Monday, 22 August 2016

Procrastinating in Oxford with a camera

It's been said a picture speaks a thousand words. So here's 11 thousand words about Oxford...

Sunday, 26 June 2016

What happens when you reach your destination?

I'm sitting in my new favourite local café, Veneto, nursing an iced soy latte, tablet on the table, listening to Italian love songs drift through the hidden speakers.

My visit to town started with a trip to Henry's to try on a couple of suits, one for hire, one to buy, for my brother's July wedding. Hannah from my fitness group works there and is always so kind and accommodating, nothing is too much trouble. A quick fitting and I'm fairly sure I'm going to invest and buy rather than hire. Quick, easy, friendly service, what a joy!

Excluding a very brief post office visit my next stop was the independent Natural Health Store in George Street where I bought some healthy essentials had a friendly chat with owner Annette. Her near future also includes weddings; three sons are marrying one weekend after the other in an amazing convergence of fates. As we talked it struck me how lucky I am. She has not had a holiday in 6 years, due to the demands of being an independent trader. We had also been discussing Sindy Matthews who also works incessantly with little time to relax. I may have designs on a career other than the one I have, not because I dislike my current one, but because I want to fulfil myself more creatively, but I do have luxuries afforded to me by the job I do. Time off is a given, with plenty of holiday and every weekend. That is time I should make the most of, to fulfil those creative urges. Currently my job is not all-consuming, nor excessively demanding, and it does give me a good degree of flexibility.

I am lucky too because I am surrounded by so many beautiful, generous people. Hannah of Henry's is one of the loveliest ladies you would be lucky to meet, and that is true of all the members of Sindy's group. It is her magnetism that draws in determined and positive people. Annette is close with adorable wife and is one of those people who are human hubs of the community, knowing everyone and able to have a finger and toe in so many places, and still run her own business, one that aims to bring health and vitality to the local residents.

It was this last thought that made me realise, as I left her shop, that I need to write a Banbury pulse blog about the Natural Health Store! Stepping across the road I snapped a few shots before heading back in to photograph the interior, discovering, in the process, another item I had needed and missed earlier.

Now I've stepped around the corner for a drink-stop and a quick blogging session, the very one you are reading now, as is my new habit, one that is to be proving extremely fruitful. The smell of freshly cooked eggs, tomato, onion, and herbs is wafting into my nostrils, several paninis and toasties being prepped for a growing selection of patrons. This increase in activity is boosting my spirit further, I like this place and want it to do well. Another Banbury Pulse blog in the making I now realise!

This is my job too. Sampling the world around me and then sharing in with... with whom? With whosever wishes to read! It doesn't matter does it! Just as my last blog declared, I am a writer, that is as much my career now as my day job. Sitting here, putting thoughts into words is a pleasure, but it is also my time. I could use that time for anything: gaming, films, water sports, sky-diving, anything I choose.

I originally imagined my next blog would be about wanting to achieve my dreams, about how hard that is, about the sort of commitment Annette talked about when explaining the sacrifices she had to make to survive the early days of her shop. But now I realise I have already achieved my dream! I'm living it right now! Two published novels, with fans who are neither relations or friends, three blogs (one is in stasis but exists nevertheless), an amazing, beautiful wife, and the best group of friends I could ever have hoped for.

What that doesn't mean my dreams have stopped, they've just got grander. That's why it can feel like I'm still clawing at something unachievable, because as soon as you reach a milestone, we choose another.

I can liken it to my fitness journey. I wanted to get fit. And that I did. But then I wanted to get fitter. So I did. And still I want more. But that doesn't change the fact that I am fitter today than I have ever been in my adult life. Living the dream!

Remember to pause and think about where you are, sometimes you may have arrived at your destination and not even realised!

Saturday, 11 June 2016

I am writer... read my roar!

I am writer, read my roar!

"What do you want to achieve?" I am asked.

Upon receiving my reply, the follow up question is "and how do you think you can achieve that?"

This is the hardest question to answer. It's easy to have dreams and goals. But making them into a reality is tough. It takes determination, patience, and a lot of help.

I've been sitting in Caffe Veneto in the high street with my health and fitness coach Sindy Matthews for a couple of hours and a lot of our discussion revolved around my ultimate desire to sell more books and make a career out if writing.

