Category Archives: life in general

Old habits die and return all of a sudden

Most of my perfume is in Ireland but I must confess that at some point between around 2005 and 2010 I stopped wearing perfume regularly. I don’t really know why – it was around the same time I seemed to stop wearing rings on my fingers. Every once in a while, I reviewed the whole perfume situation and cleared out the stuff that made me feel vaguely nauseous if I sprayed it on (indicative of a bottle gone bad). So when I say my perfume is left in Ireland, there is a lot less of it than there used to be.

Somewhere along the lines, I discovered Hermes perfume – of course I have to have expensive tastes here – and theirs was the only perfume I bought over about four years. Three bottles of perfume in total. I even managed to finish out one. This was seriously at odds with my life 10 to 15 years previously.

For those who know me from the beach (most of the people who “know” me on Facebook to be honest), the fact that I might spend a good deal of time in perfume shops might be a surprise. It’s not as if I noticeably wore make up – which I still do not for various reasons – so what would I be doing in there.

I used to buy lots of perfume. Until the great clearouts with no replacements, I typically had around 25 different bottles of perfume to hand. Some dropped in and out of fashion for me. I started wearing Poison by Christian Dior when I was 16 because someone didn’t want a bottle they’d gotten as a present, and it moved to me. For the next five or six years, it was mostly that I wore – mostly because it was carefully eked out and also, because it really was the only one I knew. At some point though, I realised that I had changed and it wasn’t me any more. It dropped in and out of fashion a couple of more times but I don’t own a bottle of it any more and I can’t remember when I last did. It must be at least ten years, and probably longer.

But I liked the Christian Dior perfumes a lot, and for years, I tended to have at least one bottle of J’Adore in the drawer. I still have a few bottles of it, at least one opened, in Ireland. I need to see about moving perfume to Luxembourg.

I brought one bottle of perfume with me to Luxembourg, and that was one of the Hermes ones, Un Jardin sur le Nil from the Garden series. It is a light, fresh perfume which I’ve tended to wear daily, and is one of the few perfumes I’ve tended to replace. It is, characteristically, very different to Poison, which I wore as a teenager, and I suppose if I am honest, more than a few people would suggest that Poison was not exactly suitable for a 16 year old. I’m inclined not to argue with younger me – we should wear what makes us feel good in our skin and Poison certainly did that for me for a long time.

I’ve run out of Un Jardin sur le Nil for a second time and when I went to buy a replacement, it somehow didn’t happen. Instead, I bought a bottle of Un Jardin Apres le Mousson. Owing to some confusion in my perfume drawer (I blame the house move and the lack of fixed habits even yet) I actually managed to buy two bottles of it across a few different trips to the shop in question. It could be a while before Un Jardin sur le Nil makes it back in. Hermes market both these perfumes to both men and women, although in my local perfume store, I find them in the women’s section. Your mileage may vary. I like the idea of them not being fixed as directed towards women or men. But I do also think they are quite light, and fairly different to what I traditionally associate with men. I don’t have much experience in buying men perfume.

One of the things about buying perfume in foreign countries (assuming the base is Ireland) is that in many ways, it is much more enjoyable.

One of the things which broke my heart about Ireland for the 18 years that I lived there as an adult was the lack of a branch of Sephora. Buying perfume online is not the same experience. It’s fine and dandy to be able to order all this stuff online but it truly is one of those things that is much more than pressing a button on a computer. There is no way of knowing what a perfume smells like without smelling it and the internet cannot do that. You cannot serendipitously find a new perfume in an online store.

We have a few branches of Sephora in Luxembourg and although I have tried to buy stuff in there, it doesn’t happen for me.  There is competition from what I think is a local chain – Paris 8 – and also from one of the big Belgian chains – Ici Paris XL. They bought out the small perfume shop where I used to spend quite a bit of money when I was living in Brussels. All that time, I tended to still prefer Sephora if I was in Paris though.

Now, I mostly buy in Paris 8. There isn’t really a chain like these things in Ireland. There is a shop called The Perfume Shop which, like a lot of stores in Ireland, is a UK chain. But they were small, and you couldn’t really browse. The department stores tended to be vendor specific – there wasn’t really a wall of perfume – you had to tour the different brands. When I think of it like that, this probably contributed to the fact that I wasn’t buying perfume in Ireland much and why I wasn’t wearing it. It wasn’t really the same pleasure.

