Week  Ten: The ordinary pleasure of bathing

Let us begin by going back in time several years to a cold,
dark winter’s afternoon much like the ones we are having now…

The hot water was beginning to steam as I emptied two capfuls
of expensive oil into the tub.  I
stripped off my clothes, climbed over the side and slipped under the
surface.  After a long walk beside a
frozen river, I could feel the warmth ease my tightened muscles.  I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, hoping for
the water to have the same restorative effect on my mind even if deep down I
knew that no elixir, however fragrant, could cure my psychic woes.  But nonetheless I hoped.  I lay there in the stillness until my fingers
wrinkled and the water turned cold, half-believing that when I stood up and
reached for a towel, I’d be cured – my troubles washed away, my soul as clean
as my skin, a fresh start all round.  

Of course the act of bathing provided only the clean skin
part.  Once I got out, I was still as
worn out, run down and miserable as I had been before I turned the taps
on.  Now I was shivering and disappointed
too, despondent that the transformation I’d imagined hadn’t taken place.  I had invested that eighty or so litres of
water with a powerful combination of magical and baptismal qualities and then
felt indignant when all it did was give me a wash.  Why didn’t it save me?, I wondered.  Where was the answer to all my problems if
not in the mythical relaxing bath time so highly recommended by women’s
magazine advice?

Let us now skip forward in time.  It is just last week.  Again I am running a bath but in another
bathroom and what seems like an altogether different life.  I feel the bubbles tickling my chin and the
hot water stinging the tops of my thighs.
The temperature soothes the small of my back, easing away the lingering
remnants of a chill that has kept me housebound most of the week.  I enjoy listening to the stillness, albeit with
an ear half-cocked to possible scuttling mouse noises from the loft above.  I relax knowing that I cannot do anything but
lie here until I decide to get out.  When
I make that decision, I have a tingle of anticipation as I step onto the mat.  Getting out the bath means that moment has
arrived – the one I’ve been waiting for and looking forward to since the
thought of having a bath crossed my mind: the time has come to trim my
toenails.

Was that the statement you were expecting, dear reader?

Perhaps not, but that is the truth of my bath time last
Friday.  Things have changed so very much
since the first scene I described, and one aspect of this is my perspective on
bathing.  I used to believe that I could
live at break neck speed, surviving variously on too little (sleep) or too much
(alcohol), with a food intake that swung rapidly between the two poles.  As a periodic crash hit me, as it inevitably would,
I’d take to the bath as if that would solve everything, a kind of self-care
cure-all to call upon in times of emergency.
Little wonder the experience was always a disappointment.  

Now I enjoy baths for just what they are: the opportunity to
lie in warm water and let the world drift by for a short while.  Nothing more, but nothing less either.  A simple pleasure, one to be grateful for
when the world outside is cold and dark.
And when the world outside is also in full throttle party-shopping-party-eating-party-drinking-party-visiting-party-hosting-party
mode (as it is for the next five weeks or so), perhaps it time to be especially
grateful for baths.  They can’t
counteract all the damage we can inflict on ourselves over the festive season
but they can offer a brief period of respite.

Whenever you need some kind of relief either this week or in
the month ahead, take a bath (or a long, luxurious shower is an equally good
alternative).  They won’t fix you, or the
world.  But you can enjoy it anyway, just
for what it is.

You don’t have to share your bath time pictures, but you can
if you like!  You can share any other
thoughts on the joys of bathing too – either via the A Life Of One’s Own
Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on Instagram and/or
Twitter.

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Stir it up Sunday…or any day

This coming Sunday, 22nd November, is what is traditionally
known as ‘Stir it up Sunday’.  This is
the name given to the last Sunday before advent begins and apparently the name
comes from a prayer for the day which begins ‘Stir up, we beseech thee’ (thanks
to
Elspeth Thompson’s The Wonderful Weekend
Book
for that tidbit of
information).  However, this is also
customarily the day to make Christmas cake, so I like to think that the ‘Stir
it up’ name is as much linked to the baking action as the church liturgy.  Am sure the coincidence is no accident!

This year will be the first time that I’ve observed this
seasonal ritual and I will be attempting to make a Christmas cake.  I’ve always wanted to do this and when
mapping out themes for The Fourth Quarter
it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
Alas I’m already busy on Sunday itself so it’ll be ‘Stir it up Saturday’
for me – and I’m inviting you to join me!
Whether it’s Saturday or Sunday or any other day of the week ahead, why
don’t you stir it up too?

You can be literal about the theme and make some kind of
baked goods that need stirring – whether that is a Christmas cake or another
creation.  Or you could interpret ‘stir
it up’ more broadly.  Where in your life
could things do with mixing up a bit?  

Think about your life in terms of a recipe.  What ingredients do you have?  What is missing?  Where can you get those items from?  

What about the ratios between different ingredients?  Maybe you’ve got all the necessary elements
but the proportions don’t make for an appetising whole.  What changes do you need to make?

Or is there one specific area where things need stirring
up?  What’s the wooden spoon that you
could use to do that?

Whichever you choose, whether stirring literally or
metaphorically, don’t forget to make a wish!
This is central element of the ‘Stir it up’ tradition, with whoever
helps to mix the ingredients getting to make a wish.  May all of our stir it up wishes come true,
whatever form they take.

Also don’t forget to share your reflections on this week’s
theme, including any pictures or thoughts about stirring it up, either via the A Life Of One’s Own
Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on Instagram and/or
Twitter.

Week Eight: Comfort

A pair of leather gloves have taken up residency in my
handbag.  I’m now regularly layering
vest, t-shirt and jumper, with the bottom item most *definitely* getting tucked
in my waistband.  And socks clad my feet
when only a short time ago I was happy to stay barefoot when working at home.

