“Thank you” he said, wrapping the second tissue around the small stack of slightly soggy crumpets. “That’s really sweet of you.” He looked at me, “this is the sort of thing I’ll still remember in 10 years..” He paused and looked briefly at his feet before looking up again, “..I wonder what I’ll be remembered for, 10 years from now..”
Many, many thanks to Amy for her patience and company while I fried my very first homemade crumpets until the early hours of the morning – I’ll remember this too 🙂
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.
“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..
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.
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:
Jesska makes a plan and life makes it impossible to see it through.
At the end of August I bought new fish.
They were quite expensive as cheap fish go (nothing like as expensive as posh koi) and quite a luxury considering that I don’t “need” fish for anything. I decided to not spend any money on anything but proper food (no unnecessary/luxury food like icecream) throughout September to make up for it.
That decision lasted until about midday on the 1st when I got a message from the lady I’d agreed to buy water plants from, asking when she could expect me. I made a mental exception for things-agreed-to-before-the-decision and went to pick up the plants.
I did very well for the next couple of days until I remembered that I’d told people that I was going to be flying home soon and hadn’t booked any flights yet. Flights are obviously not food, but going home and seeing my family are necessary things, so I started looking at flights. They were cheaper than expected around my birthday so I booked them too. Two trips planned more than a few days in advance – way to go Jesska! Except you weren’t planning on spending money.. Ho-hum.
Then it became clear that my tyres couldn’t get much balder before the inner tubes started to show, no matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise.
I arranged an appointment at the bike shop.
It turns out you can’t get new tyres without new inner tubes (something about guarantees and warranties) and one of my tubes was thin enough to leak anyway. The brake pads were almost as bald as the tyres and the light bulb in my front light was dead. So far so good. I signed on the dotted line and went to work on the bus.
A couple of hours later, I got a call from the guy responsible for working on my bike. As he’d changed the tyres he’d noticed the chain was worn and the cassette (gears on the back wheel) could do with replacing… Me: yeah, go ahead. (I’d had the feeling the chain was getting old a couple of months ago, it wasn’t too much of a surprise to hear I needed a new one. Also, I’m going cycling in France next month and I need to know my bike will be up to the challenge. My French is very rusty and definitely not up to talking about bike problems.)
The next day I got the train (and a bus) to work.
I picked my bike up on the way to teach maths to one of my favourite 13 year olds.
Look at the shine!
Pedalling felt very odd but I couldn’t do anything about anything without being late for my lesson. I ignored the “crunchy vibrations” and rode on regardless.
The next morning I decided to go to work on the bike – if it was still weird when I got home I’d take it to the shop to be looked at again.
Those were almost famous last words.
There’s a very long bridge on the way to work, the only notable elevation change on a route that is otherwise almost entirely flat. My usual routine is struggle up to the top then change rapidly up through the gears so I can make the most of the decline.
Instead I came to a crunchy, panicky, pedal-free halt just before one of my least favourite junctions. A tiny road joins the main road and for some reason a constant stream of lorries pulls across the tiny crossing, often without giving way to anyone, never mind cyclists on broken bicycles.
But, as I said, I stopped before the junction (lucky I had brand new brakes really ;)). Phew!
I got off to inspect the damage.
The chain, my beautiful, shiny, brand new chain, was broken and had wrapped itself between the gears, the ends hanging on the ground.. 🙁
I’d made it 2/3 of the way to work.
I walked the remaining few miles in the first rain in living memory (or at least in a couple of months) wondering what I’d done wrong (probably nothing) and what I should do differently in the future (also probably nothing).
The bike shop was incredibly kind to me on the phone. I almost definitely wasn’t as polite as I could have been but they were wonderful and arranged to meet me for at lunch and mend my chain. For free. Obviously.
The bicycle repair man arrived exactly when he said he would and mended the chain in a matter of minutes. It would have been seconds if the chain hadn’t squished itself so well between rings and chainguard and bike frame. And if it hadn’t been so freshly greased. Luckily for both of us it wasn’t exactly broken, it had just come undone and he’d brought a replacement link.
