Month: November 2018

Life is too short

I need to stop making excuses.

Life is too short.

I need to stop over-thinking things.

Life passes too quickly.

A recent and very sudden death has plunged my life into contrast. The sister of my ex-wife passed away unexpectedly, she was 49. She was a loving, fun, smart woman. She brought up four kids on her own, went back to college once they’d grown up and earned a BSc in Nutritional Science, ohhh and she needed at least one coffee in the morning before you could speak to her. She would’ve done anything for you as she valued people over possessions. She was quick to laugh at herself, had little common sense, and for the years I knew her she was the big sister I didn’t have.

Quietly and with humility, she wasn’t one to sing her own praises or make a fuss, she just got on with things. She helped Louise and I when we moved into our first house – painting most of the living room on her own without a break – if you asked for help she always said yes, she put others first, and I don’t think I can recall her ever being angry. These are not words blinkered by grief, she was a good ‘un through and through.

Her funeral was a mark of the impact she’s had on the local community; the seats in the crematorium filled quickly, it was standing room only after that, and many people had to stand outside and listen to the service through the loudspeakers that were set up as the building was beyond capacity.

It’s still hard to believe she’s gone.

Today the life I have in front of me is, suddenly, different. Not in any specific way, there is no specific sign, no specific thing to point at, but the shift has happened, it’s there, I can sense it. The gentle voice in the back of my head repeating that simple mantra, one I’ve said many times in the past but I don’t think I’ve either fully bought into, nor fully realised what it represented. Life is too short.

At the service, Chris, the eldest of the four children spoke to us all. His words captured his mother well, her love of love, how the choices she made enriched her life far more than any amount of money would’ve done.

His message is one I am repeating here, a message I heard through the tears as they streamed down my face.

“Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident, it’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice, choose to live a life that matters.”

The coming year will bring changes to my life, as it always does. Some I already know about and I’m excited for, some I do not but I will deal with them when they arrive. Throughout I hope I can remain mindful to make better choices.

Life is too short.

Weekend Reading

  • I’m Meditating (I’m Just Not Sitting Down)
    For a while, it seemed like everyone was talking about how meditation changed their lives—friends, acquaintances, podcast interviewees and interviewers, authors, even the baristas at the coffee shops I went to. Someone told me about the Headspace app, so I downloaded it.
    Other apps are available – I prefer Buddhify – but yes to this.

  • Re: Hate Mail
    I’ve received 15 emails from my internet stalker in the past four days. It’s like watching an inmate from behind a two-way mirror. He read a short story I wrote once satirically titled “The Greatest Story Ever Written.” It’s about a group of male writers who lose their way.
    One wish for the world: End hate.

  • How coffee protects the brain
    Scientists have now proved that drinking certain types of coffee can be beneficial to brain health, but how does this popular brew support cognitive function? A new study identifies some of the mechanisms that allow coffee to keep mental decline at bay.
    I bet TEA doesn’t do this, stupid tea.

  • Aaaand Now … an Oral History of the Greatest Starting Lineup Introduction in Sports History
    In the annals of the Great American Sports Songbook, a singular tune has reigned for more than three decades as the undisputed heavyweight champion of outré jock jams.
    I think the third CD I ever bought was purely to get this track.

  • A Day in the Life of a Mountain-Bike Trail Builder
    Clayton Woodruff, vice president of Progressive Trail Design (PTD) in Bentonville, Arkansas, misses digging in the dirt.
    Fun job! (But still a job).

  • Why Don’t We Forget How to Ride a Bike?
    Most of us learn how to ride a bike during childhood. But as we grow older, many of us stop riding and put those once-beloved bikes in storage. Years later, when we discover these relics and hop on, it’s as if we never stopped biking.
    Why don’t I forget song lyrics from 20 years ago but can’t remember what I did last week?

  • Tired of Pasted Text Messing Up Your Formatting? Try This
    You paste text into a document and for some dumb reason the formatting comes with. Gah! Here’s how to stop that.
    Mac users (posting ahead of potential new MacBook purchase…)

  • I Found the Best Burger Place in America. And Then I Killed It.
    I n my office, I have a coffee mug from Stanich’s in Portland, Oregon. Under the restaurant name, it says “Great hamburgers since 1949.
    Screw you internet!!

  • Does cutting carbs really help keep weight off? The big new diet study, explained.
    It’s probably the most contentious question in the dieting wars: How much do carbs really matter when it comes to weight loss?
    Another week, another sciencing of what we eat.

  • This mobile laundry gives homeless people free showers and washes their clothes
    Set up in 2014 by two friends, Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, the Orange Sky Laundry started life as a van that had been fitted out with a washing machine and dryer. There are now 27 Orange Sky vans in Australia, which are operated by a team of volunteers.
    This is wonderful!!

  • The remote UK community living off-grid
    On a remote peninsula in the north-west Highlands of Scotland is the small off-grid community of Scoraig. Accessible only by boat or a five-mile walk, the residents of Scoraig live in relative isolation, partly powering their homes and school with wind power.
    Tempting.

  • The Wrong Pair
    Dr. Alvarez furrowed his brow, crouching to view my right breast head-on, inscribing something on it with a dark blue marker — a map for his scalpel.
    Men have it so so easy.

  • How to Control a Machine with Your Brain
    For eighteen years, Jan Scheuermann has been paralyzed from the neck down. She is six feet tall, and she spends all day and all night in a sophisticated, battery-powered wheelchair that cradles her—half sitting, half reclining—from head to toe.
    The upside of all those scary Boston Robotics and AI videos? This. Life changing.

