Life & Lifestyle

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A question of balance

A bit of balance would be very welcome in our lives right now.

Well 2015 does seem to be getting off to a bad start. We could really do with things getting back to normal pretty soon. 

Not only did I start the year with a job loss, so have almost no money coming in, this was shortly followed by the terrible massacres in Paris (and even round here the gendarmes are now armed with sub-machine guns, which is hardly a comforting sight), then the death of a close friend, and then by some upset in a couple of groups of which I'm a member. Someone also reversed into our car while we were parked.

Hopefully these things will all blow over, but it feels almost like there was a shiver in the ether or something. I am keen for things to get back to normal.

The death of our friend and colleague Steve Gold, in particular, has thrown us into not only grief but a mid-life crisis. The other day, the DH and I sat down and decided to make strong efforts to achieve more happiness in our lives. In his case, that means film-making and electronics; in mine it means more sewing and beading. And for both of us it means getting out more and feeling as if we really live in France, rather than just in our house. Beautiful though it is, it could be anywhere - Scotland or Wales - and if one doesn't make the trips to the bakery and the café and the patisserie, some very pleasant aspects of French life go by the board. 

In the interests of achieving some peace and quiet psychologically, I am also progressing in my Zen Den. The daybed has arrived, which replaces the old double bed, and it has been furnished with a nice mattress and lots of cushions. I've installed some lovely Diptyque candles, a little Zen garden, my singing bowl and runes, lots of light in the shape of SAD lightboxes, daylight-balanced fluorescents and softer lighting for evening. There's room for my yoga mat to go down without having to move anything, and the animals, much as I love them, can be shut out. (As anyone who's tried to do yoga with cats or dogs around will know, they do tend you 'help you out' in distinctly unhelpful ways...). My plan now is to sell our old Renault to pay for a huge cupboard to be built in.

The other night I had one of my white menopausal nights and came down at about 4.00am. Instead of sitting in our vast living room, I went and snuggled up in the Zen Den under a quilt and read a 1920s book of household tips until I felt sleepy again. It was lovely to have this quiet, white retreat with no fear of disturbance and I think it will be a haven in the coming months. 

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Charlie Hebdo sold out

The first million copies have all gone

It's 9.30am and we're just back from a trip into town to buy Charlie Hebdo. No joy - it's sold out. 

In our local presse, we managed to reserve a copy for Friday - the Thursday reserves are all booked. One copy each - you can't buy multiple copies, it's strictly one per person. In the supermarket, meanwhile, it was all sold out within minutes of the store opening.

The solidarity shown by the French people since this godawful incident is amazingly heartening. The extremists have stuck a fork in the toaster this time, when they kill journalists, police officers and Jews and threaten the civil liberties of an entire nation.

I know that the image on the cover offends some Muslims who have decided it's Mohammed (although whether it is, is moot, and there is besides a long tradition of depicting the Prophet in Shia Islam - the idea that depictions are and always have been forbidden is simply not true). But I live in a village with a church, whose presence offends me because I am an atheist. I have a friend who is a big fan of Thatcher. We can't all go around killing one another because we disagree about subjects - offence is something that is taken, not given.

 

 

 

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Steve Gold RIP

A good friend died last night.

Our friend Steve Gold died last night. 

He had complications following heart surgery, which he had needed for a long time due to his heart failing. He leaves a wife and a son.

Steve and I were friends for about 25 years, almost half my life, and he was friends with my husband for even longer. In fact, he was how we met. I was working on PC Dealer magazine in 1991 when Steve, who was acting editor, brought aboard his friend 'Rotsky' to act as features editor.

Steve was always an ebullient man. Fundamentally a techhead, he had also worked as a psychiatric nurse or orderly - I forget which - and was one of the first to warn me that my then-boyfriend was a psycho (he was not at all wrong, as it later proved). He was a kind and generous co-worker and few of those who knew him will forget his 'hacking' of the fruit machines in various pubs to pay for rounds of drinks for the PC Dealer team.

When I met my now-husband of nearly 20 years, Steve was the one who lent us his flat so we could talk in peace and quiet. He was sympathetic partly because he had by then met the love of his life, Sylvia, and was about to become a devoted husband and father. On one occasion, Sylvia was visiting her family in Poland and Steve decided to send her some red roses. He spent about 20 dollars, not realising that this would buy all the roses in the district, and the flowers arrived at the family house by the cartload. 

Although we spoke just about every week on the phone, I last saw Steve in 2011, when I visited London briefly. I was a bit shocked by his appearance. Even then, he was looking pale, though his personality was as ebullient as ever and he made light of any concerns. He gave me a cake for my birthday, and, as ever, he slipped me some tablets - on this occasion Imuran - understanding very well how poorly I was with my ulcerative colitis. We took different routes on that issue - he taking whatever the medical profession could offer him, myself opting for the natural and diet method. But it may be that the UC in the end was what killed him - he told me last year that it had weakened his heart and he would need major surgery.

He went in for this not long before Christmas, which we knew although he hadn't announced it - worried, perhaps, as a freelance journalist, that people might not book him for work if they knew how ill he was? I don't know, but although he seemed to be recovering well from surgery, yesterday he could not be woken, and he died in the night.