The chain shouldn’t be able to come apart while cycling. There’d been a series of unfortunate events leading to the exact and uncommon chain undo-al I’d experienced. Neither he nor my brother have ever had a chain undo itself while cycling and they cycle most out of the people I know. I Take that to mean the chance of it breaking/coming undone again is pretty slim – a very good thing because I don’t want it to happen again.
Quick release chain joint – a brilliant idea until it isn’t.
After that he went for a test ride, muttered, adjusted various limit screws and tested and checked and cycled and hmmed and arrred and said that I should probably change the chain rings (gears near the pedals) too.
He’d left them because they weren’t terribly worn, but he thought there must be a few damaged teeth on each ring, enough to make changing gear difficult with a new (unstretched) chain.
The bike is going back to the shop next week. Until then, I’ll be cycling slowly and carefully and walking across crossroads!
Okay, somehow it’s taken me a while to add pictures and press publish.
The bike went in yesterday morning and I’m on the way to pick it up now…
*Fingers crossed the crunching’s gone and the gears do what they’re told*
(Oh yeah, the month is halfway over and I could have already, or at least by the time I’ve paid for the new chain rings, bought my new fish nearly ten times over…. I do love plans..)
I’m supposed to be in the middle of a two day committee meeting. Instead I am lying on a towel looking at this:
rejoicing at the slight breeze and listening to the birdsong and the buzzing of a million insects.
Yesterday I looked up at the sky through the branches for the first time in too long. As I lay there, I couldn’t actually remember the last time I’d done that. It’s amazing how seldom I lie on my back outside.
The day before that I lay beside a lake and looked at the reeds and listened to the frogs:
I have been neglecting myself recently, or at least not paying attention properly.
I’ve been working long hours during the day and watching the stars at night and not sleeping enough in between. I’ve been talking too much and not listening to my body enough. I’ve been eating beans and pancakes and müsli and chocolate and not nearly enough fruit and veg. I’ve been cycling and rowing (on the machine) but not stretching or actively relaxing. I’ve been trying to get things done, but not standing back to see which things are actually important. I’ve been spending a lot of time dithering and rushing about (mostly in circles) inside and not so much just existing outside.
All this is probably why I was the perfect victim for a passing virus. And also why I found myself spending the last few days in an exhausted heap observing the greenery and assorted wildlife.
As they say,
“If you won’t take time to be healthy, you’ll have to make time to be ill”
There’s a lot of truth in that.
On the other hand, even though being ill is no fun, there’s a lot to be said for lying on the ground under a tree, just recuperating. I might have to come here more often, even when I’m well again. Also, having a sore throat is the perfect excuse to up my icecream consumption :p.
I was invited to a party on Saturday. I had to turn it down because I wouldn’t be back from the committee meeting in time. That meant I was free to go to my AuPair kid’s birthday on Sunday, seeing as I was in Southern Germany anyway (and once I found out that I wouldn’t make it back for the party). Now, I’m not going anywhere. Hmph.
Not travelling means not needing train tickets. I was so chuffed about booking them in advance (and thereby saving money) but it seems that even if I am organised it doesn’t work out.. Very miffed about that – I thought I was doing so well! Luckily the train company refunds tickets up to the day they’re valid so I only “lost” the cancellation fee.
The next bit’s boring, mostly just for my memory in case I need to be reminded later.
I was tired and unmotivated for most of the weekend. Things that should have taken a few minutes took several hours. I started things and left them on the floor. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to buy when I went shopping and spent ages dithering between this one and that one, walking back to the shelves and putting things back, only to turn round when I reached the end of the isle and pick it up again, having changed my mind (this is a semi-normal thing when I go shopping, I’m just not usually quite as dithery as this weekend).
I had a dry throat and unquenchable thirst, along with a headache for most of Monday and Tuesday. Drinking 3L of water in less than 6 hours is possibly a little excessive, but it’s been 30+ degrees C in Berlin for a while, and 34+ in the workshop, so I assumed it was due to a combination of heat, dehydration and potentially a slight lack of salt.
