Category Archives: being me

Not a kindness

Every once in a while, when frustration grabs me, I decide to clear out the wardrobe. Any house organisational blog (of which there are thousands) will tell you that you should do this regularly. I’ve done it a couple of times in the last 18 months. I did it again today.

One of the trials of this exercise is the section of the wardrobe given to “those clothes”. The ones someone gave you, either as a present, or because “this would look terrific on you”.

These are clothes that almost without exception, I never, ever wear. By all rules like “if you haven’t worn this since the last time you did a clear out” or “if you only wear this when times are desperate and you wouldn’t be seen alive and outside in it”, they should go. But because they were, basically, presents, they are hard to throw out. I dislike tossing out the milk of human kindness. The problem is, very often, these clothes are clothes which you are getting because someone else is passing on to you stuff which they really should be clearing out in their own right. In certain respects, by taking clothes when they don’t want; you are doing them a kindness, but when you hit the point that they need to go from your wardrobe, 3 years later, they are still coloured by “oh X gave me that, she said it would look wonderful on me”.

What X in fact did, was gave you that, because “it’s too good to throw away”.

The conversations are embarrassing as well as you frantically try to find a diplomatic way to say no to someone who is not listening. Giving people clothes which they do not want is not a kindness, it is an obligation.

Dressing yourself is a deeply personal thing. There are colours I would not, in one million years, want to buy. There are fabrics which I hate because of the way they make my skin feel. There are shapes which do nothing to accentuate my good points. I have, very painfully, over many years, learned to identify the things I like and don’t like. Other people foisting their stuff on me messes up a carefully built system of knowing that absolutely EVERYTHING in my wardrobe suits me.

It’s not a kindness. Please don’t give me clothes that I didn’t explicitly choose myself.

Stormy grey

Anyone who’s still reading this after nearly 10 years of writing here and elsewhere has probably picked up that I have an interest in pens (no, maybe I shouldn’t hand write and scan all my blog entries, believe me, you don’t want that). I own * a lot of * fountain pens, including a reasonable collection of Lamy Safaris and AL-Stars. They may be, by fountain pen terms, dirt cheap (ie, 20E instead of 1000E) but for the money they are great pens. And Lamy do nice cartridges but they also do converters – I’ve never felt that’s the right word to describe them, but basically you can use bottled ink with them.

This is a nice thing and it means that in addition to loads of fountain pens, I have quite a few bottles of ink.

When I was 9 years old, using a red fountain pen because I was “allowed to” – only the elite handwriters got to write with fountain pens, possibly, to some extent, for very valid reasons, cartridges were not really considered that neat. Apparently they leaked and left ink all over the place, making them no different to unlucky biros I suppose. There was a choice of Quink ink or Quink ink, one in blue and one in black.

I’d like, at this point, to state that if I was an elite handwriter, it was through a lot of hardwon practice and the absolute fortune of getting the wrong copybook which had lines so narrow that I was forced to write between the lines at twice the size. It was such a successful move that it was imposed on other non-elite handwriters by my teacher at the time. I don’t think they liked me.

Anyway, I was 15 and using ballpoints before I discovered that in France, you could get nice pens, with small international cartridges and those cartridges came in aquamarine and pink. IN fact, in some of the more exclusive or better stocked stationery and chain stores, you could even get purple. This was untold riches. Fantastic. I fell in love.

Since then, I’ve discovered that in Ireland, a whole world of ink was being hidden from me. You can now get ink in many, many different shades. NOt just one shade of pink, but many. Pilot, in Japan, do some – many – shades of pink, and blue, and red, and green, and grey. I don’t have any bottles of their top end ink because I can’t get it here. I will, at some stage, justify an order.

In the Pen Corner in Dublin, you can get Pelikan Edelstein – which is wonderful ink – in a lovely range of colours – I particularly like the Mandarin (orange) and the Amber.

All the above is fore shadowing for what is about to come. In France, one of the oldest ink manufacturers is J.Herbin. They make a substantial range of beautiful liquid inks, of which I have a bunch in cartridges and, I think, four bottles. They particularly have a purplish shade called Poussiere de la Lune. Gorgeous stuff.

Their premium range is called 1670 and it only has a handful of shades, including their brand new, can’t keep it in the shops, constantly on back order, Stormy Grey. It’s appropriate for the weather outside which is stormy as hell tonight. The weather might be even more appropriate if we also had lightning – which we don’t (thankfully). I have a bottle which an extremely kind friend bought for me for my birthday. It’s gorgeous.