The crux of the issue, I admit, is my general inability to stand up and shout from the rafters. I am not a natural salesperson. I tend to play my skills down. If someone wants to sell me, so to speak, I will step up and do my best, but if no one calls on me I'll happily sit in the shadows and stay hidden.

Okay, I say 'happily' but that isn't an accurate use of the word. I mean it is easier for me to stay hidden, but ultimately I regret any missed opportunity to engage and network. I have blogged before about being shy, and this is still a handicap I battle with, something which clearly hinders my progression because I'm not pushing myself into the limelight. My natural reaction to compliments is to play them down, dismiss them almost. I've worked hard to accept them and thank the giver, and I'm certainly better than before. But that's getting noticed, not making myself known on purpose.

Consider you are in a hall watching a writer speak about their book. You love their work and you want to ask them a question. But your stomach knots, your chest tightens, and your pits begin to sweat. There is a chasm of doubt about to open up and swallow you whole. You don't put your hand up, though your question is good, and to ask a question is the whole point of attending.

That's what happens. It's illogical and my mind knows as much. My mind isn't worried, but there are physiological reactions that are hard to ignore. Essentially the body is prepping me for battle, but one the mind knows nothing about.

As I write this, Sindy has left with her hubby and I have been assigned some tasks. One is to approach certain people with the aim of instigating self-promotion. Get me out of my comfort zone. After all I'm good at what I do, I'm passionate and at work I can train large groups. I've done external training sessions without breaking into a sweat or feeling sick. Therefore it must be possible to overcome whatever fear that drives these irrational reactions. I guess at work enough people have told me enough times that they trust me and what I do and say that I now believe it myself.

Does it therefore boil down to self-belief? Certainly when I was younger I suffered from a severe fear of rejection and unconsciously pinned my hopes on people who were forever out of my reach and so unable to reject me.

Where that fear stems from I honestly don't know. I'm not even sure if it matters. The point is I've progressed a great deal since those days, so I know I can change for the better.

Today has proved to me that more than ever I am surrounded by people who believe in me more than I clearly believe in myself. That is hugely empowering. It makes me feel like I'm getting things right. That I'm making good life decisions and am surrounded by a great network of supportive friends, and of course, a truly wonderful, adorable wife!

With that sort of back-up what is there to fear? Nothing. Anyone who DOES reject me doesn't make a dent in my life or my support group.

This blog is my post-meeting mind cleanse and I have just concluded that there is one additional task I will assign myself...

Every morning I must tell myself I am a writer. I must affirm that I am a great writer. People like what I write and support me. I am worth promoting.

I am writer....this is my roar.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Ganesha and how to live a happy life

I'm facing Ganesha dancing joyfully to music unheard by my ears, his large head tilted, his right leg tucked up against his plump stomach, ready to stomp back down. His six arms all twisting in different directions, his trunk grasping at an unknown treat in his middle left hand. 

This Ganesha seems to have it worked out. He loves good music, dancing, and eating and this particular incarnation has been at it for about 1500 years. The stone carved deity living out a carefree fun-loving existence has an infectiously joyous presence that drew my attention amidst the many carvings and idols on display. Come on, he's saying, loosen up a little, chill out, live your life. Somehow I can discern a twinkle in eyes that perhaps only I have seen.  

The scars of the centuries add texture and hint at tales long since forgotten. Despite serious wounds, and deep gouges, the playful deity in relentlessly upbeat. Stone does not bleed and Gods are immortal, so what care can he have? 

Have you ever stopped and just paid attention to one display at a museum? It is so easy to breeze through, scanning objects of antiquity, speed reading plaques and information boards, without truly paying any true attention to what you have seen. To me these aren't just objects of by-gone eras, or distant cultures, they are living, breathing representations of lives lived. 

My dancing Ganesha was carved from a slate grey stone centuries ago. One or more anonymous artisans chipped away with meticulous care to forge a respectful personification of one of India's most popular deities. Why did they do so? Probably it was their career, and if so at what stage were they? Is this an early effort, or one of hundreds they had already carved? What life were they leading when it was carved? Did they have family, and if so are there still living relatives living in India or elsewhere in the world? For whom and for where was the carving intended? The plaque does not know. It may have remained in situ for centuries, dutifully watching over generations of Indian families come and go. Then, not so long ago a journey to a place unlike any other it had previously resided. So many lives seen and touched, right up to the security guard that strides past once or twice a day, and the cleaner who carefully keeps him free from dust and debris. 