Then I dropped my bike while getting off it at the crossroads on the way to work on Tuesday. Who’s that weak?! I put that, too, down to the heat and made a point of drinking even more, this time alternating water with squash, briefly thinking about adding some kind of strength training into my already largely unsuccessful mornings.
Swallowing started to hurt (rather than scratch) about mid afternoon. I waited until no one else was using the loos at work and looked at the back of my throat in the mirror (my mirror at home is waiting for me to finish its new frame). My tonsils were swollen and had white patches. Ewww.
That night I tossed and turned, froze, boiled, fought with the duvet, staggered back and forth to the bathroom and was generally not particularly rested when the alarm went off in the morning. I fought my way out of bed and towards the end of the road. I wanted to stop at the doctor’s before work and ask what to do about of the white splotches.
Turns out working isn’t good for healing. It’s also not good for other people if you work while you’re contagious.. Who knew. 😉
She stole some blood and wrote me off work for 3(+x) days and told me to get lots of rest and to avoid other people and talking. (She also recommended medicinal throat sweets, but they made my mouth hurt, so I gave up after the 4th).
The chemist suggested vitamin C crystals with added Zink. Taking that as she recommended.
Slept well and often for most of the rest of the day.
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.
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).
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.
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.
And yet, afterwards, you can look back and see all the paths and patterns and logical consequences.
And it’s kind of beautiful. And strange. And magical.
I’m not there yet, not at the patterns and consequences stage, but I am at a place where I can stand and take some breaths without fighting to keep my head above water.
I got a lot done in the last week and a half.
Despite, or possibly because of, all the frustration and rain and aching muscles and late nights and long(ish) journeys and complicated German grammar and broken things.
* I have a new bed (which I carried across town)
* I looked at a new old car and decided it was too broken to buy
* I have a new mattress
* I rearranged my room (to accommodate the bed)
* I’ve got to know a neighbour (a bit)
* I read my water meter and my radiators and handed in the numbers. Before the deadline
* I cycled something like 70km and walked a bit too
* I fought the trains with a bike and won, overall and on balance
* I saw parts of the city I would probably never otherwise have visited
* I met people who made me question my prejudice (sparkly clean floor and still welcoming towards dripping wet and muddy strangers)
* I have new skis
* I talked to the people at the garage about my car. By myself. Without anyone ‘super-knowledgable-about-cars” to talk about the ‘complicated things’ for me
* I spent a couple of hours reading (doesn’t happen nearly regularly enough)
* I sorted out my aquarium (water change, rescued 2 shrimp from the filter and pruned plants), and cleaned xDB’s aquarium filters (my fish..)
* I was contacted by someone who might be the dog’s original owner (yet to find out the exact connection)
* I had some fantastic late night online conversations with a friend I don’t see anywhere near often enough
* I taught myself and my after-school-help kid what adjectival attributes are (and genitive and prepositional ones)
* I started sorting through my enormous postcard-and-magazine-clippings box, ready to start decorating my room
* I rowed every day (on the machine), and got an all time personal best
* I have my old stereo back (almost)
* And the best part: some one really important to me got back in touch after several months – lots of good conversations (had, and hopefully to come)
And all that on top of working and keeping myself alive (washing (myself and my clothes), cooking, eating, washing up, sleeping…all the usual stuff)
I wrote the above yesterday lunchtime. I meant to come home, add the picture and press post.
I didn’t, partly because I got home later than expected – I worked until 6 and walked back with my stereo – and partly because I was so amazed/shocked/speechless about an email I received when I got home that I completely forgot about the post.
I’m not going to say what the email said, yet, except that it has to do with my miniature glass company and it’s very very cool news.
Yesterday was a very good day.
I feel like I’m still in the middle, but I can see the vaguest semblance of a path out. And right now, in the middle of all my chaos, I think life is pretty damn great 🙂
(Also of note but not worthy of a separate post: I achieved a personal best on the rowing machine, remembered to put the rubbish out for the dustbin, I’ve been at work 2hours already and it’s not even 9am yet! 🙂 So far, today has been a success..)
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 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”
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.
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.
Looks like I won’t be sleeping in my new bed tonight after all.