On unexpected guests

Friday

A friend from a place I used to work is coming over for the weekend. She had some kind of conference during the week and added a few days holiday since she was here. We’d planned to meet in the city and do touristy things and were working out the details. And then she told me that she was planning to sleep here.

It’s a good thing shocked silences don’t show via text. 🙂

As is to be expected, I spent the next couple of days cleaning and tidying up, making space for the blow up bed and generally making the place presentable.

***

I picked my cleaning sponge up out of the bath to wipe the sink down..

I’m not a screamer, but I came close.

I’m not at all used to finding leeches in the bathtub. I’m not sure if it is definitely a leech, but I don’t know what else it could be. It’s black, about 7 cm long, kind of flat, maybe 5 mm across, has suction pads at both ends, can climb vertical flat surfaces and is very shy.

I had no idea what to do with it but I didn’t want to kill it or wash it down the plug hole so I put it in a plant pot with a splash of water.

Vermicious knidish question mark

It didn’t approve of the water.

Within seconds, it had climbed out of the pot and was hiding underneath it.

I went to work, leaving it hiding under the flowerpot.

***

My colleague thought it was hilarious when I told him about it. Our lunch break was immediately filled with stories about leech infested jungles and “would you rather..?” questions. (‘bungee’ jumping in Vanuatu* is generally our baseline. In this case I think it’s a close call, I really really don’t fancy either option, but I would probably be ok with letting leeches bite me if I was in some kind of medical emergency, whereas I can’t imagine any situation when I would want to jump).

Even the pressing explanation of how to get photos off his phone and onto the computer was willingly postponed because “bathroom leeches are more important, the photos can wait. You can tell me about them on Monday…unless you have more stories about leeches – they obviously have priority!”

* YouTube is only sometimes your friend..

On being a good photographer (or maybe just on taking lots of pictures)

I was recently in Girona on my way from Murcia towards Berlin.

Girona is a really pretty city, at least what I saw in the 17 or so hours I was there. Much friendlier than Barcelona and much less scary to walk around at night.

I wandered between the old old houses and shops, admiring the art nouveau balconies and door handles, stopping ever few hundred metres to take photos of things people probably mostly ignore. Missing bricks, the compass worked into the street, the street signs and the people on the traffic lights.

I visited the ancient Arabic baths and tried to visit the cathedral (but decided the entrance fee was unjustified). I was on my way to the remains of the tall wall that originally enclosed the city when I met Amanda.

I didn’t know she was called Amanda and I wasn’t out to meet anyone. Especially someone as glamorous as Amanda. I wanted to know how to get onto the wall and she was the only person around to ask. If there’d been anyone else I would have asked them instead.

“I think there’s a staircase along here next to the tower, let’s go and find out.”

She set off and I followed at a distance, leaving her some space – space it turned out she wasn’t really all that interested in.

***

“Do you think you could take a picture of me?”

She’d been fighting her phone for a while, trying to find a way to fit herself, the wall and the cathedral onto one photo.

“Yeah, sure, if you show me how your phone works..”

She handed it over (“Just press here”) and started posing, adjusting her hair and sunglasses, shuffling her position, arranging and rearranging herself, letting the sun dance on her face and make her earrings sparkle – obviously this is something she’s used to doing.

Click.

“Hey, give me your bag and your water bottle – they don’t need to be in the picture, and I’ll move my bag out of the way too. There.”

Click click click.

“The wind keeps messing my hair up..”

“I think if you turn just a bit more to the left.. Perfect.. Hold that…”

Click. Click. Click click click.

“Here, have a look to see if you’re happy with them. I can take more if you don’t like them.” I hand her phone back.

“Wow! You took loads! Thank you! I love this one, and this one. And this one’s good with the cathedral – you’re a really good photographer. Thank you so much!” She smiled as she flicked through the pictures. “Can you take another one of me in close up? From over there..”

Click. Click click. Shuffle. Rearrange. Click.

“There you go.”

“Thanks ever so much. That’s brilliant. Thank you!” she gushes. “Most people just take one and don’t check if you have your eyes shut or if you’re smiling. They don’t even make sure that the scenery fits on the photo. You’re lucky if they don’t cut part of your head off..” She paused. “Do you want me to take some of you?”

*panic* “Uh…” My mind races. Me? No way. Why not? I can’t. Just because you don’t usually. You can’t always hide behind the camera.. Ugh. “Ok. Go ahead. Please.”

My phone beeps as I hand it over – less than 10% battery life left. I hope it lasts until I’ve found my way back to the station. I hope there are plugs on the train. I hope I’m there in time to catch the train. I hope..

Click.

I stop thinking about the rest of the journey for a minute and try and act a fraction as cool as Amanda while she takes pictures. I think I need more practice at this posing lark.

Then it’s over (“Is that ok? Want any more?” “No, that’s more than enough, I have to get back to the station..”). I jump down off the wall, get my phone back, pick up my bags, start to leave.

Halfway down the steps I remember the other lady who’d been sitting by herself and who’d watched us taking pictures of each other for a few seconds before turning back to stare across the city. I go back up to the platform and ask her if she wants her photo taken too. She looks up, shy, and tells me she was going to take a selfie, but if I’m offering.. She stops mid-sentence, reminding me more of myself than of Amanda. I put down my bags and take her phone. She looks like she feels even more awkward than me as she balances on the wall, hugging her knees. I take a couple of pictures and ask her if she wants to move along the wall a bit – the sun’s behind her and I can only take pictures of her silhouette. She laughs, moves, resettles. “Better?” “Much.”

Click click. Click. Click click click.

