Greece is the way I’m feeling

I will be co-leading a programme of workshops this year, which will help women set and achieve some goals, in a supportive and accountable context. I went to a BOLD Goals workshop in Oxford the year that my life imploded and it really helped me identify some important areas of my life that were just not right. Mostly it was work and location, and the workshop made me think about what I did want instead. Eight months later and I had jumped ship from my horrible, toxic job and moved north to the house I bought. During the session itself, I hadn’t see a way forward. But I was readier to seize the opportunity that came along because I’d already put some effort in to visualise what I did want.

So kick off for the workshops is Monday, and I’m looking forward to it. However, I did realise that I probs need some goals of my own to take to the party.

First up has to be getting through my Greek GCSE in May/June this year. I started Greek in October with a self-imposed stretch target of hitting GCSE within the year, because I just can’t see how it could possibly take two years. I’m on track but it’s going to take some effort. So that’s my top priority and Wednesday evenings are sacrosanct to my hour with my tutor.

Next up is the perennial ‘what am I going to do to get my arse off the sofa?’ Heavy sigh. To counter my own laziness, I’ve registered for a MacMillan 26 mile sponsored walk in the Peak District in July. This means I’ll have to get out to the Peaks for training walks, because (a) I can’t walk 26 miles without training and (b) there’s no point training not in the Peaks or the topography will break me on the day. And, of course, registering and having to get sponsorship money means I can’t back out, so I have neatly trapped myself with that one. I’m a genius. I hate me.

That seems like quite enough for the first half of the year, given that the thought of regularly losing entire weekend days to not being in the house provokes slight panic. But what of the second half?

I have a half-formed thought about a structured reading programme. I’ve read a bit of and about Greek philosophy recently, and I’ve also just started listening to the Philosophize This podcast. So far, it’s scampered from the Pre-Socratics to Aristotle, and really, it’s beyond time I read Plato and made sense of it. I’ve joined the Hellenic Society, which gets me a library card for UCL’s Classics Library and access to JSTOR. Even better, it’s a lending library (up yours, Bodleian).

All the pieces of the puzzle are there. Usually, it’s the self-discipline that’s lacking. Maybe I can channel a bit of Aristotle and add some purpose to my life?

 

 

 

London anti-Trump march

Well, shudder. Offer me London in the heat to join a huge crowd of people and I’d usually hide in a dark corner. But at the moment, if you’re a sane and normal person who doesn’t hate basically everyone who isn’t a Nazi or a dictator, then Trump is a lightning rod. One giant orange symbol standing for anti-climate change, anti-refugees, anti-immigration, Islamophobia, racism, sexism, lies, violence, bigotry of every stripe, misogyny… The list goes on and on, even longer than the march.

So, I was there. Not part of a Corbyn ‘rent a mob’ as the right wing gutter press will have it. No one offered to pay me and Corbyn is fucking useless. Just an individual, joining up with a lot of other individuals, because we’re really angry now and we’ve had enough.

People, and women in particular, are not supposed to be angry. Anger is so negative, so uncontrollable. But what, then are we allowed to feel? What is considered appropriate? Because I am angry about Brexit. I am angry about Trump. I am angry that May simpers at Trump (and for the love of all the gods, woman, find either a dress that fits or a fucking tailor. Michelle Obama could probably help if you ask nicely.) I am angry that we have no political leadership or opposition in this country, rendering me disenfranchised. I am angry that I wrote ‘we’ve had enough’, knowing full well that there is more to come and little to be done about it.

So I marched. Because, despite the rage and the fury, I’m not the sort of person who breaks windows or chains themselves to railings.

Yet.

Trump Putin
A picture tells a thousand words

 

Not our cup of tea

The queen thinks you're a twat
Not just the queen.

The finger

 

 

 

 

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…

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.

In which I set ridiculously easy goals for 2013

It’s the time of year for good intentions, but given that all I really want is a quiet year, I’m not shooting for anything difficult.

  1. Make sourdough bread (the starter is already underway)
  2. Make lemon curd – inspired by this post from Dovegrey Reader
  3. Make croissants. Because really, how hard can they be?
  4. Revise my MPhil proposal for the OU (I checked with the tutor, and the OU are still interested; and today I got a Bodleian card so I can go back to the lovely, lovely Sackler Library and geek out with the Classics journals).
  5. Do more yoga. This is kind of a perennial aim, but I really can’t keep getting to the end of the year in such an exhausted, stressed state and then losing a week to illness.
  6. Read one Patrick O’Brian book every month
  7. Make at least one trip to the US
  8. Go to more plays. The Oxford Playhouse has a fair range of stuff showing and it’s possible to get very cheap tickets. I should take more of a punt than I do.
  9. Write more letters or postcards  – which shouldn’t be hard given that I barely put pen to paper last year.
  10. Finish vol 3 of Proust.
  11. Do more walking.
  12. Eat more healthily. This isn’t too much of a deal, I just need to break the carbs habit again.

Ok, that’s enough. And I totally reserve the right to change, ignore or abandon this list at whim.

