Making a House a Home

Getting away from all the negativity and craziness in the world just now, Fandango’s Provocative Question this week asks:-

What is the one thing in life you are most excited about right now? Why?

For me, I’m excited about the ongoing process of making our house into our forever home. We moved in last October, mid-way through the month, and decided to take our time taking stock of everything before making too many major changes too quickly. It all felt so strange to begin with, it was not only a move of 600 miles to a new house for us but also to a different city, a different country, and neither of us had jobs to go to. We’d both grown up in the local area, a long time ago, but hadn’t actually lived here for decades.

There is quite a bit to do long-term in the house – we need to replace all the windows, the kitchen units and the boiler and renew the loft insulation, and also do a bit of re-routing of wiring in the loft while the area is temporarily cleared of storage flooring, so decided not to start decorating anywhere until we’d completed all the messy background work first. And we’ve also left the old floor coverings in situ throughout the house – so once the bigger changes are made, and the painting and wallpapering is done, we’ll replace the carpets at that point, but until then we’ll live with what was already there. Not at all to our taste, but definitely livable with in the meantime.

We could of course have just bought a brand new property in walk-in condition, but this was the house we both fell in love with, regardless of what needs doing to it. This is where we want to create our new home, whatever it takes and however long it takes us to get there. For us, moving from a Victorian one-bedroom first floor flat conversion in London, England with no outside space at all to a 1930s three-bedroom detached bunglow in Inverness, Scotland with a mature garden front and back has been a masive change in environment for us to get used to, however welcome a change it may be.

The timing of our move in mid-October meant we missed all the warmer summer weather and instead hit the start of cooling down towards winter, so planned initially for a quiet time spent simply settling in to our vastly increased living space during the coldest months, deciding to really get going in the spring once the weather picked up enough to start making some of those big changes. Except of course just as that time appeared on the horizon coronavirus and lock-down happened, and much of our advance planning came to an abrupt halt for the duration. And everything is still pretty much on hold even now.

So since moving in almost eight months ago we’ve changed all the blinds and curtains and all the lighting, and have taken off a couple of unnecessary internal doors between the kitchen and dining room. We’ve chosen and bought wallpaper for the living room, master bedroom, and dining room, and have removed the built-in under-counter fridge and freezer which had both seen better days, replacing them with a super-energy-efficient free-standing fridge-freezer. We’ve bought a sofa, a set of six dining chairs, two large oak wardrobes, an oak chest of drawers and two oak bedside units.

And the extra three months of frustrating lock-down down-time effectively kicking our heels workman-wise has actually turned out to be surprisingly beneficial as far as the long-term house and garden planning goes. The longer we live here, and the more we get a proper feel for the space we inhabit, the more the house is subtly indicating what it wants, showing us what might work best for us all. We’re seeing how the natural light coming in changes along with the seasons, getting a real sense where our original plans might need to be tweaked here and there to best attain our particular vision of what ‘home’ means to us.

Just being here at all is still exciting for me, living in all this wonderful space, dreaming and planning and enjoying what we have already achieved so far as well as feeling full of hope for the future. This is what we spent a long time aiming for in life, and here we are at last living in our own four house walls within our own four garden walls. Making our house into our forever home, our way, one amazing day at a time… 🙂

Older But Not Necessarily Wiser

Fandango’s Provocative Question this week asks:

‘How old are you and how old do you feel – older or younger than your actual chronological age? Do you generally act your age? And what does ‘Acting your age’ mean to you?’

What a fun question! I’m 56, and will turn 57 towards the end of the year. And do I feel my age? Well, yes and no.

My body is clearly ageing, especially since I hit menopause – my depleted hormone levels also seem to go hand in hand with the depletion of whatever lubricaton allows my joints to move smoothly. Additionally I’ve got a growing collection of niggly ongoing health problems I didn’t even imagine existed when I was younger.

And my skin has visibly sagged and wrinkled quite a bit, my hair is greying and my eyesight has deteriorated so badly I need reading glasses to see anything at all close up. I know in general I definitely look as well as feel my age these days. Or rather, I suppose I look and feel just like an overweight, post-menopausal middle-aged grandmother, which is exactly what I am!

