14 April 2014

Springtime in Paris

River Seine and Eiffel Tower at night

Two weeks ago, Steve and I were in Paris. In the springtime. With buds starting to appear on the trees. Visiting our friends.

What can I tell you about Paris? I can tell you that one couple we know love it so much they go back there every single year on their anniversary. I can tell you that a lot of people warned me that they hated Paris on their first visit but "got it" after that. I can tell you that my reaction to it wasn't particularly strong either way; I utterly loved both Prague and Copenhagen, but Paris made me give a Gallic shrug.

But that might be because we were trying to cram an extremely large city into just three-and-a-bit days. I would have loved to have spent whole days exploring just one area (the seedy ones; the crazy 80s one); I would have loved to have slowed down and taken thousands of photos; I would have loved to have spent a month crashing in my friends' spare bedroom and wandering the city on my own (or with Steve, of course, but, as patient as he is of my photography, I think that might have made him reach breaking point).

Still, we managed to cram a lot in. We, at the very least, walked past all of the main tourist sites - the Arc de Triomphe; the Eiffel Tower; Sacré-Cœur; Notre Dame. We stood in very long queues and visited the Catacombs and a Cartier-Bresson exhibition at the Centre Pompidou. We passed through Jardin du Luxembourg and ambled along the Promenade Plantée (where naturally a ballerina was doing stretches). We drank lots of wine and just about mastered the Metro and watched thousands of people on rollerskates zipping through the city at dusk. We giggled at the fish in the aquarium.

And I did take 400 photos. But I've picked out only my favourite... oh... thirty-odd to share with you today:


Graffiti saying "Vous etes ici et maintenant" / Jellyfish
80s architecture
Boat in a pond
Bridge over River Seine
Cat sticker
Graffiti of chickens
Sticker reading "Crepe City"
Burnt out building
Eiffel Tower lit up at night
Lots of hearts painted on the ground
Paris rooftops
Lion statue
Loads of padlocks
Notre Dame / a creepy sticker of eyes
Derelict building
Graffiti reading "Love Me"
Metro train shooting out of tunnel
Pigeons on somebody's hand
One pink fish amid school of white ones
Huge queue
Paris rooftops
Sacre-Coeur
Shark eggs
Parisian window / poster of a hand holding a rose
Tiny vineyard
Green shutters on windows
Roller skaters
Optical illusion
Tourists at Eiffel Tower
Steve and me hugging at Wall of Love
Picture of Steve and me at the Wall of Love (on our fifth anniversary) by our friend, Bruce.

08 April 2014

The Past Week (and the Books I've Read)

Black cat dozing in the sunlight

I feel like I should warn you that all of my April outtakes so far are pictures of Polly basking.

If you follow me on Twitter, you will already know that the only souvenir I brought home from Paris was gastroenteritis. A particularly vicious dose which, a week on, still has me grabbing my stomach and getting out of breath if I walk across the flat and tossing and turning all night with an acid reflux cough. Nice.

But I am on the mend.

A long, long time ago now, I had pneumonia. I was ill for what felt like forever. A couple of months, anyway, and then I had a phased return to work. All because of a bit of damp and some air freshener. Seriously, folks, just clean up your mess and open your windows!

So: I had been very ill and, once the worst of it was past, my GP told me to start leaving the house each afternoon and walking just a little bit further than the day before. The first day, I made it to the garden gate. The second day, I made it to the end of the road. The third day, I made it to the shop around the corner. So it went on.

Well, I'm nowhere near that sick at the moment but I still think the theory is sound. I don't want work to come as a total shock to the system on Monday. So, for the last few days, I've been trying to do a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more.

On Sunday, I did the dishes. On Monday, I put proper clothes on and framed some photos. Today, I went to the bakery and tidied some shelves and gifted some fabric scraps to a woman on Freecycle.

But mostly I've been sitting around reading (and sleeping. Let's not forget the sleeping).

I've read A Tale for the Time Being and Life After Life and Affinity and they were all pretty decent. And I've reread Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown .

I almost never reread books. I know this about myself; I find it easy to give them away once I'm done because I know I'm not going to return to them. There are too many new ones to get through; who has time for repeats?

But I loved Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown when I first read it in 2008 and I knew it was one to hang on to.

The book is the author's account of spending a year in therapy. At the start of the book, the author is a successful journalist with a close family, good friends and a pretty cocky attitude - but she's involved in an unhealthy relationship and keeps bursting into tears for no apparent reason. Despite this, she's convinced she doesn't need any help; twelve months later, she's changed her mind.

The first time I read the book, I wanted to buy copies for just about every woman - and most of the men - I know. So much of it is familiar - the games people play with themselves and their partners; the unhealthy attitudes towards careers and relationships; the shaky self belief and doubts about our abilities. I loved it. I have no doubt that I was emotionally healthier for reading it (and that that led to me leaving a well paid but insanely tedious procurement job to re-start my creative career).

I'm in a much happier place in my life now than I was in 2008. Much happier. But, second time around, I still feel like I got a huge amount of it and I still feel like I want to give copies to everyone I know.

Well, I can't afford to do that. So I'm doing the next best thing and blogging about it instead. Let me know what you make of it.

07 April 2014

Sarah B's Two Days the Same

The first month of Two Days the Same finishes today.

