Category Archives: things of beauty

Wandering through pages

I’m not entirely sure how but this popped up on my twitter feed this morning:

Alex Stubb wrote a piece for Finnair’s inflight magazine on the question of reading and the fact that he seemed to be doing less of it. I must confess I was a bit envious of his 4000 books. I cleared out a good lot last year when I was moving house, much to my sadness. What he said about the place of reading in his life resonated. I have been thinking about this on several fronts myself lately. I’ve recognised that I read far less than I did in the past. This despite the convenience of a Kindle which currently has a queue of about 200 books to read. The fact that I have not been reading much has not necessarily meant that I have stopped actually buying books.

So far this year, I have finished reading 12 books. This is about 8 more than usual lately and this is mostly because I decided to make a concerted effort to read more. I just haven’t formalised it in a 1+1+1 plan like Mr Stubb has. But I am inclined to follow his lead, or at least give it a shot. I’m not able to do 1 hour of exercise every day on the grounds that in theory, most weeks I go swimming 3 to 4 times and that’s a minimum 2 hour cut out of my day. I also feel that twitter absorbs a good deal of my time but not necessarily productively. So in addition to reviewing and rebuilding my reading habit, I’m also looking at chopping the number of accounts I follow on twitter.

Two things led to the loss of reading from my life. I felt the loss of Terry Pratchett enormously. Additionally, I used to read a significant amount of children’s fiction and with Harry Potter, I seem to have tapped out of that lately. Most of what I have been reading of late has been non-fiction. I’ve just finished Motherfóclóir which is the better of the two books focused on using the Irish language which I read this year. I also finished Silk Road by Peter Frankopan which is a book I had been travelling with for some time. More frivolously I have started reading Calvin and Hobbes again. But I have also drawn heavily on the field of science and genetics for escape.

I have a massive reading queue, and it is hard to know what to start with. I have some frivolous German stuff, and a classic of travel writing by Heinrich Boll lined up. In a way, I feel a bit overwhelmed by the number of books both on my kindle and on my Amazon wishlist and I wonder if that perhaps, contributes to the paralysis I sometimes now feel about reading. Like I have a lot of books to get through.

Mostly recently acquired are the memoirs of a US interpreter which I expect to be relatively easy to read, and apart from that, I have been journeying with Empire of the Word by Nicholas Ostler for some time. I think it is sometimes more difficult to make progress through very in-depth, long books on kindles. We lack the visual evidence of progress; the movement of the bookmark through the pages. I regret that and somehow, I need to be practical as well.

What I lack at the moment is a way into fiction. The last piece of fiction that I read that truly took my life by the scruff of the neck and pulled me out of reality – and it was a re-read – was Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I have another of his other books to hand but I have somehow not found a route into them.  In a way, I think for years I was sated by the escapism guaranteed by a visit to the Discworld but I don’t think Terry Pratchett would appreciate the idea that he had spoilt me for other books.

I need to get involved in a little exploration. Just as soon as I’ve read a few more of these books I have lined up for the last 5 to 10 years.

 

 

 

WIP – Aeropostale and other needlework concerns

I used to go to the city of Lyon quite a bit some years ago. I don’t like to count but certainly ten years ago I was going there often. Once, I found a needlework store in the 2nd Arrondissement and I wandered in, and came out later with less money, clutching 2 tapestry canvases which I carefully tended back to Dublin and kept stored in a poster roll for about 10 years, It wasn’t intentional but a career as a kitesurfing photographer distracted me for a while as did a nightmare of a project involving embroidery silk that took about 5 years of my life. I then did a couple of lighthouses, and finally, reached a point where I had no works in progress and had to choose between 2 or 3 different options for Next Big Project.

So I chose this one.

Aeropostale still in progress

For me at the time, it was an unusual project to have bought seeing as it:

  1. wasn’t a lighthouse
  2. wasn’t set in Brittany
  3. had a human being in it.

Pretty much every other major canvas I had bought by choice featured a lighthouse, the sea, or Brittany, or occasionally all three. I picked up this one because at the time, I had a liking for Antoine de St Exupery, and he had been a pilot for the Aeropostale service, and had written a book called Vol de Nuit. As a nice piece of symmetry, the airport in Lyon is called St Exupery. He’s obviously best known for writing and illustrating The Little Prince. He disappeared over the Med during WWII.

