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How hard can it be to set aside 30 minutes a day to read a book?  I even chose a holiday month, knowing I’d have time on the beach/by the pool to read.  Two one-week holidays in August, four books packed for each and no books started for holiday one and I made it through three chapters over holiday two just because I felt really bad about not having read anything for a fortnight.

What went wrong?  If it’s day time, I’m not in a particularly comfy chair or on a train and I’m not distracted by eavesdropping other people’s conversations, I can read.  Oh, and if I’m not too hot, not too cold, not too tired …  But trying to read on a sun lounger/beach towel is nigh on impossible for me as a nap is so much more of a pressing and inviting need.  Likewise, once ready for bed, my eyes get heavy and if I can manage to hold the book up for long enough to find where I want to read from, I only seem to re-read the same paragraphs, knowing not a word of it has been absorbed.

I love reading, it just seems that I need very specific circumstances to achieve half an hour a day devoted to reading.  The most I read was, annoyingly, on 1st September at a near empty airport (I sat a long way away from everyone else) while my flight progressed from delayed to cancelled.  Conditions were good.  It was quiet, the seat wasn’t particularly comfy and the wait was so long that I’d already reached saturation levels emailing, Facebooking and using my phone to complain about being stuck at a barely-used airport in the middle of desert, ie no phone distraction.

So, yes, a round the houses way of admitting a second consecutive challenge fail.

Surely my September challenge will be a success, with even a possibility to overachieve.

Recipe BooksI have a lot of cookery books (uh oh, just registered that I am maintaining an ill-fated book/reading theme), many of which I have merely looked at but never used, for no obvious reason.  I have selected ten that I particularly like and I am going to set myself the challenge of following recipes in at least five of them over September.  See, that’s got to be realistic … right?!



sdr

Slightly organised photo floor-takeover

I have failed to complete my July photo challenge in time.  I’m on a bit of a roll though and hope to (sort of) finish two or three days late.

I took the photo to illustrate where I was in the photo-sorting process at the end of July.  Since then I have made use of an excess of A4 plastic wallets and small coloured stickers.  Most photos are now either in their correct year pile, awaiting confirmation from friends as to when they got married/when certain holidays were taken, or are in their “probably that year” pile. 

I have not felt inspired to sort them for albums or display, though a lot of my favourite holidays and experiences are already in albums and my digital photos are sort of dealt with by being in albums on my computer. 

I separated photos into 22 years, ending in 2014, which seems to have been the last year I printed a load of digital photos and used one of my film cameras.

Quite a few people who know I’ve been trying to sort photos have said that they want to do this but that they imagine it would take too long.  I have wanted to do this for years and ended up thinking that if I set myself a challenge within a month, I would stand a chance of completing it.  I also predicted I would feel nostalgic and melancholy, which I was kind of dreading.

Although I’m writing this before I’ve finished, it hasn’t gone at all how I expected.  I decided to sort them chronologically, which would have been fine had I heeded my mum’s advice to always label and date photos.  There then materialised some obvious groupings, eg I lived in Japan for two and a half years and the photos that aren’t in albums are nigh on impossible for me to date, so a “Japan years” plastic wallet (wallets) now exists.  Likewise for my time at university in Reading and then Mississippi and for the years I had a very sociable allotment.

I have thrown out hundreds of photos, mainly out of focus, of (uninteresting) location unknown and generally awful/repetitive ones.  I still have hundreds more though. 

cof

Time-wise, I didn’t get going until almost half way through July, so in some respects it’s not surprising I didn’t finish.  I started in earnest by taking them all out of packets and piling them up.  I then spent a few days pondering the task of sorting them as impossible.  I wrote out a year on a piece of paper for the years I figured needed sorting, 22 of them, and started trying to sort them into piles within the years.  That was when I started emailing and texting a lot of friends to ask when they got married, had children, when we went on holiday, etc.  It’s been a very good month for catching up and reminiscing with a few people I hadn’t been in touch with for a few months or so.  I then sorted them into events or sort of clusters and wrote a sticker to go on the plastic bag for the event.  This hasn’t amounted to as much labelling as it might sound like occurred and was one of the easiest aspects of dealing with the chronology.

Surprisingly, I haven’t dwelled on certain pictures or the joys of my rose-tinted 20s, but I have found it interesting how large some piles are compared to others.   My largest piles of photos, a lot of which are travel photos, have actually been in my 30s. 

