Forest Christmas

I’ve had Christmas already this year. I met up with my sister and her husband, my new nephew (Gus the Poodle) and my niece (Ruby the Golden Doodle), in a cabin in the Forest of Dean. And we had a jolly nice Christmas.

Now, I don’t know what that last sentence conveys to you, but fuck me, people are having a hard time getting their heads around this extremely simple concept. I’ll grant that there’s a more traditional date that was chosen arbitrarily a few years back, but there are also other festivals that shift. No one says ‘Easter in March isn’t really Easter, is it?’

Despite which, it seems that Christmas is so effectively tied to December 25 that people absolutely cannot fathom that it could happen at any other time. To the point that they are almost, almost affronted.  I’m now so fed up of explaining and justifying that I’m simply not going to bother.

Sample conversation #1

‘So did you have presents?’

‘Yes, it was Christmas.’

‘What about a tree?’

‘Yes, because it was Christmas.’

‘What about…’

‘Look, we had presents, and decorations, and Christmas music, and a roast dinner, and we watched Die Hard! Because it was Christmas!’

Blank look.

Sample conversation #2

‘When did you have Christmas?’

‘Last week.’

‘So more like Thanksgiving then.’

‘No, it was Christmas.’

‘What do you mean, you had Christmas?’

‘I mean, we did all the stuff you do for Christmas. Because it was Christmas.’

‘What are you going to do at Christmas?’

‘Nothing, because I already did Christmas.’

In some respects, it’s a fascinating insight, first into how difficult people can find it to break what they seem to regard as hard-coded rules. If Christmas is one, are there loads of others that I don’t know about as well?

Secondly, the more specific questions pinpoint what defines Christmas for one’s interrogator. Sprouts are a key signifier; Die Hard is definitely up there too. A couple of people mentioned the queen’s speech, which I have never watched anyway, or midnight carol services. Which I don’t attend.

I actually was thinking about sort of doing Christmas again, and then I thought, why? I had a lovely Christmas. I don’t need two of them. I still have to get some presents, and I’m going to see the stage show of White Christmas so that seems plenty. But there’s stuff that’s just for me, like a tree or fancy bits of food, that is simply unnecessary. So I gave the money to charity instead. As the Other Christmas build up really gets going, I’m finding myself relieved at the amount of tasks I don’t have to bother with and the volume of thinking that I don’t have to do.

We’re thinking of making Forest Christmas a regular thing. It’s an appealing thought, and not only because it involves dog walking and copious amounts of champagne being drunk in a hot tub. It’s  a ‘Get out of Christmas hysteria’ free card, while still allowing me to take a week off when the rest of the country does Other Christmas. Forest Christmas for the win!

What a difference a year makes

365 little days. Although, it’s actually been longer than a year that I’ve been in my little house now, and my second Christmas is coming up fast. I know, I know, it’s early for the C word. Even more bizarrely, I’m actually doing Christmas next week. But I’ll get to that.

So, let’s check in shall we? How y’all doin’? Is there flooding near you? I hope you’re dry and safe. The rain has seemed endless here and although I fortuitously chose a house on high enough ground not to be at risk, the weather has been ceaselessly vile for weeks. Ick.

Here at Musings Towers, first things first. The cats are spoilt, contented moggies. Charlie is depredating the local wildlife to an almost embarrassing extent. Belle sleeps and is fluffy. They continue to be excellent at being cats, bless their paws and whiskers.

I have been in my job for almost 8 months and I still like it, and it’s going well. I’m through the probationary period, about which my rational brain wasn’t worried and my anxiety brain most definitely was. Now that the mornings are dark, I really wish I didn’t have to get up so early, because I know I felt much better last year when I fell into my body’s natural sleep patterns. But, while I loved the flexibility and the rarely leaving the house aspects of being self-employed, I hated the hustle. Hello, regular pay check and hello 6am.

I’ve done a few bits around the house, most importantly the dressing room storage is in. I still need more space for, erm, shoes and I have a Lloyd Loom ottoman and matching chair to refurbish to contribute to the room. That will be my first foray into re-upholstering, and it’s entirely likely to end as a total fuck up that I have to pay someone to sort out. But hey, may as well give it a go.

The realities of home ownership are sinking in. There are tiles on the roof that need replacing, and apparently some of the rendering is cement not lime and so liable to absorbing water and then flaking away. Next spring I’ll need to do something about that. My fridge grows icebergs and I don’t know why. Storage heaters are absolutely fucking useless and yet cost a fortune to run. There doesn’t seem to be a grown up around to sort out any of this, so I think it’s going to have to be me. Huh.

Single life continues to be awesome. I really like living a life unseen. It is such a relief not to have to be considerate. The small joy of not having to plan, coordinate, organise with another person is so addictive that even when I could choose company, I mostly don’t.