I’m not certain when I started this but it’s probably 2 or 3 years ago. It got brought with me when I moved house but it occasionally finds itself deprioritised in favour of twitter. So it’s not going as fast as I had hoped. But I have days like today when I get a notable bit done and there’s some progress since I last photographed it in July.

I’ve also joined the needlepoint group on Facebook which has provided added motivation on one front. It has also been educational on a few other fronts. I’ve generally done needlepoint alone for the last 12 years.

I started doing tapestry in 2005. I did a postgrad between 2003 and 2005 and when I finally got out of that, I wanted to do something different, something more tangible. So I went to craft shops and I signed up for crochet lessons in the evening school at the comprehensive in Ballymun. The classes were given by a great lady whose name I don’t remember but I do remember hoping that when I was her age – ca 90 – I’d have the same get up and go. Anyway, the crochet and the tapestry stuck but I didn’t know anyone else at all in the world who did tapestry. It was like my secret hobby. There are upsides to that (no one tells you what to do) and downsides (supplies are thin on the ground as is gadget news and access to blogs). For years, the only websites I could find selling tapestry canvases were in Australia until I found a site in France.

Anyway, via the FB group, I’ve come across the fact that other people do lots of different stitches. I do have half cross and that’s all I ever have done. They have deep and meaningful discussions about thread selection – I chose the DMC 4 ply as recommended by Royal Paris or whoever printed the canvas. The American stitchers are big into handpainted canvases. I haven’t seen these much in Europe at all but the ones in America are eye wateringly (and understandably) expensive. I couldn’t afford that hobby in the US, I think.

But they’ve also brought me into contact with the modern world and tools. Tools which are actually manufactured here in Europe.

Specifically, they introduced me to magnets.

Tools

This photograph includes a brand new Prym scissors. I’ve already written extensively on scissors here, so we will skip over the scissors. The other two items are magnetic.

I have lived my life surrounded by fridge magnets and yet it never occurred to me to use them to corral needles while I was doing needlework. The oval thing there is magnetic. I think I bought that in a craft shop in Brussels the week before last – it’s probably way bigger than you’d think but it’s somewhere to keep the active and spare needles while you’re stitching as opposed to having them stuck somewhere awkward in the canvas.

The other thing is called a needle twister. It’s the simplest idea going. There’s a magnet in the bottom which attracts the needles, and the white bit twists so that the inside of the thing is pushed up exactly like you would be twisting out a lipstick. It is the handiest way to keep needles under control and so far, I haven’t lost any. As I typically lose full backs of needles at a go, this is quite great. I bought that in a craft shop here in Luxembourg. As a gadget, it scores top marks. Now I’m just looking to get a few in other colours, probably on websites that have canvases that I never knew I wanted but now I have to have…but that’s the nature of every hobby I’ve ever had. Gadgets proliferate.

Random stuff I collect – Scissors

I bought another scissors today. I file scissors under the label of “useful tool” and “I need one for every project I have going”. By project, I mean needlework project. Tapestry, canvas, needlepoint. It gets called by different labels depending on your culture. Tapestry is what I grew up with. Needlepoint is what the internet gives me. Canvas apparently is the British term and it definitely is the French term.

Like pretty much any hobby it comes with gadgetry. The Americans are big into needleminders (check these things out on Etsy) which are basically pretty magnets to mind your needles. I either keep the needles in needle packages or stuck into the canvas and I’ve never felt my life would be changed by using a magnet while I was stitching.

Scissors on the other hand, they are important. I went through a period of never being able to find a scissors when I needed one and as a result of this, typically, any big tapestry project (anything bigger than 15cm x 15 cm counts as big) will get kitted out with a canvas project bag, the canvas, the threads, two needles and a scissors. I have acquired scissors over the years.

In general, my preferred scissors are Fiskars scissors. I own about six and I’ve give one to my sister. Apart from the fact that they are great, great cutting tools, they are the one company who puts effort into making pretty scissors. I am a sucker for pretty things. This is why I have a pink calculator, for example. Make something functional, and then make it beautiful. Fiskars are near trademarked with orange handles. Mostly if you find a Fiskars scissors it will be orange. But I was on holiday in Finland about 5 years ago and in the main department store in Helsinki, I happened across a scissors with Moomins on it. I gave that one to my sister after I found ones with white handles with mad dashes of colour. My bedroom scissors and my desk scissors are of this nature.

