lifestyle

Six Books for a Desert Island Library

Coming out of Waitrose supermarket, I pick up an edition of their paper, Weekend: it’s free, usually contains one or two interesting meal ideas and, if nothing else, makes a good liner for the food scraps recycling caddy.

The paper has Mariella Frostrup writing a regular column. In this edition, she suggests we consider six books which may give insights into our character. I think this is an easier task than choosing eight songs for a desert island. What would those six books be?

The Autobiography of a Supertramp (WH Davies)

My copy of this book bears the ink stamp of my old school library. There was a time when it was thought the pupils weren’t making enough use of the room, other than to use it as an impromptu common room. It had a long south facing façade and it a great place to chill out and chat in the Autumn or Spring sunshine. A decree was set that each pupil had to borrow three books from the library. So, when it was my turn, I picked this one, a John Wyndham omnibus, and a Twentieth Century Book of Verse. By the time I left school for good, I still hadn’t read either, nor had I remembered to take them back.

Some years after, being by then more interested in books, I decided to read them. It surprised me how good this book is, an account of Davies’ preference for life on the road. A Welshman, he begins tramping around Britain but is soon working his passage to the States where bumming about is a whole new ball game, one in which jumping freight trains without being caught is an essential life skill. In time, he makes it to Canada where he is hospitalised after a serious accident, then returns to England and throws himself at the mercy of the establishment charities.

But Davies was also a poet. Probably the most famous of his works is Leisure, the one with the opening lines,

“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?”

It’s a good sentiment if not a great poem; even if we’re not brave enough to be a tramp, a “king, or queen, of the road”, we should, at least, spare time just to stand and stare.

As a poet, Davies was taken under the wing of fellow poet, Edward Thomas, and I was interested to discover that he helped settle him in a cottage in Nailsworth, not a million miles from where I live now. It’s a small world.

excellent related reads:

A Poet’s Pilgrimage also by WH Davies – a brief return to tramping through England

The Road, by Jack London – alternative tramping experiences and freight train jumping in the USA

In Pursuit of Spring by Edward Thomas – a bicycle ride from London, westwards.

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Official: I am not middle class

Here’s a bit of fun from the Daily Mirror. How “Posh” are you?

Well, I didn’t think being middle class was posh, more aspiring posh, I think. However, an expert in etiquette, William Hanson, claims there are 16 tell-tale household possessions which can determine how middle class you are.

And, surprisingly, I score a fat zero.

Okay, hands up, I have owned one or two in the past but, of this precise moment, I don’t. Here they are, listed in order of popularity,

Smart TV. I have thought about it but telly is a bit crap, so I’m putting it off.

Dyson Vacuum Cleaner. Have had two in the past. Expensive crap, both fell apart. Bought German design instead.

Barbecue. No, much prefer proper cooking.

Vinyl Record Collection. Gone to charity.

iMac Computers. Never considered it. Does an iPad count?

Nutribullet. Have teeth, prefer chewing.

Samsonite Wheelie Suitcase. What’s wrong with a couple of carrier bags?

Wood Burning Stove. Previously had one a couple of houses ago. With the state of the world, might need one again soon.

Spiralizer. What the hell is that? Sounds like the name of a 90’s Indie band.

Mulberry Bags. What, like for carrying your mulberries home in? What?

Matching Coasters. The coffee cup marks on the table provide evidence to the contrary.

Boiling Water Taps. Had these at work once. Don’t actually boil water. Horrible tasting tea.

Hot Tub. I very much doubt this is in any way “posh” but, nope, just wouldn’t.

Aga Cooker. Have used one before but – see same for barbecue above.

Smeg Fridge. Sounds obscene: something they store samples in at a sperm bank, perhaps? A fridge is a fridge, isn’t it?

Brompton Folding Bicycle. Never had a car I couldn’t easily throw an ordinary bike into, so, no thanks.

Ha, what larks! Are you middle-class? Want to be? Buy all of the above.