Occasionally I think about dating but I am totally bemused by the thought. Put on nice clothes? Leave the house? Feign interest for quite possibly hours? I can’t see what I’d get in return, when what I actually want is someone to help with life admin (a PA), someone to do some driving so I don’t have to (a chauffeur) and good company for dinner (a book). On the whole, I’ll keep the status quo, which is going to be pretty easy unless Tom Hiddleston actually rocks up to my front door.

I’m (re)learning Ancient Greek! My own prioritisation somewhat amuses me. I’d have liked a cleaner, couldn’t justify the cost. Regular manicures? Nope, too expensive. Tutor for Greek? I’ll just eat less, cancel Netflix and never go to the cinema! I love Greek, though, I’m a couple of months in and targeting GCSE next year. It’s so absorbing that if anything I have to stop myself getting too far ahead and bombarding my tutor with work to mark. I’ve bought the compendium of set texts so I think I might start sneakily working through them if I can. Heh heh heh.

As for doing Christmas next week, I’ll be meeting up with my sister and her husband and their dogs at cabin in a forest. The last time we were all at a cabin in a forest, when we were in the hot tub and onto the second bottle of champagne, we somehow decided that Christmas in November would be A Good Thing. So that’s what we are doing. I will then have actual Christmas at home, with the cats. Win all round.


Where the gargoyles play

It is a dear friend’s 40th birthday celebrations this weekend. I know. 40. She’s barely out of short trousers. An evening of conviviality is planned, after which a group will be retiring to an Airbnb. I will be retiring to a one-woman tent, because there’s a limit to my appreciation of conviviality and it’s about four hours. Which I think will be stretched to six this evening but I already settled my get away plan because I shall drive. This seems a better idea than clip-clopping around Oxford on my own in search of a cab, and I don’t Uber because, well, that company is dodgy as fuck.

I did have my own Airbnb booked (see how Airbnb has become the brand name for B&Bs, like Bic used to be for pens?), in a nice little canal boat somewhere in Jericho. They suffered an arson attack so had to cancel my reservation, which is the least of the concerns in that scenario. Who sets fire to a boat? Bastards. Anyway, I don’t know if you have checked the price of accommodation in Oxford during the summer, but it’s ridiculous. I mean, the Malmaison, which I think we can agree you might go to £150 on for a special occasion and if it was a particularly nice Mal, charges £400. Pull the other one, mate, it’s got tourists on.

Hence, I am camping, for £20 a night. My friend’s horror at this prospect is matched only by my horror at the thought of sharing a 3-bed house with 9 people. We have tacitly agreed to disagree, each confirmed in their own conviction that the other is a bit nuts. But we love them anyway.

I thought I’d get down early, get the tent set up and spend a few tranquil hours wandering the ole dreamin’ spires and hoping for a sighting of Peter Whimsey. Then I remembered. I don’t miss Oxford. Ms Just Turning 40 and I had this conversation, because both of us lived there for years and moved away, and really only remember the horrible inconveniences. The city is undoubtedly beautiful but only at dead of night or very early in the morning, when the gargoyles climb down to play and before all the bloody tourists wake the poor spires from their only-too-rare opportunities to dream. One day, they will set the gargoyles on the tourists and then we’ll see a proper Dr Who Christmas Special.

Now, I do have to go to Blackwells. Genuinely, because the new Mick Herron is out and he did a signing and I couldn’t make it and tweeted my sadness and Blackwells said they could get me a signed copy and keep it for me. And they did, because a bookseller’s word is his ‘Have you seen this new edition of Bond?’ Admittedly, that is only Baby Blackwells in Westgate but it’s also only a hop and skip to the mothership. And I have 6 inches of space on the TBR shelf (add own joke here about the most pleasure a woman can get from 6 inches), if we don’t count the three books that arrived from Blackwells yesterday, which we don’t. Because… we don’t want to.

So my plan is basically to yomp through town, collect books, retire to my tent with my preciouses, and NOT start reading the Herron or I’ll be late for dinner. At some point I have to squidge into a dress and heels and chuck mascara at my face, but that’s all of 10 minutes.

Right then. I’m off to pack the cafetière.



In which I’m going to see The Cure

And I can tell you that the last time I said that was sometime in the early 90s. A tale to thee I will unfold.

Glastonbury, 2019. No, I wasn’t there and I’d paid precisely zero attention to the line up as I assumed it was all people I’d never heard of. As was very much the case when I actually did attend Glastonbury, which was also sometime in the early 90s. But at some point during Glastonbury weekend it came to my attention that the The Cure were playing. Suddenly awash with nostalgia I decided a pleasant way to round off the weekend would be to tuck myself up in bed, with my laptop and a pot of tea, and watch their set.

In fact, I missed the first 20 minutes, but when I did start watching, Robert Smith sounded exactly the same. Exactly. Oh my god. I’m not very good with memories. My own memory is rubbish and I don’t connect at all with photos. Music can be the one thing that pulls me back in time, and that set worked a treat. I started searching for tour dates, and saw Glasgow in August. Hmm.

