Tag Archives: Time

Be more seagull

Seagulls just bide their time...They say cats are the greatest spiritual teachers, but I’d personally go with seagulls.

It’s true that by all accounts, cats are master of being “in the now” and doing their own thing. You don’t see them being too encumbered with what people will think , or ahem, want them to do.

They also look curiously at every tiny thing everyday as though they were seeing it for the first time, though in my opinion this has more to do with the fact that they’re very near-sighted.

One of my favourite things these days is to walk alongside the river, and looking at how seagulls play with the wind: gracefully going up when the wind goes up, down when it goes down. (Incidentally, I used to do that in my old job too: we were on the 9th floor.)

Unlike us humans, you don’t see seagulls manically trying to go against the wind, or crashing to the ground when there is none. That’s because when there is no wind, or too much, they just sit tight (usually among friends) and bide their time until the right wind blows again – because they know it always will.

This speaks to me volumes at a time when I’m between jobs, between homes and hopefully between relationships. Most days quite frankly feel like I’m in the tumble dryer, not entirely sure where is up or down, with wind coming in gusts from all directions.

So I try and learn from the seagulls, and bide my time gracefully, and wait for the right wind.

On another note, have you seen the phone ad campaign with the slogan BE MORE DOG“Walking: amazing! Chasing cars: amazing! Sticks: amazing! CARPE DIEM, which means ‘grab the frisbee’ “… Being that excited about everything is something we can all aspire to, but it’s a pretty tall order.

So on days when life’s looking less than tail-waggingly fun (maybe you’ve lost your squeaky toy or you’re in the dog house again) rather than be more dog I say BE MORE SEAGULL, and you’ll do just fine.

 

 

A cute birthday tale

IMG_0107 LROkay, let me tell you a cute story:

One of my Mum’s best mates turned 60 recently.

Like most people who turn 60 (or me when I turned 30), she didn’t like the idea one bit. She refused to have a big party, and her husband had booked a table for two at their local restaurant.

When the actual day arrived, she felt pretty gloomy. (Which reminds me of the day my Mum turned 60 – although she’s usually the most upbeat person I know, she was pretty low. She half-joked she would go down to the market to “see if they sell some magic powder to make you look and feel younger”. I still laugh to imagine what powders she might have been offered…)

Anyway.

As every woman knows, just because you say “I don’t want any presents” doesn’t mean you actually meant it. For all the wanting not to make a fuss, my Mum’s friend felt a bit deflated and lonely. Especially as her husband had some business to attend that day, and my Mum had things to sort out in town, so no one was around for company; her only plan was to lunch with her elderly mother.

The dreaded day was turning out to be just another day.

I’m not sure if she felt a bit wronged by the entire universe, but she sure felt wronged by her husband. Self-pity can make the best of us a little bitchy sometimes, so she phoned my Mum to complain about him – had he cared a little more, he’d have arranged to make her day more special that going to the stupid local for dinner!

Meanwhile, said husband spent his day “away” smuggling food and drinks into my parents’ kitchen down the road, in order to cook a big party meal unnoticed.

He planned the whole stealth operation so well that she didn’t suspect any of it.

So when the evening came and she was ready for dinner at the local (coat, scarf, had and gloves, checking her watch as they were going to be late), she grew increasingly annoyed that he wasn’t ready yet. What too him so bloody long? “What shirt shall I wear? Does it go with this tie?” he asked, as if he usually even noticed.

Of course she didn’t know he was just playing for time, because the guests had been delayed.

It wasn’t until they were finally ready to lock the front door – by now in full grumpy mode – that she heard someone call out greetings from the garden.

She turned round to see familiar faces, a handful of loved ones inexplicably smiling to her, bearing bottles of wine and dishes in casseroles… including her children who looked like they had just dropped by for dinner, even though they live hours away.

 

 

Books that will change your life: “Cloud Atlas”

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I originally picked “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell as a fun holiday read, but was soon gripped to it like I hadn’t been in a long time, so I though I’d share it with you:

 

The book

“Cloud Atlas” came out in the UK in 2004 to great acclaim; it was translated worldwide and turned into a gigantic-budget film epic by the people behind “Matrix”.

(The film flopped at the box office, which is a shame, but also not surprising because the book is so ambitious in scope and depth that attempting to capture it in two hours was a bit bonkers. Still, full points for trying!)

This intriguingly-named novel defies categories and is rather hard to describe. It tells the stories of six different characters living across the world in six different periods of time – 19th century South Pacific, 1930s Belgium, 1980s California, modern-day England, 2100s “Neo-Seoul” and 2300s post-apocalyptic Hawaii.