It can only mean one thing: winter weather is here.  The bright and often warm autumn days that
often linger from September into October are no more.  November has bought wind and rain and almost
endless grey skies as well as darker nights and shorter days.  Surely even the most ardent lover of cosy
evenings must feel some despair at going out in the mornings in the dark and
returning home later in the same?  

When the ‘seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness’ segue into
months of encircling gloom, mist and fog patches, what are we to do?  Curling up and hibernating is alas not an
option (although we could probably all do to take more notice of nature’s cue
to sleep more, as I discussed back in Week Five: Rest).  We can, though, take inspiration from the
idea of it. In particular, we can create for ourselves the kind of comforting
nest that hibernating creatures need if they are to get through the winter months
and emerge when the cold and dark begin to subside.  

Don’t worry, I’m not proposing that we all go out and make a
shell of leaves and twigs to carry on our backs for the next few months!

What we can do is mindfully ensconce ourselves in our own
human equivalent: our clothes.  What we
wear serves many purposes: warmth, protection, modesty, identity, status,
creativity.  However an aspect that we
tend to overlook is the visceral feel of the garments, the tactile sensation of
how the item and our skin, our bodies, interact.  We might thumb a sleeve in a shop and think ‘Ooo
that’s soft’, or wince when we pull something on in the changing rooms because the
fabric rubs unpleasantly, but on a day-to-day basis that kind of sensational
awareness too often gets forgotten.  By
bringing ourselves back to it, by cultivating consciousness of it, we are
creating an easily accessible source of comfort.  

So this week I’m encouraging you to turn your attention to
this tactile goodness.  Approach how you
dress in a different way, focusing on touch more than sight.  Feel your way through your wardrobe and
drawers seeking out those garments that make your hand pause and linger.  Wrap yourself up each day in whatever you can
that feels like a comfort to your skin and to your soul, from lace briefs to a
woollen coat, silky camis to cashmere…well, cashmere anything.  

Build a wearable warm nest to take about the day with you –
because we need to get our comfort wherever we can right now.

Please do share your reflections on this week’s theme,
including any pictures or thoughts about tactile clothing or comfort in general,
either via the A Life
Of One’s Own Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on
Instagram and/or Twitter.

We all need bonfires

Okay, so the photograph doesn’t show a bonfire.  Just shows I didn’t plan this before *last* Bonfire Night!

Thursday 5th November: Bonfire Night in the
UK.  I’m hesitant about trying to
describe this seasonal event to anyone unfamiliar with the concept because
having once tried to explain it to two New York shop assistants, I’ve become
extremely aware of what a crazy celebration it is: we light bonfires and set
off fireworks to commemorate the foiling of a 1605 plot by some Catholic men to
blow up the Protestant Houses of Parliament.
Sometimes we even burn an effigy of the plot’s ringleader, Guy Fawkes.  

It’s a strange tradition; pretty gruesome and distasteful
when you think about it in the context of twenty-first century terrorism.  It also seems to be on the wane somewhat,
pushed out by an increasing emphasis on Hallowe’en.  Yet part of me still hankers after a good
Bonfire Night get-together (this year I’m happily attending two, one on Friday
and one on Saturday – like other festivals that fall on weekdays, it gets stretched
to the nearest weekend).  I suspect that
its continuation over the years, and the reason that people still enjoy it, is
less to do with the political background and more because it fulfils some of
our deepest needs in the same way that Hallowe’en does (for more on that, see here).  It’s an excuse, a prompt, to spend time with
friends and family.  Little traditions
associated with the fire-and-fireworks element (largely food related: jacket
potatoes, toffee apples, cinder toffee) support an atmosphere of warmth,
conviviality and ritual.  We remember
these nights fondly from when we were children and want to share that sense of
joy and wonder with our own children too.

There is something quite magical about the occasion.  You huddle up in coats and scarves and
gloves, trying to keep warm through liquor or a loved one, and ‘Ooo!’ and ‘Aah!’
at the fireworks.  You write your name
mid-air with a sparkler and watch as that word, those letters so integral to
your identity, evaporate without a trace.
You stand beside the bonfire, chatting merrily to a friend, then find
yourself gazing at the flames, transported through memories of all the times
you’ve stood there before, perhaps in a different place, but still simply staring
at the fire.  

There’s something so mesmerising about the way it licks and
curls, rages and burns.  Fires draw us
closer, attracts us nearer, but also keep us away, fearful of their fierce
power.  We relate to them on a primeval
level, as our ancient ancestors must have done when their very survival
depended upon them, yet we live lives so far removed from them as a
source.  Nowadays we are as likely to
encounter fire in negative ways, such as when they tear through our homes or
land, than we are the positive – the gathering together in a small circle,
sharing its light and heat.

Where would you like to start a fire in your life?  Where could you use the power of its flames?  

Maybe you crave the communion of bringing those closest to
you in a coven around the hearth.

Maybe you need to set alight your passion, to strike a match
and let it take hold.  

Maybe you need a bonfire to burn some detritus in your
psychic garden, letting it drift in plumes of smoke up to the sky and
beyond.  

Fire has the power and the potential to help us secure
whatever it is that we need most in our lives.
And if you can work it into a fire-fireworks-food combination, then even
better.  

Happy Bonfire Night to you all x

Please do share your reflections on this week’s theme,
including any pictures or thoughts about Bonfire Night specifically or fire in
general, either via the A
Life Of One’s Own Facebook page
or using the hashtag #fourthquarter2015 on
Instagram and/or Twitter.