I move too, trying to get her and the cathedral and the wall and the clouds onto a picture without anything getting in the way of anything else.

“This is like a proper photo shoot!”

I doubt it but we laugh anyway. She’s finally relaxed enough to sit naturally.

Click. Click.

Click.

Beep! My phone is still in the process of dying, reminding me that I have a train to catch. I hand her phone back and say I have to go. She thanks me and goes back to her original position, looks across the city, looks at the pictures I’ve taken. Smiles.

I catch up with Amanda at the bottom of the tower, she’s been waiting for me. She wants me to take more photos of her along the next section of the wall.

We align clouds, walls, towers, roofs, trees as we make our way towards the end of the wall, sharing fragments of our lives – and the current moment – with each other. It appears we’re not so different after all, our reasons for being in Girona, our opinion of Barcelona, our travel plans for the next few days. Not identical, but similar enough to feel more than coincidental. The realisation that there’s a person under all that make-up is a surprise. Especially a person I can relate to. I am always surprised by this; in my mind at least, I still associate heavily made up people with the “cool” girls in my class at school. The ones who would rather do anything than talk to me and risk losing their coolness. The ones I had less than nothing in common with. The ones I still ‘see’ despite the years and miles between us.

At the end of the wall she thanks me again, profusely, for all the photos I took along the way, telling me again that I’m a great photographer. She ignore my protests that I just take lots of pictures and occasionally some work well, and instead wishes me a good time travelling. She insists we take a selfie together. One each. To remember.

Together. Me and Amanda. The laid back, perfectly made up, glamorous Amanda from Brazil, with her pearl earrings and flowing hair, who wouldn’t look out of place in a magazine or on one of those huge roadside posters advertising sunglasses or perfume, and me. In one picture. On purpose. Despite my messy bun and crumpled skirt and bag lady luggage. My word.

One day, I decide, I will lose some of my shallowness. Some of my prejudice. And maybe, maybe also some of my reluctance to talk to [makeup wearing] strangers.

***

This is me, sitting at the top of a tower on Girona’s city wall in November, taken by Amanda from Brazil:

On furnishing adventures – papasan chair (and picture boards)

I recently gave away the first piece of furniture I ever properly owned. A lady came early in the morning to pick it up for her cats…

***

I bought the papasan chair at a carboot sale in autumn 2006.

The town held a car boot sale once a year and pretty much everyone who was anyone went. Either to buy or to sell. The posters were put up well in advance and on the day the entire middle of the town was covered/filled with people – I didn’t know the town was big enough for the turn out.

So anyway. There I was. Newly arrived in a new town with a new room in my first shared flat. It was a fantastic room but although it was furnished, I had a shortage of seating. My housemates were busy doing other things so I set off by myself.

One of the first things I saw when I reached the car boot sale was a papasan chair. I’ve always loved those chairs so when I saw one I couldn’t leave it behind. On the other hand I didn’t want to carry it round the whole town so I paid for it and asked the seller to look after it until I came back to pick it up.

As I made my way round the market I also bought a printer, a backpack, a heavy frying pan and a few other things. Fully laden, I set off for home..

Then I remembered the chair.

A sensible person would probably have carried the first lot of stuff home and come back for the chair. I am not that person. Instead I packed the backpack as full as I could, put the base on the inside of the chair, persuaded the printer box into the base and piled everything else into the spaces.

Once everything was stowed away, I hoisted it onto my head and did my best impression of an African water carrier… except I am not cut out to carry things on my head without holding onto them so my best impression was terrible (and wobbly, despite holding on).

***

I made it home without dropping anything which is a very good thing since I wouldn’t have been able to gather it back up without major effort. As it was I unpacked on the drive and it took multiple trips up and down the stairs to bring everything into my room.

Phew! I could finally lie back in my new chair and relax :).

Only for a few minutes tho – I had lots of other new things to admire and unpack and wash and put away. (It was lucky I didn’t put the unpacking off until later – the printer turned out to be missing all the necessary cables and drivers and I think the block the ink cartridges go in, although I’d been promised it was all there so I lugged it back into town and the guy refunded my money 🙂 )

***

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. The chair has accompanied me for 12 years and 5 moves. It was looking somewhat worse for wear. The base was mostly held together with cable ties and the seat part was missing pieces of the spiral. Sitting in it felt like a brave undertaking, being as how it creaked and groaned and sagged when you lowered yourself into it. Getting out again was even trickier.

When I found a newer version in the small ads I pounced. It was on the other side of Berlin and I am still car-less, but that never stopped me before so I organised a pickup date. It was being offered without a cushion, but mine was still ok so that wasn’t a problem, and as far as transport went, was more of an advantage than anything else; the chairs are unwieldy things at the best of times and the cushions are heavy.

The former owner only lived a mile or so away from the station and the weather was good, I didn’t see a problem. When she found out I was going to be carrying it on the train she was amazed (and amazing) and tied the base to the chair for me. (She had a ball of string strategically placed close to her front door. I might have to adopt this practice).

Having the pieces tied together makes carrying them much easier.

I set off towards home.

Because I am still not the sensible person I wasn’t before, and because I hate wasting travelling time, I had made another appointment to pick up some picture boards conveniently being given away en route.

Mostly en route anyway. I suppose one has to count getting off the train for a 25 minute round trip with a large unwieldy chair as a slight detour.

The people sitting outside the pubs and cafés on the way between the train station and the picture board house were much amused by me walking past them twice.

Carrying 2 picture boards as well as the chair proved a little bit more complicated. Luckily I had lots of time to get home.*

***

There’s no way I have space for a broken chair I’m not using – the old one had to go. I couldn’t bring myself to dismantle it and throw it away, but I also couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to pay for it. I put it on eBay and hoped for the best.

