Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Plant Man Cometh

Once upon a time there was a weary worker who trudged upstairs to her workplace to begin the long evening shift.  It was a gloomy day and the world was only going to get worse with the worst client ever assigned to her that shift.  But suddenly a ray of mirth filled the work place from greying keyboards to the molding vaulted ceiling.  An older and wiser colleague had mentioned the existence of the plant man.  "The plant man" she asked with raised eyebrows and a hint of a laugh in her smile?  But the colleague though smiling was not laughing, he was serious.  The plant man was real he assured her and all those who perked up their ears to listen.  You see everyone knows that a good office must have plants in it for atmosphere.  Not everyone understands what sort of commitment this requires.  It is not a duty to be assumed lightly or by the faint hearted.  So our office rents the plants.  Yes, rents the plants.  And to ensure the safety of our plants' well-being there is a plant man.  He comes every so often to dust the plants.  Everyone laughed and went about their work.  But secretly they doubted.  Could there really be such a thing as the plant  man.  Rented plants? The plant man?  It all seemed too silly to be real.  They all went home laughing but doubting.

Plant and planters in Poway, CA
Potted plants in Poway - Maybe they need a plant man to care for them
Well, I am here to tell you that the weary worker was me.  I was once a doubter of the plant man's existence.  I doubted until one day as I came into work I saw a large duffel bag filled with cleaning supplies on our briefing table.  I looked at it suspiciously noting the various cleaning implements until a rustle of the plants behind me caused me to turn.  Sure enough it belonged to the plant man.  The plant man was a rather short unobtrusive man.  He was quiet, and had a calm to his presence, and he was clad in green.  I cannot say whether this was for camouflaging purposes or simply to be in harmony with his beloved charges.   However, I can tell you that he dusted and then gently spritzed every leaf of every plant in the building before packing up his cleaning supplies into his duffel and exiting quietly.   

He was real.  The plant man was real.  Our office really did rent the plants and the services of the plant man.  Who would have thought?  Before I worked at this job I didn't even know you could rent plants.  But now I know that plant rental is not only a thing, you can also hire the services of your very own plant man. 
Maybe I should hire the services of a plant man.  I never really thought about whether or not I should rent or own my plants.  Maybe I haven't been making sound gardening decisions.  Maybe I should become a devoted plant man.  Maybe that should be my career.  It certainly wouldn't be stressful dusting leaves for a living.  Now that I know that renting plants is a thing I may need to rethink my life. 

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

For the Broken Ones

There are some times when words just fail.  When words are stripped away and you are left with nothing.  Nothing but raw emotion.  There are times and situations when raw emotion is the only thing you can offer and even that is not enough.  It is not enough to comfort, it is not enough to deal, it is simply not enough.

Sunset over Leeds rooftops
Sunset over Leeds rooftops
Sometimes the world strikes you such a blow that you reel backwards in shock.  And the world suddenly goes in slow motion.  Time seems to have no relevance.  It's hard to describe unless you have been there and felt it.  Perhaps the best illustration is the way that stubbing your toe really hard can make you breathless, speechless, and literally stuck out of time for a few seconds with pain.  Only it's a poor analogy because instead of physical pain, it is raw emotion that is so intense that it almost consumes you, so intense that it actually physically hurts as well.  Milliseconds can seem like hours.  Time passes but it means nothing to you because you are so utterly consumed by the emotions that are tearing you up inside.  How could any mundane routine possibly matter after what has just happened?

Leeds streets at night with a lamplight glow
Lamplight on a street in Leeds
Unless you've been in that place it may seem weird to you to think of drowning in emotions.  But you really can.  Anyone who has dealt with grief, abandonment, or any sort of real loss could tell you.  It really is like its own form of drowning.  Your eyes fill up with water and cloud your view of anything happening in the world around you.  You choke on tears and emotions.  It is actually difficult to breathe with the weight of the swirling emotions around you.  If breathing is difficult, carrying on with mundane tasks is nearly impossible.  Walking seems harder, slower.  Your legs, all of you, feel as though they are made of lead, and you cannot swim or slosh through the thick mud.  You feel smaller and colder and more alone.  Everything seems pointless.

