much paraphenalia over the course of the weekend.  In homage to my old therapist and the amazing help that she gave me, everything is staying where it is.  It’ll still be there in morning.  And I don’t care.  It’s not important.  It’ll get put away at some point, probably during the course of tomorrow.  But right now, sleep is more important.  It’s funny what we learn to chuck aside.

Two sets of children’s presents

After writing last night’s post, I thought that maybe I could do some kind of countdown to Christmas over the next few weeks, kind of like the twelve days of Christmas – only from yesterday until Christmas Day there are fourteen days and the twelve days of Christmas comes after 25th.  Despite these two admittedly rather large qualifications (a bit like my road trip that wasn’t actually a road trip at all, when I went on holiday in July), I think it’s a pretty interesting idea.  So between now and a week on Friday, I will be trying to come up with a Christmas-related theme that also corresponds with the number of that day.  It may be totally contrived, it may fail miserably, but it could also be quite funny.

So, yesterday was day one: one day of charitable involvement seems like an apt description.

Sunday 12th December: two sets of children’s presents.  Both sets were handmade gifts.  I know I’ve written about this before, but when I make a present for someone, I feel like the item in question is a manifestation – a physical symbol – of my feelings towards them.  It’s such a cliche, but I genuinely feel that there is love in every stitch.  Today I went for lunch with some friends and the group included two children, although only one actually came along in the end as his parents had managed to secure babysitters.  I’d wrapped two of my Christmas angels for them, and spent a very happy half an hour or so after the meal sat with my friend’s one year old daughter on my lap, playing around with the angel.  It was such a lovely time, undoubtedly giving me more pleasure and enjoyment than it was the little girl.  It felt like a precious moment, allowing a connection – via the baby – with an old friend that I see very little of now.  It’s about sharing something, something bigger than us: that universal bond that connects us all, the bond that is knowing someone and valuing their presence in our lives – even if that presence is limited or largely confined to our past.

Although I don’t think I was conscious of it at the time, this moment with my friend’s baby daughter inspired me to finish stitching up some other presents when I got home.  I completed the final touches to a doll’s blanket, and made up two more angels.  Again, these gifts are going out to the children of friends.  And again, these are friends that I don’t see so much of these days, but that is by the by.  The gifts represent our intertwined pasts, our shared lives, our unknown futures; the delight that their children bring, the love that I feel for them all.  You may think that all this Christmas talk is making me soppy, but I feel this emotional most of the time.  I just don’t usually say it.  I knit and sew it instead.   

Christmas Starts Here

I am now feeling really Christmass-y.  This is a good feeling, as I tend to end up feeling quite ambiguous about the whole festive season.  Theoretically, I love it: the meaning behind it, notions of love between all men, good food & drink, time to see friends and family.  In reality, I often end up feeling stressed by the pressures that come with this time of year (both social pressures and the self-imposed variety) and I get really irked with the brash, vulgar, over-the-top commercialisation of it all.  Maybe I’m just old-fashioned or quaint, but I don’t want my Christmases to be about spending a shed load of money on expensive presents that nobody really needs or even likes.  Nor do I want them to be about having to buy lots of new clothes simply because I feel I need something suitably sparkly.  Nor do I want them to be about getting totally blotto at second-rate restaurants charging top-notch prices because they’re only doing a 3-course set menu.

So what am I doing to apply the ‘a life of one’s own’ idea to Christmas?  Well, here’s my what kicked my ‘Christmas of my own’ off this morning….

Dragged by sorry self out of bed at a time that seemed far too early this morning (getting up when it’s still dark at the weekend seems wrong!) to go into Birmingham and help pack up food parcels for vulnerable families in the city.  This is a Quaker initiative that’s been going for many years, although this was my first time helping out and I can honestly say that it was totally worth getting up for.  It was amazing; a real sense of camaraderie and festive cheer.  When I got home, the details about a charity gift that I’d ordered with my best friends instead of us buying presents for each other had arrived.  I felt good to be dedicating time and money to the bigger picture at Christmas; I think it’s important to remember those left fortunate that we are at this time of year especially, yet at the same time, this time of year is so busy that it’s all too easy to become self-absorbed and forget the rest of the world.

So this morning represents an important building block in making a ‘Christmas of my own’ as an integral part of ‘a life of my own’.  I’m sure that this won’t be the last that you hear about ‘a Christmas of my own’: although lots of Christmas preparation is already done, having written my cards & bought/made most of my presents, now we are getting closer to the ‘big day’ then its inevitable that I’ll be thinking about all things Christmassy a lot over the next few weeks.  Moreover, I need something to angst about now that The X Factor – and hence my boycott of the show – has now come to an end. 