  • The Fax Is Not Yet Obsolete
    Nicole Follmann arrived at the Brooklyn House of Detention last spring to post bail by fax. This is how it works: You can post someone’s bail from any jail or courthouse, but you have to send a fax to wherever the person is housed.
    BEEEEEoooooooo ksshshhhshshhshhh BEEooeEEOOOOOE Jahsajhjahajshjkkkkk (sorry, you don’t speak fax?)

  • Rape survivors are clear on the distress of a ‘not proven’ verdict
    1878 rapes and attempted rapes reported to the police, but only 251 prosecutions and 98 convictions. Just 39% of cases which are prosecuted lead to a conviction. This is the lowest conviction rate for any crime. Nearly 30% of acquittals were not proven, compared with 17% for all crimes and offences.
    This has to change. Come on Scotland, we are better than this.

  • In Defense of Puns
    Once upon a time—in 382 C.E., to be exact—Eve bit into an apple. Seeing it was good, she offered the apple to Adam, and he also took a bite. Whereupon Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened, and they realized they were naked.
    I love a pun, I tried a number of puns here but none worked; no pun in ten did.

  • 24 Amazing, Homemade Dungeons & Dragons Maps
    Last week we asked Atlas Obscura readers to send us their greatest DIY Dungeons & Dragons maps. It was a critical success. We received dozens of fantasy adventure maps illustrating the amazing worlds in our readers’ imaginations.
    Wow. Never ‘got’ D&D but some of these are epic.

  • New Evidence Emerges of Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica’s Role in Brexit
    For two years, observers have speculated that the June, 2016, Brexit campaign in the U.K. served as a petri dish for Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign in the United States. Now there is new evidence that it did.
    But of course.

  • The Mystery of the Havana Syndrome
    In the winter of 2017, the American Embassy in Havana was in a precarious state.
    A fascinating insight into Cuba and the CIA.

  • A dark, handsome rival plans to muscle in on Nutella
    It’s being called the jar wars. For decades, the Italian spread known as Nutella has sat placidly upon its throne—the undisputed queen of the chocolate (and chocolate-hazelnut) spreads, with 54% of global market share. Now there’s a pretender looming in the wings.
    Just posting here. For reasons.

  • Why Scientists Are Rushing to Catalog the World’s Poop
    If a group of scientists is successful, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault will be getting a cousin—one that may initially sound rather strange. Instead of gathering seeds to preserve plant species, this project involves gathering fecal samples from people all over the globe.
    I really must stop complaining about MY job…

Man Up

#InternationalMensDay has been the rightful target of ridicule. A firmly established, if wobbling, patriarchy makes the notion of a day specifically for men an utter irrelevance. Isn’t every day is International Mens Day?

But whilst Yes, All Men is the cry, some people have taken this hashtag to point out that the very idea of masculinity still needs to be challenged, to make the very valid statement that many men still feel trapped by the notions of what it is to be ‘a man’ that are pushed at us day after day after day.

Man up
Sit down
Chin up
Pipe down
Socks up
Don’t cry
Drink up
Just lie
Grow some balls, he said
Grow some balls.
~ Samaritans by Idles

I have only ever been in one fight.

I say fight, it was more a push-fest until I got punched in the stomach and got winded. It was primary seven, I was being bullied and it all came to a head.

Picture the scene, a patch of grass just outside the school gates so we didn’t get into trouble for fighting in school, a few kids at the periphery shouting and cajoling two young boys. A few pushes, one punch, and I couldn’t breathe properly and doubled up, crying for mercy. It wasn’t a fight fuelled by anger, all I can recall was feeling a bit scared and annoyed at being made to do something I didn’t want to do – peer pressure sucks – and then embarrassed as everyone walked away laughing and mocking me, whilst I was left kneeling on the grass, sucking for air.

Later in my teenage years puberty brought with it a simmering anger that would, occasionally, peak and explode but I didn’t resort to violence against others. Instead punching bus stops became a wonderfully emo trait, but even that was mostly to show off and prove that I was a man because violence was something MEN did and I was a MAN. Right? It was also a good way to get attention focused on me. I was massively selfish as I grew up and it was years later before I figured out why and dealt with it (short version: I have a long standing need to feel loved and appreciated, and back then if it wasn’t obvious and evident, I didn’t recognise the love that people had for me so I acted out to get the attention that I craved).

And then there was the day I pushed my best mate off a stool.

I didn’t know it at the time, and boy oh boy would this double the guilt I felt later on, but he was struggling with coming out at the time. He’d been acting oddly, long walks home from the pub, that kind of thing, and that night I’d just had enough of what I perceived as attention seeking (seriously, I was a self-centred ass when I was younger). I’m not sure exactly what sparked my anger, if he said something, or someone else made a comment but the switch was flipped and next thing I know I’m shoving him to the floor.

I still feel the horror and guilt flooding back as I think back on that night. Today I’m very lucky to be able to say he is my best friend, that I love him dearly and I was so so proud to be his best man when he got married. Yet the legacy of my young male angst and anger is hard to brush away. What I still don’t fully understand is where it came from in the first place.

My own father is about the kindest hearted man I’ve ever known, I don’t recall him ever raising his hand to me as a child, let alone his voice. My sister was spanked once, one single smack, and it remains so notable that it’s become a family story. That one time that Dad spanked one of us!

I know I was so very lucky to have such tolerant parents, and as a role model my father is and continues to be the kind of man I aspire to become. That’s not to say I don’t get my quick emotional outbursts from the wind (shall I tell the story about getting a full glass of water thrown in my face? maybe another time…). Regardless, I know my childhood was blessed more with love than admonishment, and that on whole our family home was a peaceful one with lots of laughter and love.