Sometimes you just want to scream and make everyone stop what they're doing, and sometimes you just need a quiet corner to cry in unwatched.  How does the world carry on like nothing has changed when your whole world has shattered?  The world should stop with you, to witness this shattering.  Everybody and everything should just pause for a moment the way you need to pause and learn how to breathe again.  How can they not?  Why don't they care?  How can they not see the world the way you do with all these new priorities and heightened sensibilities?  What does it matter if the shirts are ironed, or dance class starts at precisely eight?  How can they think of such trivial things when the world is shattering?  It doesn't seem right that everything should be different but nobody else even seems to notice. 

You are angry, and heartbroken, overwhelmed and confused, hurt and lost, and sad.  So sad it hurts.  You feel empty, and sad, and scared by turn and then sometimes, inexplicably, you feel nothing.  And you don't know how to cope with it and there are no words to deal with it, but part of you desperately wants someone to come along with words that make everything make sense and feel better.  I know.  I've been there.  And I wish I could offer you the words that you long for, the words that make everything make sense and bring you peace, but I can't.  I can tell you that it gets better.  Slowly, it gets better.  Very slowly my faith saved me from drowning once.  That isn't to say that I wasn't mad at God.  I was.  I was angry for a long time.  But he was patient and slowly restored bits of me with small but important realizations of beauty.

Rainy night time street in Leeds
Rainy night-time street in Leeds
I learned perhaps the most important lesson of my life when I learned the beauty of life.  I learned to appreciate how precious it is.  How short, how sweet, how precious it is.  I learned how important it is to cherish people you love and truly appreciate every moment you have with them.  You must live as though each moment may be your last for you never know what the future holds.  It was the most painful lesson I've ever learned and also the most beautiful.

I began to appreciate the people in my life more.  I listened better, was more patient.  I was there for them and they were there for me.  And slowly I began to see beauty other places too.  I saw it in sunsets, and rain-drops that clung like jewels onto tiny tree branches.  I began to appreciate little moments and see little things that other people rushed passed.  And slowly, oh so slowly, I was restored.  I no longer felt like I was drowning.

Sunset over Leeds
Sunset over Leeds
The anger and the pain slowly faded.  The pain never really goes away.  It just subsides into a dull ache that is finally small enough to live with.  Some stories, movies or situations can bring back twinges of pain again.  Sometimes it is a song or a phrase that takes you back.  There is always a little bit of it with you.  But I've learned to accept that too.  Because we are all broken in our own ways.  And if the pain truly went away we wouldn't have the same compassion for one another.  It is what makes us real and human.  It is what gives us empathy and understanding and makes us better people. 

I can't make sense of it all for you, or take away the pain.  But I can promise you that it gets better with time.  So hold on, dear broken one.  Search for the little things that you can appreciate now, a kind word, a warm hug.  And slowly, you will start to see the beauty around you until you are restored.  Just hold on. 

Monday, 20 August 2012

Is hope cruel?

I recently had a discussion with a very dear friend of mine about hope.  This friend maintained that hope is cruel because it just builds up expectations to let you down.  I disagree.  Expectations can be disappointing and cruel.  Failures and defeats can be cruel.  Reality can be cruel.  But hope, hope is not cruel.

Sunset glows off the paving stones in Leeds after a rain
Leeds after a rain

Hope is what makes the human spirit indomitable.  A total lack of hope, hopelessness is what causes us to think that hope is cruel.  We look back on brighter times and blame hope for our current despair.  But the reason we are at the bottom of the world is because we don't have any hope left.  Life, cruel reality, has taken our hope away, and with it, our dreams, happiness and sometimes our desire to carry on.  Hope, however small, is what gives us the will to live even in truly dark places and times.  Hope is what inspires us to stand up and try again after yet another defeat.  It is what gives us our drive and ambition to do great things.  Hope is what gives you the courage to lift your chin up and carry on.

Clouds over London
Clouds over London outskirts

You see, hope is beautiful. Hope is the sharp intake of breath when you watch the impossible things you've wished for start happening. Hope is the light that makes the darkness bearable. Hope is the thing that makes your triumphs sweeter. Hope is the simplest, truest, most beautiful thing in the world.

Sunset over Leeds town centre
Sunset over Leeds town centre

So, chin up, lovely reader, whoever you are.  We all have troubles and trials.  Believe in a brighter tomorrow.  Live in beauty.  Live with hope.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Oh, so it's reduced, is it?

