Life lessons

I had another cycling lesson tonight, and it was great. I spent the week dreaming that perhaps one lesson would be enough and that today I would just cycle off into the sunset, but I know it will take more work than that. Already I’ve learnt that good things are worth working for, and have certainly reinforced the old saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. I did well today, and still no injuries, but I do have a long way to go.

My cycling teacher said something tonight which really rang true, and I don’t know if she realised how deep and meaningful it was when she said it, or if she was simply offering me cycling advice. To paraphrase, she said, “It’s no good looking in one direction forever as you’ll only go that way. You have to remember to look where you want to go.”

Those are the words I’m going to take with me this week as I ride in to the second half of the year. I have a very different perspective on life now than I did when the year began, simply because I started looking in a different direction, towards where I wanted to go. I’m quite happy going the way I’m going at the moment, but I mustn’t forget to look around me too, and to keep my eyes open for all opportunities that come my way, whatever the direction.

Hello Kitty riding a bicycle

(Image source)

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Daily Prompt: Quote Me

I don’t think I would ever have enough time to respond to all of WordPress’s ‘daily prompts’, but this year I hope to do some of them when the mood takes me. Today I feel the urge, so here I am responding to the challenge of sharing my favourite quote and explaining why it moves me.

Here’s the one quote I always return to:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. (Mark Twain)

I think it’s fairly obvious why I like this quote – it’s all about following your dreams, throwing caution to the wind, and not being afraid to have a go. Although that’s not a philosophy I’ve always stuck to in my life, it is something that is generally in the back of my mind when I’m making big decisions (like when I quit a well paid job in publishing to go and live in Japan).

This quote usually comes to mind whenever I see the sea. The sea calms me, but also excites me, because it makes me think of adventures and travel. I love the idea of literally throwing off my bowlines and sailing away from the safe harbour, off into the distance, in search of adventure. We’ve got it all too easy these days, what with hoping on planes and being able to communicate so easily with people on the other side of the world. Sometimes I long for the days when people had to go on epic journeys because there was no other way to get from A to B, and when the journey was all part of the adventure. Now everything seems to be about how fast we can get from A to B, and how much we can distract ourselves with technology along the way. When we get to our destination, we already know what we’re going to find, because we’ve seen it all online already.

We must never forget to explore, dream, and discover, wherever we are.

View from Enoshima Observation Lighthouse

View from Enoshima Observation Lighthouse, looking back to Kamakura, Japan


It’s not just you!

Have you read Miranda Hart‘s book, Is It Just Me?, yet? No? Why on earth not?

I finished reading it yesterday and feel the need to share now. I laughed (out loud, sometimes, while in public places), I almost cried, and I nodded my head in agreement quite a lot (on pretty much every page actually – must have looked like some kind of nodding dog). Throughout most of the book a knowing smile was spread across my face, and people around me on the train or in Starbucks must have wondered what it was that I knew that they didn’t. It was simple – I knew I was reading a gem of a book!

Just before I read the final chapter of the book I had been wandering along a quiet street in south-west London when I suddenly imagined myself bumping into Miranda Hart (probably literally, since we both seem prone to bumping into things). I often imagine such scenarios, and now I know that it’s not just me who does this, which is reassuring. After bumping into Miranda, I imagined apologising profusely, laughing it off together, and then explaining to her that I was just about to finish reading her book and that I loved it. In the past when I’ve met famous people I’ve become a jabbering sweaty fool (sorry Jonathan Ross!), but on this occasion I would exude confidence and wit and Miranda would instantly see that I was her kind of people (that’s how the fantasy went, anyway).

Because I am, dear reader, I am her kind of people. The book asks “is it just me?”, and I can say with total confidence that it most certainly is not just you, Miranda. Never have I read a book I related to more. It was hilarious because life is hilarious, isn’t it? And if you don’t laugh, you’ll probably just cry. Or sit around frowning, which I admit I am prone to doing sometimes.

Right from the first page I knew I was going to love Is It Just Me?. Miranda talks about where you might be reading the book (I was stood in Sainsbury’s having not actually bought said book yet, trying to kill some time because the tills weren’t open – bloomin’ Sunday trading laws). On that first page Miranda makes a reference to commuting, which perfectly describes why I hate it with such a passion: “Maybe you’re standing on a commuter train, using this book as a filter between you and a repellent armpit. If so, I’m terribly sorry. That’s no way to start the day, is it? Face in a pit.“. I knew I was going to love every word that followed.

Is It Just Me? is an amusing romp through life’s trials and tribulations (good word, ‘tribulations’), in which Miranda talks to her 18-year-old self, who attends and all-female boarding school. As she covers each topic, from music and hobbies to office life, to diets, dating and dreams, Miranda gives advice, tells anecdotes and asks “is it just me?”. If you’ve ever seen her wonderful BBC comedy (currently showing series 3 on Mondays at 9pm), you’ll have an idea what kind of stories you’re in for. These are stories of ordinary stuff, like how to balance a drink and plate at a buffet and actually eat the foot on your plate (you can’t, it’s impossible), making small talk with super intelligent people (just don’t get me started on that!), and carrying watermelons (we’ve all seen Dirty Dancing, right?).