Within a few minutes I had the first interested message. A couple of hours after that the second. In the end I gave it to the third person who wrote a week later after the other two hadn’t arranged a concrete pick up date.

When she arrived to take it away I pointed out all the places it was broken and said she should be careful sitting in it. Turns out I didn’t need to worry – she’s lining it with multiple blankets and letting her cats sleep in it. Good to know it’s got lots of life in it yet 🙂 makes getting rid of it that much easier..

* (..she says, lying through her teeth. I was running late and had to get home, showered and dressed up for a concert in very few hours).

On beneficial baths

Mostly written last night.

This morning it was warm and sunny and I cycled to work in a T-shirt and skirt. Yesterday and most of last week that was no problem. Today however…

When I looked out of the window at 5 this evening it was raining. The weather forecast I should ideally have looked at earlier said it wasn’t due to stop raining until tomorrow. I didn’t fancy sleeping at work so I packed my bag and cycled home straight away – in the hope that it meant I only had to face it being cold, wet and windy instead of cold, wet, windy and dark.

By the time I’d finished packing my bag it was not only raining but chucking it down. I was soaked well before I reached home.

Look! A dry bit! 🙂

***

This post was going to be a rant about the weather. I started writing it in my head on the way home. Then this evening happened and I no longer feel like ranting. I am actually kind of thankful for the rain, in a roundabout fashion..

***

The first thing I did after getting home and taking my helmet off was put the kettle on. The second thing was start running a bath.

I love baths, especially long baths but I don’t know when I last had one. ¾ of an hour cycling in a downpour without a coat seemed to be the perfect excuse.

Isn’t that ridiculous? That I feel like I need an excuse to spend [excessive] time in the bath. It’s like I have some kind of voice in my head permanently telling me that I should be doing something, should be productive, should have something to show for all the oxygen I’ve been using. I’m not sure what I’m trying to prove, or to whom, but I am aware that the more I try to prove it, the more I actually prove how incapable I am of proving it.

Productivity is all well and good, but I can’t be productive all the time, especially when my batteries are flat.

Sometimes batteries need recharging.

Sometimes a long bath is the best way to do that.

***

Today two very luffly friends (who barely know each other and are therefore almost definitely acting independently of each other) wrote to me to find out how I’m getting on and scheduled a phone call for tonight and next week respectively.

I’ve been spinning on my own axis in my own world for a while. Monday, for example, was one of those days where you I wonder what, if anything, you’re I’m capable of doing well and why you I even bother trying to deal with all the chaos when all you’re I’m doing is taking up space and messing up other people’s otherwise orderly lives. Reaching out (in person or by phone) and talking to people who love me was well overdue and I am so grateful for these people who seemingly instinctively know this and help me with it.

***

F and I had made our telephone plan before it started raining so I decided to combine the plans and phone her while soaking in the bath instead of while sweeping the floor and putting washing on.

Her phone didn’t work directly so I read my email while I was waiting for her to sort it out. I still get Flylady mails (remember her?) which I don’t often open but which I read today. I even poked the link and arrived at her podcast/vlog about how she makes her bed. Couldn’t bring myself to watch all the way to the end, there’s only so much bedmaking I can cope with, but since I was on YouTube anyway I jumped about through the recommendations until I came to a TEDx talk by a lady called Tracy McMillan.

BAM!!!

That is one cool lady.

I’d never read her articles or books or watched her TV shows. Never even heard of her before. Might be a tiny bit obsessed now though ;p.

As soon as her talk was over I googled her and found an interview between her and Lewis Howes (F’s phone didn’t properly recover so we spoke for a few minutes and agreed to postpone the call to tomorrow).

Here’s the link:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eWwRl_CNLR8

I think that’s the first YouTube link I’ve ever posted here. I am so awestruck by this woman’s positivity in the face of everything that she’s lived through, I think you should all go and watch the interview. Or the TED talk. Or possibly all the videos, except I haven’t seen them all and can’t directly recommend them.

She mostly talks about loving oneself. Flylady is always talking about flying. For all of you who don’t know her and weren’t around when I signed up for her emails, FLY is an acronym for finally loving yourself… I find the full-circle-ness fascinating.

***

So.

I was planning to do a million things this evening. I wanted to get my tax return finished and tidy the sitting room and do the washing up and put some unwanted things up for sale online. I wanted to find some photos to print and go through my computer and find the documents I need to work on over the next few days. I wanted to achieve so many things. In the end I didn’t do any of those things (although I did get a load of washing done, change my bedsheets and cook and eat dinner), but I think spending the time with a cup of hot ribena and a bath and Tracy McMillan’s voice turned out to be the best thing to do with the evening.

I wouldn’t have done that if it hadn’t been for having to cycle in the rain.

For that I am thankful. That’s why this was going to be a rant, but isn’t.

On birds, bees and an underdressed first date

Mid April

A couple of weeks ago, I took some friends on an exploratory trip around my part of the world.

F pointed out an advert for “cinema night” on the notice board of one of my local churches. They were going to show a children’s film, followed by a film called “More than honey”. None of us had heard of it, so I made a mental note of the date and decided to look the film up online when we got back.

***

It’s a film about bees, or more accurately about the role and treatment of bees around the world. It was produced by the people who made ‘We feed the world”, a film I watched several years ago. I can’t exactly say I enjoyed watching it, but I was glad that I did.

This one sounded like a watchable film too.

***

I asked H if he wanted to come with me. It was something we might have done anyway, but we decided, semi-jokingly to call it a first date. It also meant we could go in his car ;).

When we got there the church was not only dark, but also locked.