But on the other hand, my husband and I have known each other since childhood so can often be found giggling like teenagers at something stupid we find amusing, and somehow the years just melt away. It does feel strange sometimes to think back to when we were kids and realise just how many decades ago that was. We watch history programmes about stuff we actually remember happening, and look at each other and think – shit, when did we get so old?

I suppose I act my age in the sense of being a repsonsible adult and behaving in ways any responsible adult would – I don’t have to think about putting any effort into ‘adulting’ anymore, it just happens that way automatically. But then, I’ve been a mum since just before my 19th birthday so having to behave like a grown-up has been part of my life for a long time now.

But do you know, the thing that surprises me most these days is that I just don’t care if anyone else thinks I act my age or not – I have three grown up kids and six grandkids and I’d probably be the first to admit I may be older, but not necessarily wiser, and that’s just absolutely fine by me… 🙂

Who is this Ruth who Blogs Here?

‘Tries hard but could do better…’

Fandango has asked a really thought-provoking Provocative Question this week – he asks:

‘Are you the same person on your blog as you are in real life? Do you like yourself more in the virtual world than you do in the real world?’

What a cool question! All I need to do now is work out how best to answer it. Who is the Ruth who blogs here? Hmmm…

I think my blog me is just a normal everyday part of my general public persona. You know, the polite friendly smiley person who is a trusted work colleague or something similar – much more than a nodding-acquaintance-in-the-passing, but not anywhere near as intimate as the kind of relationship as I might possibly share with my closest friends and family who know all the deepest darkest skeletons in my closet and have seen me at my absolute worst time and time again and continue to love me anyway.

I do sometimes share quite private stuff about me on my blog, but carefully, thoughtfully, and hopefully while still maintaining a bit of dignity and reserve. Because at my core I have a life-long fear of not being good enough, which leads to me being a people-pleaser at heart, which in turn brings me to a frustrating tendency always to try to blog with care so as not to offend. And as a result of that in-built caution I’m very aware of differences in societal norms between bloggers, and therefore how much that cultural awareness (usually) plays into the overall attitude and tone of my posts.

Over the years across other blogs (long gone now) I have shared insights into my life-long struggle with depression, and none of you can fail to notice I’m not at all religious and my politics veer way more to the left than the right. I can be quite strongly opinionated at times, and so struggle hard not to be overly judgemental of others when I do find myself having an online rant. Most of my posts are therefore probably relatively bland and ordinary and harmless in content, and I do try to keep my blog as a positive creative space, although that’s become increasingly difficult to stick to in the current global political arena.

And what do I think of her, this virtual Ruth who blogs here? Generally I think she’s OK, and most of the time we mirror each other’s views in perfect harmony but sometimes I want to push her into being even more honest in what she writes about the stuff that really matters to her. Sometimes I think she skirts around the edges too much, paddling cautiously in the shallows instead of just diving in deep and to hell with it. Sometimes I think she’s just too reserved, too polite, too people-please-y… and at those times she slightly disappoints me. Sometimes I wish she was braver, and cared a little less about what other people thought of her. (But to be honest I think like that about me irl too…)

So what can I say – this persona that appears on the pages of my blog is most definitely me, but I suppose only one part of me. She’s the virtual equivalent of me with my hair done and make-up on, in the smart-casual clothes I wear to go out in public. The confident adult me who understands how to behave well, how to respond appropriately for my age. The careful adult me who is concerned about what other people think of me and always acts accordingly.

So there we are, and here I am, having concluded that I probably feel pretty much the same about the blog me as I do about the real me – basically ‘tries hard but could do better’ 🙂

One Liner Wednesday

My Boy Next Door

Fandango’s Provocative Question asks this week – How did you meet your spouse, boyfriend/ girlfriend, or significant other? Ah well, now there’s a story to tell!

In 1973, the year I turned 10 and my husband turned 12, North Sea Oil was big business and my father in law moved his family from Louisiana to the North of Scotland to open an oil rig construction yard close to where my family lived. We became near neighbours that summer, and soon my dad also began working for the same company.

We were all friends the way neighbouring families are friends, socialising together in either our house or theirs, and when I was 14 and my husband 16 he fancied me but I couldn’t stand him. Then when I was 16 and he was 18, I fancied him but he was no longer interested romantically, but we stayed friends anyway.

