lifestyle

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.

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Fishless January

It seems a bit cruel to decree this a month in which we must abstain from alcohol AND meat when most of us are struggling to give up CHOCOLATE.

It’s staggering to read there are now probably 3.5 million UK citizens who identify as vegans. This is about 7% of all British men, women and children. Though, significantly, the motive has shifted from mainly cruelty concerns in farming to personal health benefits and awareness of climate change, and given a tremendous lift by social media and following celebrity lifestyles.

I’ve received a bulletin email from my supermarket of choice, Waitrose, announcing a launch of their “Fishless Fingers“. Presumably it’s aimed at people who shamefully admire fish fingers but wouldn’t eat fish. This is, surely, imitation-alternative gone too far; the food equivalent of jumping the shark.

I remember the debates back in the 70s as to what part of the fish their fingers actually came from. Today, I find that their history goes way back to 1900, and the commercial product gained popularity in Britain in the 50s. Clarence Birdseye, the doyen of frozen foods, first marketed them as “herring savouries” though public opinion preferred cod fish, so he dreamt up instead “battered cod pieces” which sounds like the aftermath of a terrible fishing accident. His employees rescued the day in an opinion poll, considering “fish fingers” to be the most attractive marketing name.

I’m sure they used to be a way to get young kids to eat fish – which was considered as “brain food”, benefiting their developing intelligence. However, more recently, and with improved quality, it has found favour with adults as a convenient and easier way of packing fish into a sandwich. Hence, I suspect, the necessity to invent the Fishless Finger alternative.

Beyond the year 2050, when we’re all vegan, what will future generations who won’t have known meat make of the term, Fishless Fingers? Or will it be just a flash in the pan?

In Future This Blog Will Be Closed On Wednesday Afternoons

In preparation for our house move, I loaded up the car with accumulated garage rubbish and we headed off to the dump (aka “the tip” – official name: Civic Recycling Centre). Damn us if the thing weren’t open.

Lots of other people were caught out too, enough to alert us something was up before we even reached the gates. To be fair to the dump, they’ve always been closed on Tuesdays and there’s a dirty great sign by the gate which says so. The thing is, these days, in England, we’re just used to everything being open whenever we need it.

I’m old enough to remember when shops and stores were closed all day on Sundays and shops would close for Wednesday afternoons, and banks, bless ’em, would shut their doors mid-afternoon, Monday to Friday. Weekend banking? Not a chance.

The thing was that this wasn’t really a problem for most of us as the situation was quite clear. Shoppers had a responsibility to mind the time and, if they missed the shop, they only had themselves to blame. It usually meant opening a tin of something, like it or lump it.

I have noticed whenever holidaying in Wales and Spain – in certain parts, at least – you can’t find a restaurant or gastropub (or whatever the Spanish equivalent of that is) open on a Monday. Sundays is normally dead being the Sabbath, so avoid going on a short break anywhere over a Sunday and a Monday, unless you want to eat McDonald’s.

What’s my (serious) take on this?

Well, for a long while I’ve kind of missed the spirit of the quite Sunday (early closing Wednesday was sometimes a pain in the arse). There was something ineffably calming and peaceful and ordered about Sundays. I mean, it wasn’t ever a religious thing for us but if that’s what it takes, so be it. A sabbath made for man; I quite like it.

New Endings and Beginnings

Nearing its end, 2018 has been, for me, a significant year: a milestone birthday, a determination to give up routine work, and a decision, soon to be realised, hopefully, to move home.

We are not moving far, no more than seven miles from where we are now and have been for the best part of twenty years. We had intended to move sooner, sometime around 2008, but there was always something going on (in 2008, it happened to be the banking crisis and the recession, but there were personal things happening as well). Every year seemed to bring with it a doubt as to whether it was the right thing to do.

But there comes a time when you think you’re not going to end up on the proverbial death bed with big regrets, so you sort out those dreams which might be realised and act. Big resolution time!


The justification for our move is food. It would be, wouldn’t it. For years, we kept an allotment, a narrow strip of cultivation rented for a small annual amount – £15, I remember – on which you could grow fruit, vegetables and sometimes flowers for cutting. There are rules and obligations to keeping a plot and this, we felt, wasn’t for us. We simply didn’t have the time and we let it go but the keenness to grow some of our own food remained. So we trust we can begin in the new year with a decent sized garden, and a greenhouse included. Straight from the ground, into the kitchen, and onto the table. There’s not much that can beat that, food-wise.


Moving further away from town, the one thing I think I’ll miss most is the easy walk into town for some casual shopping. It’s not much of a walk, as walks go around here, though I have spotted deer, water voles and the intermittent sighting of a kingfisher, a brief halcyon blue dart heading upstream or down.