Another surprise is that, looking at friends more than me, a lot of them, the vast majority, look better now they’re older than when I first met them in their teens or early 20s.  Looking at them from a chronological perspective is really interesting.  I can see individual styles forming and it’s really unexpected and fascinating to see.  Pretty much all of us have gone up and down in weight too and it’s also interesting to see how much of a difference that makes to who looks best when.

To feel I have completed the challenge, albeit now late, I would like the rest of them to be in the labelled plastic wallets (eight years to go) and back in the dreaded huge white box that there is no way I can now abandon!  However, I don’t feel inclined to do anything with the photos and I feel more detached from these photos than I could have imagined possible before starting this.

Once I’ve thought more about my emerging controversial thoughts on photos, I think I probably will do something with a few of the photos; I just don’t know what yet.

For my August challenge, as I will have little or no work, I thought something suitably holiday-esque would be in order and, as I’ve been trying to read the same book for three months, I decided to read for at least 30 minutes every day in August.  It may not sound like a challenge but, now I have a shorter commute than from either Folkestone or Whitstable, when I read most mornings and evenings, I barely read now and I have never been good at reading at night time because I’m always sleepy and neither want nor need to read.  I am too good at using free time just sitting and staring into space so maybe this will get me using my sitting and staring time more productively.  Surely I can’t fail this month’s challenge?!



Eight Michelin stars in a small mountain resort and The Ablyazov Syndicate (film)

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With a population of around 15,000, the small Black Forest town of Baiersbronn has two three-Michelin-starred restaurants and one two-starred.  I would like not to be unduly influenced by reviews and stars, but there is something hugely appealing about a small town in the midst of forest and mountains with so many supposedly exceptional places to eat and that it is in Germany, which is not a country I particularly  associate with  fantastic food.  The thought of a week in a mountain resort, ideally staying at the Bareiss hotel, with a meal at one of each of these places every two days … yes, I would rather like that.

Restaurant Bareiss (3*)

https://www.bareiss.com/en/restaurants/restaurant-bareiss.html

Schwarzwaldstube (3*)

http://www.traube-tonbach.de/en/schwarzwaldstube-restaurant

Schlossberg (2*)

http://www.hotel-sackmann.de/en/gourmet-worlds/schlossberg/


For probably all my court reporting colleagues, the name Ablyazov will incite a groan at the very least.  From our perspective, this is litigation that has gone on for years, it’s a challenging job to transcribe and it’s full of names not immediately obvious to us how to spell.

I had an interesting chat with a barrister who I recognised from that case.  He asked whether I had seen “The Ablyazov Sydincate”, which he said made for an interesting viewing.  Yes, a documentary film has been made about Ablyazov, billed as the “story of one of the biggest bank frauds in history and the man behind it”.

For anyone not familiar with Mukhtar Ablyazov, watch this or have a look on Wikipedia.  I have not yet watched the film but I do have some insights from the many court hearings I’ve listened to and the Wikipedia information is the kind of read you’d expect only to suspend belief over in a James Bond film.  Also of interest is the Blair brothers’ involvement in this seeming game of crime, violence, politics and staggering amounts of money.



Text speak, Nina Simone and capitalism through clothing

Turns out IRL means “in real life”.  Surely I wasn’t the only person who didn’t know that?!  I am one acronym closer to understanding modern colloquialisms.

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In June 2015, Netflix released a documentary about Nina Simone, “What Happened, Miss Simone?”.  The documentary consists largely of archived footage and interviews, most pertinently with her daughter, Lisa.  On reading about this film in the context of being Charlotte Gainsbourg’s “On my radar” (Guardian) favourite documentary, I realised that I too know very little about Nina Simone’s life.  For example, she was a concert pianist first, though having sung in church, and only made herself sing once she had moved from classical to jazz and blues because a particular piano bar she worked at said she could only continue playing there if she also sang.

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In terms far more basic and vague than should probably be acceptable, capitalism kind of came about during the latter 1700s with Britain’s Industrial Revolution when, for example, a textile worker’s pay, the yarn, machines and factory costs amounted to X [eg £100] but the product generated Y [eg £170], meaning a profit of Z [£70].  As Z is so attractive, trying to reduce X became increasingly appealing.  With improvements to technology thus production capabilities, England, as one of the northern hemisphere regions that benefitted most, ensured more viability as the provider of mass market end-product goods than, say, Bangladesh, which was still using traditional, non-mechanical methods.  Thus regions like Bangladesh ended up merely supplying the raw materials for England’s burgeoning textile industry, a far less profitable enterprise than exporting the finished garments.  With a need for fewer skilled artisans and a much diminished ease for making profit, less skilled work and raw material production flourished, thus an economic divide was created and endures 250 years later.