My stitch scissors were typically orange but recently, I ordered 3 nice coloured Fiskars from canevas.com which has to be the biggest needlework shop on the web, and I also acquired a bundle of Pryms. The Pryms have purple handles mostly so they look rather pretty as well as rather sharp and pointy. They are good on the sharp and pointy front so I’m happy enough to use them. I seem to have lost one small Fiskars much to my regret but as 90% of my possessions are in storage I live in hope that they will turn up.

The general view is that I am a hoarder. But I hoard very specific things. Scissors. Tapestry canvases. Crochet cotton. Scissors. Pens. Oh the pens that I have…But one thing they all have in common is that they are useful in some way.

There’s a lot to be said for that.

Pianos and love

I fell in love with a few pianos today. It is hard to say how you can be in love with a few pianos simultaneously but…it happens. Today I went to the Marcus Hübner Pianohaus in Trier.

This is a veritable jewel of a piano shop. It has a large selection of grand and upright pianos. I must confess I skipped the digital section because I play a digital piano at home and this is to remind me that a digital piano, while it allows me to play, is still not the same as a real piano.

Hübner Pianos are a Steinway dealer. I have to confess that while I recognise the workmanship that goes in to them, I have never felt a grá for them in the way I have felt a love of 19th century Bechstein grand pianos for example. And the reason I went to Hübner anyway is because they also sell a piano I had never actually seen before – they have their own in-house piano models.

Most people who know me are aware that for most of the last 20 years I have been saying I want a grand piano. So it might come as a surprise to know that the piano I truly gave my heart to today was an upright piano. It is a Jubilaumsklavier  and it has a beautiful rich sound, the like of which I have never gotten out of another upright piano. I’ve played a few of the newer Bechstein designed uprights like the Hoffmans and I’ve played a couple of Yamahas and one or two Kawais. They really never made me feel the way a beautiful grand made me feel. This didn’t just come close; it bypassed the feeling that I get from some of the smaller grands like the smaller new Kawai grands.

Hübner make grand pianos as well a few of which I played. In particular I played – and loved – a B212 Artist. For the longest tie I assumed that my grand piano, if and when it eventually came, would be a Kawai but to be honest, I don’t think this will be true any more. I preferred the B212 to the B187 – the B187 is a smaller piano and in truth, I tend to prefer the pianos that are at least 1.5m – there is something more aesthetically pleasing about them – the proportions are more balanced, even when the difference in the length of the piano is only around 3cm.

What I loved about the Hübner pianos – both the uprights and grands – is the responsiveness of the keys. The keys seemed just perfectly weighted – and this really brings into stark contrast why a real piano is still a far greater instrument than a digital – and the tone of the piano was far easier to control. The pianos resonate perfectly – and I should mention I was in the shop on a Saturday morning when they had a few people testing pianos – and the sound balances perfectly around you as a player. In practical terms, I cannot actually get one of these pianos just yet but when the time comes I may lock myself away with a Hübner piano and emerge only for breakfast.

In addition to those pianos,  I also played one of the smaller Steinways – I didn’t note the model but if I remember rightly it was a secondhand piano  – and I liked it a lot more than I like Steinways. It is possible that part of it is that someone else has broken the piano in but based on other things I noticed about the shop, I suspect it may be because Hübner have outstanding piano technicians looking after their pianos. This piano was far more responsive to what I wanted to do, and its dynamic range was broader than I have met on most pianos.

The other piano which I met and loved, again somewhat unexpectedly, was a Yamaha C3. I think the year of manufacture was noted as 1976 but I may be mixing it up with another one. This makes it one of the older Yamahas I have played.

I have a love-hate relationship with Yamahas in general, but especially with their grands. In my experience, their pianos are very hard to play; their key action requires quite a lot of force to get a sound out of the piano and for someone who has a soft touch, it just seems like too much hard work. At some point a few years ago I had a conversation about this with a piano dealership in Ireland and the salesman recommended I try just one particular Yamaha which was second hand and which their technician had done some work on. I’ve concluded since then that Yamaha probably build beautiful pianos, but I will never buy one new and I would definitely want a good technician to have at it. I have played I don’t know how many Yamahas over my life but I’ve really only liked two of them. Both of them were C3s and both of them were second hands and not exactly recently built. This probably doesn’t prove anything. Anyway, the C3 compared well with my expected grand piano budget but will have to compete with either a Hübner upright or, if I save up extra specially hard, with a Hübner grand and neither is going to happen yet.

