The small joy of tidying as you go.

Sunday’s go far too fast. I’ve already been outraged at least twice today and I have had breakfast and written a bunch of other blog entries and it’s already 10am.

I came across a couple of the Marie Kondo books in Easons the other day while trying to find their art section – the bit that wasn’t 100% colouring books. They didn’t have a techniques section (Hodges Figgis moved Art around as well and now Art Techniques is not near Art which made that trip interesting) but they had both Marie Kondo books on sale for around 16E.

I love bookshops but I’m not sure I want the Marie Kondo books for that much money. Anyway, I remain astonished that she, or indeed anyone else, makes money out books which are essentially about house keeping.

But then, I get surprised by many people in the world. When nearly every “Tips to keep your house uncluttered” starts with “It sounds crazy but if you make your bed…”

I used to live in student accommodation when I was a student. As I lived, worked and drank tea in the same 10 square metres for months at a time, and eventually lived in small studio apartments, I worked out fairly sharpish that no matter what clutter was on the floor or strewn on my desk, the world looked a lot better if I at least made the bed. It is not in me not to do it now. Even in hotels I make some effort at order.

Anyway, I suspect the issue for a lot of people is the inability to make a decision. My small piece of advice for life in general – and let’s be honest, I don’t always manage it myself – is “do it now if it means your life will be easier later”.

No one wants to have to make their bed before they get into it. Ergo, do it in the morning when you get up. Wash the breakfast dishes in the morning and come home to a reasonably uncluttered kitchen.

Make your life easier by doing it now. I can’t spin it into 160 pages to sell in its millions but that’s the way I see it.

Also, try and figure out why you buy stuff. For me, half the time it’s because getting some stuff in Ireland is hard.

Advertising is not the answer

In the grand scheme of things, the biggest two internet business are basically advertising agencies. We really need to think about that for a while.

I’m thinking about this because the number of promoted tweets arriving in my timeline is going through the room. And during the week, my google now, which is semi like an organiser software, had ads for Uber in it. This made me angry and since Google’s journey prediction times for Dublin on public transport are hilariously way wide of the mark, I’m looking at how I can set my life up to use software provided by people who allow me not to have to run the gauntlet of advertising. I’m willing to pay for it provide it works on my desktop and my mobile devices. Google are not doing this.

The ongoing battle over adblockers misses a salient point. No one minds advertising if it’s not too intrusive. Unfortunately, as far as advertising is going, the Americans don’t actually know how to cope with the idea of “not too intrusive”. As a result, they shove ads in everywhere, and because that’s what they are used to, they think the rest of the world copes with it. We don’t. I mean, RTE has ads but not that many. The advertising went down the quantity line. They could get more money for their online ads if there were far less of them polluting the average punter’s experience.

Pinterest hasn’t worked out how to annoy my feed with advertising yet. When they do, that’ll be another one gone.

Deceptively spacious

From among the pile of email newsletters I subscribe to came one describing the redecoration of an apartment in Dublin. The apartment, to be fair, they had managed to do quite a lot with. I went through a phase of wanting to buy my own place (fortunately I could not then afford one and now know I am safe from any bad news stories) so I’ve seen quite a lot of the smaller apartments in Dublin.

There is very little you can do to a small apartment to make it bigger. Loads of storage does not exist in a 60sqm appartment and a room which is maybe 15 square metres and which is living room, dining room and kitchen will never bee a big room. Ever.

And it is not going to get any better.

Blavet

My mother spent years trying to get me to paint and I think she had oil paints in mind. When push came to shove, I went for water colours instead and now I have discovered that actually, art supplies are a much greater problem in my life than camera gear ever was.

Anyway. It’s pouring in Dublin today and I am feeling somewhat lethargic, so I am whiling away the time by occasionally doing some tidying and cleaning, and by reading a new drawing book (which is tempting me to buy even more drawing supplies) and doing some painting and drawing. I do not know how many sketchbooks I have on the go at the moment but I think 6 is not an over estimate.

I usually have no difficulty in identifying things I want to draw or paint when I am driving,. When confronted with a sketchbook and some of my art gear, it’s a different matter. The fear takes me.

For some reason, because I was traveling in my mind, I suppose, I decided to draw (let’s draw first anyway and see how I get on) and possibly paint one of those soul food places. Everyone has them. Mine include the point in Doolin (which was really gorgeous the last time I was down there), the Pointe du Raz at a pointy bit of Brittany and the boat graveyard on the Blavet river outside Lorient. I’d love to give you directions but I absolutely get lost every time I go looking for it. And I can’t remember the last time I was there but I have a nasty feeling it is at least five years.

