The joy of flasks

A couple of days ago I made myself a cup of tea in a flask and took it to where I volunteer so that I could enjoy a beverage out of the tiny flask-top cup.

Flask tea is like camping tea. It’s invariably drunk outdoors and takes more effort than simply flicking the switch on the kettle. It also has that mindfulness and drinking in the present quality that means you really concentrate on what you’re imbibing rather than hurriedly just necking a mugful of something in front of your screen.

The joy of a flask is shared by that similar thing the picnic. In the summer my son and his friend packed a picnic, a few balls and a rug and then literally walked round the corner to a very unassuming playing field. It felt like a real adventure to the boys, they thought it was great. And grown up though I am, I found myself being carried along by the simple joy of it all.

We’ve also biked to our local woods with the flask and simply sat on a bench and had a cup of tea together. There really is something magical about a flask, and not just because it keeps my tea hot for ages!

Antidote: Pack a flask, or a picnic. You’ll always feel like you’re having an adventure in the most ordinary of circumstances!


Tuning into the seasons

This week is Lammastide, or more officially August 1 was Lammas or Lughnasadh. The Pagan wheel of the year from which these calendar markers come from, is I’ve found, one that’s worth looking into if you want to break away from commercially enforced seasonal markers. There are some overlaps: Yule is the winter solstice and shared with Christmas, Ostara, or the spring equinox is roughly equivalent to Easter and Samhain falls on Halloween.

When I started to research a bit more I found out that Lammas traditionally marked harvest time and also the turn of the season from summer into autumn. But surely August is still summer isn’t it? It’s when we all take our summer holidays and pack up our buckets and spades. But August can be an incredibly wet month and so many a bbq or summer fete has been rained off this month as our expectations of this time of year override the soggy reality. As I look out on to my wind-blown garden I can see rowan berries ripening into jewelled-orange and boston ivy tinged with purple-red, spiders are festooning the cotoneaster, and in the early mornings there is a damp earthiness in the air that smells like the turn of the season despite what the calendar says.

Over the last few years I’ve been coming to the realisation that taking note of seasonal changes is about looking around me and noticing rather than sticking rigidly to a calendar that imposes dates and times on the natural world. It makes more sense to me that autumn should be August, September and October culminating with Samhain on October 31.

And this is where it gets interesting. On the Pagan wheel of the year Samhain is when the wheel turns, one year ends and another begins. There’s always been something about the marking of New Year’s Eve on December 31 that has never fitted with me. I hate the way that after a three-month run-up to Christmas, the Boxing Day sale adverts start on Christmas Day evening and these all-important mid-winter celebrations are encouraged to come to an abrupt end all ready for January, the Monday morning of the new year. Celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of the next at Samhain, however, makes so much more sense when the fecundity and growth of long summer days has turned golden brown, set seeds and begun its winter hibernation. The winter months of November, December and January culminating with Imbolc on February 1 as the start of spring then become a time to huddle indoors round the fire, or go for bracing walks in the cold, expectant for the first snowdrop to raise its head and begin the whole cycle of growth all over again.

ANTIDOTE: Look around you to observe times of the day and year, rather than referring to clocks and calendars.

Not built to last?

It’s finally happened. After a shuddering explosion that sounded as though someone had petrol-bombed the house, and with a similar accompanying burning smell, my washing machine has finally washed its last and gone out in a blaze of dripping-wet washing and a death-throe leap across the kitchen floor.

We’ve been through a lot, me and the washer. Most notably the two years after my son was born when in a fit of self flagellation I decided to go down the washable nappy route. But the last few months have seen it creaking and groaning in its old age, ready to join the great spin cycle in the sky.

It’s always the way isn’t it? I’d only been thinking last week that the washer had been standing in the corner of the kitchen (yes Kirsty Allsopp, please do throw your hands up in horror!) dutifully washing for 16 years and how that must be something of an achievement in today’s not-built-to-last culture, when my hubris obviously facilitated the washer’s end.

