Hello there. Still there? Amazing. Sorry I haven’t written for uhm… six months or so? A while, anyway. So what have you been up to?
Me, not much worth reporting. Let me share some examples of pointless pursuits that have filled my time.
1. Doing nothing: This actually is one of my favourite things to do with my precious spare time. It is the most luxuriant feeling not to have to do anything. I have rested my brain.
2. Looking for a nicer job: I found jobs, and jobs found me, and none convinced me they would improve my work life. Total waste of time. My job is not so bad after all.
3. Laptop cursing: Ever since the cleaner dropped my laptop it has refused to show what is going on inside its hidden depths from time to time. Only not when I sent it in to be diagnosed by the insurance company, it behaved beautifully there. Only to return and grin me in the face. Nobody tell me it doesn’t have a conscious mind! What I haven’t told it yet is that it is now on a sure path to replacement. With a reliable, un-moody companion.
4. Cleaning: The cleaner had to go. So I’ve been doing my own cleaning for a while. I can’t think of anything more pointless, and yet unavoidable, as cleaning. Your clean, shiny surfaces start to regress before you’ve even turned your back.
5. Wondering what my life would be like if I had never married my first husband: I did marry him, and there is nothing that can change that. What is interesting though is imagining what my children would be like if I’d had them with husband. It’s an impossible challenge: they would be completely different people, which I simply cannot picture.
6. Marveling at the amount of rubbish my neighbours put out every week. How does a 3-people household manage to produce that much waste? And why does that even intrigue me?
7. Watched pointless movies. Which ones? I can’t remember.
Time for a fresh start!
Google’s idea of Belgian-ness in honour of Belgium’s national holiday today! Thanks google
Someone used the word “rainmakers” recently, referring to mighty powerful people who make the world go around. If you had been living in the UK, like me, then you will understand my uncontrolled revulsion. I fear I even made an ugly face, but I can’t be sure. I hope not, it would have been very inappropriate because this was a clever, expensive consultant I was clearly supposed to find common ground with. The word “rainmakers” used to inspire admiration, but somehow the persistent rain has changed all that. Rain is now a bad, bad thing. Rain equals floods, puffins drowning, no strawberries, no barbecues, slugs everywhere. And ferns growing to hideous hairy size, which is actually quite impressive. But except for its fern-growing capacities it is a really bad thing. My mind, I am finding, has formed such a rejection of rain that it is rubbing off on the “rainmakers”.
I understand that if you’re in Africa or even in the US this year you may actually have moved from admiration to awe for rainmakers. Everything is relative. I have good news for you though:
I myself have been carrying the nickname of Rainmaker for years now, sadly for the ability to make it rain everywhere I go for a holiday rather than for being powerful. The name truly stuck when I brought torrential rain to the Masai Mara‘s bone dry land, returning it to grazing fields for the Masai cattle within days. A miracle. Even I saw it as a good thing then. Now a strange thing has happened: I finally decided this week to give up staying indoors and buy a fully waterproof raincoat, so I can rejoin life. No sooner did the coat arrive than it stopped raining. I turned the tide! I truly am mighty powerful! And I am told that the changes mean the drought in the US will ease. So there. You’re welcome.
Shelves full of books have been written and many movies made on dilemmas and how people handle them. They typically describe BIG issues, about whether or not to save someone’s life for example – Schindler’s list, The Pianist, … The Deer Hunter, dealing with the aftermath of the war, or stories about loss like My Sister’s Keeper. I faced a dilemma a couple of days ago that I still feel the tiniest bit bad about, deep down. Silly really, because it was not a BIG issue and the outcome was overtaken by events. Here’s what happened:
Airport, gate D7. We were all waiting for an evening flight back to London, tired after several long days’ work. Looking forward to coming home again. Then came the dreaded announcement that our aircraft was still in London “with technical difficulties”. Eventually the flight got cancelled and we were instructed to queue for a rebooking, from VIP loyalty card holders down to standard card holders and then the plebs. Nice touch, that. I guess they have to make it worth our while to pursue their wretched cards. By the time they got down to my level they had just given away the last seat on the next plane. There were two of us, an American suit and me, narrowly missing out. Not to worry, said the airline lady brightly, I can put you both on the waiting list. Then she paused, and added: “What if there is only 1 seat?” I mean, what was she hoping for? A fight? We just sighed and looked at each other, our minds whirring. Well mine was, anyway. This was my Moral Moment: I really wanted to be nice and courteous, this man looked as tired as I felt; why would I take precedence; it was the right thing to do. Another voice in my head screamed NOOOOOO I WANT TO GO HOME!!! It took me longer to resolve my inner conflict than it did the other traveler, who pulled the gallant card and “in that case offered the seat to the lady”. I was obviously delighted and thanked him appropriately – not too profusely, just showing appreciation -, but I couldn’t shake the hint of disappointment at my cowardice.
