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My recent free-spree from social media had been going really well right up until yesterday when I tried to pat myself on the back for dealing with my Twitter addiction so successfully then realised I couldn’t because my hands were so busy gripping my phone,  facilitating my new addiction to YouTube.

In my defence, can I bring your attention to jiggly cakes, the captivating beauty of Fresian horses, Alexa Chung learning how to dress more Frenchly and watercolour artist Lena Gemzoe blowing my mind with her ability to turn smears of paint into a piece of art I would like to step into and set up a whole new life?

I will do better.

I WILL DO BETTER.

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A rare moment off YouTube, afternoon walk up Calton Hill to share a winter-spiced coffee with the pooch and nosey down at the new shopping mall in progress where a henge of cranes worship daily and nightly, making the most of their ephemeral moment in the Edinburgh skyline. 

Inbetween YouTube sprints, DIY this week has been all about our bedroom now the en-suite’s had a budget glow up. It’s kind of stupid to work on the bedroom at the moment as next year we’ll be adding a walk-in wardrobe, removing two built-in wardrobes (with ludicrously inaccessible space configurations) and losing a corner of the room to make a downstairs loo accessed from the hallway. It’ll be the last of the building work we’ll do in the house and it’s pretty pivotal to completing the new layout in a way that feels intuitive while also making the most of as many original features as possible.  So, lots of dust to come but the room’s in such a tired and mildly depressing state meantime I’ve decreed interim fixes are justified and I’ve started with filling in plaster cracks along the edges of the ceiling and skirting boards and preparing the ceiling and walls for two licks each of paint. There’s a lovely built-in shelved recess next to my side of the bed too which we primed a few years ago to get rid of a horrible wood stain finish and I can bring that to glory now as it’s well clear of the two sides of the room that’ll be completely changed. Just like when I repainted the hall a couple of months ago, I’m working on the bedroom one wall at a time; it’s more set-up and clean-up in the long run but short-term it cuts down disruption and allows for the ebb and flow of available time and that feels good for how we live right now.

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Samples tried for the en-suite. Loved them all, ended up sticking to two greys and one dark green.

The next big tick off the things-to-do-in-the-house-makeover-list will be fitting the engineered oak flooring in the porch, kitchen and hallway. The boards arrive in about ten days, we managed to get the ones we were after with 50% off last month so I am beyond excited to see, stroke and smell them after all the years of saving, fantasising and not being very patient at all. I can’t quite believe we’re shortly going to be looking down on actual flooring rather than the patchwork of subfloors, carpet trimmings and rugs. Aesthetics aside, best of all will be the reduction in dust from the generous crawl space under the house which, thanks to essential ventilation panels, pumps miniscule historic debris into the house every time there’s a draught outside (and hello, it’s Edinburgh, there’s a draught outside twenty-three hours out of every twenty-four).

We’ve never laid flooring before so have been swotting up (on YouTube, natch) and bending joiner’s ears whenever we can about the tricks of the trade. We’ll start at the easiest section – the porch, then move into the kitchen and finish in the hallway with all it’s doorway challenges and half-hexagonal shape. That’s the plan anyway. If I’m no longer married in summer 2020 you’ll know the new flooring teamwork challenge was a push of optimism too far.

I usually listen to podcasts while DIYing but, again challenging my phone and 24/7 information addiction, I’ve been hitting Spotify hard for music only instead of podcasts and letting it do its rando playlist thing. I’m enjoying how that’s a source of stories from my imagination and memories that feel helpful and curious rather than heavy. I even walked home from the Post Office the other day listening to the soundtrack for a Broadway musical and trying to guess what it was – Groundhog Day, turns out, who knew? I hated the movie but the musical lyrics made me laugh and imagine all sorts.

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Look what happens when I put down my phone/keyboard. I’m going to try a huge board before the end of the year too.

Workwise I’ve been contributing to the amazing WomenBeing network’s next step which is a magazine teaming with international content and grass-roots energy as well as being a love letter to practised feminism everywhere. Editing and reading the magazine pieces in advance of publishing has been a privilege that’s made me feel so much more connected to women around the world, reinvigorating my belief that change for the better is happening faster than we think, and that for many likeminded people feminism is a whole-life, whole-behaviour philosophy and even if we don’t get to be around each other every day, we’re connected in our intentions and deep efforts. As well as checking out WomenBeing, there’s brilliant stuff on related issues here on Gender and the Economy here, too. Well worth a read, especially if you, like me, are close to death by boredom in conversations about quotas with people who are change-resistant and stuck on repeat about what they don’t want to do because they’re comfy rather than changing the topic to working out how to make things comfy for everyone.