Perhaps a museum is a sad place to end ones journey. No longer in a holy setting, no temple or building of importance, not even in your country of origin. Instead seated amongst vague relations, on a grey plinth, being passed by fidgeting children and teenagers more interested in their social media updates than the joy of Ganesha. Is this simply a zoo for objects de art? 

Yet perhaps this museum has its pleasures too. It is a safe haven, away from the ravages of the elements, and that most destructive of creatures, the human. The museum is not so unlike a holy temple, filled as it is with precious objects to which people from all over the world visit to see in adulation. 

I don't think this Ganesha cares. He's found his joy and nothing will stop that. I think I should take a leaf out of his book.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

A way to inspire more writing

Aged 38 (and one week) I have found something new in life that I thoroughly enjoy. This is a pleasing revelation because it can become easy to settle into a lifetime of routine that soon renders every day, and every week, much the same as the last until suddenly another year has passed with little to account for the elapsed time. 

This new found pleasure is the seeking out of cafes, tea shops, and niche eateries. Recent trips to Oxford have revealed an innate ability to spot purveyors of momentous liquid refreshment and culinary delights. The hunt for new coffee flavours to tantalise my tastebuds, aeropress and  Turkish styles have been recent highlights. The search for exotic and tantalising teas; currently I am being lovingly caressed by a super matcha green tea latte. And the holy grail that is clean food that fits my clean lifestyle. The aforementioned matcha is being accompanied by raw energy balls.

But it's not just about the food and drink, it's also a matter of atmosphere. I was saying to adorable wife at my last find that you want one of two types; either a bustling hub of activity such as the place we were enjoying our respective drinks (chai latte for me in case you were wondering), or a quiet pocket of zen where you can dream away an afternoon. The middle ground is my least favourite. Not full, not empty simply allows for the pockets of noise made by other patrons to become more intrusive, rather than blurring into the murmuring soundtrack of a busier space. Rather than lose yourself in the calm or the storm, you find yourself an unwilling participant into another conversation, one to which you cannot even contribute. 

This place is small and pleasingly busy. Not manic mind you, everyone is maintaining the respectable chit chat volume that befits a dreary bank holiday Monday afternoon. I can hear occasional snatches of conversation, the one to my left has been rather heavy, focusing on the UK arms trade. Unlike the last time I over
head a guy chatting to a gal in a cafe this high-brow discussion doesn't strike e as pretentious, he is engaging and verbose, and she is responding. The pauses in conversation seem comfortable and I have high hopes that if this is a burgeoning relationship, it is likely to be a strong one.

The last thing I love about this idea of heading out to drink is the very thing I am currently doing. I have this tablet and for a long time is has languished with little to do but stream music to the av receiver. It was on a whim, totally unplanned, that on a recent solo outing I grabbed the tablet and shoved it into my bag. I'm not sure what the plan actually was, but the moment I seated myself in a tea house window it immediately occurred  to me I could write. Suddenly I was tapping out word after word and to my surprise full, cohesive sentences were being formed. This was working!
It must be the lack of homely distractions; TV, internet, DVDs, blurays, cooking, even cleaning! The distraction that replaces them are strangely inspiring. Isolation actually stunts the blogger creativity.

I'm not sure this would work for novel writing. Perhaps the early creative stage, when ideas and characters are being forged, but not the setting of story to screen. I suppose I should try it out one day.

I've finished my drink and energy balls and the room is starting to fill up again. Time to move on. I have a page of writing that now serves to prove the point I was making.

This guy to the left might be trying a little too hard after all. But I like him. Let's root for them, let's vote for love to win.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

A day in the life of an absent blogger

The tea shop

The OxWash truck partially obscures the aging architecture that was supposed to be my glorious view through the tea house window.  Background chatter of fellow patrons boasting multiple languages and accents, passing buses, some open topped with a scattering of tourists eager to spot a dreaming spire. The OxWash man continues his onerous task, emptying large green waste containers with a ponderous malaise. The late morning sun has caused concern to the staff, who step outside to pull the canopy and offer shade to the just cleared single table sitting exposed to the hustle and bustle of the street outside. OxWash has moved on with unexpected haste. The noise in the cafe seems to increase temporarily. Perhaps the patrons had been raising their voices to overcome the bin collector. It soon strikes me that they are noisier than OxWash ever was. High decibels are being hit and I start to miss the low murmur of the stationery truck, which had somehow acted as a general mute for the chaotic cafe chatter.