So, I'm still working on fashion.  It still makes me want to scream.  The only thing that gets me through my late shift is the food.  You see, Marks and Spencer's is a five minute walk from my work place.  So I can run in at 7:40pm during my break and grab all the super discounted stuff before it closes for the day.

Cartoon Police officer on sandwich packaging
How can you not love this little guy on your sandwich packaging?

They start reducing things that have reached their sell by date and need to go.  So on some nights you can find little cups of delicious trifle for only 10p.  Or a loaf of walnut bread for only 10p.  Or a nice sandwich, that is normally more than I want to pay for it, that is suddenly super cheap.  Or an entire cheesecake for only 50p.  Let's just say I live for dessert.  I grab the cookies, donuts, trifles and chocolate that goes on sale, as well as some of the amazing bread.  Then I sit at work soothing myself with junk food while I carry on with my loathsome tasks.

Cartoon butler on sandwich packaging
Why yes, I would like a tiny butler to serve me my pre-packaged sandwich.  Thanks.

So, last night I found milk chocolate Belgian mousse and donuts reduced just for me.  I also found some cream for 10p, some pineapple for 10p, some reduced bread and an interesting flavour of yogurt for only 10p.  This yogurt claimed to be luxury yogurt.  It was Gooseberry and Elderflower Luxury Yogurt.  It was actually pretty good though I don't think it was quite the "essence of warm summer days".  It had little bits in it, and even though I normally hate texture in my yogurt I still liked this.  It was very good, maybe even luxurious.

Gooseberry & Elderflower Luxury Yogurt
Luxury yogurt is indeed luxurious.

My dinner after shift was a red onion and Gruyere focaccia bread that was really good, and you guessed it, only 10p.  Then I finished dinner with some donuts.  Maybe I can't hate my job too much. 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Fashion and the Beast

This month at work I am working on a fashion client, which means that so far every day this month I have been coming home angry and frustrated with the world.  So, it is time for me to write a serious post (serious because I've eaten enough chocolate to stop being insanely angry).  I work on a lot of different clients but not even dealing with medical negligence and brain injuries makes me this depressed.  Why am I so upset by working on fashion? 

It is because people who work with and write about fashion often bring a lot of societies deepest darkest issues with them to the topic and air these issues on their blogs and in their articles.  They talk about or simply, parade their views on issues involving beauty, health, weight loss and all the things tied up in the extremely delicate matter of body image.  Then they stomp all over these delicate issues with their stiletto heels.  And may I say I have never gotten so angry so fast as when I read these blogs and articles?  It is not because I don't have a sense of style.  I have my own particular sense of style, and although it does not always match current trends it does suit me.

Lipstick and jewellery

What makes me angry is that so many of these fashion bloggers are fifteen year old girls who care for nothing but fashion and beauty.  You see pictures of them in beautiful historic cities with culture and life to absorb and enjoy, but these girls only talk about the sunglasses or shoes they were wearing that day.  Clothes are important, yes.  Wearing shoes that you think are cute and comfortable to walk in is also important.  Nobody wants to feel out of place or frumpy while they travel through amazing and beautiful cities.  But there is more to the place than simply what outfit you selected that day.

Select the outfit and then stop worrying about it, go enjoy the culture of the place.  I'm not saying you have to spend all of your time in museums, though I personally think you should do at least some of them.  I am saying that you should enjoy the sites, the food, and the people in a place rather than worrying about having your perfectly posed picture taken in front of every place that could possibly highlight your trendy sunglasses and shiny bracelets. 

Seeing thousands of photos of you posing for a camera rather than enjoying the amazing place you have the great fortune to be visiting is enough to annoy me on the best of days.  But these fashion bloggers do not stop there.  They continue to try my patience with negative messages about body image.  Entire blogs are entitled skinny something or other, and go on about how you can eat less, exercise more and become super skinny.  Recently though the trend is becoming more subtle and even scarier than simply glorifying thinness.

