Walking Without Music

Going for a walk to clear your head is not an uncommon suggestion.  With the wind in your hair, the rain on your face and the (very) occasional glimmer of sunshine on your skin, you are at one with the elements and at one with yourself; free to breathe in the fresh air and take in the sights and sounds of the outside world.

Sort of.

Chances are you noticed none of that shit. Bar the rain, of course. There’s no way you weren’t somehow shocked and disappointed that it decided to rain on you, despite the fact that it rains almost EVERY SINGLE DAY in this place.

I realise that I’m going to sound incredibly lazy when I say that I am not a fan of walking. I never have been. I view it as a necessary evil to get from A to B, not some kind of leisure activity in itself. But now that I have a child, I feel obliged to step outside every once in while – to ensure Caleb meets his minimum intake of vitamin D more than anything else. Sure, if the weather’s nice I’m much happier to take a stroll but that isn’t exactly a regular occurrence in drizzly old N.I. One day last week however, when quite possibly experiencing our entire summer, Caleb and I ventured out with little resignation.

Like most ‘walkers’ I insert the headphones, stick on shuffle, and head off totally unaware of what’s going on outside of the song playing. Listening to the music on my iTunes can only be described as a singular experience. During last week’s walk for instance I was greeted by a medley that ranged from The Last of the Mohicans theme song to Haddaway’s ‘What is Love?’ to Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ (my musical taste is admittedly slightly dated). This blend of genres and eras had the effect of creating a rather messy mixture of memories and emotions as opposed to providing some kind of cathartic walking experience akin to the likes of a Robert Frost Poem.

One song might remind you of a loved one who’s no longer with you. Another might bring back memories of an old flame you’d much rather forget. Or one might just painfully force you to remember the time poor Hawkeye lost his brother (The Last of the Mohicans reference). It all depends on the hand that ‘Shuffle’ has dealt you. In any case, if you’re anything like me, you end up feeling less like you’re on a head-clearing walk and more like you’re on some emotionally exhausting trip down memory lane.

This is not necessarily negative. The splendour of music lies in its ability to transport us to forgotten moments of the past; evoking our senses in a much more powerful way than any other medium. In my experience, it’s just simply not conducive to clearing your head. It’s what we do when we explicitly want to ‘feel’ something. Whether you want to wallow in your own self pity alongside Sinead O’Connor or psych yourself up to lyrics of ‘We Will Rock You’, music has the power to flick that emotional switch for you.

Isn’t the whole point of clearing your head though the exact opposite of this; being able to abandon the past, shut out the future and focus on the sheer wonder of the ‘now’. It wasn’t until I took out my headphones and replaced them with the ‘here’ and ‘now’ that I realised how much more relaxing a walk could be. Rather than feeling emotionally fucked by Jeff Buckley, I was free to observe the pleasant chirping of the birds, the occasional outburst of gibberish from my son and the warmth of the sunshine against my pasty skin. I was granted rare permission in the chaos of today’s world to fully focus on what is – not what was or might be.

This is not to say I will be shunning music from now on in favour of chanting ‘Om’ to some unknown deity but rather that when I feel the need to escape, I will do just that. I will put Prince (God rest his soul) on pause until the next emotionally drunken night with the girls and save the sweetness of Simon and Garfunkel for another time. But for those walks – the kind of walks you take when you really need one – I will resist the urge to get lost in the music and instead embrace the breeze, trace my footsteps, and watch the world. After all, sometimes all you need are a few drops of rain and a gust of wind to really clear your head.

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Fine Wine & Bashed Bananas

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I wonder if cellulite just above the knees will ever become fashionable; if that protruding single black hair donning my chin will ever be considered a “statement” feature; if someday people will say “oh, look how split her ends are.” Unfortunately, until that day comes I will remain distinctly out of fashion and just a bit gross. There was a brief spell there when the sumo bun passed as borderline trendy – that worked in my favour. But since then things have evolved to elaborate plaits and pastel shades and not only am I now very obviously lazy when it comes to my hair, I am also incredibly passé.

Have I always been like this? I don’t think so. There’s a girl I vaguely recognise in pictures with platinum blonde hair, a sun-kissed glow and skinny arms (thank you Facebook for those impromptu updates reminding me of when I once could have passed for attractive). She bears a slight resemblance to that woman I see in the mirror today, minus the wrinkles, an extra half a chin and, ironically, acne.  Some of us, the Leonardo DiCaprios of the world, age like a fine wine and others, unfortunately, like a banana that’s been bashed about your handbag for half a day. I fear it is the latter category in which I fall.

Those pictures – like most that appear in our newsfeeds – are, however, not an accurate reflection. They should also come with tags. i.e. it took one hour to achieve that perfectly carefree curl and 50 quid at the hairdressers to create that blondes-have-more-fun colour. That “sun-kissed glow” that you see required hours of sweat-filled sunbedding and the application of a brown gunk that would drip off at the mere sight of water. Those skinny arms? Well that was just good old underappreciated metabolism. In sum, a lot of time and money went into looking like this. Time and money which I no longer have and even if I did, I seriously doubt would be spent like this.

