Sunday, 30 April 2017

Arty with Acrylics....

It's sad that so many of us cease to play once we become adults. And that our day-to-day lives and work and worries kind of get in the way of having fun and, most importantly, of being who we really are. Or perhaps who we really should be?

One result of last year's time out - it happened when I was sorting through a box of photographs taken in Finland with The Rags - was the realisation that I had lost my joie de vivre. It's understandable, I suppose, after being sick and all those tests and treatments and the hours spent at the hospital, but it was not good. Not good at all.

So, I looked at the picture of me wearing a crazy Finnish hat which, incidentally, I still have and of which I am very fond, together with my famous furry Finnish boots, and I thought back to how I felt then and I wondered how to feel a little like that now.

And the answer that came to me was to dig deep and re-discover the feisty, rebellious, smart little seven year old I once was. And that led, wonderfully, to the Icelandic horse-riding trip because, hey, feeling like a seven year-old but with the freedom of being an adult and without the pressures of work and family, well, the world becomes a magical and exciting place!

The result is that I've been having all sorts of fun, playing and exploring and, sometimes it must be said, running wild. And recently I bought myself a little easel, some acrylic paints, some little canvases and a set of brushes and, after staring at a blank canvas for a couple of days and feeling scared to spoil it, I 'had a word with myself' as the Irish would say, and picked up a paintbrush.

I had in mind that flower meadow near Paimpol that a good friend, Catriona (herself very artistic and spiritual) and I visited nine years ago, probably almost to the day, I may go back to A Mouse in France and re-post that one soon, it was one of those perfect days that I remember with a smile...

Anyway I had that in mind when I started and painted the canvas...

and then I walked past that green canvas for another day before picking up the brushes again...
and every so often I painted a different flower...
and slowly it emerged...

And last night I decided it was finished.
Not perfect.
Not how I had imagined.
But finished and, at the risk of attracting ridicule, I am rather fond of my little painting.

Because the most important thing is, I had fun.  

So that makes it a success.
N'est-ce pas?

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Creative with Chillis

Being creative with chillis...

Or, making sweet chilli sauce, because living in France where curry is not really A Thing, and the Breton version of ready-meals are not really My Thing, and because that made me start cooking more than I had previously which was, to be honest, quite a lot but then I started cooking as much as possible from scratch because then I would know exactly what was in the food that I was eating, even before health issues kicked off and made me even more aware of  the benefits of good nutrition...

And because cooking is creative and being creative is good for the brain...

And fun...

And don't the fresh ingredients in the photo look gorgeous? Almost like an oil painting by JMS of whom more will feature in later posts... 

And I am reminded of Tracy, with whom I once worked, who was a skilled artist and once, for an 'A' Level Art course, produced a set of works featuring tomatoes and peppers using many different media and techniques and styles that was so good I was deeply impressive. And envious.  

So, Sweet Chilli Sauce:

2 large red peppers, skinned if you can be bothered, I can't
3 red chillis, I used 4 and it was HOT
4 de-seeded little tomatoes
5 cloves of garlic
Nice piece of  peeled fresh ginger
See above

Place the fresh ingredients in a blender and blend.

Like this....

Then gather:

6 fl oz white wine vinegar
1/2 lb sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

and pop it in a pan with the blended fresh ingredients...
bring to the boil and then simmer quite hard for 25 minutes until it's been reduced to a thick, glossy, gloopy sauce...

and then pour it into sterilised bottles and seal.

et voilà

The sauce that I made today is eye-wateringly hot and so will probably be used in a stir-fry with a lot of olive oil, or drizzled over salmon steaks while they're roasting in the oven.

That's the thing with cooking, it's never the same each time that you do it and you never know what to expect.

A bit like life, really.

Circuit training green-style

Yes, the title is a play on words. 
Words are My Thing now that I am working to extract the IT from my DNA, no mean feat after forty years working with technology but I am making progress. Some days I do not even think about cyber security and malware and complex code written to steal an identity, the contents of a bank account, a digital life.

Working on the mind, and working on the body.
In the nine years since I returned to the corporate cage my body has aged considerably. Cancer aside, all of that time sitting at a desk has not been good for me and added to the stresses, well, I am not fit and healthy. 

Time to address that.

And where better than the Green Gym outside my house?  

So most morning (and some afternoons, depending on who is around and how much I care to exercise in public and surrounded by over-friendly dogs), I step out in my now-customary black trousers and white T-shirt, and enjoy my exercise al fresco.