We'll miss you, Glod. I don't care how good a journalist you were, or how respected in your field. For us, you were just a good mate. Rest in peace.  

 

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Je suis Charlie

Christ, what a terrible day.

Je Suis charlie

What can you say about these people? 

What can you say about people who will kill a man just because he thinks differently? Who will shoot in the head a defenceless man lying on the ground? Who will kill a man who does nothing but draws a line on paper that disagrees with their world view? 

Yesterday was a shocking day for France. These terrorists are not just killers but murderers. Not just murderers but executioners. Not just executioners but assassins. They chose their targets carefully, and through sheer hatred - men who had committed no crime, but reserved the right to say, and draw, what they thought, as is their right in a democracy. 

As fellow journalists, we feel it keenly. The victims were like us. These were people sitting in an editorial meeting, on an ordinary day, as we ourselves have done so many hundreds of times in other newspaper offices, in other cities. The ordinariness of such a day, ending in fear and tragedy for no good reason at all. It beggars belief. So many bereaved and orphaned children, for what? Who kills cartoonists, for Christ's sake?

France has long defended freedom of speech and Charlie Hebdo takes the piss out of everyone - Jews, Christians, Buddhists, politicians. It reserves the right to be offensive. It is one of things for which it is loved. And never, ever, has this offence been a killing issue until now, with these Islamic extremists.

Now it is the moderate Muslims who will pay for it as the right-wing nut-jobs exact their revenge on everyone they can get their hands on - the housewives and the taxi drivers, the shopkeepers and the children. This terrorist attack plays straight into the hands of the Right.

And perhaps we British too will suffer - because there are plenty of Le Pen scum who would love to kick us out of this country. My own commune did not shift to the National Front in recent elections, but all around us are communes that did - something we would not have thought possible when we moved here under Mitterand's Socialist government so many years ago.  

Life in France feels bleak today. We can only hope that they catch these murderers soon and bring them to something approaching justice. 

 

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A room of one's own

I'm creating a Zen space for myself.

So, it's 2015. 

I wonder what the year will hold in store? Good things, one hopes, but much of it is out of one's own control.

Last year was a good year for us workwise: this year starts with unemployment. But on the bright side, perhaps less exhaustion from overwork to go with it. I will have to take back the gardening in-house this year as we can no longer afford to employ someone, the dogs are back on dechets, which will save us 80 euros a month, and I aim to put myself under a new-clothing embargo in the interests of economy.

Ideally I would spend nothing all year on clothing, but I think that's a tad unrealistic - but I'm hoping to manage the first three months without spending any money on clothes. Because the truth is that I have no clothing needs, only wants. 

Because I do not believe in resolutions, only in intentions, I will not commit to something like Project 333 (I'll blog more about this later), but I hope to stick to something similar myself, along with my other intentions for 2015: to lose weight, to gain fitness, to do more yoga, and to practice more zazen. 

In the interests of not spending money on clothes, I've spent the past couple of weeks diligently unsubscribing from five email feeds each day. It's remarkable now little crap is now coming into my inbox. Some of these firms, such as Finisterre and Lands' End, I did sign up for, but there were many that I did not - I've never bought a damn thing from Next, for instance, and yet there were their email offers, endlessly cluttering up my inbox. 

In the interests of doing more yoga and zazen, I've also stopped looking at the news, listed some Zen and simplicity blog favourites to read over breakfast, and clawed back a dedicated space for myself in the house. Our 'second' bedroom, which has in turns been a guest room, a sewing room and a winter bedroom, is now going to be 'my' room. Weeks of decluttering and discarding furniture (25 sacks of clothes and fabric so far, plus a double bed and a marble washstand) have resulted in a space large enough to accommodate a nice daybed for lounging and reading, plus a huge area to put down a yoga mat. Most of the rest of the room is empty and I am using the money gained by selling furniture to have another closet built in.  

Earlier in the year, we had closets built into one half of the room, which we exchanged for our vintage Karmann Ghia, which was rusting away in the garage. I think I got the better part of the deal, with floor-to-ceiling storage 60cm deep now running along the whole of one wall. Following Marie Kondo's advice, I also put a bookcase in the back of the hanging section, which freed up space on our landing as well as providing me with storage for sweaters, shoes, etc.   

The room is now starting to feel very Zen, and will be even more so by the summer, I hope. Here will be my singing bowl, my rune stones, my scented candles, my miniature Zen garden and my SAD lightboxes. Everything white and calm. And no-one allowed in except by appointment... 

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The big declutter

Decluttering is an exhausting but fulfilling process.

The end of the maize

The last harvest of the year is upon us

Puppy love

As if life wasn't complicated enough...

Fun with cars

We've managed to have both our cars off the road at the same time.

The UK's property-serfdom

Is the UK really becoming a country of the landed and the landless?

Staying warm this winter

Tips for staying snug as the temperatures drop.

Covered in bees

It's like Wildlife on One in here.

The last days of summer

Autumn is coming and it'll be a hell of a shock.

Avoiding the news

Apart from some slight guilt, I feel massively better for no longer reading or watching the news.

A housing crisis

There are so many empty houses near where we live - you'd think something could be done.