Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Year In Non-Review

I've spent the last half hour browsing through this year's pics, trying to fish out at least one shot that I particularly like or that perhaps encapsulates emotions I've felt throughout the months. This sounds like one heck of a simple exercise, but I can assure you it's only deceptively so. The more I looked and the less I found what I was seeking, until I stumbled upon dead leaves and flowers, both taken on a run-of-the-mill autumn day a few weeks back. My 2009 has been like this:



one hell of a steep staircase taking me nowhere. Distinctively nowhere. I conclude the year broken and tired, not one inch closer to anything I had worked (and planned) to reach, too exhausted even to be saddened by it all. I don't even care any longer.

I hope that my 2010 will be like this:



in technicolour and bright and happy, building on what has happened this past month and living in the present. I am looking forward to tomorrow like I've never looked forward to a new year before. And from then on, it's the new red diary and a change of tune. Have a good night and thank you for reading, today and any other day.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Trickles Of The Year

I love a still, foggy landscape. Have I said it already, that I love the fog? I remember being caught in it many months back, but that wasn't the type of fog I am thinking about right now, this fog right here:



I shot that in Knutsford, down at The Moor, where the paths were slabs of ice and the water was a bigger slab upon which seagulls pattered slowly and carefully and from which they took flight at the sight of us, just in case we had brought something to eat.



I spent the last few days doing pretty much nothing, again as I reported on Christmas Day. Playing games, going out for walks, hopping from place to place without real aim, nor real reason to go there seems like a great way to while away the days when Christmas winds itself down and the New Year starts rearing its head. In fact, there is something that is making me ridiculously happy and excited: the prospect of cracking open my brand new red Moleskine diary come Friday and to turn dreams into reality. I know that much introspection and pondering will take place over the next twenty-four hours: for some reasons that is what the last day of every year inspires me to do, but then it will be all systems go and hopefully onwards and very much upwards. To infinity and beyond. And to hell with 2009.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Hazy

It's been a misty, foggy Christmas Day, spent opening a couple of presents, eating a little bit at lunchtime, finally tucking into the cheesecake that I bought two days ago and generally doing nothing. Like... nothing at all. Suits me fine. Merry Christmas dear reader and thanks for visiting and for all of your emails throughout 2009.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Time Off

I spent the last three days having a bit of a blast doing nothing other than walking around my usual digs and snapping away like a tourist.





Monday, December 21, 2009

Yawn

It's half past midnight and I am toying with the idea of making myself a latte with whipped cream, a sprinkling of brown sugar and maybe a dash of Irish cream. But it seems like an awful lot of hassle and noise when I've already brushed my teeth and the house is asleep. Pity I still have to go and pick my parents up from the airport.

They were due here over three hours ago but their flight got cancelled, so they boarded one for Birmingham instead, where they waited for their luggage for one hour and are now about to get onto the bus that should bring them here at... I don't know, say 2 am? Maybe a little earlier if I am lucky? I am absolutely terrified of going through an unexpected sleepy patch just before I am due to don the puffa coat, scrape ice off the car and get going. Good job I am only three miles off the runaway. Maybe I should leave now? Surely, I won't fall asleep in the terminal?

As Kathleen from You've Got Mail says: 'I lead a small life. Valuable, but small.' I am not entirely sure whether my life is small or big, and certainly I would find it near impossible to define what makes a life one or the other. But what I do know is that my life never entails wild nights out that end at the crack of dawn. In fact, apart from a few freak occurrences at university, not even then did my life develop on the wings of such excesses. And so to be up at this time of night is a bit of a shocking thing really. I guess I too lead a small life, at least in this sense.

Maybe I could kill time by visiting that Tesco that is open 24 hours. Imagine that! I detest food shopping at the best of times, as documented elsewhere, imagine firing up the Shaguar now to have a stroll around the place which I detest even more than food shopping itself. Or I could catch a late movie, couldn't I? Well, scrap that. I just had a look and the last showing started hours ago anyway.

