Vacation by the numbers

I was off on a sneaky, autumn break to the Lake District. I toyed with the idea of not taking even my phone, but there’s always the possibility of emergency need. As it turned out, the cottage had slowfi and no phone reception anyway, so it sort of worked out.

Books read: 5. On day one of the holiday, I didn’t get dressed until mid-afternoon and I didn’t go out at all. I just read, drank tea and ate chocolate biscuits, which had been the vision in my head about what I most wanted to do on holiday. It’s pretty hard to disappoint that level of expectations, especially when your starting novel is The Trespassers, by Tana French. The rest was a mix of books I’d bought as holiday planning, and a couple I picked up locally: The Outrun, Amy Liptrott; The Coffin Trail, Martin Edwards; The Grown up, Gillian Flynn; The Girl with all the Gifts, M.R.Carey.

Walks: 2. That’s a bit rubbish, actually, isn’t it? We did do lots of strolling around, but in terms of proper walks, only two. And they were pretty easy ones. Oh well. What that means is, I’ve got a great excuse to get back up there and do some real walking.

Horse rides: 1. I booked this a couple of weeks before we went, and I screwed up the date. So we turned up on time on Tuesday, and no one was at the stables. Because they’d been there on Monday. We rescheduled for Wednesday, which turned out to be the first rain-free day and so a much better choice for a gentle stroll on to the fells. One day, I’ll be able to keep both feet in the stirrups when it comes to the trotting part. This time round we were four strides in and I was clinging to my horse’s neck to stay on, while simultaneously trying to get her to stop and get my foot back in the stirrup. I know it’s not that difficult, but then again, I only ride for an hour every 12-18 months so…

Days of rain: 11/2. It’s probably obligatory to spend one day driving round but not really getting out of the car for fear you’ll be swept away. The rain cleared enough for us to grab lunch in Keswick and for a brief stop at Castlerigg stone circle. This might also have been Grasmere gingerbread day.

Vegetarian sausage sandwiches eaten: 3. One of them with a pint of tea, which is about my ideal of what lunch should be on a chilly day. You would assume that, given how easy an offering it is, the vegetarian sausage sandwich would be pretty common. You would be wrong. The vegetarian and gluten free options up in the Lakes were much, much better than I’m used to. I’m assuming this has something to do with the demand amongst the walking demographic (I bet there’s an overlap between ‘people who can afford Mammut’ and ‘people who eat quinoa on a regular basis’) but whatever the reason, when a pasty shop in Keswick can magic up a gluten free pasty, it makes you wonder what’s wrong with the rest of the country.

Lakes visited:  5. Windermere, Ullswater, Derwentwater, Buttermere, Coniston. Of which I give the palm to Buttermere, because there was not a view of it that wasn’t stunning. Poor old Coniston, which could more than hold its own in any other company, was frankly disappointing afterwards. It’s been more than 20 years since I was last in the Lake District, and I had no recollection at all of how beautiful it is. Also, how close it is, really – a couple of hundred miles makes it long weekend territory. I shall plan ahead for next year.

Boat rides: 1. Last day, Windermere, sun just setting and a chill settling. An appropriate elegy for the end of a holiday.

So there you have it. I’m still fending off the tidal wave of normalcy until work tomorrow. My ideal return would have been a dead of night swoop on the house, scooping up cats, laptop and a few more items of clothing before speeding back to the motorway and the glorious north. I’m thinking new life in a cafe-cum-bookshop by one of the smaller lakes…

What do you do?

First they came for the foreign workers. And I did not speak out, because I was not a foreign worker.
Who next?
What do you do, when your government is leading the march to racism and xenophobia, and to all intents and purposes, there is no opposition party?
What do you do, when you’re one of the 48% who did not vote for Brexit and no, you won’t let that go, and there’s no channel for discontent other than Facebook memes?
What do you when you’re disenfranchised by the current state of politics?
What do you do when the incumbent government repeatedly and unashamedly proves itself morally and ethically bankrupt?
What do you do when you assume, as a basically ok, ordinary person, that there’s a line that won’t be crossed, and then you watch that government, because they’re not my government and nothing they do is in my name or the name of any other basically ok, ordinary person, trample right across it without a backward glance?
There’s a school census now. Schools are identifying which children, yes, children, were born in this country. Parents of kids who were born here don’t even have to bother sending the form back.
Lists. Records. The banal evil of bureaucracy, and I mean evil because that is what it is.
Who next?