That guilt made me feel relief alongside disappointment when it turned out neither of us got on the next flight home, and we both were put on the same even later one. I am comforted by the thought that I did not cause the gallant American any avoidable delays, but I am now carrying the knowledge that I am a coward. If only he’d been a rude ass. That would have evaporated my dilemma in an instant. I am a coward…
Does anything in this photo strike you?
Don’t see anything untoward? Look again. These are Facebook staff, listening to a speech by their chief Mark Zuckerberg. They chose to work there because they want to be creative, original, at the forefront of technology and other such sexy reasons. They choose to be individuals rather than conform to the suits and standards of traditional corporate life. You read about technology companies offering their staff all sorts of entertainment to relax their hardworking minds, and being pretty relaxed about dress code. No suits required, wear what you like. Show us who you really are. Now: how many people in that picture are not wearing jeans? I only spot one, or maybe two if the guy in brown is wearing chinos rather than coloured jeans. The audience is a sea of blue denim from the waist down. That does make you wonder how comfortable people really are setting themselves apart from the crowd.
It has been said that people are happier among like minded people. This picture speaks volumes to that. I could be cynical and point out how conformist these creative souls are. Or I could marvel at the primal urge of human beings to belong. I am in a mellow mood today, and inclined to seeing the wonderful rather than the weird. I’m confident those people feel pretty good about being part of that team. It isn’t a bad thing to want to be part of a group, as long as you feel you are free to be true to your core self. A trade-off of wearing a sort-of-uniform for bringing the best out in yourself and others has to be worth it. Groups have to have something in common. Let them just not tell the suits they are conformists. They are all doing exactly the same thing, even if to achieve other aims.
Networking. Not something I was born to, but I am told by people in the know that I have to, on occasion, make an effort. One such recent occasion had managed to worm its way into my diary so I found myself entering the lobby of a fabulously traditional venue in London, the kind I hadn’t known still existed: doormen in tails and hats, marble floors, curved stairs with brass railings, “powder rooms”.
As I worked my way across the room in the direction of someone I wanted to speak to I was accosted by an important looking older man. He checked my name tag and said “Oh, you don’t have any children then?” That was a bad start. I instantly disliked the guy. Every fiber in my being stirred against the presumptuousness of this man, and worse, that he was only asking a personal question to find out the first thing about me at a professional networking event. Somehow I managed to exercise restraint and simply respond “sure I do”, perhaps a little too curtly but not so much he noticed. “Oooh, how many?” I always want to say “10!” when the question is put to me like that, but again I desisted. He went on to ask me how old my children were, and when I said my oldest was 15 he exclaimed “Surely not! You don’t look old enough!” And instantly I mellowed, and forgave him all his stupidity. What a lovely man!
Long time no hear, I know. Been busy. I spent the summer in Paris. You know, those few days this past week. Always a treat, even if it meant I missed summer in England. There is something irresistibly careless about Parisians in summer mode. They seem more forgiving, less urgent. The cafes and restaurants open up and the streets fill with people relaxing after work. Sitting among them with a glass of chilled Saint-Veran in good company makes you forget you got up at 5 in the morning and had a long and productive day.
Eventually of course summer had to be washed away in almighty thunderstorms and floods. Leaving the city in a morning-after mood, full of the memory but a touch deflated. And Parisians counting down to their summer trek to the south coast, where the sun shines, even this year. And me? Back to the rainy isle, keeping myself going with these morsels of summer as it should be. Once I’ve shaken the memory I’ll kick it up a gear, I tell myself. For now I’ll pour myself another glass of wine and sit back. Worth it, I might produce a fabulous idea. You have to make time for that.
Britain closed shop to party this week, so I found myself with a week’s holiday on my hands. Ok, really this happened because I have been working so hard I haven’t been taking my holidays, and if I don’t take them soon they will be lost. I hate losing so I booked time off and mentally prepared myself to go sit in the sun with a book for the week. I bought suntan lotion and an extra book. Weeded the garden a few weeks ago, so I’m all set. And then it rains. A lot.
As the forecast was for rain all week, “occasionally hard and persistent”, as one radio professional puzzlingly put it, I had a choice to make: mope around the house all week and end up arguing with husband, who is setting up a new online business from the study; cancel my leave and go back to work; or finally paint the house. You’d have to be hare brained not to understand option 1 was not a smart choice, so I won’t elaborate further. Option 2 was frankly no-go as well: I am p*d off with my employers right now; I would do myself a disservice not to distract myself for a while. I have to dip into my inner energy pool to manage going back smiling. So, painting it is!