So many people stride past. There is nothing lackadaisical about the street. OxWash man was the only one who was not rushing. Now he is gone and I miss him. The school of art across the road is looking back at me coldly, any artistic alchemy that may be occurring is absent from my vision. If only another service van would park up outside to brighten the view. 

I don't care about the novel the guy behind is describing. It sound pretentious. He sounds pretentious. Trying too hard to impress. 

Time to finish my tea and find another haven of calm amidst the maelstrom. 

The Morrocan

I have my back to the open window, seated upon a colourful knitted window bench. I can hear buses, cars, and cyclists in constant flux behind me. The only other patron is also travelling solo, a lady in her sixties, she too has a tablet which is winning her attention. 

A heady scent hits my nostrils, accompanied by several short beeps that I presume signal a dish is ready to be served in the freshly cleaned counter. Could it be today's advertised lentil soup? Sadly my olfactory senses are not refined enough to know off-hand. I may ask when I leave, for future reference. 

Just as the volume of chatter seemed to increase exponentionally the longer I remained in my last stop, I now start to become far more aware of the ethnic music being piped into the cafe. I can't say if it is authentically Morroccan, or the rose tinted tourist trap street music that gets rolled out in movies to lazily dilineate cultures when changing scenery. Pipes or flutes vie with crooning men and women telling tales in a language I cannot understand. 

The cool breeze on my back is a reminder that the outside world beckons. I am also starting to envy the orders of the newest patrons, a couple who could well be Morroccan, though could easily be from many other countries, or even be as 100% English as I am, nevertheless they have received an impressive copper coffee pot and two ornate espresso sized cups. I am assuming this is Turkish or Arabic coffee, something I was tempted to order, but decided to forgo in lieu of a Morrocan 50/50. 
I had to ask about this curiosity and learned it was a macchiato and an espresso, with one sitting atop the other. 

This is a much more peaceful experience and if the buses were to pause their frequent trips past I could almost close my eyes and let the scents and sounds wash over me and temporarily transport me to distant climes.

The elderly lady has left me behind, the couple came and went, staying only long enough to use the facilities, drink and go. It's just me and a man who is now sleeping in the corner, perhaps succeeding in blocking out the traffic and journeying in his mind.

I shall join him on that adventure. Two drinks in swift succession have left me in need of a toilet break and that may as well signal my time to leave Morrocco and head further out of the city in search of another experience.

A crepe stop

It seems Morrocco has a hold on me today. Not long after my 50/50 I find myself tempted by a cafe sign promising gluten free crepes. Lunch will actually be later, but you know what, breakfast was 4 and a half hours ago and I'm not meeting my friend for lunch for another 2 hours. The plan is to have a light healthy meal now, and again later. So here I am, in a more traditional cafe/restaurant setting, seated deeper within than the previous two establishments, yet still unable to escape the low rumble of passing buses. Now the Morroccan influence is in the food, with cous cous, felafal and various herbs filling the interior of a large soft crepe, the edges ever so slightly crispy. 

I am now being serenaded by sweet guitar music, the ethnicity of which is vague. To my untrained ears it sounds latin, but perhaps it is more authentic than the previous setting, I am sadly not well-travelled enough to comment.

I could be in any number of anonymous restaurants in the world as far as decor is concerned, but it is the food that a restaurant should be judged on, and frankly I shall return to this establishment again, and I shall bring the wife. Enthusiastic murmurs of approval from the chap who came in shortly after me adds to sensation that I have successfully discovered another culinary treasure trove.
My fellow patron is rather vocal in general considering he's alone. Though I'm glad he asked for the rear door to be shut, the long thin layout was proving to be a wind tunnel that made me regret my light attire. 

I have decided to resist the temptation to dive straight back into coffee so soon, having briefly been struck by an overwhelming desire to order the Turkish coffee I coveted at my last stop. 
I think it is wise to stagger the caffiene intake.

