A Pet Name

Finally get round to this part…

I’m a dog nut. I feel about dogs the way some people feel about babies. If there’s one in the room I have to pet it, play with it and want one of my own. Unfortunately, it’s not possible at the moment. The place we live doesn’t allow pets.

But I dream. I go to pet stores and dream of the day when I can buy chew toys and big squishy pillows and vacuum the house once a day because black dog hairs get everywhere.

A black lab.

That’s my breed and always has been. I can flirt with idea of getting another breed. I love Great Danes and I’m nuts about my friend’s gorgeous white Alsatian, but I’m just a black lab girl at heart.

My son and I have been discussing names for a while now. He wanted Maxime (named after Robespierre), like the one we had when he was born. I didn’t think we should name the new dog after our old one. I suggested Thorin – he vetoed. I suggested Lucky Luciano – he liked it but it was the dog name I had picked out when I was twelve. At thirty-eight it didn’t feel right.

Then we went to see Rogue One and it hit me.

Vader!

That is going to be our dog.

We’re going to name him Darth Vader, but we’ll call him Vader on a daily basis.

If an intruder ever sneaks his way into the house and the dog grabs him, I’ll get to say, ‘Vader, release him,’ when the cops come.

That’ll scare him straight!

vader-release-him

My Father’s Nose

My mother has always told me the story of how, when I was born, my godmother took a taxi all the way down from London to Kent and made it wait while she went to see the new arrival.

‘Adorable!’ was her verdict. Followed by, ‘And don’t worry, if she doesn’t grow into it, she can always have a nose job.’

So every so often, when I would look at photographs of myself or stare too long at the reflection in the mirror, I really hated my nose.

There’s nothing wrong with my nose. We’re not talking Cyrano de Bergerac here. But it’s strange how the little things can affect you when the mood is right. Especially when you add to the ‘My face is too round/I’m too fat/…’ thoughts that pop into a woman’s head from time to time. When they all hit you together you might as well just curl up into a ball and eat chocolate until they go away.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was at my parents’ house for dinner. I looked across at my father. He was listening to a story my mother was telling and laughing at old memories. His nose caught my eye.

That was when I realised.

My nose is his nose. The same proportions, same slant, same little upturn at the tip.

I haven’t had a bad thought about my nose since.

My father is sick. He will – he is – getting better. But underneath the layers of optimism and the utter determination to only think good thoughts, is the desperate fear that screams out from my heart like a soul in utter torment: what if I lose him?

But now, even if that happens and my world crumbles around me, I will always have a part of him with me.

My nose.

Maybe it’s silly, but it actually makes me feel better.

 

Hygge

Hygge is part of the Danish way of life. It’s untranslatable. The closest you get is “cosy.” It’s a big trend at the moment, so big that apparently in the UK people are trying to use it to promote soup. Parents of a colleague of mine run a Danish restaurant in London. They were approached by a man wanting to write a book on Danish hygge. He’d never even been to Denmark! That would be like writing a book on French culture based on ‘Allo ‘Allo.

Hygge is a very real thing, so I wanted to share some real Danish insights. Especially now the long nights have drawn in. We can arrive at work while it’s still a dark morning and leave in the dark afternoon. That’s if you’re doing a standard Danish 8 till 4.

But I love the long winter darkness. Partly in winter we have December. In Denmark December is just one long hygge-packed month. Everyone’s candle budget increases in December.

The problem with trying to define hygge is that it’s like trying to hold water in your enclosed fist. Or explain why music can make you feel a certain way. It’s intangible. It’s so intrinsically part of our culture that if you haven’t been exposed to it it’s almost impossible to replicate. What you’re looking for is a feeling. So at the end you describe something as having been “hyggeligt.”

Hygge is about doing something – mainly with others – that leaves a feeling of cosiness, contentment, happiness, peacefulness. It’s why Danes have the highest consumption of candles. Candles are a huge part of hygge. So is food. I introduced my ex-husband to hygge when I lit candles and served hot chocolate with whipped cream on a dark and miserable wet afternoon. This was in Wales, so you can get those even in July.

Last weekend my oldest friend, my son and I had planned a movie night. We ordered pizza, spread out the candy, soda (for him) and Hawaiian coffee (for us). Then we curled up on the sofa with blankets, turned the lights out and lit some candles. That was “hyggeligt.” (We were watching IT, just prove you can find hygge in anything. Even in creepy clowns.)

hygge

When my son and I spend a Sunday afternoon baking cookies together and then having a board game marathon (obviously where we eat the cookies) that is hygge.

Summer barbecues in the garden with my parents are hygge. (Hygge is not just a winter phenomenon.)

Having old friends over for dinner is hygge.

Going to a Christmas market and playing 50s style bingo with a bunch of strangers is “hyggeligt.”

But spending the evening alone, curled up with a great book, a latte and some chocolate (and some candles) is also hygge.

It’s the feeling you’re trying to achieve. There’s a reason why we are supposed to be the happiest people on earth. Hygge has a lot to do with it.

It’s about making time. Making time for you and your loved ones and do something together. Not just sitting around staring at your phones. That’s not hygge.

So don’t rush out to an expensive Scandinavian store and change your whole decor just to be part of this lifestyle trend. You don’t need pillows with elks on them or cashmere throws. Just go to IKEA for some candles and maybe pick up something edible with cinnamon.

(Never ever buy anything called a “Danish pastry” abroad if you’re trying to experience our culture. Unless it’s from a bakery run by an actual Dane who knows what it’s really about. Sorry, pet peeve of mine. Whenever I hear anyone talking about “cheese Danish” I go a little nuts. We would never put cheese in our pastries.)

