Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Happiness Workout (reprised)

Looking at draft articles on the blog is like rummaging around in the attic or under your bed. You come across some things you don't know why you kept in the first place (posts that consist of just a title), things you really should throw out (the heartbreakingly poignant post that I would never publish anyway and can still make me cry) and the really quite useful things that you forgot you had.  The post below falls into that category.

I came across an article in the files at work entitled "The Happiness Workout". It was about how we have to sometimes work at being happy.

The article ended with some exercises that apparently help to increase happiness. The one that has stuck in my mind, the easiest one to do probably is to list three things that have gone well each day. However, the article did say that some research said it was better to do it weekly rather than daily, presumably because it could have the opposite effect if you can't find something good each day.

So going for the weekly version, here are three positives from this week.

1. I found a copy of a book I'd been looking for ages in an Oxfam bookshop for £2.50
2. I had some great Thai food on my Friday night out 
3. I discovered a fantastic antiques market near my work which will provide hours of great browsing

This may become a regular feature.

Back in 2009, it didn't even become a feature, let alone a regular one. But perhaps it can now, although to be honest I'm struggling for the week just gone.

More than a thousand words

During the blog-less years, I took a course in Picture Research. It was something I had done a bit of as part of a job and I really enjoyed it. So I took this course, more out of personal interest than vocational and I got a distinction for the course. And so it joined the other not particularly useful things on my CV that aren't of much use to anyone, least of all me.

But I enjoyed doing it.  So I was pleased to discover Pinterest, which allows me to fulfil my picture research obsessions without it actually being my job.

I've added it to the blog at the side (making the old place more homely!) and here are a few of my boards.

Real things

One of the big developments during my blog hiatus (other than the change of jobs and home), is that I now own a Kindle.

Initially I thought I'd only use it for holidays and long journeys, to save carting about multiple books. I thought that I'd still buy second-hand books and go to the library. But quickly, the Kindle replaced other books and became the only thing I read.

That means I'm stuck buying electronic book things from the evil tax dodging corporation, which isn't ideal. But it is a hard habit to break.

The same with music. Whilst we may own music on vinyl, CD and even some dusty tapes, I only listen to music on my iPod or 6 Music on the digital radio. 

This week Primal Scream released a new album.  Alongside dogs, striped dresses and Danish pastries, I can't resist a Primal Scream album. But rather than just download it, I decided to actually buy it. To buy the actual CD (admittedly not vinyl) in an actual real shop.

While I was in the shop (Fop), I also picked up another CD (Vampire Weekend's new one) and two paperbacks.  And I remembered how much I liked buying actual books in a shop.

So a return to happier, low-tech times?

Not exactly - the CDs have been transferred to the iPod and the paperbacks are still unread in the bag. 

But perhaps a (retrograde) step in the right direction?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Little surprise packages

I don't like big surprises. The thought of a surprise party fills me with horror. And a surprise trip away seems like a wasted opportunity to plan and pack properly.

But I do love little surprise packages coming through the post, hence why I've signed up to a few such services.

It started with LoveFilm, although they do send an email that spoils the surprise a bit. Then I signed up with Graze, so I receive a fortnightly box of snacks by mail. Like airline food, it is the anticipation of seeing what you've got and the cute little packaged portions that appeals to me, rather than the food itself.

I've just signed up to a new service, GlossyBox, which works in a similar way to Graze, but instead of snacks, it provides a monthly box of beauty and make-up surprises. Now, the odd thing about  this is that, unlike many women, I'm not that interested in make-up and beauty products. For beauty products, I tend to stick with what I know. For make-up on GlossyBox, I ticked the 'Natural' option, although I prefer to think of my look as 'requires an increasing amount of make-up just to look as if I haven't made any effort at all'.

But I was delighted when my first box arrived - the anticipation of seeing which five items I'd been sent.  And it wasn't such a bad lot. A face scrub type thing, a body butter and a nail varnish in a colour I rather like were the highlights. The mini perfume is ok. Not sure I'll get much use out of the lipstick seal thing as I hardly ever wear lipstick, but all in all pretty good.

Which is a relief, because I'd signed up for three months so still have another two to come.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Since I mentioned it in my previous post...

I struggle with the issue of gay marriage. Or specifically, I struggle with why this is even an issue for much of the population.

There only seems to me to be two logical default positions on this:
  • For it - because you are gay, someone you love is gay, you believe in equality or you just really like weddings
  • Not bothered
I don't understand why people are against it. I mean I've heard the arguments, I know what they are, but they don't make sense to me.

If you aren't gay yourself, why do you care so much what other people are doing, if it doesn't affect you. I have heard some vague nonsense about how it will demean 'traditional' marriage. If your marriage feels less important because of something complete strangers are doing, then the problem in in your home.

Then there is the religion argument.  Apparently, god won't like it. Again, if it isn't you doing it, why should that worry you so much? Or is your god the type to smote everyone in his anger? In which case, I'd be questioning whether that is the kind of god I want to hang out with, rather than worrying about what Adam and Steve (or Adele and Eve) are doing.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Extreme dislike

The return to the blog isn't just going to be self-indulgent moaning or metaphorical reading into fruit growing. I do intend to cast my eye around the wider world from time to time.