Yet against the backdrop of my upbringing is the portrayal of how “men” should be that was/is played out in TV shows, movies, adverts, and newspapers. In those worlds men are tough, those men act, those men take control and dominate whatever activity is happening. There is a clear divide in the world between the things a man should do (if he chooses), and those a woman must do (because society has deemed it thus). Patriarchy to the max, especially in the 70s and 80s when I was growing up.

As a young man, unsure of himself, unsure of his place in the world, you do your best to try and fit in. You adhere to the rules that seem obvious as they are the ones propagated around you, you act a certain way, you adapt to your surroundings and pretty soon you aren’t sure who you are, or where you fit, or if there is even a place for you at all, it’s confusing and much easier to lash out at others than look inward. And so it was that bus stops became the enemy.

I read something about cliches the other day, about how the older you get the more you realise that they are cliches for a reason, that they hold more truth than your younger, world-challenging, sceptical self was willing to admit. It is all tied up in time and the realisation that YOU aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things, so the only and best thing you can do is look after yourself. After that, be nice to others if you can, and after that it’s all gravy.

The times they are a-changin’, sang Bob. And those words feel like they are, finally, starting to hold true (I bet every generation says this). The definition of being a man has been increasingly challenged over the past couple of decades, from the metrosexuals to the millenials, there is room to be a man that isn’t a boorish thug.

So what is it to be a man?

Man up, Sit down, Chin up, Pipe down, Socks up, Don’t cry, Drink up, Just lie, Grow some balls? I don’t think so. The notion of just getting on and coping with things, not communicating, dealing with everything all on your own, never telling anyone how you really feel, and never EVER crying, is so far removed from the man I am that I struggle with those who show these traits. The alpha males, the bragging, chest thrusting egos, they are not me.

I am a man. I have a beard and tattoos. I am fragile. I am full of bravado. I am a phony. I have a soft heart. I am 186cm tall (6’1″ for those at the back). I am a complete asshole at times. I love my sister. I still catch myself mansplaining (thank you to friends for pointing it out when I miss it, I really am trying!). I love my niece more and more everyday. I am a feminist. I am strong. I love my best friends and have told them so. I cry, happily, at old movies and at all the injustice in the world. I love openly. I talk about my thoughts and feelings.

I am more than my father’s son. Which is as it should be, as I am the product of both my upbringing. Call me a snowflake and I’ll show you an avalanche*.

There are so many choices we make as we grow. From the bullied child to the (overly) angst-ridden teenager, through my younger formative adult years, to the man I am today, I’ve made a lot of choices. Not all of them good, some of them have caused pain to others and I’ll never fully forgive myself for that. But I am proud of the man I have become, and the man I’ve yet to realise. I am happy and content with my masculinity.

My sister is getting married next year. I will cry the happiest of tears.

I am a man.

Weekend Reading

  • The Fascinating, Creepy New Research in Human Hibernation for Space Travel
    No interstellar travel movie is complete without hibernators. From Prometheus to Passengers, we’ve watched protagonists awaken in hibernation pods, rebooting their fragile physiology from a prolonged state of suspended animation—a violent process that usually involves ejecting stomach fluids.

    It’s such a staple of Sci-Fi that it’s hard to imagine it any other way.

  • It is not a woman’s responsibility to make a man a better human being

    Women don’t want to be caretakers of badly raised, ill-mannered or generally troubled men. Essentially, women don’t want to raise men, we want to grow together.

    Yes. Still. All Men.

  • GoGo Penguin’s Guide To Manchester’s Jazz Underground

    After a stunning gig last week, I stumbled across this. This is NOT the Jazz you think it is.

  • Ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter Takes On The World’s Most Sadistic Endurance Race

    Gary Cantrell clanged a bell at 6:40 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20, signaling 70 runners to jog off into the woods on his farm in Tennessee. They had an hour to complete a 4.1667-mile loop trail. Easy. Most of the group finished with 15 minutes to spare. The bell clanged again at 7:40 a.m.

    I have an odd liking and awe for these lunatics.

  • Man Arranges Leaves, Sticks, And Stones To Create Magical Land Artworks

    Scottish sculptor Andy Goldsworthy creates transitory works of art by arranging leaves, sticks, rocks or anything else he can find outside. Most of Goldsworthy’s art is considered transient and ephemeral, causing people to perceive it as a criticism on the Earth’s fragility.

    Some pretty for your weekend.

  • The real trick to staying young forever

    People are living longer today. But how do we make sure those extra years are good ones? For people in wealthy countries, it’s a question of increasing urgency. In 2019, for the first time ever, there will be more Americans over age 60 than under age 18.

    It had better be pizza and ice cream… if so I’m sorted!

  • Stores use these tricks to get you to spend money. Don’t fall for it.

    The holiday season in America is one giant spending fest, as the months of November and December can account for 30 percent of a brand’s sales, according to the National Retail Federation.

    It’s holiday season, keep an eye out!

  • How to Be a More Patient Person

    Relax. It’s going to be O.K. My jaw clenches when Hulu videos buffer. I huff and puff when stuck in a sluggish line at a coffee shop. Slow cars in the fast lane send me into a curse-filled tizzy. I’m ashamed how quickly I lose my cool over these minor things.

    Valid advice for the always-on, 100mph society we are told we should participate in.

  • What Happened When I Started Intuitive Eating

    It was 6 a.m. and we’d been up for five hours already, wildly jet lagged from our recent honeymoon. (The cake was a mini version of the one from our wedding, which he’d surprised me with the day we came home.

    It had better be pizza and ice cream… ohh it is! (note: this is essentially the latest diet fad, I’m not suggesting you do this!)

  • Post Malone is the perfect pop star for this American moment. That’s not a compliment.