Hmm.

After much puzzlement, lots of wandering around looking lost and a more careful study of the advert, we discovered that the church displaying the notice wasn’t the church showing the film. Google maps wasn’t particularly helpful, as it reckoned the film-church was in the same place as the notice-church. It took quite a lot of sleuthing powers to find out where the film-church actually was, by which time we’d missed a considerable amount of the film. The film-church was several km away, so getting there would have gobbled up even more of the film time.

Ever practical, and quite a lot pragmatic, H suggested we skip the film and go out for dinner instead. He knew of a restaurant close by where he’s eaten with his work colleagues before. And besides, going to the cinema is an overrated idea for a first date anyway..

When we got there I almost bailed.

It was a very posh-looking place. The sort with a french name and cloth serviettes. It turns out that “eaten there with my work colleagues” actually translates to “my boss takes us there to celebrate finished projects”.

I don’t eat out much, and almost never anywhere fancy, so I’m almost always out of my depth when I do. On the occasions when it is required of me, I like to have some forewarning and a chance to pretend that dress like I know what I’m doing. My going-to-the-cinema-in-a-church-hall clothes do not match my idea of going-to-posh-restaurants clothes. H laughed at me when I told him I wasn’t appropriately dressed to eat there and said he didn’t care, and also that one of his colleagues has been known to eat there with his hair still full of swarf. I could hardly compete with steel toe caps and swarf so I shut up and we went in.

Confronted with a menu full of words I never heard in school french lessons I almost bailed for the second time.

In the end I chose something more or less at random. My French is obviously worse than I thought it was because what arrived bore very little resemblance to what I thought I ordered. In fact, the only thing both dishes had in common was the chicken. If I’d still had a menu I would have checked, but they’d taken them away and I wasn’t sure enough to say anything without “proof” and it was entirely likely that I’d pointed to the wrong thing when it was my turn to order.

As I ate my spinach and hoped it would make me strong, I wondered how I always end up in such odd situations.

***

H was wonderful company, the food was good (if unexpected) and no-one said anything about my attire or tried to make me leave (which is admittedly obvious to most people, but still a realistic if irrational fear in my head). And a good time was had by all even if it was a shame we didn’t get to see the film. I think I will try to borrow it from the library

On chopping onions

K: how do you want me to chop these onions?

KC: I don’t care. I don’t know how to chop onions in multiple ways. I think just stab them to death..

K: so little squares are ok?

KC: yes.

Love it 🙂

On being an awful partner

I currently have a friend over for a long weekend and I am becoming more and more aware that I am not cut out for a long-term female partnership..

How do I know?

I have no patience for conversations about frilly knickers, nail varnish, the best way to burn candles or which bread has the lowest glycemic index. (But I can sit for hours listening to people talk about the finer points of changing the blades on a thickness planer machine, despite never having seen one).

I am not very knowledgeable about yoga, stretching, running, or really any exercise in general.

I don’t care much about fashion, fabric, design, pattern, or clothes as long as I’m dressed and warm enough.

I have less than no idea about hairdryers. I don’t blow-dry my hair unless I absolutely have to. That happens maybe once a year, twice if I go to the hairdressers. I have a small hot-air-blowing device which I use on the rare occasions when I deem it necessary, and which packs into a small bag in a cupboard for the rest of the year. (Naja, that’s not quite true, it’s also pretty good at drying paint/woodstain if I’m too impatient to let things dry by themselves, so it does get to come out of the cupboard sometimes). It turns out it isn’t a proper hairdryer but rather a styling brush (and therefore not useful for drying one’s hair). Who knew?

I wouldn’t recognize an electric nail file if I tripped over it, nevermind know which way to hold it or how (or why) to use it. Or an electric callous grinder (see? no idea what they’re even supposed to be called). I don’t remember ever having or doing a pedicure, unless you count filing the pointy edges off my toenails when they break and threaten to make holes in my socks.

I am used to being the dithery party. I am used to getting lost in places I’ve been before. I am used to people complaining about how long it takes me to get ready to go anywhere. I am used to people getting stroppy about me leaving a trail of my things strewn across the house. I am used to people laughing at or not understanding my clothes (“so what is this thing anyway?!” – talking about a wrap around skirt).

I am not used to waiting for more than an hour to get into the bathroom in the morning.

I am not used to working round other people’s PMS.

I am not used to multiple (many many many) bottles of ‘body care’ potions appearing all over the house.

I am not used to getting home and being greeted by a wave of ‘girly smells’. Perfume and baby powder and shampoo and conditioner and body lotion and hand cream and whathaveyou each with a different (but strong) fragrance.

I can’t work up any excitement (at all) for an evening of ‘pampering’ if it involves anything other than massage. Start talking about mutual makeovers and I will bail.

I can’t deal with “What’s up?” “Nothing.” conversations.

I don’t understand freezing but simultaneously objecting to either finding another jumper or turning the radiators on.

I don’t understand why anyone would [regularly and willingly] eat nothing but salad for dinner and then get up in the middle of the night to raid the fridge and the breadbin.

When I get ill, I am more likely to have manflu and go to bed with honey-and-lemon and a hot water bottle (and maybe my laptop) than to try and keep up my manic schedule while sneezing, snuffling and coughing, at least for the worst couple of days.

I am not naturally a tidy person. I don’t think anyone could reasonably call me a neat-freak (:)) – I severely dislike washing up and doing housework – but finding cups in the bookcase and plates left on the coffeetable instead of at least in the vicinity of the sink has helped me develop a new sympathy for people who are.