I feel surprisingly perky, all things considered. Now I feel more like eating than when I first sat down here but the thought of clicking the fridge open is sending shivers down my spine. It would prompt The Beasts to hurtle in the darkness and poor Rick, who is planning on getting to work early in the morning, setting off at just past 6 am, would be jerked out of the dreams he has been catching since 11 pm. But then maybe William really is asleep... He is curled up into a tight ball in the bed by the radiator, eyes squeezed shut... Maybe if I am really, really, really quiet and if I move in slow-mo he may not notice...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Whitening

They say that it never snows in Cheshire and that, if it does, it never sticks. Well, that’s true to some extent: Cheshire is England’s wettest country, always ready to welcome a piss-down while the sun is shining, just think of April and May everyone. Only a couple of weeks ago I was driving home under two rainbows stretching all the way to Heaven. Today is a different tune though and my house too is covered in precious white stuff, despite the day having started crisp and very blue.



I look out of the window at the roofs and at the steps that lead to the grass and it seems odd that the entire country is in disarray over what I call a ‘dusting’ of snow. Maybe it’s down to one too many North American holidays in the midst of blizzards; maybe it is down to walking-to-school remembrances when show was five feet deep until March or maybe it’s just down to a reasonably unfazed attitude that accompanies me everywhere I go. By which I mean... according to me it ain’t really a problem until people die... And of course, six-hour delays from New York when on hols, three-hour delays from London on a weekly basis, -25C in Illinois, the East Coast blizzard of 2003, the Buran blowing from Russia in 2002 and a habit to wear three pairs of wooly tights because you-don't-understand-I-am-going-out-anyway-the-sale-is-on-at-Saks do one heck of a job at making one impervious to snow. You look outta window today and go: 'What snow?'.



Whatever it is, I like to stay holed up at home, even though I must confess to having spent half an hour defrosting the Shaguar this morning because I sure as hell wasn’t gonna be stranded for no cataclysmic reason. So I went out for light bulbs and some extra anti-freeze, for some biscuits and two sticks of bread and because it seemed fair enough to try the road out before I go to the airport to pick my parents up tonight. If they manage to fly over, as it’s -10C at their place although not that unusual, as they live near the Alps. I am looking forward to having them to stay so that I won’t have to worry about one damn thing for three weeks and so that I will put this Royally Shite Year behind me in a feast of Monopoly City and tea and Irish coffee and stollen. And maybe a little something from Harvey Nichols as well...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Contemplating

I spent this week contemplating and regretting. I know, odd way to commit one’s thoughts to a diary, isn’t it? I spent the day regretting today. I contemplated many things and I regret them all. Well, it didn’t work out exactly like that but sometimes life really does make me feel like crawling away to Tibet, where everything seems serene, nobody has to worry about what to wear because they all go around in orange robes and where there are no earthly issues of mortgages and car oil because all they do is bettering themlseves spiritually, and they do not need a house or a car to do so. If only!



I should have made the choice years back and not now that the world has yet again spiralled out of control and I find myself re-wound back to ten years ago, in more ways than one. Meanwhile, the house is warm and cosy, the tree glows by the widow, my dogs don’t want to go out and I with them. I find myself once again muddled with the past, while life scoots by, shouting: ‘HEY! You comin’?!’. I’ve got a new diary, by which I mean a paper one. It smells clean like air after a snowfall, it sounds crisp like autumn leaves under my shoes, it looks ready, enticing me with the promise of adventure, novelty and possibility. I can’t wait to crack on I am telling you.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Unexpected Guest *WITH SPOILERS*

A few days ago, I was working on the sofa, by the door that looks onto the garden. I saw a black cat passing by, a little guy whom I have seen before. He reminds me of Gobbolino, the Witch’s Cat, which was one of the old tapes I used to listen to when I was small. I tapped my fingers on the window and he came back, tentatively looking in. So I opened the door and after much coaxing he stepped in and took a tour of the lounge.