    Him? The most popular young artist in the most unpopular young nation is a rhinestone cowboy who looks like he crawled out of a primordial swamp of nacho cheese.

    Seconded. Where are the original talents?

  • When does a spork become sentient? Inside the existential “Toy Story 4” teaser

    At what point does a spork become a toy?

    Important questions, we must have answers!

  • Comics legend Stan Lee dead at 95

    The legendary comic-book author, publisher, and film producer Stan Lee has died. He co-created Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, the Avengers, the X-Men, Black Panther, and many more characters and imaginary worlds we’ve come to know through comic books, games, and movies.

    What a life.

  • ‘Being silenced is not acceptable’: Doctors express outrage after NRA tells them ‘to stay in their lane’

    At first, Judy Melinek didn’t know how to respond when she learned about a National Rifle Association tweet last week telling doctors who dared enter the gun debate “to stay in their lane.

    Also worth noting NRA budget is shrinking. Bravo Dr. Melinek!!

  • What happened when I tried the U.S. Army’s tactic to fall asleep in two minutes

    If you often find yourself having trouble falling sleep, you’re not alone. The American Sleep Association (ASA) says that 50 million to 70 million U.S. adults have a sleep disorder. Among that group, insomnia is the most common.

    I kinda do the ‘relaxy’ thing already, who knew.

  • How I Use and Manage Apple Photos

    Problem: You have a camera phone in your pocket and, over time, you’ve accumulated a LOT of pictures. Like, a whole lot. What now…?

    This sounds very familiar.

  • 8 Warning Signs You’re Mentally And Emotionally Exhausted

    Riding on that crazy rollercoaster called life can sometimes be really tiresome. One minute you’re high up and the next second you’re back down where you started. All that madness and unpredictability can really mess with a person’s physical as well as mental wellbeing.

    Worth a read as it’s never always obvious.

  • 10 ‘Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible’ Facts About Comic Book Writer Stan Lee

    Pop culture legend Stan Lee’s life has always been an open book. The co-creator of some of the greatest superheroes and most beloved stories of all time has become just as mythical and larger-than-life as the characters in the panels.

    Genuinely nice man. What are the odds.

  • The kilogram is changing. Weight, what?

    SEVRES, France (AP) — The kilogram is getting an update. No, your bathroom scales won’t suddenly become kinder and a kilo of fruit will still weigh a kilo. But the way scientists define the exact mass of a kilogram is about to change.

    comment

  • Paper coffee cups will be the death of us

    While driving around the country on a mega-road trip last year, I relied on a lot of things to keep me going: gas, protein bars, peanut butter pretzels, water, and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

    Guilty, so so guilty

  • Monsoon V

    Mike Olbinski is back with another of his jawdropping storm chasing videos. I find clouds endlessly fascinating — it seems like there’s always something new to consider while watching these kinds of videos.

    Nature. AMAZE.

  • The World’s Largest Hot Sauce Collection Might Be in an Arizona Living Room

    Hot sauce dominates Clinco’s living room. Vic Clinco is an assistant manager at US Foods, the food service distributor. But in his free time, he takes on a different identity entirely: that of a hot sauce collector supreme.

    I do love me a wacky collection.

  • School shootings have fueled a $2.7 billion school safety industry. What makes kids safer?

    The expo had finally begun, and now hundreds of school administrators streamed into a sprawling, chandeliered ballroom where entrepreneurs awaited, each eager to explain why their product, above all others, was the one worth buying.

    Jesus fuckin christ. Talk about ‘fixing’ the symptoms.

  • *privacy not included

    Teddy bears that connect to the internet. Smart speakers that listen to commands. Great gifts—unless they spy on you. We created this guide to help you buy safe, secure products this holiday season.

    Alexa, please turn yourself off.

  • The Leonid Meteor Shower Will Peak This Weekend

    Change your Saturday night plans! The Leonid meteor shower is going to peak this weekend so be ready to find a dark spot away from city lights to enjoy this stellar spectacle. The Leonids is considered one of the most prolific meteor showers for historical reasons.

    HEADS UP!!

  • The Best Way To Save People From Suicide

    It was still dark outside when Amanda woke up to the sound of her alarm, got out of bed and decided to kill herself. She wasn’t going to do it then, not at 5:30 in the morning on a Friday. She told herself she would do it sometime after work. Amanda showered. She put on khakis and a sweater.

    Reach out. Just reach out.

  • ‘Toxic’ is Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year, beating ‘techlash’ and ‘gaslighting’

    At least that’s according to Oxford Dictionaries’ official word of the year selection. The British publisher said “toxic” beat out other expressions including “techlash” and “gaslighting” thanks to the “sheer scope of its application.”

    Great. That’s my earworm for the day sorted.

  • The Ubiquity of Smartphones, as Captured by Photographers

    According to reports issued by several market-research firms, including Forrester Research, the total number of smartphone users worldwide will reach 3 billion this year—40 percent of the human population.

    The future is bleak? Golden? Lit by a thousand LCD screens?

Buying better

As those of you who have met me in ACTUAL REAL LIFE (cos hey, us Bloggers also exist in the real world) can no doubt attest, I am not the most fashion conscious person. I’m aware of high street trends but my exposure to that is largely what I see out and about, I don’t read about fashion, I don’t get exposed to many adverts about fashion, I am not fashionable. I’m comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, sometimes a shirt, and whilst I don’t mind dressing for the occasion I tend to view clothes as a necessity rather than a delight.

And no, that doesn’t mean I would rather be naked all the time, no-one needs to see that…

Before I moved to my new flat I went through a de-cluttering process of all my belongings. Part of that included going through all of my clothes to pare down my wardrobe and I ended up donating a few large bin bags worth to charity. It was a very satisfying activity and at the end I felt very pleased as not only did I have less ‘stuff’ (which was the main aim) I was also giving to charity and that’s always a good thing. Right?