In which I make up some rules for life

  1. The drinking is no longer worth the hangover. Unless it’s very good champagne.
  2. The drive home is always better than staying in the Hilton.
  3. Cats are great at being cats; expecting them to suddenly start making the tea is a bit much. Likewise, a lot of people are great at being themselves, and expecting anything else may well be too much to ask.
  4. There’s always more work, so screw it.
  5. Buy decent luggage. It will cost less than the price you will pay in misery for dragging around cheap ass suitcases.
  6. Any social situation can be ok, as long as you’ve got a book.
  7. The pen and the notebook are mightier than the phone (they don’t need a signal).
  8. TV has its place. That place is in other people’s houses.
  9. You should definitely buy that Chanel lipstick. It will make life better.
  10. No one puts you in a corner. (Unless you want to sit there so you can scope the entrances and make sure no one can creep up on you.)
  11. Conventions aren’t rules, and ‘most people’ know jack and have shit judgment.
  12. Food is neither reward nor punishment.
  13. You’re gonna get older, so you might as well get used to it.  Or even enjoy it.
  14. Your sense of humour is probably fine; it’s sexism that isn’t funny.
  15. Your boss is not, in fact, the boss of you. They just happen to be senior to you in the hierarchy of a particular organisation.

In which Musings Towers has relocated

So, here we are, properly in the Cotswolds, in a village that puts one irresistibly in mind of Hot Fuzz. Fellow villagers say ‘Hello’ as one passes them on the street. A neighbour popped round to introduce herself. Drivers wait politely in turn to negotiate the narrow streets. T’aint natural.

The house has been beaten into some sort of order, with only a few boxes remaining unpacked, and that mostly for lack of anywhere to put their contents. I’m not sure everything is in the right place yet, but it’s in a place and that’ll do as a start. I seek a new bookcase and some kitchen storage, as well as a couple of rugs. But the bare bones are there.

The cats, poor little things, were traumatised by the whole experience. By the time it came to lure them into cat carriers, in fact they walked in of their own accord. They were very unsure of the new house for a day or so, and they seemed increasingly desperate to go outside. When I found Charlie outside an upstairs window, on a 2-inch wide ledge, eyeing up the jump to the garage roof, I cracked and let them out. He’s all right, but Belle’s developed a habit of waking me up at 2am by affectionately kneading me and purring, while trying to nibble my nose and ears. She can keep it up for literally hours and she won’t take no, or being shut out of the room for an answer. She just barges back in again.

Still, I feel a bit like one of the cats myself, prowling and restless. With none of the routines in place yet, I’m gradually adapting myself into a way of living here. I haven’t found that easy flow that gets you out the door in the morning on autopilot. There seem to be too many rooms involved and they’re on different floors.

So at the moment it’s all strange and ill fitting, not bad, but different and with rough edges to be smoothed out. There’s a list of tasks to be done and items to be bought. Ask me again in a month.

In which maybe there are some clothes, after all

I’ve been despairing for months. Is it me? Is it them? I can’t tell, but I can’t spend money for wanting to. The situation has reached such a nadir that earlier this week, I was so disheartened I failed even to buy mascara. I need mascara. It’s the only thing that makes me look awake in meetings.

Summer is always bad, this year has been worse than usual. Off the shoulder, formless, floaty, spaghetti straps. No no no. In any case, the weather hasn’t cooperated so if I did buy any of that stuff, it would be hidden under multiple layers and I’d look like someone who wears their entire wardrobe because they don’t have anywhere to store it. Plus, I work in an air-conditioned, under-occupied office. It might be 25 degrees outside, but cashmere is my friend in summer. In winter, I upgrade to a cape that is basically a faux fur trimmed blanket. Yeah, stylish and warm. Eat that, Slanket!

I’m also going through a phase where I’m bored with/hate all of the clothes in my wardrobe. You know how you get up one morning and everything that was fine the day before is suddenly incontrovertibly wrong? That.

There is hope, though. It’s called ‘autumn’. It looks very much as though straight and wide legged trousers will be available, in lovely fabrics like wool and flannel. I don’t care what fashion will be telling me, these are what I really want to wear, along with a sweater, a jacket and boots or smart trainers. Jeans for the weekend.