I quickly ordered another one made by the same company and it’s due for delivery tomorrow. So, today a chipper northern man rang me to discuss delivery and point out that I’d been rather remiss in not ordering some sort of cover for this new item. Had I not seen it at the checkout? I pointed out that as my last washer had given me 16 trouble-free years, apart from a couple of years ago when the brushes went and were replaced by a local repair man who also doubled up as a psychic, yes, a psychic, and no, he hadn’t predicted its failure. I told him I’d not be in need of any sort of insurance cover as I was confident in the longevity of washers in my service. To which he replied, ‘well, they don’t make them like they used to.’ The washer wasn’t old enough to drive or vote, how could it possibly have passed into the category of ‘they don’t make them like they used to’? Surely such a refrain is reserved for old oak tables, 1930s semis and televisions. And why don’t they make them like they used to? Because they want your washer to break apparently, according to the chipper chap on the phone. Well, not this washer, and not this house, come on then planned obsolescence I’m ready for you!

ANTIDOTE: Buy things that will last.

Turning down the volume

It’s a common refrain from me in our house. It’s too loud, turn it down. To which my husbands comes back with the usual response that it’s not too loud, that I have over-sensitive hearing.

But, today, I’ve decided to turn down a different sort of noise, the noise of input. For the last few weeks my time has been taken up with analysing blogs, newspaper websites and punditry regarding the political situation in the UK. This tirade of news came to an ugly head last week with the loss of (to date) 79 lives in the Grenfell tower block fire. My feelings on the subject are beyond the scope of this post, but the thought that so many people could loose their lives when they should have been safe in their homes horrifies me. But, what can I do? Sympathy won’t help, which is why I won’t change my Facebook profile or make postings about ‘friends and families having my sympathy’. I have donated to one of the Just Giving sites. If I can’t help practically, I can help with a monetary donation.

And yet, my media overload and concern over issues I can have very little control over left me feeling utterly numb and drained over the weekend. So, today I’ve decided to turn the volume down on sensory overload, too much news reading, too many angry trolls on social media sites, too many heated discussions with family.

I work in journalism so to not read the news daily feels like a dereliction of duty, but for the minute I just need to limit my input to let my brain rebalance a bit.

So, today I’ve returned to reading my favourite minimalism blogs to remind me that there are ways to find calm in this world, and one of the ways I need to do that at the minute is to unplug.

When my son was a baby I would always know when he’d been overstimulated by his fractious behaviour. It’s part of the modern condition unfortunately with children and adults alike, to constantly agitate the bucket, stirring things up and not letting things settle. This week I need to let things settle, the volume needs to come down and the shouting needs to not be heard. Not by me anyway. Not this week.


Avoidance of technology for its own sake

I’m half way through Paul Kingsnorth’s new book, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist. It’s one of those books whose words and images go to bed with you at night and it’s rather melancholic and haunting. One of its messages, that we’ve distanced ourselves too much from nature, reminded me of the back end of last year. I’d offered to hold a 70th birthday party for my mum in December, so the day before the party she came round armed with a bucket and mop as well as chemicals to clean my house in preparation. I told myself that she was trying to be helpful rather than insinuating that the house wasn’t up to scratch, but the jury is still out.

The morning of the party arrived, and so did my brother. Armed with a leaf hoover. He duly set to work, under my disbelieving stares to clean up the leaves from the garden. “Your kitchen is always full of leaves,” said mum. “Shall I buy you one of these for Christmas? They’re ever so good.” I replied that the morning before the party was the first and last time that my garden was going to be hoovered clear of leaves.

The leaf hoover offends me on two levels. Firstly, I enjoy having leaves, foliage and mud out of the garden on the kitchen floor. It helps me blur the lines between the house and the garden. It reminds me of the change of the seasons and how the wheel of the year is turning. Plus, I have a four-year-old, mud and he are as one.

Secondly, it’s an example of technology for technology’s sake. My mum was clearly enamoured of the thing. I just saw a gadget that would take up loads of valuable garage space. If leaves are so offensive, what’s wrong with a rake?

#paulkingsnorth #garden #leaves #nature #modernlife