Yet there was an undercurrent of unease as those bin bags filled with so many barely, or completely, unworn items. It was far too easy to part with far too many items as clearly they held little to no value to me. If ever there was a literal pile of reasons that I’d succumbed to the lure of blind consumerism there it was, right there at my feet.

Speaking of feet, I also had a few pairs of shoes in the pile but that was largely a fashion choice. I tend to pay more attention to footwear when I’m buying something new than any other article of clothing. Does that maybe hark back to getting my feet measured as a child, in one of this big mechanical things that I was always semi-convinced were gonna crush my toes? Perhaps, but I’m willing to spend money on good footwear so it’s not something I lack.

So where did it all go wrong, how did I end up with bin bags full of clothes that I didn’t need/want? Well it’s not hard to figure it out. For starters when I do buy clothes these days it’s usually online, which means I’m guessing at sizes, and I’ve never been that good at returning things so they just keep adding to the pile. And then even if I do manage to sum up the energy to go clothes shopping in actual shops I rarely stop to try things on, and I’ll shamefully admit there were a few items that went into those charity bags that still had tags on.

Like many people I justified this stockpiling of un-worn and un-loved clothing to myself by reasoning that I was just holding on to them for ‘when I lose weight’ or ‘just in case’ but let’s be honest, that pile of clothes in the wardrobe that you rarely look at are very much out of sight and out of mind, right? And hey it’s fun to buy new things – there is a reason it’s called retail therapy – so what’s the harm? The end result was a wardrobe chock full of clothes of which I was regularly wearing about a quarter of all the items crammed in there.

During the clear out I took the time to try on every single item and it helped me fully understand why I wasn’t wearing each item. It came down to some pretty simple reasoning; they either didn’t fit comfortably, they were never quite right (wrong shade of blue), or I just didn’t feel good when I wore them (I don’t suit many greens). On the days when its hard to ‘people’ who wants to go out already thinking you don’t look good and spend the rest of your day uncomfortably tugging and re-positioning your clothes, wishing you’d just worn that favourite t-shirt and to hell what anyone else thinks? No-one, that’s who, so you turn to the old favourites time and again.

There is also, in the back of my mind somewhere, the example of President Obama who only had two colours of suit to choose from in the morning. The fewer decisions we have to make, over the smallest things if needs be, the more energy we have for all the other ones we have to make each day. I am not the President of anything so this might be stretching things but it’s why those well-worn jeans are reached for when I just can’t be bothered trying anything else. It’s a very easy decision to make.

After that big clear-out I was left with clothes that fitted me and that I felt comfortable wearing (these are not mutually exclusive statements, trust me) and it turned out to be an easier process than I thought, although that is probably more a reflection on how I view clothes in general as I ended up getting rid of a lot of shirts based on style alone. For the items that made the cut I went through a second round of trying everything on and making sure that I felt comfortable wearing them. No matter how much I may have liked the pattern or design of something, if it didn’t feel right when I put it on, out it went.

Throughout this I had a strange mixture of pride and achievement, with a growing under-current of shame as I did slowly tried on and rejected item after item. Watching the pile of clothes grow and grow it felt good to be taking action, to be actively assessing my clothes for a change, but as that pile got larger I started to realise just how much money I had wasted and how little thought I’d given those purchases; the manufacturing of those clothes, the ethical decisions around the company who made them, all of these things I’d completely ignored as I barrelled headlong into the modern consumerist trap of ‘more is good’.

More is not good. This is something I’d figured out a few years ago when I started to reduce the clutter in my life, going through household items like a man possessed. Once you’ve started on that path it’s easy to look at all the things you own and question why you have it at all and once the mindset is in place you do look at all the things you own, and all the things you are about to purchase, in a different light. It also helps you realise how much more important every other aspect of life is, how much you need to be out in the fresh air, how good it feels to spend time with friends, and just how much you love your dearest closest friends and family.

It was around that time, whilst my life was changing around me, that I stepped back and looked at what the future might hold for me. What did I want for my life? What trappings and artefacts would that require? I soon came to the realisation that the bulk of the things I owned were superfluous to how I wanted my life to be and that made me start to question everything, not quite with the Kondo ‘everything should delight’ mindset but certainly something along those lines.

I realised that I’d been starting to change my approach to making purchases, initially to stop myself spending money just for the sake of it but that built in ‘pause’ in the decision made it easy to then look at the items I was purchasing with another lens on. Why own something ugly and unwanted? Why buy something that is cheaply made as you’ll get better value from paying a little more upfront? (mostly, this does not always hold true). I’ve slowly been replacing furniture and household items with replacements that are not only better quality but which I enjoy owning, enjoy looking at, enjoy using no matter how banal the item is (seriously, my can opener is always a delight to use) . So even the simplest of chores brings a little delight, which in turn improves my mood for larger chores, which in turn makes it more enjoyable to keep on top of those little things and keeps my home clean and tidy, which in turn helps my brain stay calm and relaxed. It sounds a bit bonkers I know, but it really does work.

Despite applying these considerations for household items, I hadn’t extended that thinking elsewhere, especially not with clothes because, in case it’s not yet clear, I’m just not that bothered. They are just clothes, I don’t care if what I own is up with the latest fashion trends – skinny jeans are NOT for me and I like wearing socks god-dammit – and after that it’s more about frivolity and function, or at least I think it should be.

But I should be bothered. I know I should.

And then I read this post by Lori on Fashion & Sustainability which outlines much of what I’m now struggling to articulate:

You may think that clothes becoming more available and affordable can only be a good thing, but encouraging us to buy more means that we no longer think about our purchases properly, and we get sucked into a cycle of spending more than we (and the planet) can afford.