Also. Hair. I used to laugh at a long-distant-ex-boyfriend for complaining about the “hairy woman-beast” inhabiting his space. I’m not going to take sides with him, but I can at least see that he might have had a point.

In short, I feel like I’m suddenly on the wrong side of all the bloke-whinges-about-girlfriend cartoons/sketches/blogposts and I’m not used to it. I’m not sure I even like being on the other side of the frustration.

Ok, so frustration is frustrating on both sides.. I’m just usually defensively frustrated, at the people trying to hurry me for example, but I could never really see where they were coming from. I used to get upset at people who weren’t understanding or able to listen or were obviously disinterested by what I was saying, people who wouldn’t cooperate with me and/or my way of working, people who were more concerned about reaching a destination than enjoying the journey..

I am slowly starting to understand some of the people who complained about me, as well as some of the actions of the people I complained about… and that’s worrying!

I’m not a particularly good hetero girlfriend, but it seems I would be an incredibly awful lesbian… 😉

***

NB: Against the impression I’m probably giving, I do like this lady 🙂 I’ve just previously only seen her in smaller doses (like for an afternoon) and never had her to stay..

On staining

Look! Isn’t it fabulous?!

That’s obviously only a very small piece of the end – I will put up complete pictures (of the shelf ;)) after K’s been. She’s coming to visit soon and she reads what I post and that would spoil the effect.

It still needs sanding and waxing and putting up.. it is a very time intensive shelf.

H can’t really understand my excitement, but I can’t understand how he doesn’t find it as amazing as I do, so I suppose it’s balanced..

Green fingernails and evenings well spent

My neighbour, H, is making me a shelf. It started as an offer to put my coat hooks up. I told him the rack he was holding wasn’t for coats and we came to a strange sort of compromise where he agreed to build me a shelf which I could hang coats on.

Over the weekend he glued and sawed and sanded and planed and did whatever carpenters do when making shelves.

Yesterday he brought me the raw wooden shelf (it’s beautiful) and a box of different wood dyes which he proceeded to spread on a couple of cut off edge pieces so I could choose one. I didn’t think any fitted quite right. I wanted green. Apparently green isn’t a colour he uses all that often..

Tonight, after work, I stopped to buy fishfood and green wood dye powder. And turkey for a thank-you curry.

I was still frying onions and chopping peppers when H arrived. He stood and watched for a minute or so before pulling out his penknife and adjusting the doors on the kitchen cabinets. It seems carpenters are incapable of ignoring badly hung doors. Never one to stop other people working, I found him a decent screwdriver or two and pointed him in the direction of the sitting room and all my other cupboards. My floorboards are anything but level, and I don’t think any of the cupboard doors hung straight. I also had a cupboard where the door opened the wrong way. No longer 🙂

The cupboards and the curry were both finished/ready around the same time.

At the first lull in the after dinner conversation, H leapt up, announced his intention of clearing up, and started running hot water into the sink, ready to wash up. At this rate I’m going to be cooking thank-you dinners for a while… 😉 I certainly stand no chance of drying faster than he washes.

The wood dye is astonishingly easy to mix and keeps for 6 months or so in a jar. I bought 2 packets, a light and a dark green, just in case the labels were misleading. The first trial pieces were painted in a matter of minutes, leaving us time to talk about different sorts of sealing coats, wax or varnish, matt or shiny, and the best kinds of joints to stop the wood twisting out of shape.

Tomorrow I can paint/dye the shelf.

By the end of the week it should be up on the wall – can’t wait to see it finished 🙂

On making the wheels go round

(or: on letting go of what is not yet broken)

If it’s working and you know it, leave it alone!

If it’s working and you know it, leave it alone!

If it’s working and you know it, and you really want to keep it that way,

If it’s working and you know it, leave it alone!

***

I cycled to work again today.

It’s been really cold lately and it was still around freezing when I left the house, late.

The wheel was stiff when I tried wheeling it away from the bike stand and towards the road. It felt like the brakes were jammed on tight, but they weren’t. After a bit of gentle persuasion and a few angry words it unstuck itself and off I went.

I assumed (see, there’s that bad word again, almost as bad as “planning”) there must have been ice in the works somewhere – it did get thoroughly soaked last week and it was icy this morning (never thought I’d have to scratch ice off the saddle, but I did).

***

I left work while it was still light to cycle to my maths/English/German student. As it turned dusky and got darker and darker I realised I was riding without lights. Argh. As a car driver, I can’t stand cyclists without lights.. as a cyclist, I try to be car friendly, in the hopes that they won’t run me over. Also, as I found out on Wednesday, lights are useful.

***

After we’d talked about adjectival attributes (?!) for as long as we could concentrate, I borrowed a front bike light from my maths kid’s mum and headed home.

Except I couldn’t. The front wheel was stuck again. It took me several metres of pushing and kicking and cajoling before anything happened. When it finally did start rolling, the nut holding the front wheel onto the forks starting turning too..

I stopped and did it up as best I could with gloves on. Another couple of paces and it was loose again.

At some point I noticed that the cables from the dynamo were hanging in the breeze and the box they’re supposed to join into was riding round in circles, presumably enjoying unknown freedom.

I prodded it a bit, retightened the nut and rode home, very very carefully.

***

It would appear that my dynamo has died.

When I said I was thinking about getting new lights, I didn’t mean I no longer wanted the old ones.

Tomorrow, I will have to find a bike doctor before work. Even if I was willing to buy new lights and ignore the dynamo, I am not willing to hurl myself at the pavement when the wheel falls off.

I expect I will have to leave my bike there and then walk to work or at least walk to the train station.

Sometimes I really love my life.