It’s a fine dark grey without being actually black, and it has gold flecks in it.

Most of the online reviews from fountainpen nerds (I am not one, actually, despite * lots of * pens and * more than 10 * bottles of ink – I am in the tuppenny hapenny place to be frank about this – are raving. I filled up one of the Safaris with it and am utterly entranced. I mean, the ink positively shimmers as you write with it on Clairefontaine paper (the absolute best paper in the world – none of your Moleskin soaky stuff) and it continues to shimmer after it has shaded and dried. I love it. I love it to pieces.

Of course, there are warnings about the sediment (when I mentioned gold flecks) but I don’t care too much. Ultimately, the ink has chosen its pen – I will not be putting it into any of the others – and it is writing beautifully. Smoothly. No smudging. I probably wouldn’t sign my mortgage application form with it, but seriously, I’d happily write every thing else I want to write with it.

I think every one should spend some part of the day handwriting but that’s a discussion for another day. It is, however, very easy to continue writing when you are using beautiful tools to do so.

Happy New Year.

Visiting the past

I had cause at the weekend to wander into the hidden storage of my life, looking for things put away some fifteen years ago which, I suppose, most reasonable people would assume I might not need again. But need and want are not the same thing and having reviewed online options, I decided that I already owned decent Finnish-English dictionaries and what appeared to be still considered the better of the Finnish language text books. In fact I also had a decent grammar book as well which is useful.

They are all in pristine condition, despite being out of the day to day running of my life for quite sometime. Some of them were located in under 10 seconds, much to my surprise. Others amongst them caused me to visit more recent pasts in storage. It transpires that when I was in my cassette buying phase (for those of you under the age of 25, music didn’t come on CDs but on cassettes and records) I was also a fan of Bad English and Alias. This came as a surprise to me in a lot of respects. I wouldn’t even recognise an Alias song now which is particularly surprising.

The tapes are stored in a carry all bag which I used to shlep my stuff around between 1995 and 1999, ie, for most of the time I was one of those much mourned items, an emigrant. It’s something of an odd feeling to look at this bag and realise that for five years, between it and a long gone rucksack, I could contain the most of my life when I chose to move house. Moving house was, at that point. For people in the future, moving house may, furniture aside, become much more easy again as books and music and films get stored in digital format; an entire library hiding on a Kindle, an entire library of music coming from a streaming service. But I hit the transition phase, that place where people bought more stuff, but it wasn’t small in physical size. 20 years ago, kids didn’t have loads of music because they didn’t buy loads of it. Now they store it on a little box that fits in your palm, if you like. And the same with books, well, most fiction books anyway.

I’ve often considered, lately, how I would sort out completely clearing down my possessions. The furniture from IKEA, I’ve no particular emotional attachment to it so I could live without that, I suppose. After that, I run into trouble.

And yet, I know that we can recover from the loss of most things.

on shoe shopping

I don’t especially enjoy shoe shopping. Part of it is that I find it a hassle trying stuff on, trying to work out whether it fits, and hoping for the best. Trying shoes on in shops is never really that ideal.

I like to think I’m not very demanding on the style front. I don’t need 27 different pairs of shoes in every colour under the rainbow. What I need are a pair of runners or two, a decent pair of runaround town flat shoes, and two or three pairs of reasonably dressy shoes which I can wear to work and, more importantly, can catch buses on and drive while wearing. More often than not, lately, there’s been a flat pair of shoes for wearing until I get to where I am going…

You can’t see me now but I’m sitting at my desk wearing a pair of shoes I have quite a while because I haven’t been wearing boss shoes for a while on account of being a student. Comfort is my king. Running around UCD was a boots or trainers trick, and not four inches of torture.

I don’t know if it’s only be, or what, but I cannot wear very high heels while driving. 7cm is SERIOUSLY pushing it. Anything above that and the pedals feel all wrong. For the odd special occasion, it’s not a big deal to fling a pair of flat shoes on while driving. I’m looking for shoes I can wear to work, with a suit or a dress.

A nice, decent pair of black court shoes, circa 5 or 6 cm high, and with a pointed but not life threateningly sharp toe is what I am looking for. I’d like it in particular if they had a tapering heel but not stiletto. A particular plus point would be if they did not cost 245E+ Much better if they came in below 100E. I’m all for buying good stuff but I have to be prudent for a short while here and shoes, unfortunately, are consumables, unlike, say, good pens.

