Friday, 17 April 2015

The Country Life

I'm house and dog sitting in the country again.  I've been here over three weeks now and am enjoying every minute of it. 
I chose to live by the sea when I retired because I have always loved the seaside.  There is something heart-shakingly beautiful about white capped waves crashing onto the beach in stormy weather.  On peaceful days I enjoy strolling along and watching the waves shimmer and glisten in the rays of the sun.  And when it is pouring rain outside, I don't feel guilty curling up with a book because I know that at the first opportunity I'll be back out there enjoying it all.  Just now the first boats are back at the quays ready for the long summer days ahead.
Here in the country, when I look out the front door across the valley I am awed by the mountain range.  I watch them for signs that the weather is going to change, something I learned in my childhood.  They make me feel as if I belong while at the same time I am daunted by the idea that they have been there since time immemorial.
There is something unapproachable and mysterious about mountains, I always think.  That is why I set my first murder mystery in a (fictitious) mountain village.  Death in a Lonely Place is basically a detective story.  I have not included gory details,  instead I have challenged the reader to find out who the perpetrator is.  The story takes places under the shadow of Ardnabrone mountain with its legend of claiming three lives a year and the main character, Sergeant Alan Murray, has problems of his own.
I am currently writing the next novel in the series and it occurred to me the other day that I find it easier to write here in the country with that mountain range in the background.  Maybe it is just the peace and quiet of the country, the lack of distraction.  Whatever the reason, the words just flow every morning.  Sure, this is the first draft and I am going to have to cut and pull and smooth out the story before it is ready for publication.  But that's the fun of writing.   Which reminds me, I must get started!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

I must admit that I often moan about small things and forget all the really nice things.  I love living here in Ireland by the sea and wouldn't want to change it for all the sand in Malibu.  Occasionally though I get irked by the slow pace of life, the feeling that God made time and plenty of it so what's the mad rush.

This week my apartment was in darkness.  All the electric fuses tripped.  I am actually house sitting some distance away so I was not even at home when this happened.  Electrical faults terrify me. I know nothing about electricity.  If I press a switch I expect a light to come on or the washing machine to spring into action.  When things fuse I am left with the panicky feeling that something sinister has happened. I have visions of zigzags of lightning lurking behind every plug waiting to pounce.

So I was panicked.  The electricity supplier hot line told me what I should do and said if that didn't work I should get an electrician to look at the problem because as far as they could see there was no fault on their side of things. I flicked those switches very gingerly, half afraid something would spark but nothing happened, I mean nothing at all.   No power.  Zilch.   In the meantime I had to pop down to the community development centre where I do some voluntary work and lost no time in telling all and sundry my tale of woe.  One of the caretakers listened to my garbled version of events and assured me he knew someone who'd "fix it".  Within minutes I was talking to this friend of his who arranged to meet me in half an hour to have a look at the problem.  He was as good as his word.  Within minutes of his arrival the electricity supply was back.  I had turned off at the master switch by mistake, he said, while flicking those other switches.  He made it sound as if it was an everyday mistake for which I was very grateful even if I felt a fool.  More important was to find the cause, he said.  Together we checked everything but came up blank.  It could happen again, he said, but now I know what to do.  And with those kind words he left.

I am so grateful to this man who went out of his way to drop by and help a total stranger. Sometimes when all we hear are the bad things, it's good to experience kindness of any sort but the kindness of strangers can often be the most touching.  

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Sleepy Summer Time and Memories

Here it is again.  Summer Time.  Someone somewhere, with very little interest in the comfort of their fellow human beings, decided we should put the clocks forward at the end of March and deprive ourselves of an hour's sleep because summer is coming.  Daylight saving.  That was the magical excuse.  Daylight saving.  It sounds great.  Can you save daylight?  If so you are in business.  The whole operation should be termed Sleep Deprivation Mode.

Of course I don't really mean that.  But I used to mean it years ago when I was a working mother and every five minutes extra sleep meant another piece of sanity gained.  Let's face it, we have to get up every week morning since we are tiny.  First there's kindergarten, school, college and then comes the big one:  work. For most of my life I needed 8-10 hours sleep and I very often had to make do on considerably less.  The sound of that alarm at 6 a.m. made me not only moan and groan, it made me positively bad tempered.  Five minutes more pleaded my inner sleepy voice.  But the race for the bathroom was on.  With teenagers in the house who also had to be up and doing, if you missed your bathroom slot you were going to be left behind.