Anyway, the thing with buying perfume is they give you samples. Samples are what introduced me to most of the perfume I wear. Basically, I spend an almighty fortune on some perfume, they give me a “free” sample and a week later, here we are looking for more perfume. Or three months later if I bought the perfume in France and lived in Ireland and had to wait until I went back to get a bottle. Hermes were a nuisance for this. I bought bottles of Eau de Merveilles (they have several items in that range) and look here is a sample of Un Jardin sur le Nil and goddamnit, they didn’t have it in Brown Thomas, and when they did get it, it was in 100ml bottles.

I don’t buy bottles of perfume bigger than 50ml, and if I can manage 30ml, so much the better. Sure, you get more perfume per euro the bigger a bottle you buy but then, I used to have about 25 bottles of perfume on the go at a given time. And I’ve had to clear out perfume which has turned. It’s expensive to be tossing. My advice: unless you will only ever wear one or two different perfumes, do not buy 100ml bottles.

I had more or less forgotten this sample thing because the amount of perfume I had, and the frequency which which I had bought it had more or less fallen off a cliff. However, because I ran out of the one solitary bottle I brought from Ireland, and also, needed skin care, I was lately shopping. The net result is 4 new bottles of perfume not including the one I actually went to get but still have not managed to buy because I’ve been distracted – and suddenly, the memory of the beauty of perfume.

I feel great when I wear perfume. I’d forgotten how great me wearing perfume felt. It comes in gorgeous packaging. In a lot of ways, it can be a journey. Some older friends, some new acquaintances. Some new loves. If you were to data analyse my purchases over the years, two brands stand out as suppliers to my perfume habit – Christian Dior, for Poison, J’Adore, and assorted different versions of Addict. In the end, Addict went the way of Poison, and Addict 2 which wasn’t universally available went the way of J’Adore.  – and Givenchy. At various points, I was wearing three to four different Givenchy perfume products, namely Hot Couture, Very Irresistible, Organza and possibly one or two others which I cannot now remember.

A couple of others stood out as being regular features – for me, it was unusual to be without a bottle of L’Eau d’Issey and indeed, I’m fairly sure there is a bottle of that in Ireland at the moment, and I’m almost certain it’s unopened too. And of course, recently, Hermes have been doing well out of me.

Now, there are two bottles of Hermes on my shelf, along with one Givenchy, and one Sisley. The Givenchy is one of the newer ones – one of the Dahlia Divins, and I picked that up randomly in a shop. I was so out of touch I just did not know it existed and there was a time I could identify every single Givenchy perfume on the market. The Sisley is notable for me because it is the first time in about 5 years I bought a bottle of perfume on the back of a sample – on this occasion, Eau Tropicale. The two Hermes are Un Jardin Apres le Mousson and Eau de Merveilles Bleu.

What is striking for me about this is I had forgotten how beautifully designed perfume bottles are. Part of this, I suppose, is because in Dublin, I kept perfume in a drawer in the dark to protect it from the sun in the small rooms I tended to inhabit. And because I wasn’t often in perfume shops where these things were on display. They truly are things of beauty.

I wear perfume daily again. If I’m absolutely honest, I don’t wear it to make myself feel great – but I am more likely to wear it if I am feeling great already. I think that knowledge of myself should have a lot of meaning the next time I somehow stop wearing it.

I’m not sure I can go back to owning 20 bottles of perfume although as my relationship with fountain pen ink can show, it is awfully easy to do so. But I am back in a zone where I feel like having the choice. In that context, it may be that I wind up not buying a replacement Jardin sur le Nil for quite a while yet. I’m too busy spreading my love rather than playing for easy predictability.

 

Movement motivation

In the way that you do, at 5.30 in the morning, I found myself looking at running pins on Pinterest this morning. I’m reasonably sure that I did not find what I was looking for but that’s life on the internet. What I did find were a lot of motivational quotes. They varied in quality. The one that sort of stood out this morning was this one:

No matter how slow you’re going, you’re still lapping people on the couch.

Or words to that effect. Anyway, it was nice and snappy and had an image, so I drew two people, one on a couch, and one running. I’m not very good at humans but we’ll leave that aside for the moment. The point is, while I was planning out the drawing, it occurred to me that this was a fierce judgmental way to go about things. And a lot of the motivational quotes were of a similar vein. If you go running, you will be better than other people. There were a few where they went with “the old you” being the other people you were better than but I’m not sure that’s any better.