Except that I keep trying on smart trainers and realising that they’re ugly. Instead of looking as though I’m effortlessly pulling off a sporty-yet-smart urban vibe,  I look like I work in a care home. I think I might have to get dark grey Converse and call it done. There are, thank goodness, great boots all over the place so that’s not even a concern.

And then, there’s outer layers. I’ve been holding back on jackets a bit, feeling I had too many. It must be said, I don’t have any like this and it may well be it stays that way. But, goodness, it would be fun.

Bomber jacket


And, my coats are starting to look a little too worn and my autumn coat is plain black , and really, do I really need an excuse for this? Worn with aforementioned navy flannel pants and dark grey Converse?



Oh autumn, do get on with it.

In which I’m getting educated again

One of the main problems I have with work, other than it makes you leave the house and talk to other people and sit there all day long, is that it’s a bit dull. Busy does not equate to intellectually challenged, it just means more to do in the same amount of time. My job is busy, but it’s not hard, so I consistently have all this mental capacity going to waste, and fuck me, I’m 45 this year and I can hear the high pitched whistling noise of years passing by in which I’m achieving bugger all. I’m too lazy to be an autodidact and I need some kind of framework to make me put the effort in. Periodically this general sense of ‘Oh my god, my brain is going to mush’, hits a peak and I buy textbooks and dig out my PhD application, and then realise it’s a house deposit or PhD fees and



(Because it turns out free WordPress is a pain in the ass with gifs)

But then the country went mad one week (Brexit) and nothing made sense, plus work is an ongoing emotional maelstrom (which I’m observing in the way that some people chase tornadoes) and I suddenly wanted very much to have something that was cold and practical and fact based to hang on to. Then I realised also that really quite a lot of the population is largely either batshit (Brexit, Trump) or incomprehensible, and thought some way of explaining that might be good.

Thus, as a neglected girlfriend to her former lover,  I have fled back to the welcoming arms of the Open University and registered for a BSc in Psychology & Law. This makes no sense whatsoever against my learning profile, and that’s kind of the point. It’s way off base for me, so it should be more of a challenge. Unfortunately, the first year’s module is all online (what, no box of reading materials?) and because it’s only undergraduate I think I might have to talk to some of the other people on the course (what for?) but still. The old grey cells should get something of a workout for a change and I’ll have access to JSTOR again. Get in.

In which I hit the re-set button

Mostly, by taking a week off and having a few days camping and hiking in Wales. The rest of the week I’ve been at home, balancing my time between pre-move fixes and chores around the house, and doing nothing. It’s simultaneously obvious and easily forgotten, how important it is to have time just to be.

The campsite was ideal. Yes, hot water; no, electricity. The downside was it rained and I had wet hair for two days (I shoved it under a hat). The upside was I mostly forgot about my phone. It wasn’t enough time away (is there such a thing as enough time away?), but it was a good start. Successful camping is all about getting the basics right, and they were.

And I hiked/scrambled/slogged up Snowdon, about which I’d been somewhat trepidatious. Much as I like walking, I don’t like going up. Snowdon was about going up in rain, into cloud. As neither of us is feeling at the peak of physical fitness, the deal was that if either of us wanted to stop, for any reason, we would. In the end, it wasn’t as tough physically as I thought it would be, so it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t get to the top. I did wonder ‘But why am I bothering?’ and the answer came ‘Because there’s tea up there.’

I learned a few things along the way. The views are amazing, but I don’t like scrambling for them. I can make it up a small mountain, but mountains are not my achievement. Tea is a great incentive. There is a place for fleece in my wardrobe, bought one morning when it was clear I didn’t have enough layers. Cheapshit waterproofs do not hack it in Snowdonia. It was good to move, to push it a bit, to have fresh air strongly laced with rain whipping my head clear. I need to make time for more of that.

Back at home, I’ve been trying not to lose my days to things I must do, because the working week is full of briars enough. Holiday is about what you want to do but I also needed to feel that it was strongly differentiated from work time. Days full of email and meetings rarely give you anything to show at the end of them. So I decided to enjoy the chores that had to be done. A couple of hours in the garden and it’s tidy again. A morning washing down exterior woodwork, in the sun, listening to the radio. I’ve replaced a shower hose – who knew it was that easy? Small tasks, small satisfactions but at the end of the day I can look around and see ‘I did that’. Good.