I’m lacking motivation for chasing and developing my own new writing stuff right now. I think this is a downside of not being on Twitter; I used to gather good momentum from watching what other people were saying or doing, chipping in and enjoying the energy and validation/challenge. The lack of all that has rather left me with my own ever-quietening echo which, creatively speaking, isn’t helpful for how I build up ideas of what’s next. The motivation problem is weighted by the fact my novel isn’t getting any bites from publishers or agents too, and the fact that I currently feel pretty meh about the Edinburgh literary scene generally, having seen a totally mind-boggling amount of weirdness in it during the last eighteen months. I have the feeling something’s brewing inside me though in terms of new material, and that I just have to let that develop and see what pops out one day. Meantime, there’s editing and painting and flooring and walking with the beautiful black dog. And maybe the odd bit of jiggly cake porn.

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Otto, less of a dog, more of a lifestyle.

Picture It

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It’s my son’s nineteenth birthday today. We sat on the sofa last night as he opened presents, one of which was a book of routes up Scottish mountains, and he said he’d recently stood in Glasgow bus station and felt the west coast wind rush at him, willing him to get on the waiting bus to Oban rather than home to Edinburgh, and then to walk, walk, walk….

I get it. I get it so much.

I think if you have the highlands in your heart but your feet are standing elsewhere there’s no time the signal pulling you back is stronger than in autumn. The light gets so full and so calm each morning is its own arresting wonder.

The flat my son moved into with his friend in summer has stunning high ceilings. Looking up in a new space made me reappreciate the walls in our lounge when I got home. Picture rails. Picture rails. I’d never really seen them as anything but dividing points on the wall, till then. I blame dado rails for that oversight. Dado rails seemed to be suddenly everywhere in the 80s and 90s, offering endless possibilities for combining wallpapers, paint colours, wood stains and accents. Bloody hell, when I think back on it, it was a fabulous time for B&Q and the evolution of excited domestic self-expression. How I longed for my mum to announce we too were going to get Austrian blinds and go for a pink, black and grey rag-rolled bathroom.

Anyway, back to picture rails which, thanks to hooks and gravity, come with the offer of never having to assault the walls beneath them with a hammer again.

Since we moved in here eight years ago I’ve hung so many things on walls then changed my mind, never quite getting it right, leaving scarred plaster and discontented sighs in my wake. I’ve lead a futile, ironic battle in failing to win the effortless vibe of creating little vignettes that tell our stories, as well as fitting with the flow of the house. So, working with the wisdom of Marie Kondo once more, I decided a few months ago to take every god-damn thing on a wall in the house off the wall, bringing them all together on the kitchen table to really decide what we had that sparked joy and what we had that needed to move on or change.

The answers were different for different people, of course, but we got there. We all love the prints below, the Danish one came from a charity shop in Banchory and the Picasso one was a birthday present from husband when I was thirty-one, I think. Till recently, they both had frames which had changed colour to a tense woody orange from pale pine over the years, so they got a lick of paint each and my forehead relaxed. I had no picture-hanging wire to match my new picture hooks, so I used ribbon instead, of which I have enough to wrap around the planet.

 

While all the pictures were off the walls and assembled in The Kondo Joy Assessment Zone, I took the opportunity to go on a healing mission and fill in every single hole I’d created on my crazed hanging spree with Polyfilla and then to go the full hog and touch up paint where I’d cocked that up too. It’s odd but that work shifted something big inside me. Fixing shit that’s been wrong for years feels good, as does looking after what’s in my care. It’s as simple as that, so that’s becoming a guiding focus in my thoughts too.

Giant Achillea blooms from the garden have been the outdoors/indoors stars this year. The water dried out in their vase and I didn’t notice till it was apparently too late but still, they’re perfect. A shot of mustard that brings everything else to life and sends me down a conduit of memories; lichens on Raasay rocks and Tyninghame beach tree trunks, the colour of the second walls I painted in my flat (complete with dado rail) when I was twenty-one, back in Aberdeen; the jacket I wore to my cousin’s wedding on Camusdarroch beach. A tiny velour babygro with popper buttons on the shoulders.

Nineteen years and seven hours since I kissed his forehead – warm, soft velvet – and met my son. Tea, toast and a baby swaddled in a blue cellular blanket in the lamplight of a pink delivery room. Then, a morning as clear and freshly-laundered as they come; after my first terrified post-birth venture to the toilet, I stood on tiptoes, birth day fingertips gripping layers upon layers of brittle paint on the windowsill and peered out at Banff to glimpse the beach. I felt like the world looked back and acknowledged the sweet, shrouded shift of new life beyond the pane and thick, granite walls that was ours to hold, protect and bring. 

I am hooked on yellow, hooked on my kids and their dad and the friends and places that have become home, the times together and apart that got woven into stories. Hooked on change. And October light.

 

Truth Hurts

I’ve taken the long way around getting to writing this post. A new job, long-awaited, started back in spring last year. My instincts told me not to take it, that it was too good to be true, but I mistook them for fear and shouted them down. I have calibrated my self-listening skills since and so the learning continues.

Ah, but times have been dark.

Ah, but times have been light.

