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A battle amidst the olive trees

A week ago, we packed our bags and the car, and headed over the hill – this one – to stay overnight with friends at their charming cottage amidst an olive grove.

They welcomed us with a lovely late lunch of delicious dark, seedy bread and cheese and tomatoes and asparagus and pâté and salami, and of course, being in a wine town we had to indulge in some local rosé, which is always perfect for a summery lunch and for nibbling with fresh berries from the garden.

Then came the business end of the day, as the croquet lawn was calling to us, and the game of the day was Croquet Golf – or was it Golf Croquet? My husband and I have only ever played once, some years ago, but beginner’s luck must have been upon us, as we took the first game 7-4. The second game didn’t go so well, with my husband wondering aloud, after further fortification from the rosé, just why the ball wasn’t going straight anymore! By that time it was close to 5 pm, and we figured that it must be time for some champagne – of course!

After a delicious biryani dinner and more berries from their garden, we took to the lawn for the deciding game, although by this time, our croquet brains had decided that attack was the best form of defence, and we all aimed at each others’ balls as often as we aimed at the hoops to score points. Appropriately, our hosts’ years of practice paid off and they trounced us soundly, so we retired to the campfire, and as the sun set and the almost-super moon rose, we chatted and sipped some more; a perfect end to a perfect day.

 

 

 

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In the public eye

I woke up on Saturday morning with a feeling of dread; an article I had been interviewed for was due out in the newspaper’s weekend magazine, complete with photographs and a video. My husband received a text early complimenting me on my comments, and so with that I knew I couldn’t go back to sleep for an extra hour, and went online to see the article.

The article is about the stigma society still places on women without children, and indicative of this is the fact that I was the only childless woman (rather than an academic or counsellor) who agreed not to be anonymous, and to be photographed for the article. My part of the article comes at the end, where I talk about how stressful holidays like Christmas (fortunately I didn’t get started on Mother’s Day) can be for women without children. There are so many clichés people roll out around Christmas/holidays that can be painful and dismissive, or nosy and judgemental, that I hope one or two who read the article might think before they speak around those who don’t and won’t have children.

In the interview, I stressed too that the isolation women without children might feel makes us much more aware of the many other people in society who might feel alone at this time of year, but it didn’t make the edit. So I want to mention it here, to remind us all to try and include, and be thoughtful around, those who might be feeling alone or left out or just plain sad this year. Being Merry isn’t compulsory, but being kind definitely should be.

A magnificent Monday

I’m writing this at my desk, with the wide open large skylight above me, and the window behind me – creaked open after a winter closed tight against the cold, wet and wild southerlies – is poised to bring in a cooler breeze, though so far without luck. The sky is blue, and the sun is heating the house, and outside I can see butterflies and hear the tui and other birds chattering away.

After I renewed my driver’s licence (a quick and efficient process, though one that, annoyingly, doesn’t allow me to approve the photo they take for the licence) in town this morning, my husband and I decided, for a change, to drive around the harbour for lunch. The water was blue and calm, and the temperatures warm, and we wound our way around the bays, amazed at this uncharacteristically balmy November weather. Even the pohutukawa are all coming out weeks earlier than usual – I’m hoping they’ll still be in fierce, red bloom when the overseas family arrive in a few weeks.

We stopped at a café that has a lovely view back across the harbour to the city. We found seats under an umbrella to shade us from New Zealand’s fierce UV rays, and enjoyed a delicious lunch of decidedly summer vegetables and flavours.

An elderly couple sat near us with their glasses of chilled white wine, and we looked at each other in disgust, wondering why on earth we didn’t think of that!

I need to keep it short and sweet on today’s Microblog Monday, after my last post, which was not a microblog post, despite it being about Microblog Mondays.

I’ve broken away from my usual modern literature reading in the last month, to read some enjoyable and interesting non-fiction, including Hillary Clinton’s What Happened, Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B, and most recently, Sue Perkins’ Spectacles.

Some thoughts about aging, the first being the need to plan well in advance, and to make decisions before you think it is necessary, because by the time you need to have made some of these decisions, you’ll be much less capable of doing so.

Secondly, people often talk about maintaining dignity in old age, confusing it with pride, and implying that this is only possible when you are independent. However, I become more and more convinced that true dignity is being able to admit when you need help, and to accept that with grace.

The weather is warming nicely, and we’re all starting to be a bit hopeful that this year we might actually get a summer, after the disappointments of last year.

With spring well and truly here, with bright light earlier in the morning and later at night, the need for spring cleaning is becoming more and more obvious, and will need to be tackled soon.

I may not have cleaned, but I’m feeling quite smug that I only need to buy three more Christmas/birthday (thanks to my sister and a sister-in-law who both have birthdays on 20th December) presents before the end of the year.