Starting with the old wooden bench which is a perfect height on which to step up and down, thus working the muscles that support my knees which are, after years of skiing and riding, quite without cartilage and which were, four years ago, threatened with replacement. I am keen to hang onto my body parts for as long as possible so I work on my leg muscles a lot.

Moving on to the sundial. It was built and decorated by the people of Drayton to celebrate the new millennium. During the summer evenings the local youths often hang out here, as  can be witnessed by the empty beer bottles, cigarette ends and general rubbish that they leave behind. I usually arrive armed with a carrier bag and while others are tutting and shaking their heads and complaining, I set to work to tidy it up. And then I do my calf stretches on the wall, while checking out the horses and ponies in the neighbouring field.

And on to bench presses...
Unless one of the local chaps is sitting on the bench, in which case I usually stop, sit and chat with him because socialising is an exercise that is good for everyone and he always teaches me something new, or shares with me some story from his long and well-lived life.

This is followed by another old bench. This one is by the pond so as I stretch my hamstrings and do some step-ups, I can check out the year's tadpoles and look for newts and even, as I once did, gaze with awful fascination at a large leech hanging out in the water.

And if that piece of gym equipment were ever to be occupied, there is another one nearby.

I love ballet.
Not to do it, you understand, although I surely would if I could, but to watch with wonder and admiration the fitness of the dancers and how supple and toned they are. And so I do a few exercises at the barre and have, in a box in the conservatory where I am storing my belongings as I pack for my return to France, a ballet barre of my own to be installed when I move back. But it won't be as nice as this one, I think.

Pausing to smell the flowers...

And onto the running track.
It is not long, my running track because I am still working on strengthening my heart and lungs after the tumour treatment which, in the course of killing cancer cells, clobbered my heart somewhat and reduced it to 50% capacity. So I run slowly along the track.

If you look closely you can see the nearby cycle track.
In truth it's the road to Sutton Courtney but it's popular with pedallers at the weekend.

And onto the next running track where the dog is usually ahead of me and waiting.

And to the bench for a five minute meditation, sometimes ten minutes, if that feels right. Often interrupted by the chap who has the allotment closest to the fence who likes to take a break from digging and chat. And here to so some leg raises which are really good for arthritic knees.

The dog also meditates...
His ancestors are from Tibet.

A shortcut through the organic food hall where, in summer, I am often handed a lettuce and a few vegetables, this happens to me wherever I go, not sure why, I certainly do not look as if I need feeding up.  

To the almost parallel bars, where I stretch out and consider trying to push myself up by my arms but wisely decide I am not ready for that yet. Note the notice board on the telegraph post and the old pump that reminds me that we all age, some of us more decoratively than others!

And so, back to the green and a cool-down as I walk under the walnut trees and back home,
It took me a while to get used to people seeing me working out in public like this. And as luck would have it, it's usually the more serious-minded, less fun-loving locals who catch me at it, but I have learned not to care what people think of me as long as I am kind, decent and honest so...

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Different rivers...

All my life people have been saying, "Never go back".

And I suppose they're right, if 'going back' means trying to return to a time and a place in the past and expecting it to be unchanged..

So why am I 'going back' to Brittany now?
Well here's the thing.
I am returning to Brittany, but I am not going back.

So much has happened since that stressed-out, exhausted little Mouse arrived in France all those years ago, so much happened while I was there, and so much has happened since I left, that I can hardly recognise myself as the same person. So I am not going back, a different version of me, an older, wiser, more worn me, is going to have a new adventure in a place I know.

As someone once told me, "You cannot step in the same river twice".
But I think you can return to the river to paddle your canoe in new water.
Does that explain it better?

Tuesday, 18 April 2017


It's a poor picture, my camera lens was steamed up but this is where I have spent a great many weekday mornings since last June.

The pool is small, but I am no Olympiad, and it is sometimes crowded, and that's another trick I've learned, to take the busy, the irritations, the annoyances on the chin because there will be other times when things turn out just fine and you get a whole pool to yourself.  

So this is where you'll find me during the week.
Half an hour of swimming as I enjoy some podcasts on my waterproof MP3 player, sometimes longer, if the pool is empty. A couple of sessions in the sauna and steam room during which time I pretend to be in a forest in Finland. Maybe the jacuzzi, if I'm feeling particularly relaxed.

Some days there will be coffee and a chat with a fellow swimmer, some days I like to slip in, swim in silence and slip out again.

And that is what I am working on right now.
The relaxing, the letting-go of the busy-busy, the listening to the inner voice that tells me how best to spend my time. The not feeling obliged to be doing, the permission to simply be.
Goodness it takes some getting used to!