I’m not getting anything near enough exercise at the moment. This I know to be true. But I do know from when I used to, that starting off is hard work, and then it gets enjoyable. I didn’t really see this anywhere in the motivational stuff for running.

And there’s lots of it. Run to beat yourself. Run to beat others. Run to be healthy. Run to reduce the risk of [some illness].

All good laudable things. But the most effective way to get yourself to do something is to enjoy it and very little around running involves the words “at some point it will get more enjoyable”. It must do but when the motivational quotes include “It won’t get easier; you’ll get stronger” well that’s really not motivating.

It’s the same with swimming. You see articles like “Why do we swim? It’s really hard. Why do we overcome this?”

Well personally, it’s because I enjoyed it. I actively like swimming and even though it’s rough going when you’re not fit and it’s been a couple of years, even the individual lengths are enjoyable despite not being fit enough to chain very many of them together. It’s that little spark that keeps you going.

I was browsing magazines in Easons a few weeks ago while waiting to get a train south, and picked up something that focused on trail running. I’m more interested in that than anything else. In it there was an article that pretty much hit the problem from how I could see it. No one talks about running because it’s fun. It’s not fun. If you haven’t run for years, it’s not fun. And if the big selling point is “you will a) get used to it and b) feel sanctimonious in some way”…

I can’t believe that this is all there is. If someone asked me, I’d say “look, swimming is hard to start off. No word of a lie. But, you know what, if you’re making it too hard for yourself, you’re not doing it right. What matters isn’t so much how far or how fast you swim, but how often you do. Just keep on going to the pool. Do one length, do 4, go up, go down. Just keep on going.” Three months later, I was doing 64 lengths.

Meanwhile, running motivations are “start thinking about the treat, like a massage, or a smoothie or a….whatever”. You need to be bribed to do this? Every single time?

And running gear. Art is a bit like this. “Oh you don’t need much. Just a pair of shoes and somewhere to run”. Sounds incredibly easy, doesn’t. Fantastic. Dead fecking easy.

And then there’s this kind of fabric top, shorter shorts, longer things, stuff to keep you warm, stuff to keep you cool. I read one piece on habit forming this morning that said “lay out your running gear the night before cos if you have to rummage for stuff, you will put it off.” Strictly speaking, this is true. I have two swimming bags so that there is always one ready to go and one drying if I am swimming daily. I need a new swimsuit but we’ll deal with that later. She then proceeded to list an amount of gear for running that was a bit kind of long to say the least.

It’s not very helpful in my opinion.

So, this long essay on motivation. What is it going to do for me? Well sometime ago I figured that I needed to start building time into my life to get more exercise. I’m going to be honest and say that while other people manage this, I struggle in Dublin. My efforts to find 2 hours a day to go swimming (time to get there, change, shower before and after and all that) have been seriously kiboshed by the fact that Dublin sucks as a city to try and move around in. Whether you’re driving or bussing, you’re losing a lot of time. I started walking early in the morning and while that has benefits in that there’s a marked lack of traffic and it’s reasonably quite and I did it on occasion even if it was raining, the truth is it was also concrete jungle.

But I want to trail run and to at least be able to run trails when I can find them, I need to be fitter than I am now. I need to walk more and I need to run more. And I have figured, having looked at what the running world has to offer me, that the best way to approach it is the same way as I approached swimming. Always do it. Never trash yourself for doing worse this time than you did the last time. You only ran 400m this time when you ran 600m the last time? Treat your body like it’s your partner, not your enemy. It’s a journey, not a war.

As an added bonus, I’m leaving Dublin and I expect the change of scenery; the novelty of nice European buildings will make it a more entertaining activity.

 

Two headphones…

Alexander Gansmeier wrote a piece about The Interpreter, that movie staring Nicole Kidman some years ago, from the point of view of assessing whether she accurately portrayed being an interpreter or not. He points to it from the front page of his site but I don’t appear to be able to point to the exact space where he does so I’m pointing at the document as well as the index page. Anyway that’s all by way of an aside. One thing which Alexander noted, and which resonated big time for me this morning was this:

While interpreting, Kidman covers both her ears, which – while not a dealbreaker – is rather strange as most practising interpreters will confirm.