I had never thought of how/when/where the concept of capitalism emerged nor the concept of finished product = profit potential versus raw material = exploitation potential, but I find it unexpectedly fascinating that and how we in the UK, with only a small scale textile industry now, rely on both raw materials and garment manufacture from, for example Bangladesh, yet we’re still considerably better off.

I reiterate that I am well aware how much more there is to it, but it’s a small point that struck a chord with me while reading the below book.

[Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Second-hand clothes by Andrew Brooks]

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It still amazes me that for 14 months I posted a 500-word blog post every day.  Most of the contact lacked research or depth, but literary brilliance was never my intention.  I wanted to slip easily from daily blog writing (500 words every day for six months equated to pretty much a novel – so, yes, I totally overachieved/postponed with 14 months) to novel.  I did actually almost finish that novel but, like my first attempt, it wasn’t the work of genius I had envisaged.

I am now not planning a daily blog nor to prepare myself for writing a book, and I’m certainly not proffering high quality reading matter.  I like blogs because they might not be read by anyone, but they might just be, and something you share might even pique the interest or curiosity of someone else and that, for me, makes the whole process worthwhile and rewarding.

“Things I learned today” has come out of my frustration at my perceived diminishing memory capacity, an aide memoire perhaps, a need to feel that the snippets of information I read about, hear about at work and/or am told about can be used and shared in some way and to get back into the habit of writing regularly.

So as to not write an introduction and then not get around to posting instalment one – check me out – I will be writing my first post on this alarmingly general theme soon after publishing this.

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*Particularly for British friends, yes I did make a conscious decision to use “learned” instead of “learnt” as that is officially the spelling adopted in the US and generally accepted in the UK too.  Whether to use “learnt” or “learned” has long bothered me.



I am perilousl­­­­y close to smugness as, yes, I can now reel off the 199 capital cities I decided to learn for June’s challenge. 

Not only do I now know the capitals but, after about two weeks of not being able to retain the names of about a third of the capital cities, I realised that attempting to establish a photographic memory was futile.  I then started to be a bit more creative with my connections.  For example, Palau, being an island in the midst of the Pacific must surely be muddy, thus the capital is Negerulmud.  Similarly, I could not get Podgorica in my head as being the capital of Montenegro.  In the end, I got it with “-gro” as being key and I did grasp that the capital was then PodGORica.  Tenuous at best, but it worked.

I am ludicrously pleased with myself and have been informing people of the capital of countries they mention.  I suspect this could be considered annoying.  Bring on the quizzes and obscure capital questions … while I can still remember them, rather than just remember that I used to know them.

At the beginning of June, I convinced myself I would never be able to retain the countries and corresponding capitals, let alone spell them.  Around about week two/three, it suddenly clicked into place and I have enjoyed the learning process, despite it being a straightforward, uncomplicated memory challenge.

DSC05651For July, I want to deal with another kind of photographic memory, as I plan to sort through a massive box of my photos.  I have photos in various places but, as this box is so big, I want to be fairly realistic and just aim to sort through that.  That will mean sorting them into categories, most likely: throw; put in an album; frame; keep in packets.  I am not going to aim to do the framing, album-making, etc, by the end of July, just get them ready. 

In an ideal world, this will lead to the rest of my photos being organised at a later date and some DSC05650albums/pictures created.  Unfortunately, I predict bouts of melancholy about the passing of time, how slim/young/carefree etc I used to be.  However, a bonus would be to get rid of the enormous box they’re in to make some room in the far-too-full cupboard (I may even be shamed into addressing the accessibility issues with the cupboard) in which it currently occupies almost half the spare floor space.   

 



SAM_4623I’m ludicrously impressed with myself for not only going to the five cultural/entertainment events I’d set myself as a target for May but going to five different genres.

I had a mid-month panic that, three trips in, I was surely never going to find time to go to two more. But I did it, enjoyed it and have even been to the theatre and a small museum since May. Living in London, I could easily go to more events, many of which are free, and I would be happy to think this one-month challenge has reopened my eyes to a lot more of what London has to offer.