***

I think it’s time for a new motto/mantra:

If it’s working and you know it, leave it alone! Do not touch it, use it or think about it. Do not criticise it. Do not think about changing it or replacing it.

Instead, be thankful for it..you never know when it’s going to stop working..

On breaking the old and dropping the new

From Friday.

Once upon a time, when I lived by myself, I bought myself all manner of things and used them as required.

Then I moved in with xDB and stopped needing most of my things. I sold some and gave lots away. The rest were put in the garage or the cellar or hidden stowed away in boxes.

Recently I moved out and back into a flat of my own. I began buying or being given things to replace what I was missing. I assumed that the things I already had would continue to work as expected.

However.

Nothing is ever as one assumes. This is probably why assumption is something to avoid.

***

I went out to pick up a stereo system after work this evening.

My old one wasn’t as good as xDB’s and so had been rehoused at work when the ancient radio there decided it had had a good life and wanted to go to wherever good radios go when they die.

When I moved, I no longer had any way of playing music besides my alarm clock, my phone and my laptop. None of the three have spectacular speakers, especially the alarm clock. I’m not especially fussy about these things, but I’m quite happy if I can recognise who’s supposed to be singing or what song is playing.. I suppose I could theoretically take my old stereo back from work but I can’t imagine my colleague working without a radio, so I decided to leave it there and procure a newer one for my flat. Almost 6 months later I still haven’t. It hasn’t fought to the top of the priority list.

While I was browsing the free section of the small ads the other day, I found someone getting rid of a ‘micro stereo system in top working order’. I wrote to say I wanted to pick it up. The seller said it wasn’t free after all and named his price. I said he shouldn’t have put it in the free section if he actually wanted to sell it, but named my maximum and we agreed on a time and place to meet across town.

I decided, possibly foolishly after Wednesday’s adventure, to take my bike with me to save having to make a detour via work to pick it up afterwards.

I got the two trains with no problems. I found lifts and even found somewhere to change my large(ish) banknotes into smaller ones. I reached the designated meeting point at the designated time with the correct money and was feeling very proud of myself.

Even picking up the stereo was no problem. I didn’t want to leave my bike outside, so when the seller suggested he brought it out to save time I readily agreed

The man had packed it very neatly into two carrier bags. It was bigger than expected, and heavier, but I thought that must be a good sign.

One of the carrier bags was plastic, one paper. I’m probably a bit overly cautious but it’s January and the current weather forecast doesn’t make for overly joyful reading. I think potential rain and paper bags are a bad combination (though not as bad as actual rain and paper bags) so I carefully repacked my new speakers into my panier. The subwoofer in its plastic bag hung on my handlebar. It was much too heavy to balance while cycling so I pushed the bike.

The journey back was less simple. There’s a very large station in Berlin where a lot of S-Bahn and U-Bahn trains travel on different levels. It’s a station I usually quite like. I’ve been there a lot and changed trains there many times in many constellations….as a footpassenger. As a passenger with a heavily laden bicycle, stations turn into something quite different. I rode at least 4 lifts and spent a long time trying to find out where each of them were hidden. What takes me a maximum of 5 minutes by foot, took me at least 15 with the bike.

When I could finally see the platform my train was leaving from, but not the lift I needed to get to it, I gave up on the lifts altogether and used the stairs. My bike is fantastic, but it is not a light thing. There is no way I can carry it downstairs onehandedly, so I kept the front wheel in the air and let the back wheel bounce slowly on each step.

Approximately halfway down there was a sudden, strange noise. I looked behind me and saw the panier hanging from one of its clips. I was on the middle of a relatively well used staircase, a I had a subwoofer under one arm, the other hand on the crossbar with my elbow and wrist keeping the handle bars halfway steady. I couldn’t stop, couldn’t adjust my grip of anything, couldn’t even use my knees to push the panier back up to level because it was on the other side of my bike.

The only way out was down. I carried on going.

The second and final clip flew off before we reached the platform. The panier holding the newish stereo fell down and rolled the last few steps. It seems plastic clips aren’t up to being ignored for several years and then bounced.

I walked home with one bag on each side of my handle bars.

And the stereo didn’t even work when I got it home.

Before, I just wanted clearer music, now I also need new paniers.

ARGH.

On the [evening after the] morning after the ride before

Apart from sleeping through my alarm (s) I felt ok when I woke up. I even stretched without too much of a problem.

Then I stood up to walk to the toilet.

FUdge!

My feet, my knees, my legs, my shoulders, my elbows – all the moving parts – hurt. A lot. If that’s what getting old feels like, I don’t want to.

A little while later, after quarter of an hour on the erg (ouch!), and breakfast, and my usual faffing about, I could walk again, mostly without wincing.

Then I had to get back on the bike and cycle to work again..

..at this point I didn’t even bother trying to rename my expletives.

I am told that the second day is the worst.

I hope that’s true.

***

In other news, I now have a mattress! Whee!

(I also have a better pillow but the pillow case is in the wash)

***

The neighbour with a car helped me carry it up the stairs and into my flat.

The seller had rolled it up and tied it with string like a roly-poly pudding*.

I have never seen such knots!

I set to work undoing the strings, and getting the mattress into place on the bed while the-neighbour-with-a-car talked (and talked and talked).

It seems he’s capable of multitasking though, because I’ve just found this:

I don’t know anyone who ties string so neatly…

***

Goodnight people!

Zzzzzzzzzzzz

* Tom Kitten

On making ones bed (but not lying on it)

I’ve mostly slept on an airbed since moving into my flat. The first one died, despite the stars, and I replaced it with a second of the same sort. I love airbeds, especially the deep ones, but since winter arrived it’d started to get damp underneath and I really really don’t want the floor to go mouldy. Time for a proper bed.