Lorient is a fine big city so it comes as a surprise that you can be really near it – up the river from it more or less – and be completely immune to the feeling that you are anywhere much near civilisation. The Blavet is very wide at that point, so that probably explains why it became a place to come and scuttle boats. Most of the boats there are wooden and in varying states of decay. For me there is one iconic boat which, at high tide just has its prow sticking up out of the water. This part of the Blavet is also tidal.

Most of the time I’ve been there, I’ve been either on my own, or there has been at most 1 or 2 other persons there. I brought my mother once. There is reasonable amount of parking, and that is probably less to support the beauty spot that somehow, illogically, a dumping ground for boats who have outlived their usefulness (most of the boats if not all were working boats and the tuna fishing fleet was dumped there at the start of the 20th century). Really it should look like a scrapyard, and, somehow it doesn’t. I suspect the reason for that is that the overwhelming majority of the boats are not made from modern ship building materials like metal or fibre glass. There are a few, and yet they seem curiously out of place. The river side hosts an open air theatre and I suspect that is why there is sufficient parking there. It’s in a beautiful location.

I don’t know that we really have places like that, and where boats have been abandoned in harbours, they have often been cleaned up or taken away and broken up.

The boat I elected to draw was the sticky up prow which has a comparatively modern look about it in terms of having a reg number. But like all the others, it’s made of wood for the most part, with some metal that is gradually rusting away. Ironically, when I sketched it, I got the prow wrong (I call these learning experiences) but otherwise…I’m happy with it.

 

Somehow, the fact that it’s still raining in Dublin seems hardly relevant.

Other things I learned today – titanium white in the Sennelier half pan set is not fun to work with. I must see what WN has to offer on that front. I need something that doesn’t turn other colours into what looks like pottery clay.

12 Sketches by Leonardo da Vinci

I always get very disappointed when yet another survey demonstrates that the biggest tourist draw in the country is the Guinness Storehouse. All the more so bearing in mind that we have, in Dublin, a gem of a Museum of Archaeology, and, especially, a gem of a National Gallery.

At the moment, and until mid July, you can go to the National Gallery to see 12 sketches done by Leonardo da Vinci, on loan from the Royal Collection. They are wonderful. Not only are they wonderful, they are inspirational. Some of his drawings make things look so easy. I know they are not (for me at least) easy but…Anyway his sketches of cats are worth going in for anyway and entry is free. There really is no major excuse.

Thursday mornings aren’t mad busy either.

I must confess I loved the cats, I loved the work being done to support other major work he was planning. And in some sense, I found it remarkable to understand that this drawings, on cotton rag paper, have existed for the guts of six hundred years. The average piece of electronics hardly lasts five years lately. These drawings provide a line of communication to a man who is dead for ages and people who were his contemporaries. In a way, they are as much a piece of social history as they are a piece of the history of science and art.

I wish I had been able to see these things when I was 13 years old. I might have started drawing sooner as his lines just make things look very clear and comprehensible.

Facets

The sound track to the film Amélie – I am never really sure what the exact title is, but everyone of an age knows which film it is – is on in the background. It conveys an interesting atmosphere in my life – the noon soon is starting to breakthrough the clouds and it may be a lovely afternoon. I have a painting started, and I am waiting for a yellow wash to dry before I start painting buildings of Paris on on top of it. It is purely coincidental but here we are.

I have never worked out how much of the thoughts that go through my head are linked to the fact that I am me, or the fact that I am getting older. I remember telling a friend once that everyone had midlife crises all the time, except no one called a decision to change jobs completely at the age of 27 a midlife crisis but once you were 10 years older…oh boy. But the thing that strikes me most is that living has changed completely since I was 27, probably more profoundly than it did for previous generations. This morning, again, I saw another piece of advertising blurb designed to remind people they weren’t good enough.

I have no doubt that the person who wrote it would hide behind the theory that they are advising people to maximise their potential. But no one’s potential lies solely in doing stuff for their professional potential. Is it so reasonable to spend hours learning to write some Javascript when what this means is that for the rest of your life, you will be spending hours learning the next de facto standard, and those standards change every five minutes? I somehow doubt it. Is someone’s potential maximised if they put all their spare time into learning Google Analytics when perhaps, they should be outside tending plants because gardening is what gives them headspace?