Well, good job I had yet to place the tree skirt under the tree. He proceeded to the glass door that leads to the entrance hall and saw William in bed by the radiator. I kid you not dear reader, the little cat turned around and scooted off without a second thought. But what does he know of my dogs? It is Victoria he should fear and not William, who looked up at me from the bed, bemused, probably wondering what that black moving thing was a second ago and was there a black thing anyway? Good luck to you little guy... winter is expected to be long and cold around here. Oh and, by the way, you know the unexpected guest, I mean, the real Unexpected Guest? It’s him who did it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Job Done

Right, all my decos are duly sorted and now it's time for more coffee. And more chocolate. I am telling you, at this rate I won't be able to fit into my knickers by the end of tomorrow, let alone into my dresses by mid-January.




Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's Beginning To Feel A Lot Like NYC

For the past few days I’ve lived on a diet of chocolate coins, chocolate fudge, chocolate Santas, chocolate biscuits and skinny Starbucks. You see, the skinny part is necessary, so that I can offset some of the calories. Saving 50 or so on the coffee makes me feel very virtuous indeed, especially on days such as today, which I spent walking around and then plonked at the IMAX for A Christmas Carol (preceded by a cheese pretzel, my only savoury concession in quite some time, and followed by another Starbucks).



But life is great when Rick is around because it always feels like we are on holiday, even when we’re just at home. And did I ever tell you that the newest bit of Manchester, Spinningfields, is looking almost as good as The Rockefeller Center? Yeah well, oooooo-k, minus the skyscrapers and the stupendous shops and Prometheus and Saks and St Pat’s and Atlas and Fifth Avenue and an observation deck on 70 and minus many other things and yet, plus a merry-go-round set upon a backdrop of glass and steel and a peculiarly blue sky. And, for today at least, that’s more than good enough.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Challenge For #best09

When some time ago I read that Gwen was starting a Best of 2009 string of prompts for December, I grinned and clapped, thinking how very fabulous, I am gonna do them all. Then the prompts came and the problems started.

There was no Best of 2009 for me; there was just one heck of a supermassive black hole filled with disastrous memories, with internal struggles and ferocious recriminations, with tears and rejections, with wading through black treacle up to my waist. 'There ain't no BEST OF!' the disenchanted me boomed from deep inside, there have just been non-developments, call that best of anything if you can! Rararah-dirahrarah! Self-pity? Anger? Stalling? Sadness? Shock? Yes, all of these and then some, tenfold.

Yet, late last night I noted that today's prompt was going to be CHALLENGE and some flicker of recognition lit itself somewhere within eyeshot, in that uncanny way that attracts us like the sales at Harrods and repulses us like the stench of vomit. You see, over time I've grown to hate the word challenge. It happened because of my cubicle nation years of leveraging integrated solutions of key enablers that were to be thought of as out of the box whilst the objections were to be raised off-line in a pre-meeting. In those days, everything was called a challenge (except understanding corpo-lingo which, really, was ironic).

There were challenging timescales, challenging budgets, challenging clients, challenging bosses, challenging timezone differences, challenging statements, challenging validities, challenging coffee machines, challenging tokens and challenging parking restrictions. Everything we had to do was labelled a challenge, even when it was self-imposed, such as queuing for the Starbee while balancing a laptop. That's not a challenge, it's over-inflated self-importance. The result yielded a workforce de-sensitised to challenges proper; refer to everything in your life as a challenge and I can assure you that you won't be able to recognise one when it meets you with an axe.

Not only will you be unlikely to recognise it, you will also find yourself incapable to navigate the no man's land without a precious compass you never knew you needed. When I woke up in 2009, free as the proverbial bird, finishing my PhD at last, ready to take flight in any direction I wanted, I soon enough realised that I must have looked (and felt), like hummingbirds immortalised by wildlife photographers: flapping their wings fast and yet forever poised by the same flower. Where do you go when you discover that the crossroad you wanted to reach has no directions? How do you get to there when you don't know where there is or what it looks like?