But don’t be fooled by the word “post-apocalyptic”, it’s not science-fi; and although it can be read easily without looking for deeper meaning (unless you’re like me, in which case this never happens), it is also a fable about the human condition.

The big idea

The six stories are almost self-contained, with only a tenuous link between them as one element of each story will be found again in the next. For example the journal of the South Pacific traveller will be found in a library in Belgium; a piece of music composed in Belgium will be heard again in California; a film made in present-time England will find its way to Neo-Seoul, etc.

But these links aren’t so central to our understanding: the real genius of the book is that each story is really powerful in itself, and by putting in parallel so many of them, it hints at the similarities between the people rather then what separates them.

The six characters all live in wildly different circumstances (a pensioner in a care home, a journalist investigating a nuclear plant, a clone on the run from the police…), yet they are all ordinary people trying to live their lives in challenging circumstances. As they face the difficulties, big or small, of their daily lives, they all have similar hopes and fears, loves and doubts, and the will to make sense of their lives and do the right thing.

At some crucial point in each story, the characters have to make a choice between following blindly what society dictates to them, or risking everything to break free of rules and be themselves: escaping slavery, helping others at the risk of their lives, etc

So the book is also a tale of courage and resilience, because following what they know to be right will test all the characters to their limits.

Why it will change you life

The most amazing thing about this book is how imaginative it is – its gripping narrative across six different “worlds” that all feel incredibly real. So if you just wanted a good holiday read, you could do worse: it’s hugely entertaining.

Yet readers will probably remember it for its deeper meaning too, the questions it brings about humanity and society – what links us beyond time and place, what makes us human.

It’s not all a warm fuzzy – the similarities between those people and their situations make it obvious that neither people nor circumstances evolve much over the course of History.

Patterns and mistakes are repeated – aren’t the “savages” of the 17th century colonies much the same people as the 23rd century “survivors” after the fall of our civilisation? Isn’t modernity perpetuating the same old cruelty under different guises – the compassion-less treatment of the old age pensioner echoing that of the slaves, and the human clones?

The author certainly doesn’t shy away from showing us what is nasty about humanity – greed, deception, cruelty, corruption, the pursuit of one’s own selfish interest.

This roller coaster ride of a book forces us to look at our own circumstances in the light of the characters’, and wonder for ourselves: where we are on this continuum?

But beyond the dark side, what I chose to get out of it is that although greed and cruelty may be omnipresent, there is always an option to do what we believe is right, even when it is not easy.

Each and everyone of us may be insignificant on the scale of History, yet the choices we make everyday – between crime and kindness, acceptance or fighting back, have the power to influence our collective future.

Our lives are shaped by events that begin long before we are born and will continue long after our death. Yet everything is connected – the future, past and present; the universal and the intimate.

As I said, a pretty gripping read…

 

My Dad and the pear tree

Libourne 041_2005 cropLet me tell you a cute story:

When my parents bought what became our family home over 30 years ago, my Dad planted a pear tree in front of the house. Neither he nor my Mum being great gardeners, many plants have withered in their care since – but not the pear tree, which still grows strong outside their living room.

Every season over the years, the tree bore a great many fruit which for some reason were always juiceless, hard and bitter. Still my Dad cherished it and, out of some sense of pride, or perhaps loyalty towards the tree, we kept tasting the pears every year in the hope that they might finally turn out nice.

Last summer a neighbour came for dinner, and as we were enjoying dessert, the conversation turned towards the mysteriously bitter pears. The neighbour, who happens to be a farmer, had a good laugh and said no wonder the pears never tasted very good: they’re not an edible variety. In the old days, they would have been fed to the pigs, hence their common name of “pig pears”.

My father was a little offended, never having heard such a thing; but the simplest explanation often being the likeliest, we had to admit this sounded about right – for the past 30 years we had been placing impossible hopes on those pears to be something they weren’t.

Oh well.

Last Christmas I was staying with my parents again, and my Dad talked to me at length about his nearing retirement. Many of his friends have retired already, and much as he looks forward to slowing down (“you don’t have the same energy for work at 60 as you had at 30”), he sounded a little apprehensive about the passing of time.

“By the way”, he said as we were driving through the garden, “I almost took down the pear tree.”

“The one with the pig pears?”

“Yes, that. It’s never produced an edible pear, and it doesn’t look great anyway, so I thought we might use the space for something new.”

“So the other day”, he said, “I took a shovel and started digging the roots out. But then I thought about it – what has that tree ever done to me? I watered it for 30 years and now I take it down because it’s not productive enough?”

“It made no sense” he said, “so I planted it back in.”

And so I bet the tree will still be there in a few years time, when my parents sell the house to move to a smaller home for their retirement.