I am sure I never spoke more than five words.  "Bye, see you, got your keys?"  Once at work, I grabbed a coffee and then crouched behind my computer and started into the day's work with only the obligatory "good morning" to those early birds who were already in the office. If no one spoke to me for the first half an hour all was well and my sense of humour - never buried that far down - surfaced and I evolved into a fairly rational human being.  But if someone phoned me before that all important thirty minutes were up, I went straight into "bad mood" mode and it took me a while to get back on an even keel.  Yes, I know, I'm truly a disgrace but that's the way it is.

I'm enjoying the fruits of retirement now and don't have to get up early, I'm not tied to an alarm clock most of the time.  Only thing is, now that I could sleep 10 hours if I wanted to, I can't sleep that long.  In fact, the advent of Summer Time this Sunday isn't going to affect me much as I'll be awake early anyway.  That's life, isn't it? Well, if not life, it's Summer Time. Sleep well everyone.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Feeling Good with an Empty Nest

 Anyone who has brought up a family and juggled a career will know that it is next to impossible to find quality time for yourself or for that matter any kind of time, good, bad or indifferent while the kids are small.  You snatch at minutes while they are playing in the sand pit and you are interrupted when they start squabbling or fall over or do one of the myriad things that kids do which will take all your patience and sympathy.  But we love 'em and wouldn't have it any other way. Then one day they've flown the nest and you have that precious commodity on your hands "time to spend on yourself". I must confess that when it first dawned on me that I was free to go out of an evening without worrying about getting a meal ready or I could get up on a Saturday morning and leave the laundry and cleaning, go shopping or just go to the park, I was mesmerized at all the choices.  Like a kid in a toy shop, really, I didn't know what to do first, so I stuck to my old routine.  Slowly I began to understand that there was no-one waiting in the wings and I could stay out all day at the weekends and do whatever I liked and if I didn't want a hot meal I didn't have to cook one.  I can't say it was bliss, it was just different and took a bit of getting used to. The same thing happened when I first retired.  I always had a nagging feeling that something was waiting to be done. It takes time and a good bit of adjustment to make the most of one's leisure hours.  It's a skill like any other, I reckon.

For example:  I've had a gift voucher for a holistic centre for some time now.  I'd look at it now and again and think "yes, I really must book one of those treatments", and then I'd put it off again.  Then one grey rainy morning I finally picked up the phone and made an appointment.  I booked a Hopi ear-candling session. A friend of mine said it was a wonderful experience.  I went along to the centre feeling a bit apprehensive.  I am not someone who easily delivers up body and soul into someone else's hands.  I like to be in control of things.  The ear-candling expert explained what she was going to do and what to expect and made me warm and comfortable on the treatment couch.  She was so confident and calm that I soon relaxed.  I really enjoyed the whole experience. The biggest question I had to ask myself as I left the centre was why I didn't do this before?  Why did I think, deep down, that holistic treatments are a luxury not to be indulged in on a regular basis? I spend money on other treats so why not on something so intrinsically good for me?  I've made myself a promise that I will book a neck and shoulder massage next month.  It only means picking up the phone.  And it feels good to feel good.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Talking to Machines

 Currently reading:  7 Days by Deon Meyer.  Murder mystery set in South Africa.  I am a big fan of Meyer.
Must read:  The Internet is not the Answer by Andrew Keen

I've just come back from the shops.  Only two cashiers were on duty and the remaining check-outs were self-service.  A supermarket employee approached me:  "come with me", she said.  I knew this trick having fallen for it once already.  'No thanks,' I said, 'I only deal with cashiers.'  She muttered something about "only trying to be helpful" and went away no doubt setting me down as a difficult behind-the-times customer.
Well, I'm not, as it happens.  I use technology where I consider it useful to me.   It's just that I am sick of companies taking our money and making us do all the work while their shareholders pocket the profits.

It started with the banks.  They take our money and then treat us like it's their property and we are only allowed to do things their way.  Yes, I do bank online.  My bank moved away two years ago so I hardly ever go there for anything as the shops will let me use my debit card to take out up to €100 in cash.  Yes, it is convenient except when I need advice or there's a problem about something.  Then I have to call the service number and cope with the robotic voice telling me what numbers to press.  If I had a choice, I would only use a bank which provides its customers with a personal service.  One that stayed open late at least once a week to accommodate the work force.
The idea of flitting through the supermarket and then checking everything out yourself apparently appeals to many people.  It fits in with the "no human contact" lifestyle we are slowly adopting.  When I'm out walking I see so many people with their earphones plugged in as they walk/jog along the seafront.  The thunder of the surf onto the beach, the calls of the birds and even the people they encounter are all lost on them.  They live in their own little world. 
Humans are gregarious by nature.  We need other people.  My problem is that you can go through the whole day and not speak to a living soul.  You can get your cash out of the wall, do your shopping and pay at the self-service check-out and go home again without exchanging a single word with another human being. Is this what we want?