This was my Best Challenge of 2009, and, in fact, the best challenge I've ever faced. It has left me a little shaken, a lot more weary and worse for wear but has empowered me in ways that I never expected. I went from over-paid corporate git to skint writer in a flash and a hundred doors have now flung themselves open. I've been working on my new pro site for a while, a site that will be complemented by a YouTube channel. I am taking steps to improve my visibility to the world and to blossom into the person I had already become through years of study, research, travel, education and damn hard work. Now I feel on the cusp of something great, less fearful and more excited than I've ever been. But do you know something odd and even a little annoying? I myself was holding the keys to the now open doors, all the time. There were right here, right in my pocket. I guess I never reached deep enough.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Quaint

It is no mystery that I keep this diary for me. It started out as a way to get me to write often, at some point every day, and to spur me onto the completion of my PhD. As of late, it has become a place where I record the everyday so that I don't forget about it. Today, however, I really would like to put up some pics that will delight regular readers from afar (especially the Yanks) who seem to operate under the delusional radar that suggests England is all pretty and quaint and vintage-looking and infested with Hugh Grant-esque characters (Hugh Grant circa 1995 that is).

Generally, I would scoff and snort at such preposterous, romanticised visions (even though I do exactly the same for the US); they only come from people who never had the pleasure to come across Tesco, Poundland, the ever-ghastly Primark or underage chavs pushing prams, reasons good enough to send everyone screaming for the Cheshire countryside for ever more. But today I feel all Crimbo-fuzzy and mellow and so I give you one little gem that looks right out of an English movie shot on a cardboard street at Universal Studios. Except this shop is real.






As are these other shops.




Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Food Evils

It's past 7 pm, Rick will be home in approximately one hour and there's nothing to eat. Why is it that this food shopping thing always sneaks up on me? What part of food shopping don't I understand? Deep down, I know what the problem is: I detest it with passion. It just shouldn't be called shopping at all. I can liken it to tampon shopping or car oil shopping or light-bulbs shopping or pumping gas... that sort of inescapable crap that you must tend to but that doesn't give particular elation in any shape or form. In fact, both Halfords and B&Q are two of the places that I detest the most.

They are followed by the supermarkets, by which I mean all of them, from Waitrose down to ASDA. A friend of mine says that the more depressing the supermarket (Lidl or Aldi for example), and the harder food shopping becomes for someone who already hates it. I agree. You may as well start waxing your bikini line rather than getting into the car for a trip to a discount shithole. In fact, I'd take the bikini wax, front, sides and back any time over a trip to Lidl (or Ikea, but I am about to digress). Still, I don't find Waitrose any more fascinating. In fact, I was just leafing through one of their leaflets trumpeting THIS CHRISTMAS THERE IS ONLY ONE PLACE TO BE. Are they kidding me? And that place would be a Waitrose supermarket? Spare me.

Tempers tend to flare even when I stumble upon the Harrods Food Halls. Now there is a difference here: while at Waitrose (and everywhere else) you will come across some of the most disgusting pies, cakes, and dinky appetisers, Harrods doesn't sell anything that isn't at Jamie Oliver (or above) level. So that definitely plays in their favour. However, the mere calculated cutting through their food section so that I can reach the Egyptian escalator makes me speed up as if I were in mortal danger. I can cope with chocolates, coffees and teas, naturellement, but not with veggies, fish, bread, meat, herbs. In short, I cannot cope with the mundane, no matter how good it is.

Double-yuk, just thinking about the humming of fridges makes me sick. Yet... it is now 7.30 pm and there is still no food. Because, of course, food doesn't tend to materialise itself when you need it. You need to go out and get it or you need to be so fantastically organised to sit down and order it. Even that is too much trouble, even that requires cell-power from one side of my brain that hybernates at the mere thought of food shopping.

I suppose this explains why years ago, I returned to the flat in London to be greeted by my friend shouting from the kitchen: 'Steph, your Sainsbury's delivery has arrived, but why did you buy all of these bananas? Are you making something?'. There were bananas all over the sides, the table, on top of the fridge and the microwave. I had ordered eight KILOS of bananas. Well, no, I actually thought I had ordered eight UNITS, while in my irritated haste, I had not scrolled to the right option. That's what happens when you just can't get excited about food shopping. Not even the supposed convenience of the net will save you. But, of course, at least we had bananas to eat.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

You Can't Make That Yourself For Less

You can always tell whether a person is an artsy pants if you are out together, you point at a particularly lovely object (and this could be anything, from a felted flowers garland, to a textured canvas, a wooden sculpture, an embroidered napkin) and the person with you recoils in horror at the pricetag and spitefully tells you that: ‘You can make that yourself for a lot less than that’. Shops, advertising, marketing and 'stuff' do not catch this type of Sherlocks out I am telling you.

