Thursday, 20 April 2017

The Language Magpie (S is for...)

The word in question in this edition of the language magpie isn't technically a real word. It was coined by John Koenig of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a compendium of words for emotions we may all feel at one time or another, but which currently do not have a naming word attached to them. One of my favourites, and one that I was reminded of a couple of weeks ago is Sonder.

Sonder is defined by Koenig as:

"The realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own"

I had this realisation, and a moment of overwhelming sonder after looking around an antique shop in Norwich a couple of weeks ago. Amongst the glass bottles, suitcases, books and 60s curtains there was a huge box of photographs and postcards. There were holiday snaps, wedding photos, dodgy family groups, picnics and beach scenes; hundreds of snippets of peoples lives packed into a box and on sale for 50p each.

I'm completely fascinated by who all these people are and, even more than that, how their memories ended up muddled up with those of strangers in a box rather than cherished in a family album. That little thatched cottage was obviously important enough for one of those precious 24 (or sometime 25 if you were lucky!) shots on a 35mm roll of film, so how did it end up here?

There's a particular image which I keep thinking about (and I kind of wish I'd bought) It's the one you can see in the photo above of the middle aged couple at what appears to be a wedding. Assuming I'm right, and the photo was indeed taken while the guests were waiting for the arrival of the bride, I wonder how the couple in photo were related to the newlyweds. It looks like it might have been taken in the 80s, which is when my parents got married. I wonder if the couple had children, if they did they'd be about my age. I wonder if I know them? I mean, the chances are pretty slim, the photo might have been taken anywhere in the country but you never know. All we know for sure is what's been captured in that frame, but those two people, and all those other people sitting around them were children once, the went to school and got told off and dreamt of what they'd be when they grew up. They got jobs and bought houses and shopped for lawnmowers and bread and wedding outfits. And even more mind-bending is that their lives continued after this photo...they danced at the reception, they got taxis home, sent their films off to be processed then looked fondly at the photos when they popped through the letter box, maybe they even framed some of them. I wonder if they're still alive. It's a strange and morbid thing to think about, but I wonder if that's how their photo ended up in a box...

This feeling happens quite often when I'm on the bus, I'm usually focused on just getting home, planning dinner and getting under a blanket (which I've been, not very ecologically, putting in the tumble dryer for a few minutes - heaven!) Sometimes though, a little snippet of conversation will catch my attention and I'll remember that all these people are heading home too, to their families, or pets, or just to their own thoughts. I recently heard a man reassuring his wife that he would be fine, that there was an M&S readymade lasagne in the fridge and he hadn't eaten all of the meals she'd left for him yet so she could stay away for another night and he'd be just fine! There's a woman I see quite often who's been knitting something red for the last few weeks, and two students, one who is clearly totally in love with the other (who unfortunately seems to have no interest!) It's weird to imagine that these people have lives after they leave the bus, that life isn't like playing a computer game where once you've walked out of a scene it dissolves away behind you and only the moment you're currently in exists. It's a bit like that old philosophy question, if a tree falls in the woods and there's nobody to hear it, does it still make a sound? My husband would try to answer this scientifically with some technical response about sound waves and the inner ear, but really - does anything really happen if theres nobody there to notice? This is making me want to re-read Sophie's World, which if you haven't read - you really must!

I've found a couple more 'words' in Koenigs dictionary that resonate with patterns of behaviour or emotions I have too:

Jouska - hypothetical converstations that you compulsively play out in your head.

Ambedo - a kind of melancholic trance in which you become absorbed in sensory details, briefly soaking in the experience of being alive, and act that is done purely for it's own sake.

Anemoia - nostalgia for a time you've never known.


Thursday, 13 April 2017

Some Thoughts on Balance

This week I spent some time with my grandparents. While I was there something happened which made me recognise quite how far I've come in the last few years, nothing groundbreaking or exciting but something which two or three years ago would have made me panic. 

My Nanny offered me a sandwich! 

I know right - shocking! I'd arrived just before lunch and while I was too late for shepherds pie, there was a ham and mustard sandwich on offer, and without thinking I replied 'Oh yes please, that would be lovely!'

A few years ago I would have made an excuse and left before dinner, but I was enjoying talking to my Grandad - he's not been well in the last year or so, and a conversation with him these days can be hard work sometimes; he forgets peoples names and misses out crucial words or starts a story from the middle and you end up trying to piece together what he's trying to say, but today he seemed quite bright, and we sat in the conservatory with a cup of tea while he told me all about his new glasses, Nanny's hospital appointment, how my Aunty and Uncle are getting on with renovating their house. Before long we were back to the story of how he converted the loft fifty years ago, how he met my Nanny and what happened after he was demobbed from the RAF (which I've heard dozens of times but will happily listen to over and over!)