This however, is too much to ask. I’m watching carefully for a Repetto sale – I like Repetto shoes but right now, they are above budget and need to be delivered from France. In the meantime, having gone through the three big department stores, what I am looking for is not available from what I can see. There’s a gap in the market between absolutely flat, and 3.5 inches high and growing. I know it’s coming up to Christmas; I know the glamour shoes are all the range. I’m aware that there are shoes which are probably not shoes at all but throwing weapons. What there are not are simple, beautiful mid heel court shoes without a million decorations in plain black leather.

It breaks my heart.

So those cookbooks: Anyone want them?

If anyone is based in Dublin and wants any of the following, free to a good home, let me know either here or through Facebook. First come first served.

Breakfasts more than 80 inspiring ideas Jacque Malouf

low GI food

Keelings Book of Fruit

Feast by Nigella Lawson

The Real Food Real People Cookbook from Supervalu.

Greek – Love Food

Dumonts Lexicon of Spices

Fresh in Summer, Fresh in Spring, Fresh in Winter, Fresh in Autumn, all by Alistair Hendy

Fat Free Low Fat cooking Anne Sheasby

BOUGHT Borrowed and Stolen Allegra McEvedy

French Leave John Burton Race

Gorgeous Suppers – Annie Bell

Bread Machine Cookbook – Jacqueline Bellefontaine

I believe this reduces the number of cookbooks to about 80. A remarkable number of them were gifts though which is surprising.

Anything strike through is gone.

in the morning

I came across an article a few weeks ago (which I did not bother book marking because I have 11000 favourites bookmarked in twitter and who knows how many bookmarks in Chrome and what I’ve noticed is a tendency to save and forget which strikes me as non-optimal…) on the subject of not telling people to be morning people.

All over the place, there are articles about being morning people, early birds, and how easy it is to get up 10 minutes earlier and build up to gradually being a morning person. This is absolute rubbish. It’s easy to be a morning, if, and only if, you can structure the rest of your day to fit into being a morning person. I used to get up to go to work at 7.30 for a while in my last job and while it paid untold dividends in terms of what I got done between 7.30 and about 9.30, the corresponding exit time, which was 3.30, was something I never managed. Everyone around me working around 8 hours a day. I was working nearer 9 and a half. Presentee-ism is a bit of a killer. I never got out at 3.30 with hearing remarks about only working half days.

The thing is – I had very good reasons for doing the 7.30 thing – so I’m not going to bash it. What I am going to say is that there are benefits to being a morning person, even if you don’t rush out the door to work. On summer mornings, getting up at 6.30 can be a thing of absolute beauty. This morning, the sunlight at 6.30 was just gorgeous. It’s a good time to water the plants if you have any. There’s a feeling of untold peace around the place, unless you’ve got the greater spotted urban house alarm to deal with. Small things get done so much more quickly. You can relax over breakfast. If – like me – you’re the type with a taste in slowly cooked coffee on a very low heat, you have the time to do it.

And you can do it any day of the week.

Being a morning person comes with a price and that price may be more or less high depending on your view in life. You have to go to bed early. Being a morning person is not a recipe for burning down the amount of sleep you get. If I am waking at 5.30 – which I often am during the summer – I am falling asleep at 9.30, 10pm. I cannot burn the candle at both ends. And having your sleep disrupted at any stage messes things up.

But I find it worth the effort mostly when I’m not getting night disruptions. I feel a lot more alive; I get a lot more done. It fits in with the way my brain works.

I’m not in the business of telling people they should be morning people to get more money or get ahead. I’m more in the business of suggesting that if you feel better for it, there’s a lot to be said for it.

List yada

Sharpy pointed me at a list of 20 things that made men feel confident which he felt was somewhat lacking. He noted that the corresponding list for women was even less credible so he sent me that too. I threatened to do my own list.

He suggested in very short words that this might well be a very good thing to do.

So here we are.

  1. Finding someone friendly to help you zip you into your wetsuit.
  2. Chatting to friends
  3. Finding shoes that are both comfortable and pretty.
  4. Tea.
  5. Catching a really neat wave when you’re a lousy surfer. I’m still a lousy surfer but I assume that catching a really neat wave when you’re a good surfer works too.
  6. A decent breakfast of whatever turns you on. Sometimes it’s Weetabix, some days it’s fruit salad
  7. Not chipping your nail polish on coat 4.
  8. Not being physically sick going into an interview
  9. The right dress being available in the right size at the right time (not always guaranteed)
  10. Ignoring people who tell you that you shouldn’t like pink things (you will prise my pink calculator out of my cold dead hands).
  11. Getting a photo published somewhere.
  12. Waking on the first morning of a holiday
  13. Successfully communicating with someone in a foreign language without them needing to show off their English prowess
  14. Hugs and snuggles
  15. Passing your driving test (it’s been 15 years but I rock, man)
  16. Not burning toast and therefore not setting off the badly positioned smoke alarm
  17. Remembering to make ice for those lovely sunny summer days
  18. Asking someone attractive for their phone number, getting it, ringing them and moving swiftly onwards…
  19. Winning something unexpectedly
  20. Did I say tea?