Just as I don’t now, I had no appreciation for how I looked back then either. It’s like those over cited lyrics from that Wear Sunscreen song:

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.

My 40-year-old self will probably look back at her late 20s Doppelgänger and express the exact same sentiment that I am now narrating: “Why didn’t I appreciate how fabulous I really looked?” It all just seems a bit fruitless.

I could conveniently blame motherhood for letting myself go. No doubt, it has been a contributing factor.  But the fact is, if I can find the time to eat half a multi-pack of crisps, I could probably take some time to pluck that stray black hair. It just seems to be something I have out grown (not the hair; it will outlive me). Case in point: my 5-year-old goddaughter recently asked her mother and my oldest friend “Why does Rebekah wear tracksuit bottoms all the time?” “Because they’re comfortable little Naoíse”. And that’s simply where I’m at at this point of my life.

Don’t get me wrong, I have my moments of weakness, when those perfect eyebrows or face-contouring tutorials catch me off guard. They make me want to want to be better. I just don’t have the room for sculpting in my life right now.

To give a really, really bad analogy. You know when you make a meal with something that’s out of date? You can manage to bluff it with other ingredients and just about get by. That’s what I’m a bit like. I’ve passed my best-before date and I’m just winging it. I have every intention of some day going shopping again, starting afresh and making a much more pleasant version of myself. But until then, I will continue to slick back my hair into my trademark bun, dab concealer on those particularly unforgiving blemishes and rock my tracksuit bottoms until they start gathering fluff.  It may not be pretty but, as I told my goddaughter, “it’s comfortable”.  And while Leo continues to age like a fine wine, I’ll just settle for drinking it.

 

 

Granny Knows Best

grannyYou thought you were doing yourself a favour when you bought those fitted bed sheets. I mean, sure, when it comes to dressing the bed – one of the most dreaded chores in the history of the world – you’re glad you can easily navigate tucking those corners in without breaking into the sweat-blinding, enraged fit that comes with “unfitted” sheets. Like most things in life, however, this is also too good to be true. Just as the last sheet came off, this one too will face the washing machine, the tumble drier and the inevitable (dun dun dun) folding.  Let’s face it, they are the cloth equivalent of the Rubik’s Cube.

(Seriously though, how do you fold them?)

I have been in awe of my mother for most of my life but, if I’m honest, I took for granted these subtle skills she mastered on a daily basis. It only occurred to me the other day, when I went to “fold” one of these cotton enigmas (and when I say fold, I mean roll into a heap and discard in the darkest corner of the house) that I realised this was my job… forever… and I might, some day, actually have to figure out how to properly do it.

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This all sounds fairly dramatic considering we’re talking about a bed sheet here. But it was the wider implications of this realisation rather than the folding of this one sheet that scared the complete and utter shit out of me. To this day, I have very much relied on my mother. And I’m not even referring to the big things at this point; I mean for those really small, niggling things like sewing a button, knowing how much soy sauce to put in your stew and what another word for conundrum is. To me she represents a fountain of knowledge and experience that, I fear, one day my children will look to me for. Once such a comforting notion, the concept that “mum knows best” has all of a sudden become incredibly frightening.

As a youth, my mum always encouraged me to watch her performing these seemingly insignificant tasks, presumably so that one day I would be able to do these things for myself. Of course I didn’t. I always figured I’d eventually pick it up and while I can make a mean spaghetti bolognese, my culinary skills are severely lacking, not to mention my sewing abilities.

I realise my mum is not your typical mum and I could never aspire to her greatness. The woman is 60 and, just a couple of weeks ago, twisted her ankle playing BASKETBALL.  That’s the kind of woman we’re dealing with. But beyond that, she’s an extreme gardener who can rock a pair of waders; an experienced upholsterer who, despite her arthritic fingers, still knows her way around a toolbox; a general knowledge genius who manages to retain information on pretty much every subject; and, above all, the most selfless woman I have ever known. She’s also a dab hand when it comes to GCSE art (wink wink).

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 FYI these are waders. FYI this is not my mum in waders.

To now draw a comparison, I genuinely don’t think I can name all the colours of the rainbow.  In fact, I’m not even going to try as I don’t think I can deal with the confirmation that I can’t.  My point is, is that someday my son, and hopefully my future children, will look to me for the wisdom that I was so fortunate to have in my mother.  They may not need me to reupholster their furniture or build them a pond but no doubt they’ll have their own special challenges ahead for me – a fact which, if I’m honest, terrifies me. From the hard “life” questions to even just the hard math questions, what if I don’t know best?

The good news, I suppose, is I still have time to learn. I still have time to learn how to sew a button, bleed a radiator, cook a turkey and fold a fitted sheet. And thankfully I have the master to learn from. So, for now I’ll happily give way to the fact that Granny knows best and hope that someday I will earn this honour myself. I realise this will be a long and difficult process; after all, those are big waders to fill.

P.S. Once I have mastered the art of folding the fitted sheet, I will post the instructions.