Thursday, 4 May 2017

Why The Present Isn't Enough


The notion of 'living in the present moment' seems to be a very popular one.  I hear it offered as a piece of advice ALL the time; 'try to live more in the NOW', 'savour the present', 'don't think too much about the past or the future, just enjoy this moment'.  And while I can see that there are many good qualities in trying to live this way, with this mentality, I also feel that there is a lot missing from it.  I can definitely agree that it is a good thing to take each moment as it comes and not worry so much about what's to come or what has already happened.  Of course it's wonderful to feel that sense of letting go, to just concentrate on what is happening right now, today, and enjoy it.  But can we really live like that all the time?

In reality, there are so many situations where simply living in the present is NOT the best solution. Perhaps we have to do a job that we hate.  Maybe we are going through a particularly stressful period; for example, we might have fought with a friend, we could be having a financial crisis, moving house (always an extremely stressful experience), waiting for hours in an airport for a delayed flight or dealing with any number of other difficult issues.  It's pretty much impossible to 'enjoy the moment' in any of these situations, and if we tried, we would only be miserable!  And what about when we are at the beginning of a new chapter in our lives?  It could be that we have just moved somewhere new and don't have any friends there yet, or that we are starting a new project or learning something new and don't yet have the hang of it.  What is it that keeps us motivated to keep going at times like these?

In my opinion, the promise of a bright future is absolutely fundamental.  We can go through hard times because we know that something good can come out of it.  To have hopes and dreams is so important and, even more than this, having something to look forward to is, I think, one of the best ways to lift you up when you feel low.  I spend so much time making plans and I love it!  I love putting future ideas into action, writing things into my calendar, organising exciting projects that will take place a few months from now.  As I look out of the window today and see the grey clouds and the rain, and having only the prospect of going to the gym and doing some difficult practice in my schedule, I am SO happy to know that I have many wonderful things happening in my life in the next few weeks and months.  For me, today is not enough.  I need the promise of the future.  Ironically, it is when I am busy making my future plans, that I am REALLY enjoying the present moment!

Similarly, everybody says it doesn't do well to dwell too much on the past, and I get that - you can't change it, what's done is done.  But, in some ways, the past can also really help us, and sometimes mulling it over is not a bad thing.  Remembering happy times or successful times, thinking back on beautiful memories, laughing again at something funny that happened a year ago - these are all fantastic and essential for the soul and why not think about them often!  Learning from our past mistakes is also only beneficial if we want to progress in our lives.  Remembering how things went wrong last time, so that we may do them right the next, is such a useful and simple trick! 

I'm not saying that we shouldn't make the most of each day, or that we should forget about trying to enjoy our current situations.  I just mean that there is much more to it than that.  We need things to look forward to just as much as we need our memories and histories.  In fact, I think that it is only with these elements, that we can actually enjoy living in this moment, right now. 

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Why The Present Isn't Enough


The notion of 'living in the present moment' seems to be a very popular one.  I hear it offered as a piece of advice ALL the time; 'try to live more in the NOW', 'savour the present', 'don't think too much about the past or the future, just enjoy this moment'.  And while I can see that there are many good qualities in trying to live this way, with this mentality, I also feel that there is a lot missing from it.  I can definitely agree that it is a good thing to take each moment as it comes and not worry so much about what's to come or what has already happened.  Of course it's wonderful to feel that sense of letting go, to just concentrate on what is happening right now, today, and enjoy it.  But can we really live like that all the time?

In reality, there are so many situations where simply living in the present is NOT the best solution. Perhaps we have to do a job that we hate.  Maybe we are going through a particularly stressful period; for example, we might have fought with a friend, we could be having a financial crisis, moving house (always an extremely stressful experience), waiting for hours in an airport for a delayed flight or dealing with any number of other difficult issues.  It's pretty much impossible to 'enjoy the moment' in any of these situations, and if we tried, we would only be miserable!  And what about when we are at the beginning of a new chapter in our lives?  It could be that we have just moved somewhere new and don't have any friends there yet, or that we are starting a new project or learning something new and don't yet have the hang of it.  What is it that keeps us motivated to keep going at times like these?