Apart from this, I’m happy to leave. With the passing of years, town is reminding me a little too much of the suburbia I left thirty years back – though not as bad as suburbia is now. My regular walks will probably have to be to a pub, about a mile away. It’ll be tough but it’s got to be done.

A Tin Opener

In Britain, before the can, there was the tin. I mention this only because, I think, in America it is a can whereas we seem happy to interchange between tin and can now, although for a long while it was only a tin. Some bifurcation in English probably occurred with “tin can”.

When I was a kid, a lot of food was bought in tins, mainly because domestic freezers weren’t in common use. “Pudding”, as dessert was then called (and still in our house referred to as “pud”) invariably meant opening a tin of fruit, divvying it out into bowls, and pouring on a serving of evaporated milk, again from a tin.

Tinned fruit favourites were apricot halves, sliced peaches, pear halves, mandarin orange segments, pineapple rings, and fruit salad (sometimes labelled as fruit cocktail). All of these fruits were canned in a sweet syrup presumably made from fruit juice and sugar. All in all, it was extremely calorific.

Other foods I remember my folks buying in tins were beans, peas, soups, ham, corned beef, “pink” salmon, “red” salmon, sardines, and tuna. And not forgetting the SPAM!

I believe you could buy anything in a tin in these days – even a steak and kidney pie! – but you had to draw the line somewhere. Tinned potatoes? Unless you were expecting a nuclear attack and preparing a bunker, tinned potatoes or almost any root vegetables, seems unnecessary.

Celebrity frugal cook, Jack Monroe, is in the news saying we shouldn’t be snobbish anymore about tinned food. I’m not sure it is, or was, snobbery though there must now be a case for revisiting the tin what with all the bad news about plastic waste. Surely the quality of food in a tin need not be different from similar food in a carton or plastic container.

Come to think of it, in our kitchen, some tinned goods have never gone away. Tinned tomatoes are a better product than fresh in our climate, and are always chosen for chillis and bakes in preference. Tinned beans, though not quite as good as dried, are far more convenient. And lately, being fed up with disappointingly dry, fresh grapefruits for breakfast, we have been buying tinned grapefruit segments in juice – now a store cupboard essential. Along with succulent tinned prunes, and a spoonful of natural yoghurt (albeit still from plastic tubs), it makes a perfect breakfast first course.

I draw the line at tinned tuna though. Such a noble fish, and expensive too, ruined by boiling it ready for the tin. It’s simply not the same product as fresh; it ought to be banned.


Stop being snobby about tinned food (Telegraph)

Family Dynamics

They say that Blood is Thicker than Water. I don’t know why that’s important because Treacle is thicker than Blood and it’s a darn sight tastier.

My family lived in a cupboard. Well, that isn’t strictly true. We lived in a full house; if someone opened the front door, we’d all fall out into the street. It was like a cupboard, and we were like the tins of treacle, preserves, beans and all kinds of things you might put in a cupboard that’s useful.

We were a very useful family. Dad would make things, Mum would bake things, Gramps would rake things, and I would break things. I was the most useful because I’d give the others something to do.

(120 words)


Inspired by Joelle’s Tales: Tell Me A Tale In Exactly 120 Words – “Family Dynamics”

A Dabbler’s Education

I had been thinking about those little GIF cartoons I attempted some years ago, and then how and why I came to blog, and it’s probably right that I self-identify as a bit of a dabbler. If you can’t be a Master at any one thing then at least try to be a Jack of all things. This I believe.

If I see something I like, I’m interested to find out how it works and what better way than to have a go at it yourself? That way you get an understanding and a better appreciation of the thing, and, by extension, the whole world. Or at least as much of the world as you can cram into a single lifetime.

This education began with my Mum and Dad. They were, and still are, the most self-reliant people I know. For them, I think it was partly out of necessity, not having a lot of money, but they are practical people too, in spirit.

So throughout my adult life, it’s astonished me how many times I’ve heard men say, with undisguised pride, how they “got in a man” to fix something that any fully functioning and reasonably intelligent person could do for themselves in no time. Seriously, I have known men who don’t even possess a screwdriver. It’s just bizarre if you consider how man is identified as a user of tools, a thing that sets us apart from most other animals, and yet there are examples here amongst us without a basic tool, the screwdriver – in a world of screws! And don’t get me started on men who (again, proudly claiming) don’t know their way around a kitchen…!

But back to education. It’s a source of dismay to me how it is in our co-called civilisation that educational support seems to shudder to a halt in adulthood and thereafter is only a real option for the wealthy and privileged. Not that it appears many of them take it up beyond the necessity in getting the right qualification to begin a career – normally a very straight and narrow path to the end.

Ignorance abounds, and it seems as if we’re proud to be dumb. Ironically, we are also very opinionated, and adamantly so. Though, to me, this is likely a symptom of the malaise. I believe it’s true that the more you learn, and the broader your learning is, paradoxically the more there is remaining to be understood.