It casts me back years because I remember learning how to do that when I trained as an interpreter years ago and still have the habit. If you see me sitting at a desk with headphones on, no matter what I am doing, if I am in a work environment, I am most likely to have a headphone covering one ear but not the other. This allowed me over years to shut out most of the extraneous noise in various open offices while still retaining enough information about the outside world to catch when someone wanted my attention.

I miss interpreting. I occasionally practise at home and I did CPD interpreting in April at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh. I work in the tech sector and you’ll find software engineers talking about the zone. I never once, while developing code, got into a zone the like of which you can get into while interpreting. But things which I did will learning to interpret still resonate in my life.

How to draw dragons

I drew a dragon yesterday evening and you can see her here:

 

#dragon #coloredpencils #dailysketch #carandache #pablopencils #craftpaper.

A photo posted by Me (@wnbpaints) on

It has shown me two things 1) I have gotten better at drawing in the last 2 years or so, and 2) I’ve a bit to learn about coloured pencils. Either way, I am not here to talk about how to draw dragons directly, but more…metaphorically.

Most days when I am talking to people, we talk about stuff with a small s and Stuff with a big S. Rarely, however, do I get a 10 minute speech from any friend along the lines of “You have to listen to this for 10 minutes because It Will Change Your Life”. But lots of my friends post such screeds to me. Yesterday, I had some time tossing up between doing housework and drawing dragons. I find drawing challenging. I wasn’t really taught how to do it properly as a child and we tend to assume the ability to draw is innate rather than a teachable skill. I can only hope this is changing. Anyway, the net result is that I’m often wanting to draw something but too terrified to start. Every time I lift a pencil or pen, it takes an enormous amount of motivation. I liken it to the motivation required to starting to get exercise.

Since I started doing this, and since I started summoning up the courage required to try and, probably fail at something, I have seriously started to question the reasons why certain things go viral, why many of the advice pieces on making your living blogging and related items seem to focus not on creating something, or even teaching someone to create, but on telling someone how to live their lives, and to explain to them, they’re really not happy.

I’m really not happy about a lot of things but a ten minute video exhorting me to think about someone else isn’t the solution. This morning’s one – before I bailed on it (it helpfully had subtitles so I did not have to listen to it) went on about being caught by your dreams and risking all for it. Like many of these things, it ignores circumstance and has an unspoken message of if you’re unhappy, it’s your fault.

In a way, it’s part of the trend we have of over simplifying life. This guy was prancing around some nice landscapy place and the overwhelming message I was getting was that we were sheeple who hadn’t seen truth the way he had, and frankly, we should all be living our dreams. It is the sort of message that I look at and think, you know, this guy has no idea how privileged he is. I used to use the word “lucky” there but I’m not sure how much luck has to do with it in the end.

The thing is, the dragon turned out (in my opinion) quite a lot better than I expected. It’s not getting loads of social media love but I’m coming to the conclusion that’s not why I do this anyway. The key point is that while it is far from perfect, it is far less of a failure than it might have been 12 or 18 months ago. I’m not in favour of the try/fail paradigm of making progress particularly as it frequently doesn’t include the bit that goes try/fail/learn. In the tech work, the whole try/failure thing is often presented as a success in itself. It becomes party of the myth and narrative of successful founders.

I find that just a little bit toxic. The whole try/fail thing really doesn’t work unless it’s try/fail/learn and I suspect any founder who eventually makes it would probably agree.

Anyway, back with the dragon. I spend a lot of time looking at other people’s art, and especially, decomposing what they do into lines because I can draw lines and the whole problem for me is drawing lines together successfully. Sometimes, I wonder, if we do take enough time to decompose what other people are doing, when they are doing something we want to do. The whole

  1. idea
  2. ??
  3. profit thing

really does not work with drawing dragons. But I will say this. It’s a metric tonne easier if you have a battery operated eraser for dealing with those little slip ups.

I suppose the lesson I’m hoping to give away for free here is “use the best tools you can get, and use them properly”.

For my next trick, there will be more lighthouses.

 

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.

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.

 

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

Progress in Finnish

So, I’m slightly behind schedule on the Finnish vocab heist. I am not going to beat around the bush; this is slightly disappointing because it means I am unlikely to hit my target of completing the fully 3000 words by the time my birthday rolls around in a month’s time.

However, I am currently at 1510 words which there are now fewer words to learn than I have already learned. In other words, I have beaten the half way mark. Psychologically, this is seriously important. I am very happy about that.