 

Keeping it simple

My regular Microblog Mondays habit has made me forget how to write. Or more correctly, it has made me forget how to write short sentences. I’m perhaps more naturally inclined to longer sentences, but I do try to write clearly and simply. I want to say only what is needed or is helpful, but that’s not always easy. I remember my thesis supervisor telling me that I wrote well, saying that my simplicity was a strength. I remember feeling surprised.

Yet when I joined a particular organisation a couple of years later, I didn’t feel that simplicity was a strength. In that organisation, it seemed to matter who your parents were, or where you went to school, the accent you spoke with, and how you pontificated, as much as what you thought or how you performed. Written messages were shared widely throughout the organisation, and this led to what I would call competitive prose. I remember laughing once at someone’s particularly arrogant message, when they used an obscure word but in completely the wrong context. My laughter wasn’t cruel, but rather it came from pure relief that all these seemingly arrogant people weren’t perfect. Maybe, at times, they were as insecure as I was?

In my late 20s, I had a new manager who wrote in short, at times ugly, but simple and clear sentences. It was a dramatic difference to his predecessor, who was Cambridge educated and prided himself on his more lyrical, often overblown style of writing. I fitted somewhere in between the two styles, but was encouraged to adapt my own style to that of my new manager. (Somehow, this prestigious organisation never really accepted that style did not, in fact, equal substance.)  I found it easy to shorten my sentences, and to insert a full-stop (period) instead of a comma.

In subsequent places of employment, I was freer to write in a way that came naturally, or that was, appropriately, tailored to the audience or the purpose.

Business writing is, of course, quite different to blogging or creative writing. I can be more conversational, and I can vary my style from sentence to sentence. I love the freedom this brings. I can be brief. Or not so brief.

Microblog Monday posts though, have played havoc with my writing style. I adopted the suggested eight-sentence limit as a rule rather than a guideline, and I’ve been doing it for so long now that I feel as if I can’t stop. If I stop, I’ve been defeated. So I carefully edit my Monday posts to eight sentences. I use colons and semi-colons, parentheses and brackets and dashes, all in the pursuit of eight sentences. That’s not my natural style either. I’d probably never even written a sentence with a semi-colon before Microblog Mondays came about.

I can’t blame Microblog Mondays though. If I wrote more often, breaking away from my self-imposed Monday discipline, I might find my own voice again. I want to try. And so I hope this will be a case of “watch this space” rather than a rolling of the eyes and a sarcastic “yeah, right.”

Mission accomplished

Yesterday I finished a major project. It was the third of the photobooks I have created from our trip earlier this year to Iceland, the Baltic, and Norway. I’m very proud of it, as our photos from Norway in particular are beautiful. It would almost be impossible to visit Norway and come away without beautiful photos. Some of my favourite photographs were taken out the front of the car as we were driving, and some required a bit more thought or design; here are just a few.

Fjaerlandfjord, with boats in the foreground and snow on the mountains

Fjaerlandfjord, from our beautiful hotel, is the cover of our Norway photobook

A bookshelf on Fjaerlandfjord, with Boyabreen glacier behind

Mundal, on Fjaerlandfjord, is an international book town

The Geiranger-Trollstigen national scenic tourist route, surrounded in snow

The Geiranger-Trollstigen national scenic tourist route

Fb reminded me that this time last year I had already booked our flights and the Baltic cruise, and I was right in the middle of researching and planning our travel. I realised last night that, on and off, I’d spent a year planning and organising our trip, being on the trip, or completing photobooks after the trip. Of course, those aren’t the only things I have been doing, but I do feel that now I have some real space to think about other things. It’s time to move onto other long-neglected projects, and you know, that’s quite an exciting thought.

 

Learning to listen

I’ve always listened to the radio, and I download their podcasts when I miss interviews I wanted to hear, but I’ve never listened to audiobooks (as, to be honest, I feared they would send me to sleep), until a few months ago when I became frustrated when the third book in a four-book series I was reading wasn’t immediately available from my library. So I downloaded the audiobook from the library, thinking “I’ll give it a try,” as I plugged in my earphones and set off on a walk.

The person reading the book was completely wrong, sounding like a man in his 70s, old and wizened, when the main characters were all young people, and even the side characters wouldn’t have been older than their 50s; it felt so wrong that I could not continue, and I decided that maybe audiobooks were not for me.

Recently, though, I’ve been doing a lot of photo editing on my computer, which is time–consuming and visual, and so I thought that maybe I should try another audiobook. I opened my library app, and saw that they had recently acquired Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett, fully produced for radio by the BBC, and so I downloaded it and began listening straight away. I loved it, tried another – this time it was Option B by Sheryl Sandberg – that didn’t have the same high production values as the BBC book, but was simply the voice of a woman who sounded about the age of Sheryl Sandberg, and so made sense.

I’m now on my fourth audio book – 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and narrated by the author – and I’m enjoying that too.

So now, when I have some simple tasks to do, I’m listening to audiobooks, because otherwise I feel that I don’t get around to actually reading enough books, and I have four hundred on my to-read list, and really, really don’t want to miss out on them.