Then my phone told me I’d got a LinkedIn message, which was from an old school friend.  I would conservatively estimate that it’s been at least 10 years since we were last in touch. No one did anything wrong, we just didn’t maintain contact. The years slipped by, who knows if the contact info is even up to date? You know how it goes. But now she was watching The Cure play at Glastonbury, and asking me if I remembered seeing them way back when, and did I know they were playing in Glasgow in August, and did I want to go?

Hell, yes.

She bought tickets. I booked accommodation. We’re meeting in Glasgow in August.

In shock news to no one, we’re not 20 any more. We’re both nearer 50 than any other significant number and we may have nothing in common. I don’t know if nostalgia and an ongoing appreciation for Just Like Heaven is enough to get us through a weekend. I don’t know that it matters. Our moment could have been when we were both, separately, watching the BBC coverage of Glastonbury and feeling the years roll back.

And, we’re back

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

So, yeah. I thought I was done but maybe I’m not. That was a good break, but I kept thinking ‘I should write a blog post about that’, and then remembering that I don’t do that any more. Then I had a three month stint of being paid for my writing via a ton of articles I wrote for a project that in the end didn’t happen but whatevs, I got all the money anyway and some stuff got published on a corporate blog somewheres on the interwebs.

In the midst of that, I got a new, full time job that doesn’t require a shitty commute or stupid hours and lo! I’m home before 6pm on week nights. Oh, and it’s a good job paying a proper salary and the company seems really nice. Huh.

And I had all my hair cut off, and did some decorating and read some books and listened to some audiobooks, and Charlie has so far left three dead rabbits under the bed. I’m going to start storing stuff there just to stop him using it as a larder.

I made a sourdough starter and my sourdough isn’t the greatest but it’s ok. Loaves are rising as I type, and will continue to rise overnight until I bake them before I go to a yoga workshop in the morning.

I’m still single. It’s still fucking awesome. John Wick 3 was ok, better than 2, not as good as 1. I need to see Avengers Endgame again and I meant to see Rocketman this evening but then I painted my fence with teak oil, rewarded myself with wine and ordered a takeaway instead.

I’m reading a book about otters, and listening to Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver and I simply cannot find the right pair of black shoes.

I think we’re up to date now. Did you miss me?



And, we’re done

It’s time. I might start a new blog, I haven’t quite decided. There are a couple of projects kicking around in my head and one of those might turn blogwards. I don’t know.  But as of now, I’m leaving MFTS to gather internet dust.

Thanks to my readers. Always a privilege to get something down and have anyone take the time to read it.

Happy new year, y’all!


Doing one thing at a time

I’m taking the opportunity of all this unaccustomed time I have at the moment to try to learn some new habits. One of the activities my CBT coach got me to do when my anxiety was at its worst was to create a weekly timetable and then evaluate how I felt about what I did in each time slot. I rated from 0-10 for Achievement and from 0-10 for Enjoyment.

Probably unsurprisingly after so many years at work, where I was rated almost entirely on what I got done, I am very task focused. So with my weekly timetable, task after task was an achievement, but nothing was particularly enjoyable. If anyone is feeling that their life is a little, or a lot, off balance, I’d recommend trying that rating exercise, by the way.

Somewhere along the way I developed the attitude that anything enjoyable should be pushed to the fringes of life. Fine to do when the chores are done, but not stuff that can take priority. I am a tidy, organised, control freak anyway and I think my previously frenetic working life exacerbated these tendencies. Life really did become all work.

But the chores are never done and they never will be. I’m learning that that’s ok, and I’m deliberately trying to create more balance by forcing myself not to do things. One way to do that is to focus on just doing one thing at a time. So I started by just listening to a podcast. Then just listening to the radio. Like a lot of people, I think, I’ve tended to use the radio as background noise. But I can’t work or read with background noise, and now I’m not driving much I’m missing shows that I liked.

No one thinks it’s weird to sit down and watch TV for a couple of hours. But who these days sits down to give the radio their full attention? I started by settling myself in with a pot of coffee one Saturday morning and listening to Saturday Live on R4. To start with, it felt strange and twitchy. I had to keep reminding myself that this was what I was supposed to be doing with the time. I reached repeatedly for my phone, and then put it down again as I realised I was about to start multi-tasking. I made myself stay still, and I listened to the whole programme. Then I got on with my usual day, but feeling calmer and more grounded. I noticed that my entire day seemed to run more slowly and comfortably.

Mid-week and I listened to a podcast about Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journal. It’s long been my favourite poem and this show included Samuel West reading parts of it aloud – absolute bliss. I dug out my copy of the poem to take to bed with me, and over the next couple of nights I read the whole thing aloud to myself. Sunday morning brought The Archers omnibus and ok, I did a bit of a Tweetalong as well. But that was less a distraction and more a shared experience. It’s not as if The Archers is always very interesting – there are whole storylines that are dull as blocked culvert water. So allowing myself to be bored for a couple of minutes becomes part of the experience as well.

I like this slowing down and paying attention. Everything that needs to happen still happens. But, taking one thing at a time smoothes the rhythm of the day and makes everything more enjoyable.