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Here it is upon us again. New Year’s Eve. That went fast didn’t it?

Rather than feeling daunted, I find I am quite addicted to the hopefulness of setting goals – something many of you will no doubt be torturing yourselves with today. Why must we make it such an ordeal?

Last year’s resolution was to ‘be crafty’. I’m sat here now, one year later, guiltily glancing at the Make Your Own Pompoms set that still lies untouched in a Bloomindales bag on the floor – well, at least they have enjoyed a chic 12 months.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really have the imagination to be imaginative. I need a tour guide. It was the hardy estate-agent-cum-craftswoman, Kirstie Allsopp, who guided me into the world of pompom crafts. I couldn’t have done it alone.

Despite this handicap I think it important, really important, that we let our creativity run free every once in a while – even those of us aren’t quite gifted enough to create without a kit. Or without copying someone else. I love copying. I did it religiously as a child and I do it still. But what’s wrong with that? All I’m doing is flexing a muscle. And while that muscle gets some exercise, the others in my brain can switch off. With this in mind I think my plan for 2015 will be, simply, To Play.

We forget to play as we become adults. It’s not our fault – we don’t have the time when there are so many more pressing, important and boring things to attend to. Things that absorb all of our time and head space. But this is exactly why remembering how to play is so important.

Remember the invigoration that came from childhood play? The total abandon. The thrill at discovery. This is the stuff that keeps us going. Helps to fill the hole that creeps open as we age and the fun sort of dries up, becomes very much expected.

Of course, there are those humans for whom surprise is their raison d’etre. The kind that throw themselves at challenges in far flung locations, like white water rafting in places that have… I don’t know… white water? Those who do something noble like volunteering in Africa.

But for the less adventurous and admittedly more lazier and, well, timid of us – there is play. Good old-fashioned messing about. MFI springs to mind. Yes, the furniture store. I’ve never visited an MFI as an adult, but as a child – oh! The fun my sister and I had! Allowed to roam free around the store as my parents browsed kitchen units stressfully. We acted out mini melodramas in secluded kitchens. Hid from the adults in bedroom wardrobes. Fondled the pretend fruit. Bounced on the beds when no-one was looking. Pretended to be pretend home furniture. It was such a treat, going to MFI. It is within the walls of this store only that I have imagined being a housewife.

Whenever life gets tough, or incredibly dull, I think back to those gentle MFI adventures. Go and hide in the bedroom for a while, behind the door. Play out a little story in my head.

Play must lurk like this in my subconscious somewhere, because without me even realising what I was doing for Christmas this year I got my boyfriend stuff that will enable him to make his own watch. Luckily, he does actually want to make his own watch. Now.

There he is in the corner, soldering wires together. Having a blast. Bigger projects are already emerging – a torch. More ambitiously, a light up table. Who knows where his imagination will take him.

And that’s the point isn’t it – why not wake up your inner child next year? Play up – you deserve it.

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I did something I haven’t done in a long, long time on Friday. I went to a gig. (For a second there, I was tempted to call it a concert.)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly noticed that I have a changing relationship with music the older I get. When I was younger, music was everything. I was totally consumed by it. I defined myself through it – I don’t know how I’d have got to be the person I am today without music in my life. I’m not talking about actually making music here – I’m much too lazy for that, even as my younger more energised self. Just listening was enough.

But then you grow up. You work out who you are (ish), come to some kind of resolution. You find yourself settled, stabilised. And in this new, more adult existence, music isn’t so central – in fact, it’s veritably on the sidelines. Relegated to muzak. Something that gets rolled out only when it’s needed, for grown-up social occasions, times when you need to make an impression. Impress on others – and yourself – that you’ve still got it. I suppose it’s maybe easier if you have children – you can live through their music, press them for trendy bands in an emergency. No longer is music the provider of heady relief as it was in your youth. Well, not for me at least.

And it makes me feel very sad. I’ve still got the tinnitus at least but I mourn those days, that me. I would lie in bed into the small hours with a pair of headphones plugged into my (much-loved) hi-system. It had a multiple CD selector system, so I could load it up with 5 albums, pre-set which tracks I wanted to listen to, and just lay back in the dark and live out a life in my head to these very personal soundtracks.

 music notes 2

When it was time for me to go to work (humph) I always had my portable radio with me for the bus rides. Then my cassette player. Then my (wholly unreliable) Sony disc-man. Before long (although a lot later than the rest of the world, I’m stubborn with technology) the iPod made it’s way into my life – and has never left, still getting me through my daily commute.