His parents went through a very acrimonious divorce, and my husand left school and moved away. I stayed close to home and married someone else and had three children in quick succession. But still we stayed friends, and kept in touch. Stuff happened, I got divorced, years passed, life carried on for both of us and we grew older, but we always stayed close friends.

And then in our late thirties, we decided that maybe we loved each other after all, so we got together as a couple. We actually lived together for thirteen years before we finally decided to get married, and here we are seven years on, having just marked twenty years together, and this summer we’ll have been friends for forty seven years… 🙂

Provocative? Hell, Yeah!

Fandango has come up with a humdinger of a provocative question this week – well, actually three questions, all variations on a theme, about Trump and the current Iran crisis. (Caused, incidentally, by Trump himself. HE pulled America out of the Iran deal, and imposed severe sanctions on Iran – and then when Iran was clearly unhappy about it and started making things difficult instead of doing his bidding, Trump assassinated one of their top army guys. Who was definitely a bad hombre, but that’s not the point.)

To be honest, whatever the particular topic of the questions, if it’s to do with Trump then I’d probably find it provocative – that dumbass arrogant oversized-bully-boy of a man provokes the hell out of me just by breathing! Someone give him a pretzel to choke on. I can feel my heart-rate rising erratically even just THINKING about him… Grrr…

Anyway, here are the questions:

Do you feel that Donald Trump was justified in ordering a drone strike that resulted in the assassination of Qasem Soleimani in an airstrike in Baghdad last week?

Do you think this decision will lead America into a hot war with Iran?

Do you think Trump’s motives are political and self-serving?

And here are my answers:

Chucking all your toys out the pram just because you don’t get your own way is never a good global strategy for any high-ranking political leader, especially for a bossy, swaggering, narcissistic wanna-be autocrat who thoroughly believes his own hype and thinks he rules the whole world, not just one country, however large. So no, not justified in my book.

Luckily for the rest of the world – and surprisingly – Iran seems to be behaving more like the sensible grown-up in this crisis to Trump’s childish, thoughtless tantrum-throwing, so thankfully it looks today like war may well be averted after all. Maybe. No thanks to you-know-who, however much he bigs himself up.

Everything Trump does is self-serving, because he’s a self-centred narcissist who thinks he’s the best and thinks he knows best about everything, even stuff he knows nothing about – like diplomacy, and foreign policy, and running a country properly without alienating said country from the rest of the world… oh yeah, and being a decent human being.

Fandango’s Provocative Question

Awks, Obvs…

For this week’s Provocative Question, Fandango asks if people these days are going overboard with their use of emojis in social media communications? Oooh, great question! Emojis, of course, are a popular addition in texts and emails (and blog posts too, of course!), but I suppose it’s one of those relative shades-of-grey questions – how does one gauge how much is too much? Hmmm…

It’s a bit (IMHO) like those acroynms that developed out of maximum character messages, where the need to be succinct required a GSOH and an ability to be able to LMAO in order to understand exactly WTF is being communicated so cryptically at any given time? Not quite WYSIWYG, but a kind of creative join-the-dots short-hand BOGOF, wordage limiting LOL-fest.

Personally I find I myself use the optimum amount of emoticons and acronyms (BTW, is there a sarcasm emoji?) – just enough to lighten and enlighten the context of my textual communication, but not so much that people need an emoji-decipherer to work out precisely what I’m trying to communicate. Less than I use is not enough, but more than I use is too much, making the whole thing stilted and far too awks, obvs… 🙂

The Resonance of Music

For this week’s Provocative Question Fandango asks if music is a universal language that transcends national borders and resonates across different cultures and beliefs?

Personally I think it always has done, and always will do. There’s a question of taste, of timing, of cultural preferences of course, and there will always be fads and fashions across different genres, but for me music at source – the rhythm, the beat, the heart and soul of it, crosses all boundaries and speaks to us all, one way or another.

For example, music to march to, or to work to, tends to have a recognisably standard rhythm to help people keep time, keep up, the world over, whatever the instrument or nationality. Music to help soothe a baby to sleep – any kind of lullaby – will presumably have a similar tonal range and softness of voice whatever the language or external environment.

And Folk music carries within it culturally-specific stories of the past; for me it’s the Scottish lilts and laments of loss and hardship played on a fiddle or an accordian or the traditional Puirt a Beul, Gaelic Mouth Music sung unaccompanied. But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognise the worth in folk music of other cultures and understand the resonance of sharing these stories together into the future.