But it’s the last chapter on ‘dreams’ which I really adored, and which actually brought a tear to my eye. I won’t ruin it for you, because I do insist you buy and read this book yourself, but Miranda talks about the importance of following one’s dreams, just as she has done. She reminds us all that life is silly and difficult at times, but that we must hold on to our dreams, even the little ones. We must also be honest with ourselves about what those dreams are, and not attempt to make our dreams fit in with what we think we should be doing or what the rest of the world thinks we should be doing. If it’s been your dream since childhood, and it’s still your dream now, then it probably is what you ought to be doing. I’ll give you a small quote:

I think it’s sad when people stop dreaming, or start losing hope. Because holding onto the bonkers dream might just turn out to be the most marvellous thing you ever did…. Allow me to sit back, fold my arms, hoist my trousers northwards and say, ‘YOU. YOU are the person this industry has been waiting for.

So it was with this thought about dreams that I finished Is It Just Me?, while riding on a slightly sweaty Piccadilly Line tube, face not quite in a pit. Ever since I can remember I have been writing stories. When I was a kid I wrote stories about killer piranha fish and Sylvanian Families. Now I write stories about Japan. Although it’s always been my dream to be a writer, I guess I struggle with the idea that I actually could. I find it hard to imagine walking into a bookshop and seeing my book on the shelf (I’d better hurry up or bookshops might cease to exist, what with all this technology), or being invited to a bookshop to give a reading, but why shouldn’t I achieve my dream?

When I heard Miranda had a book out, I just thought it would be a jolly good laugh to read – such fun – and it was, but I didn’t expect to get a real life lesson too.

Thank you, Miranda Hart, for what I call I really fabulous book!

Is It Just Me? is available from Amazon and all good bookshops. For more information about Miranda Hart, please visit: mirandahart.com.

Miranda

(Image: Amazon)


Another Freebie Christmas!

Christmas can be really depressing. Don’t get me wrong – I love all the decorations and the food and everything, but it’s so damn expensive. Even if you don’t have a lot of people to buy presents for, those you do have to get can really add up. On top of the expense, there’s always the feeling that most of the things you buy are unnecessary and perhaps even unwanted, too. How many of us can honestly say we’ve never received a Christmas present we didn’t want? Come on, be honest. We all have. Each and every one of us has, at some time or other in our lives, received something hideous and groaned at its inappropriateness. But did we stop to think that the present had cost someone money? That perhaps the giver had agonised over whether or not it was the right gift?

Choosing gifts for people can be a minefield, and even more so when you’re on a budget. That’s why last year my Mum and I started ‘Freebie Christmas’. Throughout the year we collect as much free stuff as we can for each other, and save it all up for Christmas. The aim is to spend nothing at all (although I did pay a few pounds postage on a couple of items this year, which I suppose is technically cheating), and we’re allowed to get things through any legal means (that means, using your Boots points is ok, buy one get one free is ok, stealing is not ok – except in the case of tea bags in hotel rooms, which we all know is not really stealing). 😉

If you missed it, here’s last year’s post. This year I think my Mum outdid herself:

Christmas freebies

A magazine, tea, hot chocolate, free coffees, a notebook, pen & pencil, chocolate biscuits, sweets, hand cream, shower gel, a DVD, a Hello Kitty purse… ALL FREE!

Not only did we both have a lot of fun collecting things and rising to the challenge, all of the usual pressure was off. There was no concern over one person having spent more than the other, just a fight to see who could collect the most. There was some thought (some of my presents are really cool!), but there was also some silliness (but really, who doesn’t love free tissues?). I didn’t receive a single thing I didn’t like or couldn’t use, and even found joy in the surprise of opening things.

I’ve mentioned Freebie Christmas to a few people and everyone I’ve spoken to seems to think it’s a good idea. It’s amazing how much good stuff you can get for free (just see above!), and think of how much stress and money you could save yourself if you agree to a Freebie Christmas next year.


Something New Every Day Challenge: Day #5

Today’s ‘something new’ was something which I’m sure a lot of people find very easy, but it’s something I find very hard:

Spontaneity!

I like plans and organisation, and I’m really bad at being spontaneous, as all of my friends will testify. When I wake up in the morning, I like to have a fair idea of how my day will go and what time it will end. I like to know if I’m dressed appropriately for the activities that might crop up, and have planned my meals and the contents of my handbag accordingly. I know that might all sound very boring, but I just don’t gel with spontaneity.