  1. Radical Book Fair, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross.

I thought I might not be radical enough for this and it was slightly out of my comfort zone of familiarity. Guess what? I really enjoyed it. The event was busy and suitably informal, with a delightful mix of people, including punks, hippies, academics and regular students and passers-by. I bought two books, talked to some small publishers and very much enjoyed seeing stall holders, mostly publishers, working hard to keep things in print, spread the word about certain issues and causes and keeping alive less mainstream politics, ideologies, etc.

  1. While walking home from the book fair, I passed The Art House on Lewisham Way and saw it was open and hosting a small exhibition. I would normally have walked past and merely wondered about it. I went in and ended up staying for about 20 minutes and having the artist explain to me the 20 photos/artworks. It was entitled Movenze: London Fragments of a Journey by Maurizio Trentin, an Italian artist experimenting with photography as art.

I am very much drawn to colour and, while his pictures didn’t initially appear to be about colour, his explanation made me realise they were. He took photos from London buses at night time, deliberately moving the camera during slow shutter speed so most images were, at least on first inspection, unidentifiable/blurred. The photos became more about the colours emitted from lights, whether TV screens, street and car lights or shop signs. He then sampled the colours and made geometric shapes from those colours over the top. It wasn’t the kind of art I’d have on my wall but I liked that I could distinguish shapes (oddly, mainly animals of the “oh, look, there’s a lion in that cloud” variety) amidst the blur, colours and geometric patterns and I really liked the idea of trying to identify where the colours could have come from. He said that for him it was about not just seeing night time as dark with nothing to see but really looking and seeing lots of different colours in the lights. Lovely concept and way of looking at things.

  1. Florence Foster Jenkins at the cinema in Hull, after work one evening. I knew a bit about Florence Foster Jenkins, mainly that David Bowie cited her record as one of his favourites (perhaps most influential? She really was a dreadful “singer”) and that she played a huge role in keeping the people of New York entertained with music during WWII, thanks to her financial support, providing public platforms and audiences for new singers and musicians and very much keeping a spirit of bon viveur alive in the city.

As for the film, it actually made me feel really miserable by the end. The thing that really got me is how her husband paid critics and her voice coach to declare her brilliant (listen to a real recording; Meryl Streep’s portrayal did not exaggerate her awfulness as much as you might expect) and hid any rogue bad reviews from her. For decades. I find that a really sad concept. On the positive side of things, she really did a lot for the music industry and morale.

  1. How the Other Half Loves, an Alan Ayckbourn play at Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, starring quite a few people I vaguely recognised from TV (good TV not reality TV). A friend and I met in Leicester Square to buy tickets for that evening, something I assumed I’d often do, living in London – yeah, right; this was the second time in 14 years. I fear I may have slightly railroaded him to see this (he was more for Mousetrap). I was drawn to it being a comedy and I naively expected to be laughing out loud throughout.

I enjoyed it more than my friend, who I think was being polite when he said during the interval, “I don’t like it”. Hey ho. It is set in 1969 about three couples who are connected through work and an affair. Confusion, misinformed allegations and meltdowns ensue and there is a suitable ending. I just didn’t find it funny or sharp enough. I did, however, like how two of the households were mixed within each of the two sets. For example, a long dinner table was half the working class type couple and the other half the more middle class couple, delineated by table cloth and table decoration style. Two key dinner parties on two consecutive nights with the third couple as guests at each were made into one scene … confusing? It was actually clever and well-orchestrated.

Disappointing as a comedy but it kept me entertained, if frustrated by the sense it could have been better. My friend would probably downgrade this review.

  1. Marilyn Monroe: The Legacy of a Legend exhibition, Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, London. This exhibition (25th May to 20th June 2016) is part of a small tour of Marilyn memorabilia that will be sold at auction in LA in November. It was free to view and in what is essentially the central area of the Design Centre, which is a very fancy shopping centre. I reiterate it was free and not in a venue designed to host exhibitions.

The dresses were not displayed on mannequins the size of Marilyn Monroe so they kind of hung off the mannequins. The information about the dresses was displayed in such a way you had to lean perilously over a barrier to stand a chance of reading the small print. The information was appropriate, with a few interesting anecdotes.

Jewellery, shoes, etc, were in glass display cases and letters duplicated and hanging so you could touch and read them. It was all lovely to see and has renewed my interest in Marilyn Monroe but it was a little disappointing for the reasons mentioned above.

So there it is, a break-down of my five cultural/entertainment outings for May, proof I really did complete my May challenge.

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As for June, I feel a need to test my memory so I have decided to learn the capitals of the world’s countries. I have settled on 199 countries, with the odd territory and disputed country in there, but I’m not going to include, for example, Guernsey or French Guiana (though I know St Peter Port and Cayenne already!).