You are posh if you own one of these 16 items says etiquette expert (Daily Mirror)

The Opportunities of Old-Age

a writing prompt piece

As a freelancer, I moved around, but there were one or two places I’d return to because they were better places to work. In one such place there worked these two guys. They were of a similar age, worked in the same team and were, in every sense, workmates, almost companionable. They were both humorous, and one especially so. Often they were like a comedy duo, The Odd Couple, Laurel and Hardy, that kind of thing.

Well, I left and then went back and only one of them was still there. The funnier one had retired. In fact, both had reached retirement age but the remaining one had negotiated to stay on, part-time, two days a week. He told me, it got him out of the house; out from under his wife’s feet; gave him something to do; earn a little pocket money. I thought he was crazy. I’d watch him at his desk looking disengaged. Occasionally his eyes would droop, and then close. At four-thity on the dot, he would go home.

Then one day the other guy popped in. He was passing the office and thought he might as well show his face; it was a face beaming from ear to ear. He said something funny which I’d heard before. He said, looking back, he didn’t know how he ever found the time to go to work. In retirement, his hours were fuller, and, I had the impression, with a greater sense of purpose and enjoyment than when he had to work.

Working is for mugs. The trouble is, we’re all mugs and there’s little to be done about it. Just don’t plan to be a mug all your life.

(284 words)


written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s Tale Weaver prompt #222 – “The Opportunities of Old Age”

Shorts, innit?

a flash-fiction piece

It had been the wettest Saturday since records began, they said, and football’s cancelled. The boys were disappointed. Still, it was May and I said, on with the shorts! Shorts are the best, in my opinion; you can’t go wrong. Well, except the young ‘un. He kicked up a stink, threw himself on the floor, big tantrum. I give in. Life’s too short.

She said, we’ll go to the park, it’s stopped raining. We put our waterproofs on, just the same. Life’s too short to muck about in a wet shirt. Good thing about shorts: your legs dry off quick.

(100 words)


written for Bikurgurl’s 100 Word Wednesday Writing Challenge: Week 120

image by Bikurgurl.

Gender

a flash-fiction piece

Felicity and Ben make the perfect couple. When they set up home, Felicity brought the tools. She’d followed her father and took a plumber’s apprenticeship. Over time, working alongside other trades, she’d picked up skills like carpentry, bricklaying, rendering and plastering. She rarely shied away from dirty work; she was strong. She was persuaded to try out for the women’s rugby team, which she enjoyed.

They’d met in the library where Ben worked: some pipes needed replacing. He’d brought in brownies he’d baked for the other librarians and offered her one. She accepted; it was love at first sight.

(99 words)


written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge, 18 April – “Gender”

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Gender. It can be fixed or fluid. Explore the topic on your own terms and open your mind to possibilities and understanding. Go where the prompt leads!

The Road Gang

We are settling into village life more and more and I received a nice email thanking me for my participation in the village tidy up. There were about a dozen of us meeting up last Saturday morning. We each had a pair of gloves, a hi-vis tabard, a plastic sack and one of those extended picker devices operated by a trigger so we didn’t have to keep bending down. Then we scattered to different points of the compass to pick litter.

The last time I went on litter patrol was at school. Then, it was seen as a punishment for some trivial felony, like refusing to wear a school cap or picking one’s nose in religious education. Although there was the ecological and aesthetic benefit to school, the purpose behind it was more humiliation.

But on this occasion it felt good and worthy. It helped that the morning’s weather was mild and sunny, and my stretch of road offered high views across the fields where there were sheep and lambs and cattle.

It was a big sack and I was worried I’d not fill it and look like a worthless newbie on my debut. So I busied myself with every speck of paper and dog end I could spot while my companions strode forth and were soon almost out of sight. I needn’t have worried; a little past the village welcome sign, I found all sorts of discarded detritus. Mostly, it was the expected soda pop cans, coffee cups and drink cartons, occasionally a takeaway container and a burger meal bag. I did find the broken remains of a car accident which filled up the sack to breaking point – I knew then I wasn’t to fail.

The oddest things I picked up in the space of an hour were, a large medicine bottle with a prescription label, an empty economy bottle for hair conditioner, a plastic box for small tools – the places for pliers, screwdrivers, wrenches etc. were clearly indented – a race competitor’s number label, 106 – I hope she or he wasn’t disqualified for losing this – and a pair of cut down denim jeans.