I believe people need to be in charge of their potential, and not slaves only to one aspect of it. Work, job, career, is not the holy all of everything. It is at best a part of everything and it supports everything. But it shouldn’t govern everything.

In the meantime, if you’re writing puff blog pieces for a commercial entity about maximising your potential and you are talking about learning 3 technical skills, you are not really advising people to maximise their potential. You’re narrowing their potential remarkably.

I’d argue that a lot of people would be better off reading more, drawing more, doing stuff which has an indeterminate return on investment in terms of money but which has returns in terms of perspective. You can learn to code all you like but it is unlikely to give you any sense of your place in the world, and somehow, without that sense of their place…no one reaches their full potential.

Small pleasures

I do not know what time sunrise is these days but as I left the house at 6 this morning, it was to face the sun coming over the roofs of the house across from my own.

It was truly beautiful.

I woke at 5 this morning, which might seem awfully early but for someone who regularly wakes with a view to getting up at six (with varying degrees of success), it is only an hour in the difference. I read some, mostly about SpaceX this morning. I realised sometime ago that a lot of what I read in bed in the morning was so utterly meaningless that I had forgotten what it was, by the time I got to breakfast, cursing my tardiness in the morning.

Today, however, I don’t have to be anywhere at 8, but I was still awake, and failed to talk myself out of going for a walk. It wasn’t a long walk, and it took me around the estate I live in. However, it was far more than I tend to get. In an ideal world, those 15 minutes would happen every morning but they haven’t been.

I love the early morning. There’s something utterly peaceful about it and one of the things which has made my life feel very stressful is the disconnect I have had from enjoying the peace of the early morning. The world looks very different and you hear sounds very differently as well. There is not the constant sound track of traffic. This morning, I am not hearing the aircraft taking off either. It is utterly gorgeous as a feeling.

Working in the city has a major downside and that is trying to negotiate the thorny question of “how long will it take me to get to work”. In Dublin this is not a question with a consistent answer.

The thing about it is, if you get up in the morning generally feeling good, it sets a tone for the day. It is not yet 7am and I have been for a walk, I have done some needlework. I have done some reading about SpaceX. I have coffee beside me and shortly, there will be breakfast.

A lot of what comes into my inbox lately is exhorting me to be better. To be more successful. To do this. To do that. I don’t read very much of it, and I cleared down some of the bossier elements of it lately. I sometimes wonder if we know what better and more successful is. Whether we have a superficial view of what life should be like. Much of our discussion in that area is by comparison to someone else.

I am not in favour of exhorting the rest of the world to get up early and go for a walk. The beauty and solitude I enjoyed this morning would be destroyed if 800 people leaving around me all decided to go for a walk at 6am just to get some fresh-ish air. What I am in favour of is people identifying the small pleasures that put some shine on their days. There’s an article somewhere on the web – I did not save the link – but it includes a list of 10 things to make your day better or some such. Maybe 11 because it’s being hip and edgy. The underlying idea, I like. Make small pleasures through your day so that even when things are hard, you have a something small to look forward to. And make them a part of life rather than a reward for life. They do not have to come from a blog list and I’m not in the business of telling anyone else what those small things should be. Some people might call it “being kind to yourself”. If it is something as simple as blocking accounts on twitter whose primary objective is to make you feel outraged about something, so be it. If it is fifteen minutes with a newspaper, so be it.  If it is an early morning walk in the dawnlight, so be it.

For me, the small pleasures are a small cup of coffee in the morning. A non-rushed, non-piecemeal breakfast. Fresh bread from Marks & Spencers. Time to myself. I wrote last week about how I struggled with the fact that I just didn’t have time to do all the things I wanted to. I still don’t. I have to set priorities. And my primary priority is to try and set aside time that is sacrosanct to me and which doesn’t include the remotest possibility that the word “should” in terms of “you’re not good enough and you should…” gets to get in the way.

It seems to be hard, sometimes, to take time out for ourselves. So much so that the world appears to have decided that we need loads of advice to do so.

There is a section of the film Le Vrai Destin d’Amelie Poulain where the narrator talks about how Amelie likes the simple things in life. Skimming stones at the canal, the sound a spoon makes as it cracks through the caramelised sugar on a creme brulée. It is very evisceral as a sequence.

I like getting up early. I like the possibilities the morning gives me. I like the way that sometimes, I might do nothing between 8am and 5pm on a Saturday, but what I did between 7am and 8am has made the day massively more productive than it might have been if I had stayed in bed until 9am. I have never, ever regretted getting up early. I have always regretted getting up late.