It was all so much effort back then. But it never felt like it. I was at gigs all the time, sometimes more than once a week. And on weeknights. It meant I spent a large chunk of my life holed up inside a massive concrete dive of a building – split over three floors, the old Carling Academy in Birmingham’s Dale End (the street even sounds seedy) looked and felt very much like the multi-storey car park opposite, but that was all part of its charm. Many a happy hot, sticky evening has been spent in that dark cave (sadly now closed), and there will always be a special place in my heart devoted to its memory. I’ve kept all my old gig tickets, pointlessly. I absolutely cannot throw them out.

All the things that would prevent you from actually going to a gig now were not a problem then;  standing for hours, holding your coat, not being able to see anything, sticky floors, pushy people, too loud, too hot, too late. Of course you occasionally toy with the idea, now, of going to see a band when one you really, really, definitely like comes on tour…but you know deep down you’re never really going to go. You tentatively suggest it to friends regardless, pretending to yourself, but you know what response is coming – exactly the same thing you’d say if they had suggested it to you. Hmmm, it’s a bit expensive, especially with the booking fee too. Oh, it’s on a Thursday night?!

But although the flame is somewhat diminished, I hope it never dies out. Recent gig attendance would suggest not. By the way, if you haven’t heard of Lucius you should check them out (I’ve done some of the work there for you, you’re welcome). They are amazing. But what made you go to see them, I hear you ask? The clincher – it was on a Friday. That’s an acceptable non-school night. And it was in Liverpool – who’d turn down an excuse to visit Liverpool?

Is it me or are horror films more, well, horrific these days? There’s no denying that classics of the horror canon such as The Exorcist and The Shining are, obviously, disturbing. The teen slashers from my own era, Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer etc, might be a little on the light side but they don’t exactly shy away from blood and terror either. But now, something’s changed.

I used to love all this stuff, practically growing up on a diet of horror. I couldn’t get enough of the Goosebumps books, quickly graduating to Point Horror and then on to Stephen King in my early teens. I’d loiter in the deathly quiet of the (surprisingly well-stocked) Adult Horror aisle of my little local library after school, sometimes for hours. It was a day of pure joy when a new book arrived on the shelves. I remember a particularly gruesome tome about a trucker who turned into a massive human-eating hog who terrorised a small town (note to self – must Google this…).

They were all American, these novels (well, it was the 90s). Big blockbusters of books in a world of highways, dusty towns and malls. And I totally immersed myself in it. I even wrote my own horror stories for a time. Then we got cable TV – hurray! – and I suddenly had access to hundreds of horror films, and that’s when my journey became audio visual. Silence of the Lambs, The Blair Witch Project, Rosemary’s Baby, Alien, The Poltergeist. My relationship with the genre endured for many happy years.

But then I made the mistake of watching Saw. I’m pretty sure my mother recommended it to me as well (alarming in itself). It was 2004, we had a pirate copy (I know, sorry) – the picture so grainy and the sound so poor that I had to sit on the floor right in front of the TV to watch it. There I was, numb-limbed on the carpet, in the house on my own (classic schoolgirl error, almost as bad as me running upstairs) in a total, stunned, crumpled mess.

I remained in that position for a good long while after the credits stopped rolling – but I’ve never fully recovered. I haven’t watched a horror film since. Really*. I’ve tried. I gave The Descent a go (on another recommendation from my mother – you’d think I’d learn), but had to give up ten minutes in.

Of course total avoidance is impossible – sometimes I’ll catch bits of films when I’m channel surfing, and immediately wish I hadn’t. Unexpected trailers are a struggle. And now horror has started filtering through to my relationship with television, too. I love a good TV drama, especially ones based around crime. But as they too become increasingly more violent, I find I am unable to watch. I literally sit there with my hands over my eyes. Press mute. More recently, just change the channel. It’s meant I’ve had to give up on some series which I have loved for years – Silent Witness and Luther have both bitten the dust.