I got the hand of the extended litter picker eventually but I will say a thank you to all those considerate individuals who crush their cans before throwing them out the car window. Crushed cans are a lot easier to pick up with an extended litter picker than uncrushed ones – these tend to slip away as soon as they’re clamped. So, thank you crushers! A little thoughtfulness in a world of mindlessness makes life a little better.

Yeah, right.

Little and Often: a life principle

I believe that most people are contradictions. Take me and work: I am a lazy sod, just won’t touch work; until I get going, then I’m a workaholic; I don’t know when to quit. Possibly the built in laziness is a defence against my inclination to work for too long, or maybe I just forget how satisfying a day’s work can be.

Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be as fit as I used to be. For stamina, I mean. My strength seems to be okay. I’ve managed to dig out and lift a couple of rhubarb plants, and the girth of mud attached which was not much smaller than I could hug, and put them one at a time into the barrow, and manage to steady the barrow one time as it was in danger of toppling over. But now the plants have been relocated, mulched and watered, I am proverbially “cream crackered*”, and it’s only lunchtime. I’ve had a couple of bits of toast and marmite, and sat down with a cup of tea, and now I feel lazy again.

I can’t remember who it was that told me their life principle, “little and often”, but I need to adopt that myself.


Quite right, it’s the wrong time to be digging up rhubarb but those plants were where I want to put my shed, so they had to move.

* cream crackered – cockney rhyming slang for extremely tired.

Rude Talk Now

Sapio-sexual (n). a person who is sexually aroused by, or sexually attracted to, intelligence.

Humanity is so kinky on the fringes, I could easily see living amongst us a subset of folk who get off on pure intelligence. They probably consult each other on The Times Crossword as foreplay. I’m trying myself to be conscious of whether I ever find intelligence arousing, in a sexual context, and I’m afraid I’m not getting the glow.

Sapiosexual is a new word (I always look these words up, even if I’m sure I know the meaning already. Sometimes it surprises me that I don’t, but it’s an education). I also find, from the same search, the word, Pragmasexual, and I feel that may be more my line.

To be honest, when it comes to sexual arousal, I find that sexual potential is all it requires. It’s like when you’re hungry, or just peckish, you’re probably not thinking about Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsey, and three michelin star restaurants inside five star hotels; you’re really thinking about Mum’s shepherds pie or Nan’s beef rendang. Of course, the analogy ends there for legal and ethical reasons, but yeah, nothing arouses sexuality more than the thought of sex itself. And for that you don’t need too much intelligence.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #75 – “Sapio-sexual”

Capsulized Wardrobe, Sir?

As a fish of the species Carpio Minimalis, I’m a sure sucker for articles on streamlining life. This one on “capsule wardrobes” drew my attention. (I didn’t read it thoroughly, the site is one of those interrupted with irritating pop-pops which cut across my grain; I just read enough to grab the idea and run.)

I think it’s a great idea though not a novel one. Many of the good and great, and I dare say a few bad ones, have adopted an efficient wardrobe method, reducing the time wasted in choosing what to wear on any ordinary day and avoiding the meltdown when it comes to the special occasion.

In a nutshell, the concept with the capsule wardrobe is to throw out the crap and leave only that which is deemed beforehand to be desirable and wearable. In other words, a reasonable system of dressing.

I have made inroads to this core for several years now and for me it works. Let us have a peek into my wardrobe. Note, it is a man’s perspective only…

Socks. Some people, I know, don’t wear them and I’m a little envious, however, in England, I feel these are essential items, for general comfort and against the cold. Can I, though, be forgiven for regarding those who wear colourful and comical socks with a bit of derision? What are they trying to do?

My choice is to settle on a plain sock of a particular colour and wear only those. Honestly, nobody is watching your socks and nobody cares. Though black isn’t the perfect colour, I have chosen it because it is pretty ubiquitous in the socks department. Grey may be better but black is absolute and more available. The extra advantage is you’ll never have more than one odd sock.