We have lived in this house for 5 years and never touched the walls, which were covered by some dusty coat that is supposedly meant to let the walls “breathe” – apparently a new house breathes. I’d have to modify that statement: the children did touch the walls, leaving their grimy paw prints. I’d rub off the dusty paint trying to wipe them off, so we’d ended up with patches of near-bare plaster board, still grimy. I told myself for a long time we should just wait for the children to grow up. They are 15 and 13 now. But really I was daunted by the idea of painting the house myself: surely I am no good, we want the house to look nice so let’s get the professionals in. Cue the British holidays. I tried to get professional painters interested in the job, but didn’t get any takers. By Monday morning there was no more escape: I had to spend the week painting. I knew I shouldn’t push husband to help much: DIY is not his thing, he gets very frustrated. We’d only find ourselves in option 1. But crucially I also knew I must leave the story intact that he has every intention of sharing the paint work with me.
And so it happens that I spend the best part of every day up and down the steps, contorting myself to reach awkward corners with a precision brush without knocking over the TV. Husband has a breakthrough with his business preparations so he can’t join me as much as he would have liked. By the end of the week and of a particularly long day, my back broken and my hand in a permanent precision grip (I swear I was made for a desk job – hat off to painters), husband bursts in: “Oooh, my ear really hurts: I must have been on the phone for hours on end!” The only thing that saved him from a very bad fate indeed was the look of realisation that dawned on him once he’d seen my face. And the stumbling attempt at apology that followed. Which I gave him all the time in the world to get through.
Statistics can prove anything. They have now confirmed that London is the 6th largest city in France: more French people live in London than in Bordeaux, for example. There is also a significant French community in the Scandinavian countries. The French are taking these facts on the chin, and just work with it: they have created a “Northern Europe” constituency in Parliament. It’s a way of keeping ties with those who left, perhaps aimed at enticing them back one day. I may be ill informed but I don’t know of any other country that gives its expats a voice in home politics. My own experience is that my home country has shown no interest in me whatsoever since I registered abroad – I chose to leave so stuff me. Which is fair enough.
If lots and lots of us were to emigrate I suspect there would be a whole lot of navel gazing about what is driving the population away. Of course there aren’t very many of us, so the impact would be magnified. Not the French officialdom. They are confident they are the best country in the world to live in, and I imagine they are grateful for the French citizens who have kindly volunteered to go spread French culture and values to the barbarian hordes. And so am I, to some extent: I love to have French wine, patisserie and cheese among my options. Just like I love to have a few Danish pastry options. That is one of the things I love about living near enough London: it is metropolitan. I even heard a couple of women talking in Dutch in my local farm shop yesterday, in the sticks!
Maybe the French are plotting to claim London as their territory one day. I am not sure they ever got over the wars. And I do think they want a piece of the show here. Did you see the Royal river pageant for the Queen’s Jubilee today? Absolutely fabulous darling, despite the rain:
Do you? Good for you. Then you have a clear focus, and most likely a plan for how to get to where you want to be. Because if you didn’t have a plan you would be pretty stuck. Up the creek without a paddle. Don’t look to me for a paddle. I would only tell you that, in your situation, I’d try and steer my canoe into the current and float down with it. Not much else you can do that will not end with you drowning, and it is certain to get you somewhere. It may not be where you had in mind, but that place is behind you already. I can’t get you there, given where you find yourself.
Let’s hope I never find you in such a sticky situation.
I have been taught to first decide what I wanted to achieve and then make a plan to make it happen all my life, and I am seriously questioning the wisdom in this. I built visions of who I was going to be and how I was going to lead my life, and did my best to deliver for myself. I pat myself on the back for the things I did achieve. Being stuck with the others is frustrating me more and more. I’ve tried harder. When that didn’t work (the rut only getting deeper) I’ve tried adjusting the plan. Then the goal and the plan. But I am losing interest in working towards a crystal clear endpoint. It may well be a side effect of my trying to live more in the moment. Or maybe it is just that I am getting older. In any case, I am looking for fresh inspiration more than I want to pursue a specific goal. Not random though, just more focused on the journey than on the endpoint. I have carefully selected the creek I want to go down vs other creeks and streams; I have checked what places are downstream that I may want to visit, and picked a reliable canoe – with a paddle. I have also picked a companion for the trip, packed essentials, and set off. I have limited the possible outcomes to fit certain criteria I am interested in, but I am not sure exactly when I will arrive or exactly where: that depends on how the trip goes and what captures my attention along the way. If I find anything amazing I’ll be sure to let you know. If you don’t hear anything, I’m probably just enjoying the view. It’s only if you haven’t heard back in a month or so that you should get worried. If you’d like.