***

Before Christmas I saw a nearly new mattress advertised in the small ads by someone who was planning on moving soon. My car went on strike on the day I wanted to pick it up but the seller said he’d keep it for me.

I also saw a bed for sale (different seller) and asked if I could collect it after Christmas. The lady said she wouldn’t reserve it for me but she’d let me know if it was still there in the new year.

It turns out that the bed was still available when I got back from England and now it’s mine!

***

I’m still car-less, so yesterday I walked the mile or so each way to the bed-lady and back multiple times, carrying pieces of bed.

The slats were awkward but not excessively heavy.

The sides and middle bar were by contrast enough to make me stop every few minutes to get my breath back. Luckily they were all taped together. Even more luckily, I didn’t knock anyone out with it on the way home, though I did come quite close a couple of times when I turned round…

One of my new neighbours (lives in the same house, don’t really know him all that well though) came home as I’d manouvered the beast up the stairs to my landing. I leant against the door holding the beast upright and trying to catch my breath and gather enough energy to find my key and open the door without knocking it over.

He laughed, “how come you sound so close to death, just from a couple of flights of stairs?” I nodded at the metal bundle, “The stairs would’ve probably been ok if I hadn’t carried it a mile first…” He picked it up and put it down again pretty quickly.. “must be close to 30kg!” he said. I nodded. “Yeah, could be. Certainly unwieldy”.

We talked for a while about cars and furniture and the state of his work project, (but not about cabbages or kings) and when the landing light starting getting annoying (it turns itself off after a minute or two) I opened my front door, took the beast into the sitting room, and came back out to the landing, leaving my hall light on. We chatted for another couple of minutes before he headed upstairs and I closed and started re-locking my door.

He stopped on the stairs and turned round, “Going back out again?!”

“Na klar, got to get the next bits of the bed”

“Bits? As in more than one? How many are there?”

“Two. The bedsteads”

“Wait a minute, you can’t carry them both at once and it’s already dark. I’ll come with you, it can be my good deed for the day”.

So that saved me a trip.

“If you need anything else carrying, let me know..” *

“Rolled up mattress? Tomorrow evening? By car?”

“Yup – can do”

“Brilliant. Until tomorrow then”

“Until tomorrow.”

No one should say things as open-ended as this to me without really meaning it. I am liable to take the 63359 inches they weren’t offering as well as the one they were.. 😉

***

Today (an extra day off work – whee!!) I packed up the air bed and assembled my new bed, washing all the pieces as I went.

It is a lot bigger than it looked in the pictures, much taller than my windowsill, and it took me a while to figure out where to put it so that it didn’t waste too much space or look too much like a cage. It meant rearranging almost all the other furniture in the room, but I think it’s the best place for it, even if I’m not happy with the placement of the cupboards yet.

Now all I need is the mattress!

***

Later:

The neighbour who promised to pick up the mattress with me didn’t. He wasn’t at home when I knocked and I don’t have his number. I will try asking again tomorrow, otherwise I will have to find another willing victim.

Argh.

Looks like I won’t be sleeping in my new bed tonight after all.

On having no room at the north pole

Someone was telling me about a present they’re making for their grandson. It’s quite complicated and involves making various animals from different parts of the world. He’d just finished a group of baby seals.

“Are you going to make a big seal to look after them?”

“No. The North pole is full!”

On [self-inflicted] frustration

(Another one from the drafts folder)

“I hate satnags

And traffic

And running out of fuel

And hotel receptionists who have to show you how the lights work in your room

And not finding anywhere to park

And people who don’t put signs up to let you know where you’re going

And the lack of house numbers

And people who hold fish meetings in poodle club houses”

***

That’s what I wrote to my brother the other evening. Can you tell that I was stressed?

If I unravel the strings a bit, it’s obvious that I can’t honestly even blame any of the things on the list for my stress either. I am just really really bad at planning things. Or possibly passable at making plans and rubbish at carrying them out.

***

I wanted to listen to a talk about catfish.

It was being given by an expert/fanatic in Hamburg, at least 3 hours away from where I work. It was on a Thursday evening and I try not to drive when tired, meaning I needed to take holiday for the Friday, and pay for accommodation for Thursday night. I don’t have holiday or money to spare, and I should probably have stayed at home because my brother was coming to visit and I wanted/needed to prepare for him.

I decided to go anyway.

It was a spontaneous decision, one I didn’t really have time for, but one I made and stuck to regardless. My pre-birthday present to myself. There’s time to be vernünftig when I’m old, and luckily my brother isn’t fussy about things like unwashed floors or unmade beds.

***

On the evening before the day of the talk I came home late from work (still catching up with my hours of school-induced undertime) and tried to sort my house out. I could have started that earlier in the week but I didn’t, I made a mess in my kitchen and on the balcony instead. I could have ignored the hours I need to catch up with and gone home earlier but I didn’t. I could have tidied more quickly and distracted myself with the shrimp babies less often. But I didn’t and did, respectively.

By the time the place was starting to look presentable it was midnight and I was tired. I went directly to bed instead of going via the shower.

I didn’t shower the next morning either, because it was almost freezing outside and I’d had to park million miles away so the workmen could build a new road outside my house, and also because I’d woken up later than I’d planned.

I didn’t fill my water bottles for work because I hadn’t left time for the filter to do its thing and my tap water tastes horrible. I didn’t stop to buy anything to drink on the way because I was already late. Despite not showering and not filling my bottles.