Starting with politics.

Slightly late, admittedly, as this would have been more topical a week ago.

I now work in a pretty political environment, which is the one part of it I like. Working at the world's largest 'not a bookshop', the nearest to political debate we got was people expressing a preference for one fried chicken shop over another. So a good political debate first thing in the morning is appreciated now. But I remain and grow increasingly wary of party politics and the political system. But unlike a number of my countrymen, I haven't and will not be voting for UKIP anytime soon.

While keen to distance themselves from the BNP and their politics of hate, UKIP spout, at best, the politics of extreme dislike. Starting with their extreme dislike of Europe. Extending this to cover 'Johnny Foreigner' in general.

They claim to have increased their policy range - and it is true.  They have added to the list of things they are against:

- Gay marriage - I don't even know why this is a political issue (there is probably another post on my feelings on this subject)
- Wind turbines - with the obligatory reference to England's green and pleasant land
- the high speed rail line that goes through where people are likely to vote for them - although confusingly, they are generally pro-high speed rail - just not this one.

Even my mother, who I don't think would object to being described as politically naïve, spotted their absence of an economic recovery plan (although not in quite those words).

Monday, May 06, 2013

Lemons are the new tomatoes

Looking back, in a totally self-indulgent way, at old blog posts, amongst posts about culture, fashion, commuting and weird behaviour by the general public, there are quite a few posts about my tomato plants.  In 2007, I had some success with four tomato plants, which I named after members of the Ramones. This was not to be repeated - neither the success nor naming my plants after rock band members - I'm tempted to think the two may be connected.

But I have a new gardening interest. Our new(ish) home has a conservatory - something I feel slightly wary of mentioning in real life as it isn't something I was particularly looking for or had any experience of - I don't think we have conservatories in the north east and I swing between thinking it sounds terribly posh or terribly naff.  But I digress.

As well as leaving a full set of cane furniture, the previous owners also left behind some plants, including a lemon tree.  It already had a few small fruit when we moved in, which is how I knew what it was.  Beside the bits of fruit, it has lovely flowers and such a wonderful smell.  I was absolutely determined that I would keep it alive and thriving. I bought it citrus feed and read up on how to care for it. But then last summer was a cold one and the winter even worse.  And frankly a few weeks ago, even though I was still watering and feeding it, I wasn't although convinced that it wasn't dead.

But then it flowered and I noticed a few new shoots on its branches.  Good signs, I thought.  And then on Friday night, I noticed, hidden beneath amongst the leaves and still green, two lemons.  At the moment, they lack a lemon's defining characteristic i.e. being lemon in colour -  they look like limes right now. But there they are. I'm taking it as a good sign.

Where did you go to, my lovely

Any post you can start with a reference to a Peter Sarstedt lyric is a good one, surely? *

So what have I done in the intervening time?

I was living in a London suburb, working in another suburb. My world had shrank. Away from the cosmopolitan craziness of central London, I found myself with very little to write about.

Then I changed jobs. I went to work for one of the world's largest online retailers (don't describe them as a bookshop - they really don't like that). It was a contract position, but the HR person assured me that it was just the initial term and it would be renewed if things worked out. It turns out that their employment practices are just as dodgy as their tax arrangements - contrary to what I was told, contracts weren't ever renewed to avoid giving any employment rights.  So I spent months worrying about the job not being permanent - I also increased the account I was responsible for from £0.8 million to over £2.5 million. I didn't manage to secure a permanent job there and although I was told I could take another contract back there after a six month break, I started looking for something else.

In the middle of this, somewhat crazily for someone without a permanent job, we moved, buying a house in a village in Home Counties. It is lovely - I had no regrets in this. No longer having upstairs neighbours for one thing is a huge improvement.

Then I found a permanent job, back in a vaguely charitable field and back in central London. Not ideal when you no longer live in London, but I needed the money. And this is where I find myself now.  With an hour and half commute each way again each day, in a job that in ten months has managed to leave me physically exhausted and emotionally wrecked. It is a toxic environment that has shattered my self-confidence totally. 

Its been a tough year and I thought that returning to this blog, might give me a release for some of it. I don't want it to be just work-related moans, although that will undoubtedly be part of it as I don't have that much else going on.

*Not that I know any other Peter Sarstedt songs

Friday, May 03, 2013

Where do I restart, where do I re-begin after two and half years?

A friend started a blog about a year ago and talking to her about it, I was jealous. Hers is a fashion blog - one of those 'what I wore today' type of things. I didn't want to do that sort of thing - in my case what I wear these days is decided based on whether something is a) clean and b) weather-appropriate - and if it manages to be both, so much the better!

But I remembered how much pleasure I got from this old blog. At first from just having a place to vent, to release, to write.  Then later to share and discuss with people who were friends.

I've been wondering if anyone does still blog or is it old hat? In the intervening years, I've dabbled with Twitter, but 140 characters or less, isn't the ideal mode for someone as verbose as I tend to be.

So I've been thinking more and more about returning to this old blog.  So here I am, letting myself back into a neglected room, feeling slightly sheepish, uncertain that I'll continue, but testing the water here.

Things seem to have changed a bit. The blogger system has moved on - hopefully the technology won't get in the way of my glorious return.