But, back to the sandwich! From the age of about 20 I suffered with acne, and after trying everything under the sun to get rid of it, I finally cracked it just in time for our wedding with a combination of diet, amazing skincare (from wonderful Louise at U and Your Skin who I've written about before) homeopathy (from Kathy, another huge support) and I think most importantly - changing my mindset! While changing my diet did help cure my skin to a certain extent, the way I went about it wasn't especially helpful for my relationship with food! As you know, I am a massive food lover, recipe book collector and fan of exploring new cafes and restaurants. However, I took the advice of the wonderful dietician I saw WAY too far and ended up completely destroying this healthy relationship! Overnight I gave up sugar, wheat, dairy, caffeine, red meat, alcohol, anything refined and basically any chance I had of eating anywhere socially! I stressed myself out so much over what I could and couldn't eat, I overdosed on herbal tea in a quest to find a 'builders brew' replacement, and I cried in the city centre because I was hungry and couldn't find a single thing I deemed myself allowed to eat! I lost a lot of weight, and it wasn't until I saw a video of myself that I realised how thin I was! I've since heard the word 'Orthorexia' being used to describe this fear of eating or drinking the wrong foods, and while I'm not sure I'd go as far as saying I had an eating disorder, I certainly wasn't very far off and my mindset definitely affected my way of life for a while. 

It also dawned on me around this time that my skin was changing, but not necessarily as a result of my crazy strict eating. I know that too much still sugar makes me feel awful, and that too much dairy gives me a bumpy forehead and spots on my back (glamorous!) but the acne I experienced on the rest of my face was so much better because I had started to balance my hormones and, crucially for me, I had stopped looking at my face! I was so bored of thinking about it all the time that I covered up all the mirrors in the house and made a conscious effort not to look at it!

So, I decided to relax my food choices a little and see what happened! I went with the mentality that I would only eat something I previously wouldn't have done if it was really worth it: the best sourdough bread, organic cheese (goodness I missed brie!) and I started saying yes to pudding in restaurants if there was something I loved the sound of. I started baking at home again which I used to adore and I suddenly felt like I'd got my recipe books back after discounting so many of them because the recipes didn't fit with what I was 'allowed'. 

This is how I continue to eat most of the time, very low sugar, not too much dairy, lots of vegetables and the best indigents I can find; if I fancy some chocolate it'll be the darkest organic I can find, or I'll make the molten chocolate pots from the Hemsley sisters book. I started drinking tea again, mostly organic decaffeinated (Clipper is my favourite) and after searching for a non-dairy milk that didn't split and failing to find one, I started using organic whole milk. I slowly let the things I thought were terrible creep back in occasionally, and you know what - my skin was fine! In fact, my more relaxed mind set combined with some light therapy (again at U and Your Skin) made my skin look and feel better than ever! I also remembered how much I love food, how a glass of red wine makes a meal a little more special, how much better fish and chips taste when you're sitting on the beach, and how visiting Cornwall without eating a scone with cream and jam is something close to sacrilege! 

So, was a ham and mustard sandwich worth it? Was it the best wholemeal bread I could find, filled with free range organic pork and perfectly seasoned with great quality mustard. No, it was a day old white sliced loaf from aldi with wafer thin ham and fluorescent yellow english mustard. But was it worth it - it definitely was! 

My Nanny used to cook the best food. I spent a lot of time at her house when I was growing up, and a lot of my favourite food memories are there. Her chicken korma with raisins and coconut that always felt so exotic, butterfly cupcakes she taught me to make all by myself (along with the wisdom that you never beat with a metal spoon and never fold with a wooden one!) ham egg and chips on a tray in front of the tv, a slice of warm tea cake in the afternoon, and the best porridge in the world, made with whole milk and finished with double cream, and big knob of butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar! 

There's been a long running joke that you can't go into my Grandparent's house without being offered something to eat or leaving with a food parcel. We used to get told off for eating Grandad's yoghurts or ice creams and they really do have a jar of Werther's Originals in the dining room (and the living room for that matter!) Nanny has always fed people, but she hasn't cooked for me in a long time. I know it was only a sandwich, but she cut the crusts off the bread, sliced it into four triangles and offered me crisps, an apple, a yoghurt, a cereal bar and a Kit-Kat, trying to make sure I was full enough! My Grandad set the table just like he always has. I got moaned at for having my fringe in my eyes and tutted at when I said no to sugar in my tea, and we sat at the table to eat together just like we always have. 

So, I think I've finally got things balanced. I feel really lucky that I know how to cook and eat well, and that I live in a privileged country and earn enough money to have such an amazing choice of food to buy. I love to cook and eat healthily, but I also love to eat with people and let people make food for me, and that is sometimes just as important.

Oh, I said yes to that Kit-Kat too...


Monday, 10 April 2017

Doors of St Ives

I'm called every year to come back to St Ives
Southwest bound with others who lead busy lives,
To walk on the Island, to gaze at the sea,
Drawn back to this land that is calling to me.
The deeper blue Ocean, the paler blue sky,
The call of the seagulls all soaring on high,
Wherever I travel, wherever I roam,
One day I will live here and call Cornwall home.

One of the loveliest things about our recent holiday to Cornwall was that it was so quiet and peaceful we were able to almost forget we were tourists and move into the, usually bustling, but this time decidedly sleepy little town of St. Ives. 

We spent a lot of time just wandering around noticing the little alleyways and funnily shaped (and often named) houses, and in particular how many differently coloured doors there are - a veritable rainbow in fact!  

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