Category Archives: Simple pleasures

Books, shops and genteel black holes

“What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore it knows it’s not fooling a soul.”
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

“A good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.” 
Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards! 

The above quotes are by two of my favourite authors and they very much encapsulate how I feel about bookshops. I have recently been extremely busy with work and, returning from a long business trip, I got to thinking about the importance of books and bookshops in my life and, more importantly, my sanity!

Books have always figured largely in my world. I fought against them as a child, mainly because the repeated phrases drove me insane. I can still quote one particular book with intense savagery today (for those of you who grew up as I did with the Sali Mali books, you’ll understand what I mean). In self-defence, my infants teacher started me off on a series aimed at 7-10 year olds. I was five at the time and it was my first introduction to an entire new world of wonder and enchantment. I was hooked. I devoured those books, desperate to know what adventures the Griffin, the Pirate and the Mermaid would fall into next. By the time I hit secondary school, my reading age was that of a sixteen year old and I was insatiable. I had also discovered the joy and lure of a good bookshop and nearly all of what money I had at the time was spent within the portals of the local bookshops.

Bookshops still intoxicate me. I have several that I patronise, some here, some there, some online. I prefer independents, though there are some good chains out there. This is  the first in an occasional series of my favourite bookshops – and of a few tea shops too. I will include web address, where they exist, in case you’d like to look them up too.

Watkins Books, 19-21 Cecil Court, London ( http://www.watkinsbooks.com/ )

450px-Watkins_books_in_Cecil_Court_2013-04-25_13-00

Taken from Wikipedia

Hidden away between St Martin’s Lane and Charing Cross Road, London, Cecil’s Court is full of little gems, but I go there because of Watkins. Trading since 1983, it specialises in books on the esoteric. Just as you never know what sort of book you may come across in Watkins, you also never know who you may meet. Spaced across two floors, as soon as you walk in the warmth of the place surrounds you. The staff here are genuinely knowledgable about their subject and are invariably welcoming and friendly. As well as books on religions of all kinds, magic, self-development, earth mysteries and Celtica, they also stock books on health, astrology, nutrition… The list goes on and on. They also stock divination cards, crystal jewellery and CDs, which range from New Age to Early Music. A very wide breadth. They arrange regular free evening events with some of the authors whose books they stock – no need to book. If you happen to be in the area, just drop in. You can also get a Tarot or palm reading here every day of the week. Their loyalty scheme gives a really good discount once you have collected enough stamps (unfortunately only available on books brought in the shop at present).

I try to make a point of visiting here every time I am in London. It’s a little haven of comfort and happiness in a manic world. A place to while away a magic couple of hours away from the pressures of the everyday.

Why not let me know what and where your favourite bookshops are?

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Autumnal Beauty

Giant Hogweed umbrel

Giant Hogweed umbrel

Autumn has to be one of my favourite times of the year.

I love the smell of the earth as leaves fall and vegetation begins to die back. The wet depth of the heavy dews, carpeting the world in sparkling iridescent diamonds. The liquid golden light that touches everything, but especially autumnally-coloured leaves, with syrupy fire. The crisp cool mornings that open out into gloriously warm, blue domed days. Screaming winds and driving rains that send you scurrying for the comfort of a warm blanket and a steaming cup of tea. 

Additionally, it is still a fecund time of the year, with flowers still blooming in a last gasp farewell to the summer. Preparations are also underway for the winter, and for next year’s spring.

Ivy berries , which will darken as winter approaches

Ivy berries , which will darken as winter approaches

Next year's catkins

Hazel tree with the small nubs of next year’s catkins showing

It is also the time of year to look for fungi. We are on heavy clay here, clay which usually bakes solid in a summer such as the one we have just had. Last year, however, was incredibly soggy, so the earth still gives underfoot, even after this year’s heatwave. Indeed, in some places it still squelches, especially after a good night’s rain. These conditions are, apparently, just what the fungi around here were craving. Everywhere you look, everywhere you thought to place your foot, there you will find mushrooms. Large mushrooms, small mushrooms, each with its own weird beauty. I am not an expert on fungi, and therefore leave them firmly where they are. This is why I have made no attempt at identifying the mushrooms below, as so many types look like other types. Poisonous ones look like edible, or the other way around. Indeed, one particular edible mushroom commonly found in the UK is known as the Deceiver, simply because it looks so alike other types of fungus! If you do wish to collect wild mushrooms for consumption, I would locate an expert forager who can teach you what to look for, as not even the best text book can convey every condition of growth safely.

FungiField mushroomsShaggy ink capphoto 4

As you can see, a wondrous diversity and a quite striking beauty. Not surprising, as there are approximately 15,000 types of fungus to be found in the UK alone. A lifetime’s study for the dedicated mycologist, all waiting on his or her doorstep.

There are also a few late butterflies still to be seen, though they are getting fewer and fewer in number now. Here is a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) feeding on a late chive blossom. Interestingly, the species name of urticae comes for their preference for nettles (genus Urtica) for laying their eggs.

photo 1

All in all, this time of year is magical in its diversity. Beauty is sharper, clearer than in the more opulent summer. Soon, the scent of woodfires will start to perfume the air, the first frosts will silver the world and the bare, beautiful bones of the landscape will be seen. A season of pleasures will be over, but with the promise of yet more pleasures to come.

What autumnal beauties will you find?