And this morning, that bought me a little bit of sunlight that made the world of a north Dublin suburb look beautiful.

 

Time budgets

This morning was wonderful. I have no idea what the weather outside actually looked like, but it sounded wonderful. It has since calmed down to be a stunning May bank holiday Monday. I won’t complain about that although the sound of the rain this morning was just wonderful.

Anyway.

Today, I did a time budget. How much time do I have and what do I want to do it. This is one of those items that has been on my to do list for an age now but I didn’t have much time to do it. A day of work is useful in that respect. I have discovered that the time I need for the things I want or need to do each day exceeds 24 hours. It is as simple as that.

Part of it is that for reasons of health I’d like to get 8 hours sleep per night. And unfortunately I lose the guts of a couple of hours to commuting per day, and then there’s work plus lunch.

The last time I went to a gym, some insufferable idiot who doesn’t have an office job made noise about how the schedule he was offering me to do was only like about an hour. This is so totally dishonest that it doesn’t bear thinking about. The actual routine itself might be directly only an hour but the mere act of going to a gym and doing it far exceeds an hour between transport time and showers and changing clothes and all that. I estimated once than an hour long swim accounted for two hours in an evening. And I liked swimming. It is easier for me to go do something I like for an hour (like swimming) than it is for me to do something I utterly despise (like using gym equipment).

You see the same argument about continuing professional development. All those MOOCs and they are all free. You really have no excuse.

These comments, I find, tend to be made by people who don’t have full time office jobs, don’t commute and on top of it all are probably not doing one of those free MOOCs themselves.

Lots of things take time and although there’s a healthy enough planning community so that people get organised, one of the things that none of them appear to push very hard is a question of “Do you actually have time for all this at all?”

There are 24 hours in a day. Some drawing floating around my facebook  talks about 8 hours to work, 8 hours to sleep and 8 hours for yourself. But it doesn’t work like that, it really doesn’t. That 8 hours for myself includes an indeterminate amount of time spent in traffic in Dublin, whether I drive, or get the bus, I don’t get much change out of 2 hours for that (and I consider myself one of the lucky ones, some people don’t get change out of 4 hours for that). Then there are things like three meals a day, and getting up, having a shower. It might only take 15 minutes to eat breakfast, but either side of it is prep and clean up time. Getting stuff ready to leave the house to go to work.

The eight hours of “me time”, I established this morning, was not adequate for all the other stuff I wanted to do. Most of it was benign stuff like hobby related and household related. Because my head is full of stuff I want to do, and because I never seemed to have time to do much of it, I’ve felt very stressed about it all.

This is why I sat down and made a list of all the things I wanted to just find half an hour for each day. Just half an hour. I mean that’s less than insufferable gym twerp wanted from me for the gym equipment. None of this even involves leaving the house much. It added up to well over 24 hours when you took work and sleep and commuting and the basic stuff you can’t avoid each day. I simply don’t have enough time to do all the stuff I want to do. Which means that priorities have to be set and some stuff has to happen not every day and when you take all that into account there’s still something seriously wrong. I have to plan my day, including my leisure time, down to the nth minute.

Is that what it’s all about? Mad l33t time management skills? I didn’t include listening to the radio or reading a newspaper. I’m not even trying to fit in a MOOC for crying out loud. As for the two or three years I spent doing Open University modules part time…I have no idea whatsoever how I managed it. When did I find time to crochet?

I mean, I have outsourced most of the cooking lately so that I don’t have to do too much in the way of clearing up of ware and washing dishes and pots and stuff.

One of the items on my list – because it’s a car crash of a failure in my life right now – is trying to shoehorn exercise or walking of some description into my day. I want it to happen automatically and every day, or at least 6 out of the 7 days. I want it to be as routine as that shower I take every morning just after I get up. Like brushing my teeth.

To get it in in the morning means I have to get up at 5.30. I wouldn’t mind getting up at that hour if I wasn’t actually trying to schedule every minute as efficiently as possible because I Just Don’t Have Time.

I don’t know any more.

 

 

Places in my time line

Most days, I listen to the radio on the way to work in the car, like most people. I don’t much like driving in Dublin but for all that, it’s ten thousand times better than getting the bus was. Out of ecological collective responsibility grounds I tried that for 4 months. It was not good.