This dabbler’s education is a work in progress.

In pursuit of happiness

I see there’s a trend for saying happiness isn’t something that can be pursued or sought. You have to let go of that idea and somehow happiness will happen, all by itself.

That sounds too much like waiting at any arbitrary bus stop and expecting a bus to arrive eventually bearing the destination, Never-Neverland.

I think maybe the problem is Happiness is not really understood and no one actually knows how to achieve it and there are always those who, for esteem or money, or possibly both, will persuade you into buying their magic roadmap. Like the old Irish joke about tourists asking a local man for directions, he always tells them, “Well now, I wouldn’t advise you to be setting off from here”.

So what is Happiness, assuming it actually exists, assuming it’s one thing, and common to all sensibilities?

I wonder, hypothetically of coirse, whether God is happy. Not He of the Abrahamic faiths for sure, at least not most of the time judging by the holy books. Curmudgeonly, disappointed and dissatisfied, it paints a likely portrait of the archetypal Perfectionist creator (see earlier post). Not a happy being, perhaps.

But if He is Happy, could it be down to His omniscience? How can we ever know that? But at the opposite end of the spectrum, we believe in the happiness of childhood, the age of innocence and naivety. Ignorance is bliss, we hear.

Consider Thomas Gray’s poem, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College. Apparently, Gray was never happier than when he was at school, though ironically a place he was sent to to learn stuff. Here’s the end lines where he gives us the famous phrase,

To each his sufferings: all are men,
Condemn’d alike to groan—
The tender for another’s pain,
Th’ unfeeling for his own.
Yet, ah! why should they know their fate,
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies?
Thought would destroy their Paradise.
No more;—where ignorance is bliss,
‘Tis folly to be wise.

Who knows? Philosophy is folly or a consolation, or salvation, in an inescapable process of loss of innocence; it’s not easy unknowing the things we know by the process of simply living in a complicated societal world. So should you give up? Not on your nelly, I think.


Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College

On Perfectionism

As a joke, my family gave me a gift of a pen in the form of a spirit level: it had an aluminium body, one side being wider and flat and halfway along the opposite side was its bubble. It was a dig at my perfectionism.

People have different ideas on perfectionism, many don’t even know what it is. I’ve met some who’ve assumed it was being, or believing yourself to be, perfect. It couldn’t be further from the truth. For me, it’s a dissatisfaction with things, mostly things I attempt myself but also disappointment from expectations in other things. It’s probably fair to say, I have developed an acute eye for the smallest flaws. Normal folk won’t see these, only we know they’re there.

I’m writing this as it’s come up in several articles lately; apparently it’s on the increase. The latest is a piece in the Guardian newspaper. I don’t recognise the condition of Tom, the first sufferer looked at in the article. To me, his seems a crisis of self-doubt and low self-esteem; he believes from the start he’s going to fail; he carries an image of a perfect him which he falls short of. If this is perfectionism then its a more complicated issue than I thought.

With me, the disappointment or dissatisfaction comes at the end, or at least during whatever it is I’m doing. It’s as if I believe in my ability and can’t understand why it all goes wrong, or not to plan. It’s a fuck up without explanation. I get seriously angry with myself.

I found it interesting how, in the Guardian article, psychologist Paul Hewitt claims it’s a “personality style”. I think I’ll go along with that, personally. It’s annoying and frustrating but it’s not depression or anything seriously bad like that. While some current thinking is that it may develop with some into more serious health issues, thankfully this hasn’t happened to me. Maybe along the way I’ve learned to isolate it somewhat, separating it from all else that’s around me.

The odd thing is that I can eventually forget about what it is I failed to do, go back to it with fresh eyes and see it in a different light. It’s never as poor as I thought it was. In fact, sometimes it even looks pretty good, and then I can’t believe it was my effort. Then everyone around me tut-tuts and thinks of me when they find joke spirit level pens and the like.


The intolerable rise of perfectionism – Guardian

Toxic perfectionism is on the rise – BBC

On something Bertrand Russell wrote

This the other day from Brain Pickings on something Bertrand Russell wrote,

“Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls.

Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.”

Exactly! This is why I can’t go to work anymore: my interests are now too wide and my specialism is just too personal. Well anyway, I’m going to make this my excuse, if ever I need one.

It’s interesting, a river as a metaphor for existence or life. Not the first time, I know, and not the last. I rather like the idea of a meander. Though with respect to work, we talk about “Career”. Then I like how Career has two meanings: a) that job thing, but also b) progressing in an uncontrolled way.

Yep, that’s been me.


Portrait by Larry Burrows

How To Grow Old by Bertrand Russell (Brain Pickings)