This brings with it interesting progress. Reading the news in Easy Finnish on the YLE website is getting easier and easier every day. I’ve reached a stage where very often, I can work out what a word means from context. If you learn languages at all, reaching that point is phenomenal because it means that it is getting easier all the time. I am really, really happy about that. Also, it isn’t just the news in Easy Finnish, it is the stream of headlines from Helsingin Sanomat on Facebook, and other Finnish sites which I have “liked”.

So although I will most likely miss my November target, I’m not unhappy. I am a lot further on in terms of reading than I was the last time and this is great.

Drawing, maths and languages

Yesterday, when I was talking to one of my friends, she told me that you could see, across the various Facebook posts (my instagram pictures are usually sent across to my Facebook account), how I was getting better at the drawing all the time.

This made me happy for the obvious reasons of you’d like to think that as you do more of a thing, you get better. But this was also the friend with whom I had the original conversation of “I was never very good at drawing” where I realised that I got irate with people who said that about maths or languages and pointed out to myself, about art at least, that for most things, few people started out very good at anything, it was very much a learning by doing thing that got them better. And that I’d never given much time to art because “I was never very good at it”.

So the above is some approximation of Mount Fuji, done on a train last week or the week before. Let me tell you, drawing on trains in Ireland is not easy. The trains bounce quite a bit. You need to get the drawing bit done in Heuston before the train sets off. The painting bit, requiring a lot less precision, is okay.

I’ve found myself in conversations about learning Irish during the week and the message I have taken away from it is that many people, in Ireland at least, are unable to draw advantages from things they have to do, even when they don’t want to do it. When you point out those advantages, you get yelled at.

It is fair to say that usage of Irish is not particularly broad, but that’s not why anyone really learns it, and even if you never see yourself speaking Irish, there are tangible benefits to learning it as it has a lot of sounds that are just not in English which may be useful should you want to learn another language later.

What that language might be is also something you cannot dictate at the age of 4 or 5.

I don’t speak Irish on a day to day basis, mostly because an chaighdeán and I speak slightly different varieties and I just don’t understand the radio a lot. But I do speak French and German significantly more regularly and I am learning Finnish. Having learned Irish has fed into all three of those, especially the Finnish (as it happens). Knowledge is only wasted if you are the wasting type.

What saddens me most is the argument that education should be dictated purely by what most people are likely to need to earn money. Education should be directed towards equipping people to learn on an ongoing basis, and towards teaching them to think.

When I see a lot of arguments online in Ireland, I feel that in those two objectives at least, education has failed. Much of the argument also centres on how education has failed to provide adequate vocational training. If we focused on education like this, then arguably, 80 years ago, it was fair enough to get people out of school when they were 12, not worry too much if they could read or write, because sure, they weren’t ever really going to need it, were they?

We got to a space in our country where we provided an adequate basis for people to develop their own views on their lives and then move on. I sometimes feel that with a focus on what “industry needs” and “what people need for their careers” that we will lose that view of education, that it is a tool for living, and not just a tool for an employer.

Which brings me back to art.

It’s hard to make a living from art. Most people can’t. An awful lot (embittered photographer comment coming up) of people expect to be able to get art for free or “a credit, which will be good for you”.

Most of the people I know in the tech sector, so people who do the currently fashionable professions of tech related programming, network management or software design, system administration or whatever you’re having yourself, have developed hobbies which are fundamentally not tech focused. Anecdotally, for the women, it tends towards craft work, knitting, crochet, sewing, and for the men, it tends towards craft beer, and, wood turning.

This leads me to think that despite arguments that the tech sector can be very creative, in terms of designing solutions to problems, that creative side of things is not really tangible enough.

I regret massively that I did not take up drawing and painting at a much earlier stage in my life (and I’m going to write a couple of excuses in a moment).

Part of that is because there is, I think, a truth missing from our lives. It really doesn’t matter how good you are at something provided you are enjoying doing it. And if you focus on enjoying it, you may wind up getting good at it.

We are not all born to be Olympic champions but that’s not why people go running every day.