It would be very easy for me to stop here and say, yes, Hübner is a lovely piano shop, and they have a selection of absolutely beautiful pianos that fill your heart with joy to play. But I won’t. One of the things which marked out Hübner as much, if not more, than their pianos, were their staff. I met three of them, including Mr Hübner himself, I believe. They were unfailingly friendly and helpful and more than willing to help in any way or answer any questions I might have. I found it to be a welcoming piano shop.

I come from a very different piano tradition to most people in Germany. I grew up playing the music of Ireland with some classical thrown in. I never play classical in public and what I used to test the pianos were variations on music from the folk traditions of Ireland, Scotland and Brittany. I was made to feel utterly at home in front of their pianos.

 

 

Pilot MR Retro Pop

One of my weaknesses in life is stationery. I am trying to control it very much by not adding to my discoveries. I have very strong likes and not many dislikes but in general I try not to buy notebooks that I can’t fit into my life (this still leaves lots of scope for Clairefontaine, Paperblanks and Rhodia) and normally I do not need any more pens, pencils or the like apart from the specific items currently on my shopping list (so that would be the new Lamy Safari Petrol because already owning two dozen Lamys is never enough, two or three Caran d’Ache ballpoints and a 0.2mm Kuru Toga).

Anyway, we would not be here if I had avoided Temptation so this is about temptation in a way. €19.99 worth of temptation as it happens so not as bad as all that. Last Sunday, I bought a Pilot Pen. Now I already own a Pilot as I have a Plumenix somewhere which cost about €6 if I remember right. I may have bought that for much the same reason as I bought this one. Defending myself against colours in the turquoise-aquamarine range is difficult. An aquamarine Lamy Safari was my entry level drug into the world of special edition Lamys and somehow now I have loads of the bloody things. Which I love. My new pen is turquoise.

Anyway, there’s a bit of a difference between the Plumenix which frankly leaked all the time so I rarely used it despite the gorgeous (but cheap) italic nib on it and this Pilot MR Retro Pop. If you hang around the fountain pen community at all, the Pilot Metropolitan or the Retro Pop are recommended as good starter fountain pens if you do not want to spend much.

Pilot are a Japanese company and for this reason, their nibs tend to be finer than the European average. I tend to a medium and so this medium Pilot is a good deal finer than most of my Safaris, Lxes, AL-Stars etc etc etc etc etc and ad infinitum. It also was decidedly reluctant to write initially despite the fact that I had fed it with Pelikan Edelstein Onyx ink, an ink which generally causes no problems and is a really nice very, very dark grey, near black. A little warmer than black. So it took a while to get things flowing but once it started to write properly, it really turned out to be a most gorgeous writing experience. I like it a lot.

This is how it looked.

 

#fountainpens #ink #pilotpens #styloplume #writing #handwriting #edelsteininkcollection

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It is obviously a very different style to most of my other pens. For one thing it’s more of a bullet shape, compared to the kinda boxy impression you get with the Safaris and Al-Stars, or the hexagonal shape of my couple of Caran d’Ache fountains, or even the Pelikan M100. While I really do not need any more collecting habits, I would not say no to a few of these to hand inked up in different colours. Regrettably, I do not have a converter for it which is a shame as I have two beautiful bottles of Pilot ink which I love.

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.

 

Walking around a winter wonderland

It snowed in Luxembourg this morning.

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It was a rather lovely, peaceful snowy scene in the park near my apartment this morning so I took a walk around it before going in search of furniture. I wandered over to the lift down to Pfaffenthal but that was closed for some reason. I don’t know why.

This is what you could see from the Ville Haute near the lift anyway so you got the view even if you couldn’t get into the viewing platform.

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The bridge is called the Charlotte or the Red Bridge. I think they like the colour idea because the new bridge in the city centre is called the Blue Bridge. It was built because the main bridge, called the Adolphe Bridge, is in need of serious repair so it had to be closed. Imagine, if you will, closing O’Connell Bridge and building a temporary replacement almost right next to it. That’s what the Luxembourgers appeared to do.

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The glassy thing on the left is the elevator.

Anyway, flickr is not cooperating with me right now so I might add other photographs later.

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.