There have been too many people crying out for positive body image and healthy ideas about beauty and bodies.  So now the trend is to talk about getting fit.  The scary thing about this is that it cloaks these negative messages in a language of fitness that is hard to argue with.  Should we strive to be fit?  Yes.  Being healthy, eating good foods, and exercising are good things.  Yet, the images and slogans that go with this trend of fitspiration are hardly promoting healthy attitudes.  Just because the image has a person wearing a sports bra does not mean that the slogan "You are entirely up to you, make your body, make you life, make yourself" or "don't eat anything today that you'll regret tomorrow" isn't a horrible message.  Messages that do more harm than good.  You can check out an amazing article about it at Beauty Redefined.

The problem is there is always an element of truth to these slogans.  Yes, you should be strong and fit so that you can get out and do the things you love.  If you want to climb mountains, or go for a jog to feel the fresh air on your face and the grass beneath your feet, you should be able to do that without falling apart.  A little bit of fitness is good for everyone.  It keeps you healthy longer and will help you lead a better life without health issues down the road.  However, messages telling you that you can and should control your body to make it look a certain way do not contribute to health they rather promote unhealthy ideas about body images that lead to a host of eating disorders and self acceptance issues.  Every woman I have ever met, and even some men, have issues with accepting themselves.  This latest trend of fitspiration makes it worse.  Because now, not only do you need to be thin, you also need to have a six-pack and the legs of a marathon runner to be good enough.

I say we have it all backwards.  We should exercise to make sure we are healthy enough to do the things we love.  Exercise itself should not be the goal.  If you spend your entire life in a gym trying to reach some unattainable ideal then you are not living.  You should be able to eat a cookie without feeling guilty.  Hell, eat five cookies and enjoy your life.  Think about how lucky you are that you have the ability to buy food, including chocolate, and enjoy it.  Wear clothes and things that you like.  Not things that twenty other fashion bloggers posted yesterday and claim are beautiful.  Do you like it?  Then wear it.

And remember that clothes are made to go on you, because you are beautiful and the right clothes only serve to show others how gorgeous you are just the way you are.  You are not a hanger for the clothes.  Do not go about thinking that you need to get thinner or more fit to wear a certain thing.  The clothes are meant to be made for you, rather than you forcing yourself to change for the clothes.  That is madness.  Remember that everyone struggles to find clothes that fit sometimes.  We are all completely unique individuals and the stores that you walk into will not always have things that fit you right.  My best friend and I have always had trouble buying jeans (you can check out her amazing post on this subject at It Is All My Doing).  This doesn't mean that we are the problem.  It means that they are simply not prepared to handle the beauty of our unique curves.  And the same goes for you.  You are allowed to pursue fitness in a healthy way and eat cookies at the same time.  But don't forget that your beauty is not determined by a number on a scale, or the perfect six-pack, or the designer clothes you wear. 

So, if you haven't eaten some chocolate today then join me in eating a cookie.  Or two.  Or three.  Let your hair down and please stop worrying about your make-up for a minute.  And enjoy your life.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Rex sine Terra: King without a land

I am a king. Yes a king.  Rex sine terra, or a king without a land, in the way that Medieval Spain had men with the title dux sine terra.  The title came with certain status and authority.  It made you a duke, gave you certain prestige and acknowledged your standing in society.  But it did not come with land.  It wasn't a landed title based on the holding of certain castles or estates.  It was a title without land.  You were a duke without land.  And in this way I am a king without land.

My Kingly crest
A castle means safety; an arrow readiness for battle; a lion dauntless courage.  Red signifies military strength and magnanimity; blue truth and loyalty; purple royal majesty; silver peace and sincerity.

Now this doesn't mean that you cannot have land, authority and power.  It just means your title doesn't guarantee it.  If you were a duke without land in Medieval Spain, you only controlled your household and whatever estates you owned before the title.  Duke just came along as a bonus.  As for me, I am a king, but I did not inherit a kingdom with this title.  I have no land of my own complete with subjects.  But this does not mean I do not have power.

First and most importantly I rule myself.  I have adopted the motto "qui vicit, qui se vicit", or he conquers who conquers himself.  I believe this to be true.  A great many things can be done with self-control and determination.  The sixteenth century poet and satirist, Pietro Aretino, had this to say about the subject of self rule: "I am, indeed, a king, because I know how to rule myself."  In my personal experience self rule is not only the most important thing for personal growth, it is also what paves the way to other successes. 