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Filed under Seasonality, Simple pleasures

The Gentle Art of Travelling

Istanbul at night

Istanbul at night

I have recently been travelling for work. Something I used to tell myself I hated doing and also something I used to do with as bad a grace as I could manage.

Recently, however, I’ve realised – or at least admitted to myself – that I actually really like the entire process. I love having time to myself, time to breathe, time to think, time to just be. I also love the feeling of going somewhere new, seeing something I’ve never seen before, savouring the feel of a new experience. I love the fact that I’m alone, and can do whatever I want outside of work hours. Go out with any colleagues that are around? Sure thing! Eat early and curl up with a good book? Not a problem! Stay up late in the bar watching the ebb and flow of other lives passing by? Of course! Go for a walk to explore that interesting-looking cemetery seen through a taxi window? Why not?!

I take my comforts with me, comforts which turn a cold, impersonal hotel room into a home from home. My stash of different teas and my barley ‘coffee’. Soothing CDs, usually New Age or Early Music that ease me into relaxation of an evening. Since many hotels do not allow candles, a small votive holder and a small bottle of frankincense oil to perfume the room. Just fill the votive holder with hot water and add a few drops. Simplicity itself. A Kindle stuffed with books I want to read: old favourites, as instantly soothing as sucking your thumb; challenging factuals I can get my teeth into; and a few historical romances for when my brain hurts and I don’t want to think.

This time, my business trip took me to Istanbul. Istanbul! A city imbued with romance, courtesy of the Orient Express. A city redolent of a more elegant time. A city with a new experience on, quite literally, every corner. Most of all, however, a city I have always wanted to visit. Since first reading about it (I think it was in an old crime novel, or possibly a vampire tale, though I misremember which), I have had visions of myself visiting the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace and eating heaps of baklava and Turkish delight.

Since this was a business trip, the visits didn’t happen, and since I am wheat intolerant, I didn’t get to eat any baklava either. I’m not repining, however, as I did at least get to sample the Turkish delight. Much nicer than the ones you get in this country.

I have learnt that in this life, you have to grab any opportunity that comes your way. Such as the glorious view from the restaurant a colleague took us to one evening. A wonderful antidote to the usual stresses of the day.

Istanbul at night. The Topkapi palace on the left, the Blue Mosque slightly right of center

Istanbul at night. The Topkapi palace on the left, the Blue Mosque slightly right of center

One day, I will go back and see the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace close up, although they will be hard pushed to match the magical impression of being seen lit up in the night under a full moon with their lights reflected in the ever-changing waters below. Someday. Another item to be added to the only to-do list that matters. The one graven into my soul.

Grab your memories where you may. They’re insurance for later on.

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Filed under Istanbul, Simple pleasures, Travel

Those Simple Little Pleasures…

…Or, Why Little Things to Great Things Lead

Too cute!

It seems that everybody these days wants to be happy. Which, of itself, isn’t a bad goal. It’s just not one that I think is sustainable. 
 What?! I hear you cry!
Before you switch off in disgust or start yelling at the screen, let me explain myself.

To my way of thinking, happiness is a big event in your life. It is a swelling of emotion from a constant background to a peak – usually associated with a particular moment or event – and then, inevitably, it subsides. Leaving the person who experienced that happiness looking for another hit. This is why I believe that although happiness has its place – and a very important place – in life, it cannot sustain either the spirit or the person from day to day.

Enter simple pleasures stage left.

Day to day, I aim to be content. Not exactly a fashionable attitude in this ‘must have the best’ world of ours, but an eminently sustainable one. Contentment is the background radiation to my life against which the surges of happiness and joy stand out in technicolour beauty; it is the constant that allows me to experience life in full, never dreading disappointment or the fear that I could never experience such joy, such emotion again for I know, day by day, that what I have, what I do, what I feel is enough. It is pleasure taken in being alive, in the simple pleasures of life, in nurturing my soul on a daily basis. It is the blanket of comfort I throw over my days knowing that if I am troubled or sick, in pain or down, that it will pass and I will once more be myself.

I never realised, until I deliberately thought about it, how many simple pleasures I have in life. Or how each little pleasure, stitched together into a larger whole, provides layers of comfort, of direction, of tiny joys burning into the fire of continual contentment.

The first sip of a really good cup of tea. The fragrant waft of steam from the open oven door when the loaf of bread is ready. Noticing something new whilst travelling a route taken every day. Discovering a new author. Taking notes as I read. The way polyphonic music both moves and soothes my soul simultaneously. Opening a new magazine and wondering what new lands I will journey to. That sudden lift of the heart on witnessing a bird take flight. Watching waves crash against the shore during a winter storm. Reading a cookery book, dreaming of the dishes I will someday conjure.

None of these things, taken singly, amount to much. Their power lies in the moment, that tiny little lift to the spirit that is then maintained by noticing the next small thing. This is the crux of contentment for me, the ritual of noticing the small graces of my existence and of acknowledging them, however silently.

Unless we keep an eye out for our little pleasures, they pass us by. We gulp the tea without tasting it, the steam from the oven is merely inconveniently hot, the route travelled just another task in the daily grind, the book or magazine just an hour’s diversion, the waves crashing on the shore only noise and wetness. Beauty unseen, joys dampened, comfort disdained.

Treasure the little moments, for they truly lead to great things.

Treasures hide where they may. Search for yours today.

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