 I can’t believe that as I was writing that final sentence, 5Live news announced that the final of the final for the X Factor is tomorrow night.  I guess my not knowing this demonstrates how out of the loop I am on X Factor now, but it also means that I have one last day of resistance to go.  Bring it on!

Plain Living

It’s been a busy old week.  As I sit and think about this, I can’t even remember what I was doing last Thursday evening, although I’m sure that if I look back over my posts then I’ll be reminded.  Since then, I’ve been caught up in a whirlwind of preparation: Christmas preparation, viva preparation, job preparation.  Shopping, crafting, writing Christmas cards.  Reading, revising.  Looking at cars, drawing up lists, filling out forms.  Today I threw my nephew’s nativity play & my niece’s ‘play and stay’ group into the already heady mix.  Tomorrow I’m off to Surrey for a training day linked to my new job, ladden with extra bags as I’m guessing that I’ll have to head straight to my dance class – the last of the year – on the way back. 

The week has been a whirlwind.  My head is a whirlwind – a jumble of ‘must dos’, ‘mustn’t forgets’, fears, worries, emotions – full of noise.  Sometimes, the whole world seems full of noise.  I managed to snatch an hour of peace, quiet and tranquility late this afternoon, making up a doll’s blanket that I’m giving as a Christmas present.  As I sat at my desk stitching away, I turned the radio off as the noisy debate about student tutition fees just seemed to crowd my head further.  I needed the silence. 

The restorative effect of this hour of silence, and my desire to search out silence in a hectic week, turned my thoughts to a book that I’m reading at the minute.  Called Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity by Catherine Whitmire, it encourages the reader to think about plain living and simplicity in relation to their own lives.  There is no set formula or ‘how-to’; just inspiring words and probing questions.  One of the passages that stood out for me when reading it & that came to the forefront of my mind this afternoon was as follows:

Of course, what one ultimately confronts in simplicity and quietude is not only the world but one’s self, especially the complexity and noise that many of us carry within.  Plain living is unpopular in our society because frenzied living allows us to ignore, at least for a while, all our contradictions, duplicities, and self-deceptions.  But when we quiet down, and guard our spiritis against the distractions of conventional culture, we often discover that we have a lot to deal with – from finding right livelihood, to truing our relationships, to reading out across great cultural divides.

 I dropped out of ‘frenzied living’ a number of years ago, but it can be insidious and creep back in unawares.  My period of quiet this afternoon served as a reminder to be on guard against it.  Being busy is one thing; being caught up in a hectic cycle of often self-created pressures and overblown self-importance is another.  At the same time, I realise that my attempts to read Plain Living in snatched grabs is ineffective, running contrary to the ethos of the book & meaning that I’m liable to miss gems such as the one above.  So what to do?  Put the brakes on ‘frenzied living’; restore my own peace of mind; read Plain Living when everything has quietened down a bit.

Easy as 1, 2, 3…

Today I went to the bank.  I had lots to do while I was out & about, so my plan was to simply make a few initial inquiries and then return to take the next steps when I had more time.  As it was, I got amazing customer service and the whole process – actually sorting out what I thought I would just inquire about – was completed within about twenty minutes: no return journey; two unexpected big ticks on my to-do list; a big smile all day thanks to friendly, efficient service & the satisfaction of getting stuff done!

Each of my tasks in the bank also made me happy because they relate to my life, the direction that I’m moving in and what is important to me.  It was as easy as 1, 2, 3 to implement them, and here’s the 1, 2, 3 of what they were:

1) Paying in a cheque to cover my recent flight to Budapest.  The trip was for a meeting with the other editors on the history journal that I’m involved in.  Thinking about the journal and my position made me feel all warm: it was a role that I took on not really knowing where it would lead, but it has turned out to be satisfying, enjoyable and useful.  Am looking forward to the next meeting in the spring already.

2) Setting up a new savings account linked to my current account.  This made me happy on several levels: it symbolises a simplification of my finances that I’d been wanting to implement for ages and is in anticipation of my new financial situation thanks to the new job.  Simply setting up the account has made me want to start squirrelling the pounds away right nowImmediatelyIf not sooner.

3) Sorting out getting a new credit card.  For several years, I’ve had a credit card with a well-known high street store, earning vouchers as I spend.  Recently, though, I discovered that my bank (which prides itself on its ‘ethical’ status) does a range of charity credit cards, whereby when you spend, the charity benefits.   Perfect, I thought – an easy way to give to a charity that I support anyway.  Then I did nothing about it.  But today, I seized the moment et voila!  Application done, approved, card will arrive in next few days. 

Came out of the bank feeling, well, feeling a bit smug to be honest.  But I don’t care.  I’m just happy to be taking more steps – however seemingly small – in the right direction, the direction that I want to go, towards my own life and not a life that is simply a reaction.  And these steps were easy.  As easy as 1, 2, 3.