I read a review of Andrew Keen's book The Internet is not the Answer in The Sunday Times and it is on my "must read" list.  His theory is that millions of jobs will be lost in the progress of automation and I am inclined to agree with him.  Of course you will still have the technicians and software developers but even they will dwindle in number as they are replaced by robots.  Even if only half his predictions come through, it's a scary thought.  Who knows, in the not too distant future even my blog will be written by a robot who thinks it knows what I want to say or my readers want to hear.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Shrinking Toilet Paper and other Stories

Outside the sun is shining but there is an icy Northerly gale-force wind.  I am trying to psych myself up to go for a walk on the beach.  In the meantime though I have been popping in and out of websites to see how the world is doing away from the headlines.
I am indebted to BBC's magazine website and to MessyNessChic link here for some out of the way stuff.

First of all there was the article on shrinking toilet paper.  Have you noticed that a roll doesn't go as far as it used?  Apparently quite a few people have and they have been writing to various newspapers/websites about it.  For a full report on this see link below.  It will set your mind at rest - someone in your household is not doing something strange with toilet tissue after all.

Washington Post article on shrinking toilet paper

How many times does your baby smile?  Seem like a good enough subject for a study to be done on it?
Eurekalert website writes that a new study examining temperamental differences between U.S. and Dutch babies found infants born in the Netherlands are more likely to be happy and easier to soothe in the latter half of their first year. U.S. infants, on the other hand, were typically more active and vocal, said study co-author Maria Gartstein, a Washington State University associate professor of psychology.
I have to ask:  why compare Dutch babies with American ones?  What's the connection and why not a study of babies from all countries?   Why is it important?  Are we going to have a baby smile competition at some point in the future and what happens if baby has colic/is teething on that day, how on earth are we going to get him/her to smile on the crucial day?  As if parents don't have enough worries trying to keep up with the - er?? - Jones' ?? Netherlands????
You can read all about it here Link

Thought I'd end on a nice note.  If you're a cat lover you're going to go awwwww when you see these photos of a cat bistrot in Rome called Romeow.  Go on, indulge....
Cool cats in Rome

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Tennis Twirling and other Thoughts

I love reading the BBC's magazine on its website, especially I like the feature "Ten Things we didn't know last week".  I came across this gem - some old and hopefully obsolete laws in the USA.  Here's the link and it's well worth reading: Slater's look at obsolete US laws
My favourite has to be in Ohio it's "illegal to disrobe in front of a man's portrait."  I seem to remember that somewhere there's a law against hanging out men and women's underwear together on the line. 

We've come a long way since then.  We are now in the age of women having the same rights as men and no one turns a hair or raises a quizzical eyebrow.  Or have I got that wrong?
Yes, folks, we have Twirlgate - Eugenie Bouchard wore a stunning tennis outfit recently at the Australian  Open in Melbourne and was surprised when a reporter asked her to "twirl" to show it off.  She duly obliged amid a huge cheer from the crowd.  She said she didn't mind being asked but would prefer if people concentrated on her tennis.  Twirlgate upset a lot of feminists.  I must admit that I wasn't impressed either.  If you're on the red carpet for a movie award then fair enough but if you have put in all the training and hard work required to win a high level tennis match, then I think the focus should be on how you played and not on your outfit.

So how far have we come, exactly?  Has anyone asked Nadal or Federer to show off their tennis shorts or shoes or just give us a blast of those muscular legs?  Certainly the female tennis players are an attractive bunch as indeed are the males.  Should it make a difference, how you look?  Do you have to be super-sexy to get to the top of the corporation? I wouldn't like to take any bets on it.

But are women partly to blame?  In the UK there was a kerfuffle recently because one of the tabloids decided not to publish its Page 3 topless model pics.  Apparently a lot of male readers felt cheated.  And there was me, thinking people bought newspapers for the news they contain and not for a pin-up photo of a bare-breasted young woman lol.  A commentator on a French news channel said that "here in France you can see topless women on TV any time of the day and no one thinks anything of it."  One model said it was "just a job" and didn't know what the fuss was about.  Confusing, isn't it? 

Should we rely on our brains and professionalism instead of on our feminine abilities to wow the male sex?  Perhaps we're looking at this all wrong and we should be proud of flaunting our boobs and other attributes in order to get what we want.  Of course it's kind of hard for those of us who don't have much to flaunt.  And then there's that saying about the way to a man's heart being through his stomach.   Someone somewhere said if women thought this they were aiming too high.