But I have between 30 and 60 minutes in the car most mornings, depending on what time I leave home, and I listen to the radio because I can’t read, and I can’t do study, and I can’t do other things I might do with an hour free. For one thing, there are cyclists and for another there are Audi drivers. I maximise the use I get out of that time by listening to foreign language radio. I start off with NDR from Germany, and usually, around half way through the journey, or when the sports news comes on, I switch to France Info. Sometimes, on the way home I listen to RTBF. RTBF is the Belgian/French language equivalent of RTE and I listen to it because I used to live in Brussels. I don’t often care too much about the content of the news, but I value the fact that it forces me to keep a level of foreign language comprehension skills active. Switching between them is good for me too.

On Monday evening this week, I was listening to RTBF and for various reasons, in a rush, RTBF was what remained on the radio at twenty past seven on Tuesday morning. I never listen to it in the morning – my default is always NDR for the morning – so it was pure chance that I tuned in just as reports were starting to break about the explosions at the airport in Brussels. I can remember my blood running cold…I can remember the presenters frantically trying telling people not to go to the airport, that all access was closed, frantically trying to find out what had happened. They had no reporters on the ground at the airport and this was less than 30 minutes, I guess, after the first bomb had gone off. They had so little information at that point in time that they weren’t sure where in the airport the two bombs had gone off. Initially, there was a report that one might have gone off on the tarmac. I worked at an airport for more than 10 years of my life. How on earth, I wondered, in shock, could an explosion happen on the tarmac?

I drove to work not hearing the words “gas explosion” or “accident” but “people are being very careful not to identify the cause of these explosions”. I also learned that both explosions appeared to take place in the check in hall in the terminal building.

By the time I got to work, scant reports about Maalbeek were starting to come out and on that, it seemed clear that the odds of finding a benign – for want of a suitable term – cause of the incident at the airport – were growing much, much longer. Smoke pouring out of underground stations is not generally a good thing.

I’ve been over and back to Brussels a lot in the last 24 months. The last couple of times I had cause to stay overnight there, it’s been at the Thon Hotel in the EU quarter. It’s about 20 metres from Maalbeek. On Tuesday, its lobby became an A&E incident room for the casualties from the explosion below.  I lived 2 metro stops along the same line so pretty much everywhere I went by metro in Brussels when I was living there took me through Maalbeek. TBH, this felt awfully close to a person I used to be.

One of the running themes in the Vimes collection of Discworld books by Terry Pratchett talks about how, in staying alive in the face of an attractive bounty on his head for the Assassin’s Guild, he needs to be lucky every single day. The would be assassin only has to be lucky once. That’s the balance of luck between us, the public, and anyone who wants to cause chaos. And no matter how much work we do to minimise risk in the face of attacks like this, it’s still the case: terrorist only has to be lucky once, we have to be lucky all the time. No matter how much we balance the odds in our favour, they have to be lucky once.

I rail against calling them terrorists, as it happens. That gives them the status they are looking for. They are mass murdering criminals, and it is as criminals we should be treating them, not some special snowflakes.

Brussels is an extraordinary city. I loved it for the fact that pretty much anything I wanted to do, I could. I came home for family reasons in the end, but there are a lot of days – particularly sitting in the car watching yet another Audi A6 driver trying to whip off the front of my car – where I wish Dublin was more like Brussels. In the way of public transport, for example, in the way of shopping. It has a lot of the pluses of living somewhere like Paris without too many of the minuses, like scale. There are days I truly miss the smell of fresh bread from the bakery that was near my apartment.  I love that it has giant comicbook murals. I love some of its street art. I love the architecture of the buildings. And I love the shops.

I am immensely pissed off that anyone would bomb it. And I am heartbroken that the families of more than 30 people are coming to terms with a life less ordinary and that for 300 more people and their families, yesterday was a lot different to how all the tomorrows will be.

For all my friends in Belgium #brussels #bruxelles #brussel #lifeboat #friendship #birdsofaclef

A photo posted by Me (@wnbpaints) on

The End of Average – Todd Rose

Or how to succeed in a world that values sameness.

I was hoping for a lot more from this book but it left me curiously disappointed. In a way, it focused on the author’s own concerns about education but doesn’t really provided you with much support for succeeding in a world that values sameness because it focuses primarily on the world of education. How do I, for example, get a kitchen which is designed for my height rather than the height of the average American woman in the 1940s.

He opens with an anecdote relating to the design of cockpits in the American Airforce and then abandons the practical.

waves and numbers and stuff