And from that initial sharing comes a symbiotic fusion across cultures and divides, a musical melting pot of sound humming with the potential creation of something new and vibrant and exciting, that is further shared around the globe in its turn. Look at how R&B grew out of an initial coming together of jazz and blues and gospel music, which in turn branched out into rock & roll and moved away in time and place from its instrumental jazz roots towards the more international lyrical pop sound we recognise today.

Rhythm is inherent in all of us, it comes from the very heartbeat of us with every breath we take. There are no borders to our own internal sense of rhythm, we carry it with us everywhere, so why should we think there are borders to the external musicality that springs from the joyousness of celebrating that rhythm? We are all human, and I think our humanity resonates at a perfect pitch recognisable to all of us 🙂

The Trouble with Truth: Fact or Fiction?

The trouble with truth, or so I learned at university, is that truth is always dependent on context. The question always to ask is, true for whom, and where, and at what point in time? Because the truth is that truth is always an invisible variable, so should not ever be synonymous with, or used interdependently with, fact.

For example, Jane Austen begins her novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with the well-known sentence: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’

Well, that may well have been true for Jane Austen and the rest of the landed gentry in the early 1800s in Regency England, but certainly not for the whole world at large across the entirety of time. It may well have been a truth, but not a fact – back in the day many rich men did indeed marry in order to produce a legitimate male heir to whom to pass on their estate. Good old patriarchy and primogeniture!

But it’s certainly not true now – does that make it a lie then? No, of course not – well, not necessarily – because what is true for one person or society or culture at one time in history may not be true for another person in a different era.

And what about these newsworthy things that happen to crowds of people all at the same time, but confusingly contradictory reports come out that seem to make liars of everyone involved. Are they lying? Probably not, because one person’s experience may be true to them in their internal situation, but the person physically standing right next to them may have an entirely different experience, equally as true to them.

A deeply religious person may experience a particular situation very differently from someone with a purely scientific or atheist or agnostic background. For example, Biblical explanations of the creation of the world based on the Christian faith (the only faith I know enough about to comment on) are regarded by some as the absolute God-given truth, therefore how these believers experience the world as individuals is necessarily predicated on that belief.

Alternatively, more earthly-based empirical explanations based on carbon dating and the existence of physical fossils etc. are considered by non-believers to show the truth of how the world began. And other religions may have their own belief systems to colour how they experience the world. But are any, either, or all of these explanations based on actual facts for all people and all time?

Hmmm… well even what counted as scientific fact in the past got things wrong sometimes, where the arrogant use of artistic licence or biased assumptions and interpretations in previous times often means that previously undisputed historical ‘facts’ are no longer always true in the modern scientific world. So does that mean they were always truths not facts? Surely facts require proof to back them up, but truths only really need enough belief in their veracity to be true. Surely facts are objective, truths are subjective…

Ideally it would be nice to think a fact is a fact is a fact, fixed and constant for all people and all time, and so there can be no such thing as alternative facts. Except… are even pure measurements absolute facts? Distances can change over time as roads change direction, weights can change as gravitational pull changes, but nevertheless there is a reasonable constancy there. We like to think that an inch is an inch is an inch (unless perhaps certain parts of a male anatomy are under discussion)…

And what about the accuracy of the political statistics bandied about by all and sundry when measured against facts and truths and experiences? It may well be true on one hand, for example, that a given high numerical figure of people find themselves suffering because of a particular swingeing cut in Government spending, but also true on the other that a set percentage rise in funding for what appears to be the same topic from a very different perspective has been achieved – both may well be technically factually accurate and the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Very confusing…

So basically I’ve just blown my own argument out of the water here – it seems that I’ve just proved to myself that sometimes facts are not necessarily that much more factual then truths after all… So I suppose I just have to give up here and end my treatise with the well-known words of Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus who wisely surmised that ‘the only constant is change’.

Now that this week’s Fandango’s Provocative Question has provoked me into a thought-confused stress-headache, I must admit that it’s perfectly true that I’m off for an indulgent lie down in the middle of the afternoon – and that’s a fact! 🙂

Teflon Trump

Fandango’s Provocative Question this week asks:

‘Do you believe that Donald Trump is an effective American President who should remain in office despite having accepted aid from a foreign adversary (Russia) and having committed obstruction of justice into the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential elections? Do you believe that Trump should or should not be impeached for his actions? Why?’