These days I care more about the quality of what I’m buying for financial reasons, but I’m now starting to look at how sustainable the manufacturing processes are, what material is being used, how is the item packaged, what are the ethics of the company that made it? Those thoughts also mean I stop and pause and consider what I’m about to buy, which means fewer impulse buys, which in turn means I’m looking through all my clothes more often and wearing that long forgotten shirt at the back of the wardrobe. And this thinking is starting to spread to other purchases, where reducing my plastic footprint and improving my recycling efforts, mean I’m more mindful about the sustainability of all my purchases.

We all have a choice, and whilst finances will obviously be a factor, the more we all think about what we are purchasing, ultimately the better it will be for ourselves and this amazing planet we inhabit. And as we head for the traditional season of massive overspending I think it’s worth while taking stock and seeing what else we can all do. Every little helps, after all.

Weekend Reading

  • Unexpected Life Lessons from the Gym
    Now there’s a title I never thought I’d type. It’s been bang on a year since I started regularly going to training at AG Fitness and it’s been nearly 10 months since I upped my sessions to three times a week.
    I love Abba! A great write up of the wee gym I go to.

  • A hiker in the Cascades thought she would die in a snowstorm. But a stranger was looking out for her.
    Just before reaching its northern terminus at the Canadian border, the Pacific Crest Trail runs through the Glacier Peak Wilderness, an unforgiving stretch of rugged timberland in Washington state’s Cascade Range.
    Faith in humanity restored.

  • How A Dog Could Stop The Global Spread Of Disease
    Several years ago, British entomologist Steve Lindsay landed at an American airport and was immediately struck by all the furry creatures walking around the baggage claim area. Recent studies have found that people carrying malaria release a signature scent.
    Dogs are ace. Fact.

  • Trees ordered to pick all that shit up
    Following a wild night during which they waved their branches in the air as if they just did not care, the trees have left the country covered in debris which they expect others to clear up.
    Damn right. Messy fuckers!

  • “My official resignation from slimming by committee”
    Me and food, relationship status: complicated.
    I’ve never gone to a slimming class of any description but I have been tempted. Glad I’ve never succumbed.

  • A Growing Number of People Are Getting Rich Selling T-shirts Online
    Nearly every night after dinner for eight straight months, Glen Zubia brewed a cup of coffee, turned on heavy metal music, and made T-shirts. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays he designed in Adobe Illustrator.
    Gig economy? Work hard and reap the rewards?

  • Ross Edgley sets record for round Great Britain swim
    An adventurer from Grantham has become the first person to swim 1,780-miles around Great Britain. Ross Edgley, 33, was joined by 300 swimmers for the last mile before he arrived in Margate at about 09:00 GMT.
    Nutter. Well done!

  • Solitary bees

    Most bees are not part of a hive.

  • Can you prevent osteoporosis?
    Completely preventing osteoporosis isn’t as straightforward as we might hope and can never be guaranteed. However, we can all make ourselves more aware of what causes osteoporosis, our own risk of developing osteoporosis, and what we can do to help our bones stay stronger for longer.
    As I get older, these are the things I consider. Great article.

  • Analyzing Lego Porn, the Fetish That Will Ruin Your Childhood
    “If something exists, there is porn of it:” Welcome to Rule 34, a weekly column in which Motherboard’s Samantha Cole lovingly explores the highly specific fetishes that can be found on the web. If you’ve thought of it, someone’s jerked off to it.
    I am so SO sorry. (not sorry enough to NOT link to this though!)

  • Benedict Cumberbatch is ‘sick of camomile tea being called tea’. Is he right?
    When is tea not tea? That is, inarguably, a question. According to the Sherlock actor and exceptionally unlikely sex symbol Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s when it comes in a fey little sachet and smells of newly mown lawn.
    I don’t ‘get’ tea in any form so I’ll leave it to you to decide.

  • Researchers created an artificial society to find the causes of religious conflict
    To understand religious warfare, you could study the hundreds of historical or ongoing world conflicts that center on religion. Or you could program an AI to mimic human psychology and generate artificial societies, and then run it millions of times under different variables.
    Religion. A lot of good bits, but the bad bits are truly horrific.

  • Life’s Little Luxury
    When a few years ago I decided to write a book about charm, I began asking friends and acquaintances if they could name five people in contemporary public life—in show business, television journalism, politics, sports—they thought charming. None could do it. Some couldn’t name one.
    I am well mannered but wouldn’t say I was charming.

  • Party for one: why are so many of the greatest love songs about masturbation?
    It is a truth universally acknowledged that Carly Rae Jepsen is incapable of putting out a bad song – from Call Me Maybe via Run Away With Me via Cut to the Feeling (seriously, all of them) to her new single, Party for One.
    All by myseeelllfff…. hang on..
  • Do you love or loathe coffee? Your genes may be to blame.
    A warm cup of coffee is a necessary part of the morning routine for millions of people around the world. And as the end of daylight saving time messes yet again with our sleep patterns, plenty of people in the U.S. may reach for an extra cup or two to power through the drowsiness.
    THANK YOU MY WONDERFUL PARENTS!

  • How Bill Gates Aims to Save $233 Billion by Reinventing the Toilet
    Bill Gates thinks toilets are a serious business, and he’s betting big that a reinvention of this most essential of conveniences can save a half million lives and deliver $200 billion-plus in savings.
    A lot of poo-pooing of this article… but at least he’s doing something.

