…thinking happy thoughts and counting blessings
I’ve been on something of a mission this week.
It was sparked initially a couple of days back after I wrote this week’s column, and realised what an astounding amount of angry capitals it contained.
So I had Pete read it too. And if you feel a sense of déjà vu, you’re right to, because his next words were, “but aren’t you being a bit ranty? You know – like, AGAIN?”
At which point, as one would, I went harrumph a couple of times, before telling him that sometimes a woman needed to rant – how else, pray, were we going to make the world a better place?
“Well, perhaps, at the end there,” he bravely persisted, “you know, where you’ve written ‘this is appalling!’ – you know, AGAIN – you could maybe end on something more positive?’
I told him I’d think about it, knowing I wouldn’t think about it, precisely because he’d suggested it. (Which is the way of writers sometimes, I’m afraid.)
But then, the next day, I re-read it, and had something of a perspective-shift, and then again, when I posted something about Donald Trump on facebook, and was told by a kindly friend to ‘calm down’.
Hence the mission. Which was to get into a Zen kind of mindset. Not that I’m sure what Zen Buddhism is, exactly. I just remember that it’s something about ‘being fully alive’, and that in time of stress, whatever your spiritual persuasion, the very best thing you can do is count your blessings.
So that’s what I did.
The branch of Lidl, for instance, just round the corner from Cardiff Uni.
More than any other supermarket, I find that Lidl branches have their own personalities (See also Caerphilly Lidl, which has the most amazing mountain view) and this one – whose clientele are, for the most part, students – is no exception.
Call me sentimental, but there is something almost viscerally joyful about being in the company of newly-minted 18 year old undergraduates, shuffling round the supermarket in sweet, benign posses, holding packs of mince, considering onions, scratching heads and torsos, asking, ‘didn’t Josh say he knew how to make meatballs?’ Or, ‘loo rolls. I mean, seriously. DO NOT forget the loo rolls.’ Or just standing in the queue, lightly sleep-fogged at two in the afternoon, looking dreamily into the middle distance while their baskets tell their stories. Here a tin of beans, here a packet of 19p pasta, there a bag of doughnuts or croissants from the bakery – which you know will be devoured before they are even home. Is it strange to say I want to hug them all? I hope not.
Then there’s a bright new academic year, bedding in for me too. I have a new crop of students every autumn and every New Year, and by week three, I feel the alchemy – feel the vibe begin to settle. The frisson of seeing talent. The pleasure of being useful. The potential of being someone, who, a little way down the line, might be remembered fondly, as having been an inspiration. Why else does anyone teach, after all? And as someone who works almost always at home, there is great pleasure to be had in the whole ‘dressing, driving, parking, entering my classroom’ dynamic. In the eager faces. The quiet passion. The fervour.
I have Glastonbury tickets. WE have Glastonbury tickets. We feel – no word of a lie, this – beyond, beyond blessed. Let there be mud! Any amount of it.
The mattress currently sitting in the middle of my hall. Georgie has a new bed so it’s heave-ho to the old one, but since our tip-going timetables don’t dovetail till the weekend, there it sits, in sprung stasis, before we take it. And we bounce on it. All of us. Because it is there. (The cats love it too. I have this week been abandoned. There they sit. Tiny lion-guardians of the temporary bedchamber. Unmoving. Stern. Statuesque.)
My dear friend Debbie – the greatest blessing of all, this – texting a picture of her newly decorated dining room. She’s been so ill. So frightened. So subsumed by the long months of chemotherapy, not yet finished. Yet this week, in a pocket of between-cycles energy she has painted her dining room. It’s a deep marine green colour, like the scales on a mermaid. It’s called fish tale, but it could just as easily be called sunshine – because seeing it is exactly like the sun coming out.
And the sun IS out.
First published in the Western Mail Weekend Magazine Oct 15th 2016