I’m not sure whether to call the last twelve months since I left the job a breakdown or a breakthrough and since there’s no need to choose, I’ll call it both. Hell, I might even go as far as to say you can’t have one without the other.

It has been a newsflash to me that somewhere in this body of wonders I don’t have an amazing superpower which turns things I want to be true into truths. Goddamn.

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So why did I take the job? I took it because we really needed the money. I took it because I trusted the voices of those with greater social and professional standing than my own when they called it A Great Thing. I took it because a fancy job title fed my ego but I didn’t stop to check whether the place and the people and the price would nurture my soul or the world. I took it because I was tired of the hustle and isolation of freelancing and scared that if I didn’t take it I’d regret it forever. And it played out terribly. A front-row seat inside what turned out to be a disaster hitherto disguised as a good, much-validated idea.

Instinct, instinct, instinct.

Now, back freelancing, the hustle and the isolation feel sweet and clean and full of peace and honesty. 

Today is the first day I can say I’m glad it all happened. I guess my fingertips have been waiting to type that, waiting and willing and working for it to at last feel true.

As well as all the breaking, I’ve grown. I’ve taken on some personal boundaries that were long overdue and realised my instincts aren’t something to be cursed for not shouting loudly enough, but that they’re a gift; a gift I’ve overlooked way too readily till now.

In jettisoning the job I waited a decade for I’ve gone on a truth trip too. Dark nights of the soul will do that. There’s been frequent beckoning from the Beelzebub of Bullshit in my brain to be dealt with as part of that; the ego wants it all to be someone else’s fault, of course, to lash out and create a social media trash fire, as is the way of the times; to be a victim, create a dramafest, control the narrative, publically post-mortem the disaster, etc. In the end, quiet truth tastes better in my mouth and doesn’t poison my gratitude for what remains, so I choose that. In so doing the need for social media has dropped away like a stone kicked absent-mindedly from a cliff edge. Strange thing, that, because social media was such a positive in my life until I went off course, P45 in hand, delighted about the prospect of regular pay.  Yet, a small splash and now the inclination is gone, into the blue. Maybe I’ll come across it one day on a beach and pick it up again.

For now, brand new creativity and productivity have replaced phone-screen time. I have a balanced freelance workload, am learning heaps of bigger production skills with podcasting and the house is getting TLC most days; an hour of painting here, a bit of sanding there, accompanied by podcasts that affirm the good shit and call out the batshit. Having the time to speak more with people face to face and down the line is nice too – truly. Now when I check the time it’s two hours behind where I think it’ll be. My phone no longer gets into the bedroom, not even in the mornings, and so I’m getting more time with books and meditation and my favourite souls. I’m no longer melding yesterday with tomorrow and constantly feeling around for a missing today.

Long may all of this version of life – broken down, broken through – continue. I am at home in the muddle of uncertainty sometimes working out into something beautiful once more. Phew.

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52and40/34 Passing Place

My nephew moved in with us a few months ago, all the way from a Pyrenean idyll in the south of France.  It’s really interesting seeing someone discover Edinburgh, it reminds me of all the compromises we’ve made along the way as well as the rewards of the move.  It’s also interesting living with a ‘new’ person full-time.  It holds a mirror up to everyone’s personalities and quirks and asks whether you’ll each change or grow the things about yourself that are suddenly more visible.  Mostly, it feels like an excellent challenge.

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52and40/29 Realignment

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I’ve been waking for weeks feeling badly misaligned.  We had builders in, next door have builders in, two houses adjacent had builders in.  With all the banging, shouting and stress there’s been little chance for creativity; each time I transported to inner space interruptions brought me clattering back.  In parallel, feeling predated a notch too far when I moved around in workout clothes for running and yoga, I switched to just walking.

Muted, twice over, my connections to peace.

‘Sad’, as the predator in chief himself would say.

Fuck that.  Comeback time.

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Read all about #52and40 here.

52and40/26 Out of the Blue

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My daughter tells me she learned at school there hasn’t been a May as dry as this in Scotland since before I was born in 1976.

It seems we picked a lucky time for digging a new border in the garden and moving plants around to fill it up.  It’s become habit, to go out between writing and running about and be amongst plants growing right before my eyes, echoing the kids growing and changing too.  This time of the teenager seems the busiest of family life yet – and possibly the most rewarding.

 

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Want to know how #52and40 began? Come this way.

52and40/22 Uprising

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Our wee extension’s starting soon and early signs say the plants are keen on change this summer too.

We’ve imposed new garden structure by getting rid of the decrepit shed, clearing the Krugeresque brambles and waving cheerio to 9m of mixed hedge which only ever managed to look tortured, despite optimistic pruning.

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A winter project which leaked into spring was a new boundary fence.  With this came unexpected clarity about divvying up remaining space.  Digging awaits.

Clarity’s good in these mad Brexit times (as are friends with doors which make me smile).

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Want more #52and40?  Click here, ye of great taste.