The ‘you can make that yourself for a lot less than that’ brigade is usually constituted by tightasses who do not like to part with money as a general rule. These are the sort of people who will gorge themselves to sick point on free sarnies at the church festival but who will quite happily go hungry for 24+ hours if those same sarnies are for sale at 50p each, or even less. They hand out cards instead of posting them and they conveniently forget birthdays. These ain’t people who are patrons to the arts or artists. I recommend avoiding them at all costs.

Most importantly, they are people who have never ever tried their hand at making anything. Whether the item in question is a knitted scarf or a clay spoon does not matter; only the tight and the clueless, the hopeless, the arts-uninitiated ever say ‘you can make that yourself for less’. This is a fact, not an opinion, and I am going to show you why.

A few weeks back I started work on an advent calendar. I am very passionate about advent calendars you see, because it seems to me like the possibilities are so varied that one could spend a whole year making advent calendars while using items as unrelated as fabric and cork, tin and wood, paper and glitter, stone and glass and so on and so forth. In fact, I can think of many more things off the top of my head: melamine and dead leaves, yarn and ribbon, pegs and hooks, paper butterflies and papier marché birds, buttons and pins, tags and stickers... It just thrills me to bits.

One day while walking around Knutsford, I had an epiphany involving a cork pinboard, some Christmas fabric and lots of little numbered bags held up by ribbon hooked on silver pins. I went off and started buying my supplies. I was even a little smug when I left a local stationery shop with the cork pinboard for which I had only shelled out a miserable £ 3 (please note: it was on sale at 50% off).



Three weeks, and many hours of cutting, sewing, gluing and finishing later, and I have a unique advent calendar that I very satisfactorily hung up on Monday evening in preparation for The Big Day, today. But has this calendar cost me less than anything similar I’ve seen in John Lewis, Laura Ashley, House of Fraser, Selfridges, Paperchase or the ubiquitous charity shops? Has it heck:

cork board, half price £ 3
cotton thread £ 1.50
backing fabric £ 5
bag fabric £ 7
gold glitter £ 5
glue £ 4
ribbon £ 5
pins £ 3
chocolates £ 3

not budgeted for because I already had them:

hot pink backing fabric for bags
one other reel of cotton thread
silver thread for embroidery of numbers
green felt for numbers
special glue for back of pins
Heat-and-Bond reel for stitch-less hems and borders
needles, cutting mat and rotary cutter

So the total for my home-made advent calendar is £ 36.50, with my time, naturally, unaccounted for, as I regard the process as a free add-on to the pleasure of the making. Yet, I saw beautiful advent calendars made of felt and with tons of embellishments yesterday for only £ 10. The wooden ones at £ 25 and £ 30 are cheaper than mine.

If I were to continue this joyful pastime at the sewing machine and were to make, say, a small stocking, I would spent another £ 10 worth of fabrics, probably felt, and extra for a couple of embellishments, perhaps a hole-punch that could create a motif around the folded-over edge and a thick ribbon that would run lengthwise and across the top for hanging. How about a lovely two-coloured longline cardigan with belt? Or a small quilt to throw on the sofa? How much do you think the crochet blanket I am making will have cost in the end? £ 30? Yeah right.

The other day I was leafing through the Brora winter catalogue, ogling a beautiful cashmere blanket that only costs £ 350. Yes, I am saying only for a purpose there. If I were to knit myself the same in, let’s say, Debbie Bliss’s pure cashmere at £ 10 a hank, and with one hank measuring a very modest 41m, I would need hundreds to hit blanket-size, even in the very simple stockinette stitch. My ‘you could make that yourself for less’ cashmere blanket would cost me more than a Hermès one.

So, no, there is not much out there which you can make yourself for less. In fact, while I concede that there may be something, quite frankly, I cannot think of anything. And next time you hear that stupid litany... just roll your eyes and buy whatever it is you want to buy.
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