In which I rejoice in an autumn walk in the rain

The rain thrummed and sang, and thrummed and sang. Instead of folding myself around the cat already sleeping on the sofa, and settling in for a nap, I remembered the existence of waterproofs and the quiet pleasure of empty roads in the rain, and decided to walk to Rousham, along a back road that I’ve driven and that is little more than a track in places. I didn’t know exactly where I’d go after that, but I knew I could stick to the roads and it would be familiar enough territory for me to find my way without a map. I anticipated an easy 6-7 miles, fully intending to let myself off lightly in the weather; the reality turned out to be a more respectable roughly 10.

It was a welcome shock to be out in the chilly wet. At first, I tried to keep a hood up, but it was too uncomfortable and I gave way in favour of rain streaming down my face and my hair soaked to rats’ tails. Turns out, my waterproof jacket could use some TLC before it sees active duty again. I wasn’t out long enough to get soaked through, but I was grateful for the layer of fleece beneath it.

This was my first proper autumn walk, taken not despite the rain but because I couldn’t resist the pull of it. The harvest is in and the landscape has changed from its gilded summer glory to darker, duller tones. Still, the velvety sheen of rain-clad foliage, the bronze and copper nibbling at the edges of the leaves, have their own allure, shades from medieval tapestries. There were splashes of red blackberries yet to ripen in the hedgerows, only a handful already dark and sweet; here and there, the subtle gleam of elderberries caught my eye. A bounteous crop of nettles had me thinking ‘Nettle soup?’ I smelled cut grass, woodsmoke, pine, and saw no one else on foot.

At about the mid-way point, I found a petrol station and stopped in for chocolate and a brief respite of warmth. As I dripped at the cash register, the bemused attendant said ‘Horrible weather, isn’t it?’ ‘No’, I said. ‘It’s the rain that got me walking in the first place.’ Back out on the road, tearing the chocolate wrapper open with my teeth because my hands were too coldly clumsy, soaked and jubilant, I had a moment of gleeful exhilaration.

A couple of miles later, enjoyment was starting to yield to the urgency of tiring muscles. I saw a sign for Chipping Norton, 11 miles. Might have made it there, but not back and I wasn’t sure I had the bus fare. The last stretch felt harder than it should have done, along flat, straight roads quartering the land into fields, but the rain had softened to a gentle benediction when I turned my face up to see a red kite move across the sullen sky. With relief I cut the last corner by taking a footpath across one field and along the edge of another. Pheasants scattered and shot into the air ahead of me, and the wet grass cleaned off the good half pound of Oxfordshire soil that had grasped each boot.

The walk was the perfect distance, an undefined measurement that varies but generally works out for me as ‘time when you wish you were done + about 2 miles’. I was glad to step back into the warmth of the cottage, shed dripping clothes by the front door and cocoon myself in dry ones. The rain still patters down outside, but this is an earned lassitude to take into a peaceful evening.

In which I tag along on a road-trip

So, there were these crazy chaps indulging in a sustained exercise in lunacy by cycling coast to coast on fixed gear bikes, to raise money for a couple of charities. There was a support vehicle. Did I want to go along to spend a day and a half in a car, occasionally hanging out in lay-bys to wave as they sped past? Yes, of course I did, for various reasons, one of which was certainly that I will jump at almost any chance of a road-trip.

A few months back I’d lent a colleague Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon, and in return he’d lent me Larry McMurtry’s Roads. We’d chatted about the books, and their authors’ entirely opposite views on travel. All that talking and reading made me nostalgic for the East Coast to Mid West road trips that Mike and I took, back in what was apparently a different lifetime. They were great trips: endless miles of road unfolding, cities, corn fields, prairies, big sky, Badlands. We’d take a cooler, stock up on bananas, pretzels, water and cheese slices and head off in the right general direction, making the route up as we went along. Sometimes we’d book a hotel a night or so ahead; sometimes we’d chance it and see where we pitched up. I could put my bare feet up on the dashboard, arm out the window and watch miles of country flash by.

We’d always buy new CDs along the way for the car. In Bowling Green, OH, we got a girl group box set that I think saw us well into Kentucky. We got lunchtime drunk in Nashville and bought cowboy boots as a belated wedding present for each other. I couldn’t believe how empty South Dakota was, all those farms abandoned as though one day, the owners had just given up, locked the house and walked away; and I really couldn’t believe anyone still lived in Arkansas.

This trip was not on the same scale but it had some of the same ingredients. For a start, I like cars as space, I think partly because my cars have been the only space I’ve ever owned. They are enclosed and intimate, a great place to talk or to discover companionable silence. Then there is nothing so freeing as just hitting the road with the bare minimum you need. Leaving the physical baggage behind is liberating; it’s also why I like camping, strip it back to the basics, step outside the diurnal round.

Road-trips are relaxing, because all you’re supposed to be doing is travelling, or in this case, travelling and waiting in case the cycling loons needed anything. Time ceases to matter when there’s no fixed schedule, and because my working days are structured, I prefer non-work days to have a less defined shape to them. This journey was moulded by some necessity, but otherwise, purposelessness can become an end in itself.

Above all, I like road-trips because they are a chance at delightfully random discovery, whether that’s a new town, a new route, or just a new interpretation of the familiar because the context has shifted slightly. The destination doesn’t matter (just as well, we ended up in Great Yarmouth. My advice would be, don’t). The journey is all.