Is it just me? Have I become a highly sensitive, over-emotional bag of nerves? Or is it the horror? Has horror gone too far? Can horror go too far? Isn’t that kind of it’s point? I accept that, as with most things, you have to keep upping the game in order to keep things fresh. But to what limits does horror have to go to?

I suppose when I was on my own horror journey I was forever upping the stakes as well – young adult vampire fiction progressed to Stephen King, which in turn progressed to teen slashers, to 70s porn horror, and then somewhere along the line I just reached my limit whilst the industry churned on. Now, as an outsider, I feel the culture of the genre has changed beyond all recognition. What once was niche is now the norm. Human torture games, rape – it’s a new kind of horror. Less about giving you chills, making you jump – innocent thrills, almost – more about turning your stomach, throwing you into the cesspit of the human condition. Total depravity on a whole new scale and, for me, beyond the point of watchable.

Although people evidently do go and see them – but who? And why? I know tastes change as you get older – like I never used to like avocados, and now I do. I used to like being scared, but now I don’t. Have I just forgotten what it’s like?

I understand that within all of us there is a grim fascination with horror, if not an actual enjoyment of it. But I have neither the equipment nor the will to face up to horror any longer – there is enough of it in the real world to deal with, never mind having it confronting you in full-on 3D surround sound after a hard day’s work.

As an aside: I accept not all contemporary horror fils are in this violent vein. If anyone has any suggestions of something they recommend, let me know

*I haven’t watched a pirated film since either – gold star for me

Ever bought a magazine for yourself as a treat? Of course you have. Perhaps something a little silly, like a celebrity gossip magazine? Yes.

What about a bigger treat – something from the next shelf up? No, no – not the top shelf. The fashion glossies – big thick spines, richly smooth pages. Most of which are just crammed full of adverts, but gorgeous ones.

It’s nice to get expensive magazines every now and again, isn’t it – to perk up the week. You just need it sometimes. But what if you wake up one morning and realise you have in fact subscribed to all of them?

I am 100% guilty of being seduced by magazines. I am a grown woman who pays through the nose for reams upon reams of things she can’t afford, and places she can’t afford to travel to. I just can’t seem to help myself.

And I really am old enough to know better – I know how real life works now (I think). I consider myself a media savvy girl – I regularly critique adverts out loud when watching the television, much to the annoyance of my fella.

So why the hell am I an Elle Decoration subscriber? I don’t even decorate. The bathroom floor is yet to be tiled – that’s three years of concrete. Yet here I am, flicking through pages and pages of vintage Moroccan tiles and bespoke marble. I can’t even muster the energy to browse through the Topps Tiles website (most tedious experience ever), let alone take up any of the tips and eye-wateringly expensive products featured in those glossy pages.

I feel a little ashamed of my little habit. Like I have revealed I enjoy walking around the flat in my boyfriend’s pants (I don’t. Plus, it doesn’t really sound as seedy this way around, does it? More like I’m really on-trend and will be borrowing his jumpers next. I have been known to do that. Maybe it’s a slippery slope? Anyway.)

I know it’s all supposed to a bit of fun – a guilty pleasure, like chocolates are for other people. Or shoes. So why do I feel so uncomfortable about it?

I think I just don’t want to admit the truth to myself – that I secretly still harbour the ridiculous so-called ‘lifestyle’ aspirations that I did as a young girl. First it was fashion magazines – totally standard for a young woman. Fashion is great. But now that I’m venturing into home interiors it’s like I’m subconsciously nesting. And I am annoyed with myself – like a big predictable cliché I am following the path laid out for me by these marketeers. Next it’ll be Woman & Home. Easy Living. Then food magazines (that concept does sound quite appealing…they’ve clearly got me pegged.)

This love affair with magazines all started with the women’s lifestyle supplement that came with The Daily Mirror on Monday’s. Can anyone remember what it was called? I was obsessed with it. I would painstakingly absorb every inch of editorial for hours and hours. Literally – hours. In my head I would live out the lifestyle portrayed on those pages, contrasting starkly to the realities of my days spent in the classroom at school and then at sixth form. I envisioned that, when I was in my twenties (never in my thirties, too old…), I would buy a takeaway coffee on my way to work – a publishing house, newspaper or other arts organisation. I would be wearing a shift dress from Topshop, which would transition nicely when I met up with friends for post-work cocktails in a stylish bar, after which I would nip home to my fabulous flat in the city with a balcony.