That’s my list and I am sticking to it.

 

Open letter to Amazon

Dear Amazon,

I am a customer of your dot co dot uk store and I have a Kindle which is linked to that store.

I know that you sell books in French, and German through your dot fr and dot de stores in Kindle editions.

I live in Europe. I speak fluent French and fluent German. I occasionally order books  – actual hard copy books – from both stores. The number of books I can get in either language on to my Kindle, however, is restricted to what is on offer in the dot co dot uk store.

I realise you need the Kindle to be limited to one store. But the array of books available across Europe, that would be great. Surely, given that the European Union has some small pillar regarding the free movement of goods and services across its internal borders, this has to be possible?

Could you maybe have a look at it please?

 

on interests and judging them

Shane Hegarty has written a piece in today’s Irish Times which you can, if you’re so inclined, read here.

but it did hint at a key point about the modern foodie industry, which is that its chief product isn’t delicious meals, artfully presented: it is waste

He’s talking in the context of waste of time buying cookbooks, waste of time taking pleasure in your cooking, waste of time in taking instagram photographs of your food, waste of paper in printing cook books which will never be used.

I think he’s wrong.

I own about 100 cookbooks. Pretty sure it’s in that zone because they were recently counted and this does not include myriad copies of Delicious, Donna Hay, Tesco and Superquinn magazines. I also have an A4 notebook into which I glue oddball stuff cut out of magazines, newspapers, the backs of ingredients containers and such like. All of it gives me very great pleasure even if I do not cook.

I’ve always taken the view that if it’s feeding yourself is all it’s about, then you really only need one cookbook, be that either Nigella Lawson’s first one – How to Eat, or, possibly better, one of the Good Housekeeping ones. But that’s really not what it’s all about. There is something beautiful about opening a cookbook, looking at the pictures, and considering whether you will cook this or that.

It’s a pleasure to read cookbooks; not just cook from them. And sometimes you will cook from them and get things right, or sometimes you might not. It is ultimately a voyage of discovery.

In that respect, you cannot possibly consider the acquisition of books – of any type – which give you pleasure as a waste. Effort in cooking, likewise, is not a waste.

I swim because…

Four mornings a week I now go swimming before having breakfast and heading into whatever morning activity I have lined up. I’m not the world’s greatest swimmer – far from it – but I do it because it sets me nicely up for the day.l

Sometime ago there was a hooha over obesity and the Minister for Health in this country, and some journalist or other mentioned that she suffered, between gym membership and going running and stuff.

I was thinking about that word suffered the next day and it occurred to me – to some extent – that there seems, occasionally, to be this idea that life is some sort of penance.

You’d think with the pushing back against the Catholic Church that this whole concept of penance and suffering just to behave properly inline with society’s expectations might have gone the way of the snow a few years ago but no. It lives on.

I don’t run. And when I swim, I don’t feel like I am suffering. I enjoy it.

There are generalised health issues around the western lifestyle. The whole desk-lifestyle isn’t exactly great, and most people don’t get enough exercise. People’s eating habits have changed too. SO one of the things that I know to my cost is sometimes it’s very hard to get exercise.

And exercise is important. If you’re doing it right, and if you’re doing something you like, you feel great after it. It brings other benefits. I mean, I get up at 6.30 and drive to UCD and am in a swimming pool at 7.20 every morning and I really, really enjoy it. I couldn’t do it if it were a sufferance or a penance. I’d just find something else I like doing. While it will not really enable me to run away from a bad guy very fast, per se, it does have helpful things like a) making me fitter and b) having me more prepared for other stuff I like doing, like surfing, and kitesurfing. I get more confident in the water.

I have a couple of targets a) swim 1500m again and b) swim 400m in 8 minutes. I’m a long way off both of those. Currently I’m touching 500m in the mornings. Given the time available to me, that’s going to reach maybe 800m, maximum 900m. But that’s okay – it’s four times a week.

There is this moment – it’s not a measurable moment and it’s not even guaranteed to happen – when I am swimming, when everything just fits together and I feel great.

I swim for that.