Now, to some, what I did today might not seem all that spontaneous, but believe me it was…

At lunch time today I suddenly decided it would be nice to meet my mum after work and treat her to a coffee. It’s my first full pay day of my new job, and I wanted to mark the occasion. My mum was working in London today, so it seemed like a good chance for a catch up. A few short emails later and it was arranged.

When it came to leaving work on time to go and meet her, naturally, sudden issues came up and I was delayed. Then I had to wait ages for a Circle Line train to come at Liverpool Street Station, but in the end I got to Embankment and we went to Starbucks for a chai latte and a bit of cake.

It was really nice. 🙂

Eating cake with silver edible stars on it was also something new!


Something New Every Day Challenge: Day #3

I knew it was going to be much harder to find new things to do on work days, and the pouring rain today didn’t help, but I still managed to find something! Today’s new thing was:

Smiling while commuting

Everyone hates commuting, right? Especially if you’re stuck on a crowded train with your face in someone’s armpit, an elbow in your ribs, and someone else’s free newspaper grazing your boob. Commuting really gets me down, and I feel like I have this big black cloud over me all day because I know I have to get back on the damned train again after work to go home.

But I have no choice. I can’t afford to live in Zone 1, therefore I must commute, and I must use public transport because I can’t ride a bike and wouldn’t cycle that far anyway! So, today I decided to try to find a way to smile while commuting.

Generally it’s the other people on the commute that get my goat, so I figured I would have to form a bubble around myself and fill it with things that made me happy. The easiest way I know to do this is with music. I often listen to a bit of Lady Gaga on the way to work, but I decided to try something new today… something which was guaranteed to make me smile…

Comedy. Or, more specifically, comedy music. 😀

Here’s an example of something that made me smile inappropriately on the Tube today:

Please note: If you try smiling while commuting your fellow commuters may glance at you suspiciously and think you rather strange, but it shouldn’t matter because you will be in your own little comedy bubble, oblivious to their grumpy moods. The only people I am allowing into my bubble with me at the moment are the gorgeous Tim Minchin, the hilarious Victoria Wood, the ridiculous Bill Bailey and perhaps a little Monty Python.

(Image source)

(Image source)

(Image source)

(Image source)


Finding the one…

Quitting a job is a bit like finishing a relationship – you never know how the other person is going to take it. Sometimes there are tears, raised voices. They might even beg you to stay, tell you they’ll change or try to make you an offer you can’t refuse. Or perhaps they’ll just say “meh” and accept it. But you always know in your heart that you’ve done the right thing. No matter how good you felt when it started, no matter how sure you were this could be the one, you just know when it isn’t working and it’s time to move on.

In fact, it occurred to me recently that jobs and relationships actually have an awful lot in common. In both cases, aren’t we really just searching for “the one”?

When we’re young we have casual, part-time jobs and casual, non-committal relationships. These days, people often don’t really settle down until they’re over 25 – some take considerably longer. But by the time you reach your 30s you start to notice everyone around you getting more serious. Words like “career”, “commitment”, and “marriage” are used. As we grow older, we start looking for the one we can commit to for the long haul. Finding “the one” can be just as difficult if we’re searching for a career, or searching for a long-term relationship.

Like the pair of skinny jeans you look at longingly in H&M, sometimes we try things on just to see if they fit. I know I’m guilty of this when it comes to relationships and jobs (and skinny jeans). I’ve tried working in record stores and dating musicians, I’ve tried working in offices and dating men in suits. Just like the skinny jeans, you try them on even if you’re not sure they’re right for you. You try them on, but when you look in the mirror you just know something isn’t right, something doesn’t quite fit.

Dream jobs and dream relationships can both, in theory, be found online. I know a couple of friends who have recently found love through online dating websites – one even got married. In both cases, all you have to do is create an online profile and look for a match. Sometimes, they even come looking for you. But it’s not easy. There is a lot of rubbish out there, and you have to sift through a whole pile of lies before you can find the truth. Whether job hunting or looking for love you really shouldn’t lie on your resume, but you should be aware that others will not necessarily be as discerning. Both potential employers and potential partners might promise something they can’t deliver. We’ve all been there: you turn up for the date/interview and something feels wrong. He’s not quite as tall, dark and handsome as he said he was, or the office doesn’t look quite as bright and shiny as it looked on the website.

But sometimes you get lucky – whether it’s from a website, a newspaper, or through friends, it is possible to find “the one”. As far as my career goes, I’m feeling quite optimistic about the future. Since graduation I’ve tried various careers on, but none of them really fitted. However, in August I will be starting a new job at a company where I feel like I might be able to build a career and have a real future. I caught a glimpse of myself in the office window when I went for my interview, and it seemed to fit. It’s time for me to get serious, make a commitment, and build a future.

As for relationships, well I haven’t really had time for a while to be honest, but my eyes are open and I know “the one” must be out there somewhere…

LOVE by Robert Indiana

LOVE by Robert Indiana, New York