Initial testing proved I hadn’t even heard of more than half the capitals, couldn’t spell quite a few and am fully aware my pronunciation leans heavily towards how it looks rather than an attempt to adopt accuracy. One week in, I’m making progress and can even spell Tegucigalpa and know which country it’s the capital of.

 



I’ve overachieved for April.  Instead of getting rid of 30 things that I reluctantly parted with, I made it to 32!  Believe it or not, I found this challenge quite hard because I wanted to get rid of stuff that had already passed the “worthy of being kept” test.

I say “test”, but I’ve not gone all “possessions down to 100 items” and I certainly don’t have the time to hold each item and justify its continued existence in my life.

All bar two of the items (which I threw out) will be taken to a charity shop and, no, I won’t rummage in the charity bag before it’s donated and retrieve things!

Up to now in 2016, I think I’ve placed more emphasis on the challenges than the treats so, as May is my birthday month, I have spent some time thinking about things I often wish I did more often.

May is going to be a month of culture and events, including theatre, exhibitions and cinema.  As there are sort of five weeks in May, I plan to attend (at least) five such experiences, so if any of my friends want a theatre/cinema/exhibition companion, I’m in.

I’m looking forward to this but I find myself mildly anxious that I won’t manage to achieve my target.  But, hey, I managed 31 days without crisps, so surely I can arrange and attend five cultural events.



I’m so annoyingly smug.  January, no alcohol.  Completed successfully.  February, write 29 letters.  Completed successfully.  March, no crisps.  Completed successfully … just.

As for my year of monthly pamper/spa treatments, I had a manicure, pedicure and massage in January (overachiever!).  February, a pedicure.  March, a massage.  And in April I’m already booked in for a massage.

Somehow, I appear to have failed with the book a month “that’ll be easy” challenge.  In January I read “a book” (Oh, ok, it was 50 Shades of Grey so I know it doesn’t count on a literary level, and for the record it was as awful as I’d been led to believe).   In February I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I really enjoyed.  For March, in my defence the month I moved house, I don’t think I’ve even opened a novel.  So now I need to catch up.

My year of no TV is going well and I have not watched television since New Year’s Eve 2015 and so far only missed it while staying in a hotel for work.  I have listened to the radio significantly more than I otherwise would have done and I’m really enjoying the change of news medium and listening to more music.

In terms of things I’ve never done before, I have had a room service dinner and room service afternoon tea.  One March morning, on impulse, I bought a ticket to see The Master Builder with Ralph Fiennes at The Old Vic for that day’s matinee.  I am drinking a £99 bottle of blended whiskey, both the high price and a blend being firsts.  I have now walked to work from home (albeit at my previous home, a mere one and a half hours’ walk rather than the two hours it would be from my new home), something I’d never even contemplated doing.

I have still not bought any new clothes, shoes, bags or accessories, other than from charity shops, since July 2015, although I haven’t even bought much from charity shops.

Maintaining smugness, I now enter April planning to get rid of 30 things that aren’t obviously rubbish.  I have so far managed to cull three things, but if I can manage not to eat crisps for a month, I can surely get rid of some of the excesses around the home.



310116_5679With just over two hours to go, I’m confident I’ll complete January’s no alcohol month.  It’s not been particularly challenging, in part because I was away for most of the month so in a different routine and mainly eating dinners on my own.  I did have two cherry liquor chocolates though, which I felt temporarily guilty about having consumed, particularly as I enjoyed them more than perhaps a cherry liquor chocolate warrants.

I had thought I wouldn’t “bother” to drink any alcohol on 1st February but I am planning to sample (to aid sleep, obviously, and fend off the various cold and fluey bugs that are going round) a new bottle of whisky that I’m convinced will make a polar explorer of me.  Unlikely, I know, but if it was good enough for Ernest Shackleton on his Antarctic expedition …

Incidentally, in a year with a monthly “first experience”, this will be my first blended whisky, though that’s probably not an adequately impressive first!

February’s challenge is going to be to write and send 29 letters, cards or postcards (ie one for every day of February but not necessarily one every day).  As with my alcohol-free January, I have also done two letter-writing Februarys (though one per posting day and with a mere 28 days in the month!) so I’m starting the first sixth of the year on familiar territory.  It should really be a treat month, February, but the treat will be the 29 replies I get … right?!

 

 



et cetera