Knight figurine
Does this mean that everyone is a king?  Certainly not.  One must have at least a modicum of self-control to vie for the title.  If you sit down and think about it you may be surprised at how few of the people you know actually exhibit self-control and the ability to rule themselves.  Think especially of those bad decisions you try to persuade your friends not to make.  Are they motivated by fleeting desires and lack of self-control?

Perhaps it would be worthwhile to actually look at the definition of rule now.  According to the dictionary, to rule is defined thusly: to control or direct; exercise dominating power, authority, or influence over; govern: to rule the empire with severity.

If rule can be defined as just having influence over, and let's face it some kings barely had that, then I rule all sorts of things.  I rule not only myself but also all of my possessions.  Due to the fact that I believe technological devices are magic I cannot claim to control them, but I certainly have a dominating influence over them.  (Ok, at least on most days.)  You may recall my mad ideas about the workings of flash drives.  Well, I own two of them with their attendant cities of miniature scribes and I rule their actions and inhabitants.  As far as influence goes I can reasonably say I have influence over my family and friends.  Who doesn't?  So in a small way I rule them too.

Archer figurine
Actually my friends are the reason I'm a king in the first place.  My senior year of university my friends helped me build a cardboard castle in my dorm room.  That is really a story all of its own but that is the reason I am king.  Every castle must have a king, right?  Why didn't I just name myself queen of the castle, being that I am in fact a woman?  Well, I'll get to that in a second.  However, living in a castle demanded a power structure.  I knighted my friends, gave them titles and power.  Even before I became a self-proclaimed king I settled quarrels between them to the best of my ability.  After I became a king I naturally waged wars against enemies who threatened peace in our kingdom.  I made royal declarations and of course conducted battles with foam swords and cardboard shields.  

So, why not a queen?  Think about the history of women and power.  If you think of truly powerful rulers you tend to think of men.  Alexander the Great, Caesar, Henry VIII, Genghis Khan, Napoleon.  Do you think of Elizabeth I or Catherine the Great, or Cleopatra?  No, usually not.  Not to mention that many of history's powerful women only wielded power through men.  Often women came to power as regents for their young sons.  Catherine the Great only gained power by overthrowing her husband and having love affairs with powerful men in the kingdom.  Other women had to use their femininity as their strongest asset in politics.  Cleopatra kept power and influenced politics by making alliances, or romances, with powerful Roman rulers like Caesar and Marc Antony.  Elizabeth I was probably the first monarch to rule in her own right but she had to do so by constantly using her possible marriage as a bargaining chip.  She never married and one has to suspect that this was at least partly because her most powerful tool was dangling the hope of possible alliance with her into various political situations.

Lion Architectural detail in Leeds
The lion in Leeds that greets me at my bus stop.  I like to think it is a royal lion.

So, the only real way to rule in your own right without having to use your marriage as a bargaining tool for power is to be a king.  If you are a queen your property goes to your husband when you are married and he controls it.  A king doesn't lose control by marrying.  A king doesn't rule only as long as his son is in his minority.  Historically, a king has more inherent power, authority and respect than a queen.  I didn't want my kingly status to depend on my personal choices of marriage and alliance.  I wanted to remain powerful and retain my freedom, and keep my cardboard castle to myself.  So I declared myself a king, claiming the position, the power, and the freedom that comes with such a title.  And I stubbornly defend this choice with anyone who argues.

Besides I wanted to be able to wear the color of royalty officially.  Purple was the colour of Roman emperors, kings and powerful men in ancient times.  The Roman Emperor Aurelian wouldn't let his wife buy a purple shawl because it cost its weight in gold.  It was expensive, it was a status symbol and it was highly regulated.  Sumptuary laws made it available only to certain classes of people even in the Tudor age of England.  So, I want to be ready just in case the old sumptuary laws keeping purple for the royalty come back in fashion.  Now that I've made myself a king I can wear what I like.  And more often than not I choose purple for my kingly raiment.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Polygonal Melodrama

Some people have the great misfortune to be plagued by people.  Yes people.  Maybe I'm just a misanthrope, that is still up for debate, but it seems to me that people have an alarming tendency to behave like weeds.  They pop up everywhere in vast numbers and there is almost nothing you can do to prevent them from turning up when and where you do not want them.  The problem with weeds is that they seem to be unhappy with simply growing in your garden.  They seem to like coming equipped with spines and thorns to make your life miserable while they slowly choke your beloved plants (cauliflowers, roses, what have you) to death, much the way people pop up with their unwanted drama and plague you with it mercilessly, slowly strangling all joy and happiness in your life.