Once at work, nothing I tried making turned out the way I wanted it to**. My hand cramped which only made things worse. The kind of cramp which makes you cry. I was aiming to set off at 2pm, but I didn’t want to leave before I’d had some kind of success, even if only minimal, so I didn’t get on the road until nearly 3. Google had said it would take 3 hours so I was still within my time budget. (Or so I thought.)

It took me over an hour to get across Berlin in nose-to-tail traffic. If I’d known, I could have taken a different route, but I didn’t know. I checked Google for distance and driving time a couple of days in advance, but I didn’t check for congestion before setting out and my satnav doesn’t communicate with traffic information.

The rest of the journey was long but uninteresting, except for having to stop for fuel on the way. The bloke at the petrol station laughed at me because I forgot to look at the number of my pump before I went in to pay… ?

***

When I reached the last junction I had to choose where to go first – hall or hotel.

I’d chosen a hotel approximately 10-15 minutes drive away from the hall the talk was going to be held in. It was already gone half past 6 and the talk was due to start at 7pm, with an open-ended question and answer session afterwards. I figured I was unlikely to make it to the talk on time if I checked into the hotel first, but just as unlikely to make it back to the hotel before the reception closed at 10pm. Sleeping in my car sounded like a bad idea in November. I looked at the clock, sighed and headed towards the hotel instead of straight to the hall.

***

I almost drove straight past the hotel but saw the sign at the last moment and parked on the pavement a couple of hundred metres away. It took me a while to find the front door (curiously situated at the  back of the house) and even longer to check in.

The receptionist was in the middle of printing and folding a million pages of menus. She couldn’t check me in until she could print my paperwork, and she couldn’t do that until the printer had finished printing the menus….

At some point I was shown the key. I couldn’t have it, though, until I’d been shown the box to put it in upon departure, as well as the carpark, the rest of the grounds, the breakfast hall, the toilets and my room, including a demonstration of each light and every cupboard.

Since when is that normal?!

To give the receptionist her due, she was very lovely (and possibly very bored), and on any other day, I would have probably been more grateful for the tour. In this case I could only just about remember to say thank you when she was finished.

***

I should probably have left as soon as she finished telling me about how to close the bedroom door properly, but someone had unfortunately put a mirror up in my room and I hadn’t managed to avoid it.

I looked a complete mess. It appeared that a shower was more a necessity than a luxury… (Especially the part where I had to be content with using the hotel’s shower gel instead of shampoo because I’d left my washkit in my car).

***

I was tired and I hadn’t eaten and I’d already missed the beginning of the talk when I finally set off towards the hall, but I had at least found a stray bottle of water in the boot of my car (from a previous shopping trip) so I was less at risk of dehydration thirsty than when I’d set off.

***

The 10 minute trip from the hotel to the hall took me over half an hour and involved swearing in multiple languages. My satnag and I rarely agree on timing and only very occasionally on directions. After driving backwards and forwards and round in circles I parked at random and got out of the car. My phone would have to take over.

It was dark and raining as I walked back the way I’d come. I was already nearly ¾ of an hour late for a talk I’d driven 300km to hear. I was not a particularly happy bunny and the weather wasn’t helping to cheer me up.

A few minutes later I was amazed to find a miniature carpark, accessible only via an unmarked turning, hidden from the road by a thick hedge. Opposite the carpark was a narrow wooden gate, mostly hidden behind some trees.

Further inspection revealed a small sign which informed me that the field behind the gate belonged to the poodle taming club. At the far end of the field was a low hut with row of yellow window-shaped lights.

The poodle tamers’ clubhouse address at the bottom of the sign was the same as the address of the fishlovers association I was looking for. I was expecting lots of catfish enthusiasts but no one had told me about the poodle tamers.

I opened the gate and made my way across the wet field in the half-dark, typing that message to my brother and hoping there weren’t any wild poodles waiting for intruders.

***

The talk was fantastic (at least the parts I was there for), the speaker unexpectedly laid back. The talk and Q&A session were followed by a book signing. He had brought a box of back issues of his magazines*** to hand out and a box of his books for sale. I, obviously (is it obvious to everyone else?), hadn’t got enough money with me to buy a book, but I did pick up a magazine as they came round.

I knew nobody and would have usually slunk away at this point, but I was accosted as soon as the projector was turned off and the lights came on. Who are you, where do you come from, why are you here, how did you hear about it, where do you come from, did you really drive all the way here from Berlin?! what kind of fish do you have..? Do you know the speaker, do you want to get his signature…etcetcetc… Some of the usuals in the aquarium club knew him already, presumably from previous speeches, and insisted on introducing us.

I still, despite working with famous artists and professors, expect experts to be serious, too aloof to talk to normal mortals, but the speaker, like the artists and professors, was just as human as the rest of us as he sat and chatted about fish and travelling and struggling to find time to write books between all his other commitments.

He pushed the pile of magazines in my direction and gave me the names of other people to get in touch with, people who know about the same sort of fish, people who are part of a small group of experts, people with many years of fish-breeding experience, people who would be interested in passing on their knowledge if I wanted to hear it.

***

I left the poodle club starving but in a much better mood than before…

…until I found out that none of the restaurants in a 10km radius were willing to serve me food after 10pm.

Ho-hum.

Good thing garages sell breadbuns late at night.

***

All things considered, it was a very good evening.

Can’t shake the feeling that I probably need to work on my organisation skills tho.

* Wet hair in cold weather is probably ok if you’re healthy. I used to not care what the weather was doing. Thing is, I’ve been running on empty for a long time and my immune system is more or less screwed.. I’ve been fighting a cold since early September and had far more eczema than usual.

** Not a new phenomenon…

*** He’s not only a discoverer and breeder of various fish, he also writes books and catalogues and is the editor of a well-read magazine.