School is where we should be getting the fundamentals of these skills, the building blocks on which we can build stuff later. Anyone who knows anything at all about languages knows that you never stop learning. No one who is 40 years old today has a static command of their native language. Anyone who works in technology has an ever increasing set of use cases for various words whose meaning was actually reasonably set down prior to tech, eg, analyst, architect, and, let’s face it, computer. Yet, I suspect if someone popped up and suggested that the ability to draw might be a skill which should be part of a rounded education, the same arguments coming from the cohort who see no value in Irish for the simple reason that they were never very good at it (and didn’t bother trying) would be advanced in terms of art. This is a pity because it is predicated on the idea that people are born good artists. But drawing is a skill which can be acquired to some reasonable level.

When I went to school, there was a tendency of seeing some people as good at art, and some as less talent. In many respects, art was seen as a talent and less as a skill. People in my class were seen as good at drawing and the others…well. I was, for the most part, one of the others, bar on one occasion, when I drew a holiday scene, actually won a prize for it, and still had a teacher demanding to know why I didn’t colour in something which, in real life, was white.

In an act of rebellion, I coloured it in pink, when, age the age of 8, I lost that argument. Pink was about the one colour this thing was never going to be. Looking back now, I don’t much remember the praise.

I remember the surprise, the astonishment, that someone from the “Not good at drawing group” (but terribly good at maths and English) had produced something that didn’t look like a spider had been at a paint box. I retreated back to the maths and the English. It seemed somehow safer.

No doubt, there were others who retreated to something else from the maths and English. We all, as children, have our safe places.

There is research around that suggests that kids learn better when effort is rewarded rather than success. I don’t have a link to it handy but it’s particularly interesting in the context of other research which says in the US, in particular, children from Asian families have a view that working at maths will enable you to get better at maths, whereas in other groupings there is a view that you have to have some sort of leaning towards it. With the benefit of hindsight, I’m inclined to see some merit in that argument, and not just limited to maths.

As it happens, I did Mount Fuji twice, once in my watercolour book, and once as part of my inktober getting better at drawing notebook which isn’t so great for paints. This is how it looked first.

#inktober #inktober2015 #sennelier #hahnemuhle #fineliner A photo posted by Me (@wnbpaints) on

When my friends can actually recognise the places I am drawing, this makes me feel very good. Drawing is fun, and you can learn how to do it. The same is true of most things.

Living in the real world

One of the things which annoys me about discourse in general is that if you are discussing things like work, unemployment, the downsides of work, at some point, it is likely that some person will say something along the lines of “they need to live in the real world”, or “you’re living in the real world now”.

Without wanting to go into it in too much detail, I got told I was living in the real world now in response to a comment that I was finding my city centre bus commute to be a hassle. It is a hassle for various reasons. It is unpredictable in length, depending on what bus model I wind up on, I have a greater or lesser likelihood of being extremely travel sick by the time I get to the city centre, and a journey distance of 6.7 kilometres can take anything between 25 minutes and an hour. If I’m getting really travel sick, it’s likely that the journey is also taking longer than usual. Some bus drivers are absolute killers on the clutch. I thought the buses were all automatic but some days I wonder.

Anyway, this apparently means I am now living in the real world. I find it annoying, and to be honest, dishonest. It’s been a feature of my life for the last 3 months. Prior to that, for 9 months I was “resting” meaning I was applying for jobs after finishing college, and prior to that, I was commuting over and back to UCD, leaving home at 6.55 to a) get across the city in a reasonable space of time and b) get a parking space at UCD. I have no doubt there are some people who would assume that because I was a student for a year, I wasn’t living in the real world. Prior to that I drove to work for more than a dozen years. That must have been a fantasy universe as well.

This real world nonsense is flung at people in a lot of debates. Teachers get told they should try living in the real world. I’ve taught teenagers. I don’t know one person in any job that I’ve worked in who has done the whole spiel about teachers having an easy life who has any even remote concept of what’s involved in teaching. It may not be the real world, fine. But as a dream world, it’s a lot bloody harder than most of the other jobs I’ve worked in. I think people use the real world as a signifier that they are, or have been envious of people for some reason. Sure, you’d like not to go into work for 9 months. Try dealing with the stress of managing finances in those circumstances. The real world varies. For some people it’s incredibly easy, compared to others. For some, it is incredibly hard. Often, over time, it changes.

Life doesn’t become more real either which way. It only is as it is and it’s up to you to recognise what you can change. I’ve played every game around the bus schedule to try and minimise the impact of it on my life. My life didn’t magically become more real in the last three months because I was getting the bus to work compared to the last 15 years where I mostly drove.

It is a pure intellectual insult to split people into those who live in the real world and those who do not.