Taking part this month was (another) Sarah. Sarah and I first got chatting on Twitter because she knows my cousin, Susan (the smartypants behind Shop Scotland). I think our first random blether was when she suggested running a regular #sarahhour; we talked about it so much that we got the name Sarah trending.

I still think we should have followed through on that idea.

But at least I got to enjoy launching Two Days the Same with her input: fab photos and funny emails.

Here are some of my favourites from Sarah's snaps:

Swan
Chopped veg
View from Edinburgh bus stop
Rainbow reflected in pond

Don't forget to follow along throughout April when I am being joined by Aberdeen-based lawyer, Emma.

06 April 2014

On Being an Individual (Just Like Everyone Else)

Back in the late 90s, my then-boyfriend had a copy of The Official Slacker's Handbook . I'm not sure how seriously the book was supposed to be taken and I'm not sure how seriously he - who already had long hair and a goatee and a copy of Clerks - took it either. I always read it through eyerolls, with a studied look of, "Chuh! What sort of slacker needs this explained to them?" tiedyed onto my face. But I read it multiple times and, really, honestly, truly, I will admit that I saw it as a validation of a lot of my choices. Secondhand XXXL men's T-shirts? Pierced nose? Job in a video store? Check, check, check! I was getting this slacker thing right!

I've written before about the benefits of a subculture identity for those of us who don't feel that we fit in (and Janet touches on it here), but for anyone who hasn't memorised my every archived blog post, here's the gist:

Subculture identities allow those of who feel different from the crowd to identify a crowd (albeit sometimes a small one) of our own. We slackers may have called ourselves "individual" but what we really meant was "not following the conventional life path". There was never anything individual about my shaved head, Doc Martins or my love of Faith No More, but they were the easily recognisable markers of an indie-grunge-slacker-kid. They helped people with similar outlooks identify me and those people's dress sense helped me identify them. There was a point when I could go into one of two slacker dive bars on any given night of the week and be sure to find a gaggle of slackers just like me.

Except that we were never really just like each other. We were only ever amplifying the similarities because they helped us to feel connected.

I read and loved Jeff Noon and Douglas Coupland and Peter Bagge, just like everybody else [said they] did, but I kept quiet about quite enjoying my flatmate's stash of chick lit and hating American Psycho. I played up the parts of myself which made me part of the group and kept some other parts of myself hidden away from view.

I don't suppose that's entirely healthy but I would bet that, for many young and insecure "outsiders", it's perfectly normal.

Sometimes I notice the same sort of subculture homogeneity on lifestyle blogs. Bloggers emphasise their peach and aqua dress collection, kitten-faced porcelain and nostalgic gadgets but a solitary few ever write about how their favourite film is Crank and cupcakes make their teeth feel funny.

Perhaps this is all genuine. Perhaps I'm putting my own youthful neuroses onto newbie bloggers but I tend to think this is an attempt for shy young things to feel like they fit in on the internet.

But don't we eventually all have to grow up into ourselves? Or shouldn't we, at least?

One of the things which most appealed to me about Steve - and which I still admire in him - was his quiet certainty in his own tastes. He has shades of games geek, with his IT job and his weekends shooting CGI skeletons, and he has shades of metalhead, with his love of roary music and his scary T-shirts, but he never tries to change his look or fake enthusiasms just to fit in with the scene; he has never apologised for his more obscure hobbies just to make the cool kids like him; no amount of pressure from me will ever make him wear a checked shirt or like The Moldy Peaches. He's just Steve.

Being an individual is something that I had to learn to do. I always thought I was doing my own thing. I was proud to like L7 instead of Take That. I was proud to wear Cons instead of Nikes. I was proud to pierce my nose before my ears. But, within my group, I was always a lot more open about the differences we shared than the ones we didn't.

Somewhere along the way, I've got past a lot of that. I'm not going to claim to be immune to pop culture because that's nonsense - I still find myself looking at Pinterest suggestions and thinking, "But... didn't I come up with that first?"; I am obviously, absolutely influenced by the things which I see around me (and a lot of those things are blogs) - but these days I'm a lot more open about which bits of it work for me and which bits don't.

Copper pipes and marquee letters and macarons? All good. Dip-dyed clothes and brussels sprouts and intricate nail art? Not for me. I don't fancy Ryan Gosling and I don't like sushi and I think sometimes you can have too many items with kawaii faces on them.

But what I realised most, when I sat down to write this, was that I'm not even sure what my subculture is any more. I've long since left the "slacker" path behind me; I'm not a "geek" although several of my friends would describe themselves that way; I don't feel like a "hipster" even if I do write a blog; I don't consider myself "mainstream" despite the career and the mortgage.

On the other hand, I'm a little bit of all of the above.

So what does that make me? An individual? Or adaptable? Or desperate to please?

You know what? I don't think it matters any more. I feel utterly secure in saying that I'm "me".

01 April 2014

This Was March:

The best of March: pancakes and flowers; white horses; The Grand Budapest Hotel; cheap dinners out; my sister's new home; The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves; catch ups with friends; sunshine and snow; lots of cake; bus rides in the country; football celebrations (full photo album here); and a weekend in Paris (photos to follow).

And here are the outtakes from Two Days the Same:

Rundown house
Burnt out chip shop
Big white waves at the beach
Steve cradling cereal bowl and reading book
Loads of crocuses
Me with pasta / Cats swiping each other
A dying rose
Thumbs up
Primulas
Giraffe sticker / cat in sunlight
Football fans
Plus one photo of me by Steve.