Ok, fine, maybe I am a misanthrope.  If you dealt with the people I deal with, you might be too.  Don't get me wrong, I do like some people, for instance my housemate.  She brought me an adorable cauliflower cake from a tea shop the other day.  Relax, it's shaped like a cauliflower, not actually made from cauliflowers.  That would be the most rubbish cake ever invented, but I digress.

Cauliflower cake from Betty's tea shop
Cauliflower Cake from Betty's tea shop. Adorable, no?

So there are a handful of people I find acceptable.  The rest I'm rather tired of.  Whether you are a magnet for dysfunctional individuals, or you simply find yourself in the middle of a ridiculous amount of drama, you know what it is like to be plagued by people.  Much to my dismay I have occasionally found myself in the middle of a whorl of drama, either my own or someone else's, that I somehow managed to stumble into.  For several years now I have also had the great distinction of being a dysfunction magnet.  Sometimes the drama and dysfunction runs so deep that even years of study could not uproot it or untangle it.  So don't try.  Yes, I am advocating that you join me in giving up on worrying and contemplating.  The only solution to this sort of problem is chocolate.  Or cake, that works pretty well too.

So stop trying to figure out if you are involved in a love triangle, a love square, a love pentagram, a swirling vortex of drama or any other type or configuration of polygonal melodrama.  Don't even begin to try to understand it, or fix it.  Do not bring in any other verbs to deal with it.  Save your brain the trouble.  Break out some cake and enjoy life. 

Don't try to untangle things.  Trust me it's not worth the effort.  Just cut yourself loose from the snaring knots of strife.  Admit defeat.  Raise the white flag and declare that you are through trying to decipher the meaning behind the insanity.  If anyone or anything tries to get in the way of your timely retreat, don't just throw in the towel, throw it at their head.  Then sit down, put your feet up and eat some cake, preferably chocolate, but I'll let you decide that one. 

After all, you've just won the greatest victory of all.  Freedom.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Mad Images

I'm in a weird mood today.  Yes even weirder than usual.  So, I'm going to leave you with a few bizarre and wonderful images I've collected recently. These images not only suit my strange sense of humour, and my weird mood, they also serve to illustrate just how mad the whole world is.

Frangelico in the shape of a monk with a hat
Mr. Monk a.k.a. Frangelico
I was not the person who decided to make this particular alcoholic beverage in a monk shaped bottle with a rope wrapped around his waist and all its lettering done in gothic scripts.  (Of course if I was consulted I would have approved very heartily of this plan).  I did, however, give him a hat and dub him Mr. Monk.  I think he must be a Franciscan and therefore fantastic.

Cage frame men in a workshop in Leeds
Cage-frame men in a workshop

These strange cage-frame men were in a workshop I happened to pass by one day after work.  It is hard to tell with all the glare through the windows, but these cage-frame men are standing by big tools in some sort of machine shop.  They look like they are about to come to life, switch on various tools and carry on working on their latest projects.

Banana dressed as an old crone
Barbara Banana - Fruit Box Security Officer

Before leaving work for the day a few of the girls giggled while they crafted this addition to the fruit box.  According to the inscription written on a post-it note this is Barbara Banana the Fruit Box Security Officer.  Apparently she is guarding the granny smiths because somebody loves them.  But it seems to be a part of her role to also guard pears and protect strawberry children too.  Her weapon of enforcement, and of course a natural choice for security, is a spoon.  Her uniform appears to include a night-cap or strange pointy hat.  Maybe it's the long nose, maybe it's the crookedy teeth, or maybe it's the allusion to witches with her pointy hat, but I think this Barbara can really only be described as a crone, albeit a slightly amusing and charming one.

Pirate sign reading work is for people who don't know how to plunder

Apparently I am not a good pirate, for I do not know how to plunder.  Therefore I sadly, must work.  Some days plundering just sounds so much more appealing.  Ah well.

So there you have it a collection of some strange images and things I've seen of late.