Shoes. Honestly, if shoes were indestructible, I’d probably be happy with one pair. As they’re patently not, it’s prudent to have a reserve pair for when things go wrong. Three pairs is an extravagance but acceptable. Four or more is utterly insane. Normally, I reach for my favourite pair, always.

I am just talking about everyday shoes. Obviously, other footwear is necessary for different purposes like hiking, exercising, rough work and indoor wear.

Shirts. There is something simple which sets the polo shirt high above its poor relation, the common t-shirt: its collar. Yet it is equally as comfortable. I think the collar gives it more versatility. Subtle patterns or weaves are okay but I tend to avoid stripes. Stripes tend to suggest something which may be unintended; they can also play havoc with body shape. Again, when opting for plain shirts, nobody’s watching, nobody cares.

Polo shirts are so plentiful, you can pick them up in the sales. I tend to buy several colours at a time, which does cause a modicum of angst when choosing which to put on in the morning, but I usually go with the mood of the day or what I intend to get up to. Like, if I’m thinking of cooking a tomato ragu or a curry sauce, I’m not going to pick out the white shirt.

Navy and black are good colours for sombre and sober events, like funerals or interviews, worn under a suitable jacket or sweater. White carries off pretty well too, under the same outer clothes, for slightly less serious occasions, or on its own in hotter weather. I steer clear of colours under the jacket to avoid the holiday camp entertainments representative, or the slightly dodgy secondhand car salesman look. Consideration applies to suitability of colours to the complexion: I couldn’t pull off wearing yellow, for instance. Reds just about work but any shades of grey, brown, blue or green suit me like leaves on a tree, so I tend to go for those.

Trousers. Everyone lives in jeans, why fight it? A pair of smart trousers in reserve is all I need.

Underpants. Ha ha. Who cares? Who sees? Why should you care who sees? Pick a comfortable brand, pick a readily available colour, buy in bulk. Nobody cares!

Now the things I’ve decided I don’t want are suits and ties. Ties are utterly too useless and if I ever find I need a suit – probably by an invitation I can’t refuse – I will cross that bridge when I come to it, possibly by hiring an extremely decent suit rather than keeping a cheap chain store one in the cupboard. I don’t see it happening to be honest.

I hope that was a fun peek. Here’s that article I mentioned above, if you can stand the pop-ups,


How To Build A Capsule Wardrobe

image by Andrej Lišakov via Unsplash.com

Back to Normal

“We just want to go back to some semblance of a normal life that everyone else has”
(Eric Van Balen)

Humans are conservative by nature; they love normal, they desire normal whenever life seems… abnormal. An excess of normal is often seen as being boring.

Normal is the rock on which we build successfully. Normal is the level base upon which we grow, from which we develop. Normal is sane. Normal is rational. Normal produces a healthy intellect, encourages imagination and innovation.

Normal is the calm before a storm, and the calm following a storm (unless on Jupiter where the storms have been raging for thousands of years. For a Jovian, that’s normal).

Normal is peacefulness, a time free of trouble and conflict, unless you’re a child born in Yemen or Syria where war is continuing. Fear is normal.

Normal is routine. A morning begins with fresh coffee, from a pot which has already been cleaned from the previous day’s use, the coffee jar not yet empty, fresh water in the jug, sugar in the sugar pot and clean mugs.

It’s getting ready for work at the right hour. It’s regular work. When I explained to my father-in-law that I worked freelance for short contracts, he was aghast. He’d told me, with some pride, how he’d been with the same firm for forty years. I have known people who started work after university and are still at that same company, the same commute to the same office, the same lunchtime routine, the same time going home. The way the company works, the way it likes to do business, has become second nature. That’s normal. Though in that time, they say they have seen changes. That’s normal.

Normal. Even the sound of the word appears to grind to a standstill.

If you’re an adventurer, if you’re a party goer, if you grab life by the balls, carpe diem, and all that, and you do all this, then that’s normal for you.

Normal is what we want unless that’s all there is, and then we want something else. And that’s normal too.


Written for Reena Saxena’s Exploration Challenge #68 – “Back to Normal”

It’s a train of thought piece which is how posts normally start though it’s not normally how I publish them.