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.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Leaving home - what's the one thing you'd take with you?

Currently reading:   The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop and enjoying it.

Happy New Year everyone!

The New Year started off favourably for me.  I received my Irish driving licence a few days ago and was absolutely delighted.  The photo even looks like me!  I didn't expect to get it so fast but everyone in Germany was most helpful and all went without a hitch.  I think I may take off for a few days exploring this summer and hire a car now that I've got an up-to-date permit.  Connemara in the west of Ireland would be an idea.  Mountains and valleys stretching away in the distance and not much traffic except for the sheep placidly grazing the slopes.  Lovely!  But first there is my trip to Berlin in April with two friends.  I have seen Berlin when it was divided, have stood at Checkpoint Charlie and looked over the wall.  At that time the other side looked like a foreign country.  I've been back since then for the briefest of visits.This time will be different as I am acting as guide (of sorts).  Should be fun.

 This trip reminds me how important it is to have something to look forward to.  I've given up making Resolutions, yes I need to get rid of those pounds I put on over Christmas with all those mince pies and cake and yes, I will get rid of them but at my own pace and not under any pressure to do so within a given period of time.

I read an interesting article on the BBC's website today about people who had to leave home in a hurry and what they decided to take with them.  Most of them had little time to decide.  Their stories are poignant - here's the link: - and although they reminded me of my own choices when I had to pack up to move here, I realise just how lucky I am. Even so, I had to agonise over what could be transported and what I would have to leave behind.  I guess we all do that especially when we leave home as young adults.  Trouble is, over the years most of us accumulate a pile of stuff that holds a lot of memories.  I packed the paperback editions of my favourite novels but had to leave lots of hardbacks behind including The Oxford Dictionary or Quotations which I love dipping into at odd moments (yes, I've got a paperback version now) and loads of kitchen stuff which I sadly miss!  To me it's a revelation what you actually need and what you think you can't do without.  Anyway, I manage very well on my reduced household, if I'm honest.  I'm not at all sure what one item I would take with me if I now had to flee.  It most likely wouldn't be my books.  But what?  More than likely a blanket, I think. That would be practical, I could curl up in it at night, it would keep me warm if necessary or act as a sunshade.  

What would you take with you if you had to leave home for good in a hurry? I'd be interested to hear any comments.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Happy Christmas to all readers of this blog

I am gearing up for Christmas. My trip to Germany and tour of the Christmas market have got me into the excitement of it all.  I love everything about Christmas starting with the first Sunday of Advent when the first candle is lit on the Advent wreath.  In Germany everyone has a festively decorated plate with oranges, nuts, apples and homemade (or shop bought in my case) cookies which they put out on the coffee table so that you can pick at all the delicious bits and pieces all afternoon.  The smell of woodland from the wreath combined with the aroma of gingerbread, cinnamon, cloves, honey and mulled wine really goes to my head!  Outside it is growing dark and it is so comforting to be in the warmth looking out at the houses with their Christmas lights.
Last evening I went to a church carol service.  It was all so peaceful and pleasant to be singing the old familiar carols and a few I didn't know. The church is really old and looks like something out of a nostalgic Christmas card. I walked the few blocks home afterwards feeling at peace with the world. 

When I was a child we got a lot of Christmas cards and I loved looking at the various pictures:  snow covered streets, old churches with the warm yellow light of candles showing at the windows, horses and carriages and ladies dress in long skirts.  I really wanted my Christmas to be like that but mostly we didn't even get frost let alone snow and we walked to Midnight Mass.  I do recall one frosty starry night which held a special magic because I could imagine the shepherds guarding their flocks on such a night.
I can think of no better quote for this time of year than from Charles Dickens:  'I will honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.'
Happy Christmas to everyone wherever you are.