  • The Problem With Being Perfect
    When the psychologist Jessica Pryor lived near an internationally renowned university, she once saw a student walking into a library holding a sleeping bag and a coffee maker. She’s heard of grad students spending 12 to 18 hours at a time in the lab.
    Part of my counselling uncovered ‘perfectionism’ as a trait of mine. So, basically, this (kinda).

  • People magazine names Idris Elba 2018’s Sexiest Man Alive
    The British actor says the honor has given him a boost of self-confidence. “I was like, ‘Come on, no way. Really?'” he told the magazine. “Looked in the mirror, I checked myself out.
    *immediately subscribes to People magazine*

  • David Attenborough has betrayed the living world he loves
    Knowingly creating a false impression of the world: this is a serious matter. It is more serious still when the BBC does it, and yet worse when the presenter is “the most trusted man in Britain”.
    Harsh take perhaps? My reading of this is Sir David wants to inspire wonder so we WILL want to take care of the world better, not depress and scare us into apathy?

  • The Don of Trumpery
    synonyms • cheesy, crappy, cut-rate, el cheapo, junky, lousy, rotten, schlocky, shoddy, sleazy, trashy Making fun of other people’s names is one of the lowest forms of humor. But naming can also be an art.
    Is it really this simple (I mean, HE is but.. oh yeah also, apologies for the Trump article but he’s really hard to avoid these days).

  • The cult of creativity is making us less creative
    You may have noticed that creativity is all the rage—and not just among artists. American culture, and indeed the world, has become obsessed with manufacturing creative kids, who will turn into inventive workers, who will then become the innovative leaders we need in these rapidly-changing times.
    Internet is good for some many things. Overwhelming any hobby is not one of them.

  • We Could All Use a Little More Chindogu, the Japanese Art of Useless Inventions
    A little bit Dada, a little bit “only sold on television,” intentionally useless inventions called Chindogu look like a bunch of plastic junk at first glance, but there’s more to it than that. And they’re not quite altogether useless.
    WONDERFUL!

  • What if the Placebo Effect Isn’t a Trick?
    The Chain of Office of the Dutch city of Leiden is a broad and colorful ceremonial necklace that, draped around the shoulders of Mayor Henri Lenferink, lends a magisterial air to official proceedings in this ancient university town.
    Amazing how much we still don’t know about our brains.

  • How Dad’s Stresses Get Passed Along to Offspring
    A stressed-out and traumatized father can leave scars in his children. New research suggests this happens because sperm “learn” paternal experiences via a mysterious mode of intercellular communication in which small blebs break off one cell and fuse with another.
    Makes note to meditate more often.

  • An Incredible Video of What It’s Like to Orbit the Earth for 90 Minutes
    This is easily the most awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping thing I’ve seen in months. In its low Earth orbit ~250 miles above our planet, the International Space Station takes about 90 minutes to complete one orbit of the Earth.
    I don’t often change the order of this list but it’s worth taking some time to watch some of this. Mesmerising. We are so so in-significant in the grand scheme of things. Let’s all just get along!

Six by Nico: Middle East

Back to Six by Nico for their latest menu – MIDDLE EAST – and I’ll admit upfront that of all the world cuisines this area is my least favourite (it’s all those olives) but as ever I entered the restaurant with a quiet optimism that my opinion would be swayed.

  1. MEZE PLATTER – Falafel, Caper & Raisin puree / Ewes Curd Kibbeh, Coriander Emulsion / Duck Leg Dolma, Preserved lemon
  2. KEBAB – Lamb Belly, Red Cabbage Slaw, Ras El Hanout Yoghurt, Pickled Cucumber
  3. SPICED CAULIFLOWER – Rose Harissa, Barrel Aged Feta, Kamalata Olives, Toasted Almond
  4. SEA BASS – Baba Ganoush, Pomegranate, Freekah, Walnut
  5. GLAZED CHICKEN – Orange Blossom, Medajool Date, Sumac Carrot, Chicken Skin Dukkah
  6. BAKLAVA – Hazelnut & Chocolate Creamaux, Sour Cherries, Coffee & Cardamon Creme Fraiche

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Six by Nico: Middle East

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Antibiotics put paid to any apertif so it was straight on to the snacks last night!

Listed as Pitta Bread, Hummus & Green Harissa, Halkdiki Olives, Lemon & Chilli it was exactly that. Given that every snack option so far has included ‘bread and olives’ of some variety it’s safe to say this was a little underwhelming. The pittas were freshly made, but the hummus wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but hey it’s just a little snack to get us rolling.

The first course arrived on a wooden platter, which didn’t strike me as very Middle Eastern but nevertheless offered us three small temptations taken firmly from that region. A deliciously light falafel on a caper and raisin puree (more please), a slice of rich kibbeh which needed the coriander emulsion to save it being too bland, and a duck leg dolma which was well prepared but only the preserved lemon gave it much of a flavour.

Not being a fan of fatty meats, the Kebab course was the least favourite going in. That said, the meat was tender and well seasoned, the pickled cucumber was an interesting addition that helped lift things, with the red cabbage slaw and yoghurt providing a nice crunchy tangy to counter the fatty meat. Better than I had anticipated.

I wasn’t sure what to expect for spiced cauliflower but I was delighted by the little bowl of veloute that was placed in front of me. Accompanied by a little side offering with a slice of picked cauliflower and two little deep fried florets, the veloute was utterly divine. Rich, creamy, lightly but obviously spiced, with tiny feta crumbs to pop some salt onto your palate, and a dash of rose harrissa oil to give a hint of warmth. I’d happily just have had a big bowl of that and some bread and go home happy!

One thing that Six by Nico has been consistently good at is serving fish and the Sea Bass was no exception. Perfectly cooked with a crunchy skin, and the light flaky sea bass was delicious. Not being a fan of Baba Ganoush I was glad for the little sweet pockets of flavour brought by the pomegranate, overall though this dish could’ve done with a bit more flavour.