Tap water will do. It looks rather pretty in the flip top glass bottle despite it's mundane origins.
The chap behind me has finished and is pleased. He too is planning to return. He used to live in the area he tells the owner. Also he doesn't usually eat rice but found it extremely delicious. I like him, he's much more authentic than the pretentious book reader in the tea shop.

I have yet to find my next OxWash, but here I am finding a pleasing duality in watching the passers-by outside unwittingly walking into their doppleganger heading in the opposite direction in the glass fronted counter.

Maybe one day one of them will vanish and the reflection will take their place. 


Shops have been browsed. I tried to avoid spending money, but somehow it still happened. Nothing big. First was notepad, despite the fact I don't use notepads, which features an esquisitely colourful face of a lion. I'm rather partial to lions and the idea that I may actually scrawl my thoughts and musings on paper now I'm 38 held a rather optimistic appeal. Second was a Turkish coffee pot and tub of appropriate coffee spotted enticingly awaiting me in a deli window. That will mark my fourth method of making coffee possible at home now. Also purchased was a spice mix for Tzatziki and some raw chocolate and nut treats to snack on in the cinema.

Whilst waiting for my friend to arrive I entered one of those bland trendy coffee houses that probably do well with students. This provided me with a bland iced americano that did nothing to stir the tastebuds.

We are now awaiting delivery of lunch in a cafe above a bike shop which feels much more in fitting with my earlier travels. We are surrounded by good natured chit chat, open laptops and tablets propped up in cases. Perhaps this place is hipster chic gone mad, but the vibe seems pleasant enough. Even here the grip of Morroco on my food and drink adventures is ceaseless for I have ordered a spiced chickpea dish. 

We shall be heading to the cinema shortly. Not a place for typing on tablets.

A short story from a tall place

One movie down and we're out to eat. I'm with company but am being rude by typing this out while we wait for our order. I've done well for food today so have opted for a starter and side. 

Nothing Morroccan. In case you were wondering.

My tablet battery will not last the evening. But the night will continue with one more drink and one more movie.

Today has been one of the good ones. 

The post credit scene

I'm home now. The clock shows a few minutes past the midnight hour and I've been back barely 15 minutes. I've showered and got into my pyjamas. The day has been exhilarating, inspiring, and personal.

I want to take on the world. But it's easy to feel that way when you are on a high. 

Come tomorrow will I step up, or falter? 

But tomorrow has already arrived. I'm 6 minutes in to the day after the above events.

I never did find my next OxWash. But the moments you don't expect, no matter how seemingly banal, can spark an internal revolution within your soul. If it wasn't for OxWash blocking my view, I would not have started typing on my tablet. I would not have set a template for my day that gave me great pleasure and joy. And it all started with rubbish bins. 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Guest blogging on my own blog

This is a blog post, to tell you I have another blog post. 

Just to explain, I am not retiring from being an adventuring procrastinator, it is more that the current blog and moniker made little sense in the context of my new project. What I had realised, after a long break from writing here, was that without a good subject matter, I was running dry of material. I just don't find my own life interesting enough to write about on a weekly, or even fortnightly basis! Originally I had Clara Bow and the Seal of Solomon as my drive, the whole point of this blog being a public journal of my effort to write it, in order to push its finish.

And finish it I did, so one purpose of the blog was eliminated. Although I'm writing a follow-up, the fact that the first exists, and people are wanting a continuation, is the drive I need to keep on with The Staff of Aaron. 

Another subject I covered frequently was adorable wife's struggle with Endometriosis. Yet again, this matter has, at present, been successfully resolved. I certainly don't wish a relapse, merely to give me inspiration. No indeed, we're very much happy with the current status quo. But let's face it, a happy relationship has no drama to speak of, and therefore, much as I am not too fussed on looking inward, I don't see the need to publically discuss the daily goings on in our home life.

Which leads us to my new project Banbury Pulse. I'll not explain too much here, because the blog speaks for itself. I'm very excited about where this is heading at the moment. This time I'm looking outward, to my local community, and the people that make things happen. The first was about me, to give readers an idea of who I am and why I'm choosing to write the new blog.

I hope those who have followed this blog will also like my new, more focused blog. I will pop back here once in a while, when I have something worthy of sharing with you all, something that is all about me! Please let me have any feedback. I only created the design and layout on Sunday, so  I'm sure I have a little tweaking to do.

Without further waffling ado, here's my new blog link:   Banbury Pulse