So go and get some hygge in your lives. Another wonderful thing about hygge is that it slows down time. So you forget for a moment that you have deadlines to meet or the most boring meeting to sit through come Monday morning. There’s just that moment and nothing more.

Keep the candles burning.

Slow Suicide in the Grown-Up World Part II

Back to my point …

What I wish someone had told me when I was a passionate teenager was how to keep the passion alive when the world tried to kill it. Not intentionally, just because the world is not geared towards everyone chasing their dreams. It’s geared towards some people doing it, and the rest of us just stuck with the nagging feeling that we shoulda woulda coulda be and do so much more.

I wish someone had been able to make me understand what being a grown-up is really like. Not just by saying, ‘You’ll be too busy paying bills to worry about writing.’ Who would ever want to grow up to that?

Why is coaching so popular? Why are people collapsing from stress? Why are there so many movies where the final resolution occurs when the corporate man/woman realises that what they really want is not a promotion, raise or company car, but just to spend time with their families. This must be a legitimate desire or they wouldn’t keep making them.

Why are companies trying to create fun in the workplace? Why does everyone suddenly want to live and work like we do in the Nordics?

Because we’re supposed to be happy.

Happy people pursue their passions. Happy people make room for their passions in their lives.

What I have finally learned, so many years later, is that no one is going to keep that passion alive but me. No one is going to swoop down and give me a free ride. Pursuing your passion is hard work. It’s late nights, early mornings, rejection letters and writer’s block and frustration. But it’s also that incredible feeling of peace and fulfilment that comes when you’re doing something you know is so right for you.

I’ll just have to find a way to make time for it. I should. It makes me happy.

So the slow suicide ends now.

It was unintentional.

 

Slow Suicide in the Grown-Up World

Dark December mornings were made for three things: writing, reading, coffee and candles.

Okay, Dark December mornings were made for four things: writing, reading, coffee, candles and cake.

Okay five things.

Where’s Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition when you need them?

Here’s a post by author Chris Nicholas that got me thinking.

We hurt when we bury our passions. We are in pain when we let bills, Outlook, mortgages, spreadsheets sneak up on our lives and wrap their little tentacles around everything we love. Because who are we kidding, if someone wants a career and not just a job, there’s no such thing as real time off. There’s this nagging feeling, when we’re out in the woods walking the dog, or sunning ourselves in lovely Parisian squares, that we really should be at home working because there’s still so much to do.

As Mark Steel says in A Stand-Up History of the French Revolution, at least in the pre-corporate world no one expected you to carry your loom home with you or go down pit for a few hours on Sunday. (Read it by the way, it’s hilarious. Gave me all my passion for my subject back when my first year of my Ph.D. sucked it out of me.)

Between the ages of 15 and 17, I was at my most passionate. I knew exactly what I wanted and I was brave enough to stand up and shout it to the world. The only thing I needed was a plan.

Because with typical teenage arrogance, I believed that I would be instantly recognised for my talents. One book would do it, I’d be off, I’d be famous and I could do nothing but write for the rest of my life. Despite all those well-meaning people (aka my mother) trying to tell me that it doesn’t work that way, I didn’t listen. Because I couldn’t relate.

I thought being grown-up meant getting to do what I wanted to do. Freedom. Freedom to stay up till 3 a.m. because I just had to finish writing this passionate scene. Freedom to spend the weekend locked up with a book and not have to worry about homework. Freedom to wander the streets for hours, lost in old buildings and the plots that were working themselves out in my head.

And yes, it is all of those things.

But just coupled with the nagging feeling that I have un-read emails, a project behind schedule, an angry customer and just maybe my time could be employed better behind my computer.

I’m saying this now, even though for the first time in years I love my job.

A few months ago I had some old friends round for dinner. One of them asked if we actually felt like grown-ups. And none of us did. Yet we’re all late-thirties, responsible breadwinners with children and mortgages. I thought a lot about it. Of course we are grown-ups. I just don’t think any of us expected being grown-up to be quite like this.

Now it’s time for work, so I will have to write the rest of this later.

I do have a point.

Promise.

The Yeti in the Window

So we got the keys to our new apartment. After months of planning and dreaming, we were finally going to live in Copenhagen. My son wanted to celebrate.

As we wandered through the city, we came across one of those Fish Kiss spas. (For the uninitiated, you stick you feet in a tank and small fish nibble the dead skin off you feet. Like cuddly piranhas. Or Care Bears with fangs.) We’d tried it once before and had promised ourselves we would do it again. Now the time had come.

And, then, just as I swiped my card through the machine, I remembered. You had to roll your trousers up to your knees. And sit in a room full of people with their feet in tanks. You had to be on show.

Never normally a problem for me. Give me a mic and centre stage and I will talk and present projects and sell you concepts till the cows come home.

But the horror! It was April. And I hadn’t shaved my legs since the last time I wore a skirt. Which was probably February. On the optimistic side. It could have been New Year’s.

So I would be sitting there, on display in the window like some bargain rate Amsterdam hooker, with my very hairy legs exposed for all to see.

In my mind I could already see people pointing and laughing. The girls downstairs where you had to wash your feet. The girls upstairs. The other customers. The people out on the street looking in.

No way!

I was so close to telling the immaculately groomed Russian on the other side of the counter that we’d come back another time. Then I looked at my son.

And thought about the message I would be sending him, if I backed down and ran away, having just promised him – and paid for – a treat.

What would he learn?

That appearances are what matter.

That strangers’ opinions of how you look should govern how you live your life.

That you should always conform to society’s norms and expectations regarding your appearance and behaviour.

That’s not me.

That’s certainly not a message I want him to take out into the world.

So I sat there. Proud, hairy, sipping Moët Chandon and laughing at my son’s jokes.

A little self- conscious?

Oh yes.

But a lot wiser.