The next dish didn’t really do much to lift the flavour profile of the menu either. A wonderfully moist chicken breast was helped by some dates, but the Surmac Carrot was tasty but without much punch. As ever, everything on the plate was cooked well but as a dish it felt a little lacking, perhaps the Orange Blossom could’ve been given a bit more of a tang as it hardly got a mention on my palate.

Ahhh Baklava, layers of pastry, drenched in syrup, with creamy pistachios and almonds and fruit and … well no. This version was three thick crisp layers, sandwiching dollops of hazelnut and chocolate creamaux, with sour cherries to the side and a dollop of a delicious Cardamon Creme Fraiche. It wasn’t overly sweet, which was good, with the cherries nicely balancing out the deep richness of the chocolate creamaux. That said, I’m hard pushed to see how it was anything remotely similar to Baklava but maybe that’s my own lack of knowledge of Middle Eastern cuisine at play? Regardless, it was a nice if confusing dish to end the meal on.

Overall, not a favourite. As ever each plate is well cooked, prepared and presented, but for me this was lacking in the things I associate with the Middle East, smokey spices, rich meats, and deep dark flavours.

Good food, friendly service and, I know I’ve said it before but it bears repeating, at £28 for six courses of wonderful food, plus £5 for an apertif and £5 for snacks (between two) Six by Nico continues to be ridiculously good value for such well prepared and considered food.

Weekend Reading

  • Meditation in the Time of Disruption
    When I was 8 or 9, I became preoccupied with death. It wasn’t that I was afraid; I just like to be prepared.
    Meditation. Good for you? Or just another big business cashing in?
  • Why do some people hurt more than others?
    Anyone who came of age in the 1990s remembers the “Friends” episode where Phoebe and Rachel venture out to get tattoos. Spoiler alert: Rachel gets a tattoo and Phoebe ends up with a black ink dot because she couldn’t take the pain.
    I’ve a fairly high pain tolerance (tattoos being a good example). Until it comes to plucking eyebrows… UGH
  • European Parliament Approves Ban On Some Single-Use Plastics, Reduction On Others
    The European Parliament voted on Wednesday to enact a complete ban on some single-use plastics — such as drinking straws and disposable cutlery — across the European Union and a reduction on others in an effort to reduce ocean waste.
    Good! Ohhh no wait, this won’t apply post-Brexit. FFS.
  • A viral typo from 2009 is the perfect word for this spooky, funny time of year
    Like most people, when I first encountered the word “spoopy” on late-2013 Tumblr, I took it for a charming spelling mistake that had been turned into a short-lived meme.
    But was the typo deliberate?
  • This Is How We Radicalized The World
    On Sunday, far-right evangelical Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil. The era of being surprised at this kind of politics is over. Now we have to live with what we’ve done.
    We need more ideas on how we de-radicalize.
  • Why be nonbinary?
    Recently, I found myself at London Stansted Airport, travelling back to the United States. I’m a frequent flyer, so I’m familiar with the airport ritual: shoes, laptop, body scanner. But for myself and many others, the final instalment of this liturgy tends to become a social test.
    Short answer: because they are. Long answer: it’s never that easy.
  • Why everyone around the world is having the same nightmare
    The first time Tim Brown saw the Hat Man, he was 14 years old and curled up in his bed in Nashville, Tennessee. He was dozing, with the only light in the room coming from the flicker of late-night television. As he drifted off to sleep, a sound from the television shook him back awake.
    The real question is, how many of you will now have this nightmare having read this article!
  • Climate change is unraveling this Antarctic ecosystem
    Brutal.
  • Sissel Tolaas goes nose-on with the whole world
    When you are a world-renowned pioneer in smells, it’s somewhat inevitable you will end up sticking your face into peculiar places: the burned rubber tire of a Chevy lowrider, a rotting hunk of wall insulation from an abandoned home, a cupped palmful of cool water from the Detroit River.
    One of the least prominent senses but one of the most important.
  • A cockroach’s karate kick is the trick to fend off killer zombie wasps
    Humans loathe roaches, so we don’t feel remorse about killing them, and don’t mind if other living things do it, either.
    I have a cockroach. His name is Bruce!
  • ‘Saviors of the white race’: Perpetrators of hate crimes see themselves as heroes, researchers say
    In Kansas, a middle-aged man yells, “Get out of my country!” and shoots dead an Indian-born immigrant. In New York, another man, convinced the white race is being destroyed by interracial marriage, allegedly finds an African American homeless man and stabs him to death.
    The problem I have reading this is just how much of a leap it ISN’T for some of these men.
  • Welcome to the Petty Hall of Fame
    Being petty can feel good. While we often shoot for grandeur, we frequently land at petty—an offshoot of the French word petit, to be specific. Petty has been a belittling word; calling someone petty would historically have been a derogatory statement.
    Would having to hand code this post count as something has broken my ‘magic IFTTT recipe’?
  • How Do You Move A Bookstore? With A Human Chain, Book By Book
    When October Books, a small radical bookshop in Southampton, England, was moving to a new location down the street, it faced a problem. How could it move its entire stock to the new spot, without spending a lot of money or closing down for long?
    Awww good to know us humans aren’t all bad.
  • One way to make urban cycling safer? Fewer angry dudes
    Copenhagen is renowned for being a bike-friendly city. At rush hour, parents navigate major roads with kids in their bikes or cycling beside them.
    What a surprise. Men.
  • The Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger Language of Dieting
    Late last year, the health-care start-up Viome raised $15 million in venture-capital funding for at-home fecal test kits.
    All about the money.