And now here I am at 31, buying a takeaway coffee in the morning on my way to work at an arts organisation, wearing a shift dress, sometimes (but not as much as I used to) meeting with friends for post-work wine, and living in a city centre flat with a (sort of) balcony.

I should be bloody over the moon! I got what I wanted – so why am I still harbouring all these so-called lifestyle aspirations? It’s not like I’ve had the imagination to even generate new ones, not really. It’s the same meaningless things only on a bigger, more costly scale. I don’t just want any old coffee – I want the best coffee available, preferably organic. I’ve become complacent in my brilliant job. I want Reiss dresses instead of the H&M ones I can afford. Do you ever stop wanting things? I mean, it’s exhausting isn’t it?

It must be an addiction, this magazine consumption. You start to crave them as much as the things inside. It’s like by reading these things I am somehow living them a little bit. Of course, I’m not.

I am not jetting over to Fiji next week.

I am not planning a jaunt round Marylebone this weekend to peruse potential items for a room I’m ‘doing up’ in my Notting Hill townhouse.

I am not even able to justify buying a Smythson diary.

I know at the end of the day it’s just frivolous enjoyment and I should just stop over-analysing. Life needs more of the simple pleasures that looking at pretty stuff can offer. The escapism that comes from reading about things that just don’t matter. But it is niggling at me now that I’ve noticed it. I think I’m most worried that other people will think I actually want to be like these people who really do live out the lifestyle of Elle Decoration, with their bonkers staircases and friends who own top London restaurants. It all feels a bit ridiculous – a pointless, pretend world. I don’t want to be like that really.

At least, I don’t think I do…

P.S. One thing these magazines are an actual source of is absolutely brilliant gift ideas. So if you happen to know me, lucky you – you may not be sitting on a £25,000 art deco sofa suite the next time you come to visit, but you could have a really nice dinner plate coming your way this Christmas.

I talk to myself. As far as habits go it’s not exactly the worst. But it’s started to get embarrassing because I find I’m now doing it outside, in public – rather than in inside, alone. Technically, it’s not myself I am talking to now – it’s the world.

And it’s not like I don’t realise I’m doing it – oh no, I know exactly what’s happening. I just don’t care that people can hear me. They probably just assume I’m on a handsfree phone. Or that I’m a bit unhinged (which I am, if I happen to be on the bus or train at the time…)

In reality I doubt anyone ever notices. Which is just as well, as my thoughts aren’t exactly censored. Really quite private, sometimes – the kind of things that should actually stay indoors.

So what’s going on? Is it just age? This is what happens as you get older isn’t it – you go a bit mad, ha ha ha ONLY JOKING. But you do start to care less about what other people think.

It’s a bit strange – or maybe it isn’t, really – but it has always been essential that I talk things through with myself. Keeping my thoughts inside my head hasn’t ever been enough – for some reason I have to actually vocalise them. Like a muscle I need to stretch at least twice a day.

When I was growing up I would really struggle if I didn’t get this time with myself. I would run things through preliminarily in my head, thoughts running around my brain all day – at my school desk, when talking with friends, on the walk home – and then I would re-cap out loud in my bedroom later that day. Just to get everything straight. This routine continued right into adulthood.

I suppose when I found myself no longer living with my family (where I had that access to ‘my own’ space – my bedroom), but began sharing my life with another person, this routine had to be modified.

Of course I still have space (arguably more space than ever) that I can call ‘my own’ – but not in the same way that having a private space like that of a teenage girl’s bedroom offers. That place where you can close the door on the world. So, without realising, I had changed along with my living circumstances.

I toned my musings down – they were weird and potentially embarrassing. Instead, they stayed in my head, were perhaps allowed an occasional whisper. But this policy of restraint obviously hasn’t worked because now, five years on, here I am battling daily with thoughts that have pushed themselves to the surface and are bursting out unannounced on the train, at the traffic lights, in ladies toilets, walking down the street… I’m even signing out loud in public now, too. What the hell?

I’m not quite sure what all this says about me. But I suppose this blog is just another (socially acceptable) way of me externalising all those thoughts. And that must be healthy.

I know what you’re thinking though – that girl thinks too much. You’re right.

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