Ooohhh, interesting question, and most definitely provocative… perhaps you should prepare for a bit of a rant… Being a Brit – and a proud Scot at that – I’m so excrutiatingly embarrassed to think that Donald Trump has any Scottish genes running through his blood. You could say I’m black-affronted by his behaviour, and fair scunnered by his sense of superciliousness…

Even taking only the very first opening phrase of Fandango’s question, personally I don’t think Trump is an effective American President at all, regardless of any alleged complicity in proven Russian interference in the last Presidential election process. The man’s a bloody nightmare of a President no matter what, psychologically insecure with an obvious inferiority complex as long as his ridiculous tie and then some. And to be honest at this point I couldn’t care less if he’s impeached or not – as long as he’s not re-elected to a second term.

He says whatever he likes, whenever he likes, however racist or misogynist his particular opinion of the moment may be, then either avoids answering, contradicts himself or flatly denies it when someone calls him out on it. His behaviour is curiously childish and churlish, he yearns for constant attention but can’t accept criticism of any kind. He pretends to be a ‘man of the people’ by bad-mouthing whatever is the standard American version of ‘the establishment’ but in reality he is also as far removed from your average American as any other spoiled-brat dad-made millionaire.

His narcissistic, nationalistic plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ seemingly at the expense of undermining America’s previously secure standing on an increasingly growing international stage is, to my mind, worryingly misjudged and myopic. Trump clearly admires autocratic rule rather than democratic leadership – he schmoozes sycophantically with Putin and Kim Jong Un, smugly salivating at what he seems to see as their singular success.

And as far as pulling the US out of both the Paris Climate Agreement and the Iran Nuclear Deal with such pompous political posturing – well, that may well backfire spectacularly in the long-run, speaking more of braggadocio bully-boy big-mouthed bluster and badly-judged brinkmanship than deft diplomatic discussion and decision-making.

Meanwhile his public picking of a pathetic playground fight with China over trade tarrifs is unashamedly ramped-up with more of the same social media spewing he rallies round and relies on so consistently. I’ve heard of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, but to many of us across the globe this off-the-scale level of divide-and-rule deliberate world order disruption is tipping dangerously close into megalomania.

Running a country is a very different beast from running a company – not that he’s necessarily got a good track record on that front, either. After all Trump is not CEO of USA plc – so when he inevitably screws up this time he can’t just let the country file for bankruptcy, pass on the losses to the poverty-stricken bulk of the population and walk away without a second glance, Teflon-coated to ensure nothing looking remotely like failure (financial or otherwise) ever sticks to him personally.

OK, I’m done…

Photographing People: Picturing Portraits

I’m a keen amateur photographer, but really struggle with the reality of taking everyday pictures of people. I love the idea of taking up-front and honest environmental portraits of people in their own domain, or just capturing off-the-cuff candid shots of strangers while out and about. But sadly to be successful that really requires a level of personal interaction I feel truly uncomfortable with, so historically it’s not something I’ve ever done.

I’d love to have the faith to just go for it with a kind of spontaneous confidence that over-rides my natural hesitation and reserve. If only I didn’t feel so uncomfortable about making contact with people I’d like to photograph, feel so afraid if rejection and of failing, there are so many informal portraits I could take, capture a real snapshot of that person at that moment in time…

Of course, living in London necessarily there are often multiple people visibly present in my images, but usually taken en masse from a distance, like a crowd on the river cruiser or in the tube, or fewer individuals closer up but taken from behind so they are unaware of my presence, like in the above images from Borough Market. I’m always sadly disappointed in the results though, as my attempts at capturing people going about their daily lives are inevitably half-hearted and lack-lustre.

But yesterday I decided to be brave and take a chance on not being rudely rejected, so I finally approached a friendly, chatty stall-holder and asked with a smile to take his picture, and here is the result!

Ok, so it’s only one simple portrait of one person I’ve never met before, but for me it’s a bit of a breakthrough. Even if only temporarily, I overcame my fear, my caution, my overwhelming reticence, and I finally did it! 🙂

Weekly Prompt: People

Fandango’s Provocative Question