In my opinion, the promise of a bright future is absolutely fundamental.  We can go through hard times because we know that something good can come out of it.  To have hopes and dreams is so important and, even more than this, having something to look forward to is, I think, one of the best ways to lift you up when you feel low.  I spend so much time making plans and I love it!  I love putting future ideas into action, writing things into my calendar, organising exciting projects that will take place a few months from now.  As I look out of the window today and see the grey clouds and the rain, and having only the prospect of going to the gym and doing some difficult practice in my schedule, I am SO happy to know that I have many wonderful things happening in my life in the next few weeks and months.  For me, today is not enough.  I need the promise of the future.  Ironically, it is when I am busy making my future plans, that I am REALLY enjoying the present moment!

Similarly, everybody says it doesn't do well to dwell too much on the past, and I get that - you can't change it, what's done is done.  But, in some ways, the past can also really help us, and sometimes mulling it over is not a bad thing.  Remembering happy times or successful times, thinking back on beautiful memories, laughing again at something funny that happened a year ago - these are all fantastic and essential for the soul and why not think about them often!  Learning from our past mistakes is also only beneficial if we want to progress in our lives.  Remembering how things went wrong last time, so that we may do them right the next, is such a useful and simple trick! 

I'm not saying that we shouldn't make the most of each day, or that we should forget about trying to enjoy our current situations.  I just mean that there is much more to it than that.  We need things to look forward to just as much as we need our memories and histories.  In fact, I think that it is only with these elements, that we can actually enjoy living in this moment, right now. 

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Monday, 1 May 2017

Edinburgh Tales #3: Sh!t-faced Drunk

As you walk around the beautiful 'old town' of Edinburgh (slightly ironically named, as ALL of Edinburgh is old, just that the 'old town' is a bit older than the 'new town'), you might notice that many of the tall townhouses have rather luxurious-looking first floor apartments; they often have gorgeous balconies, which the other floors do not have, and generally look much more up-market and better kept than the rest of the building.  The reason for this is a historical one, and has a pretty hilarious relevance to an expression that still we use today!

There are many common reasons for placing high value on first floor apartments, as opposed to ground floor or much higher floors, and I am sure you are familiar with them (especially if you have lived in city apartment buildings); you don't have to worry so much about burglary or privacy, as perhaps you would if your apartment was at ground floor level and looked directly onto the street, and you don't have to walk up mountains of stairs to get home everyday, which is especially inconvenient in old buildings where there are surely no elevators!  But in the old days in Edinburgh there was an extra reason for desiring an apartment on the first floor instead of any other floor. 

Up until the early 20th century, Edinburgh did not have a proper sewage or waste system installed!  This meant that everybody had to chuck all their waste, and I mean ALL their waste, out of their windows onto the streets below.  Some parts of the Royal Mile - the old (often extremely narrow) streets and courtyards in the Old Town - were constantly knee deep in this nastiness.  Can you just imagine how horrific and unbearable it would be to live on the ground floor or, even worse, in the basements, in this kind of environment!?

In order to try and gain some kind of civility, a French phrase was adopted, 'Regardez l'eau', meaning 'watch out for the water' (although water was the least of it).  'Regardez l'eau' was quickly turned into 'Gardy Loo' by the Scots, who were supposed to yell this before throwing our their waste, to warn and save the poor hapless people down below from a terrible experience!  I am imagining the panic and fear of hearing those fateful words, 'Gardy Loo!'. 

In 1749, a 'Nastiness Act' was passed, which meant that it was only allowed to throw your waste out of the windows between 10pm and 7am.  Now, it's no secret that the Scots love a drink - this is definitely a country of fantastic whiskey and beer.  So, picture this, if you will.  The poor worker, who has had a few too many drams, makes his way home late one night, hears the dreaded 'GARDY LOO' but is unfortunately a little to slow and encumbered to get himself out of the way in time.... hence the coining of the phrase 'shit-faced drunk'!  What a souvenir to have of such a time! 

Eventually, a proper sewage system was installed in Edinburgh, which must have been a huge relief for everyone.  However, the Nastiness Act was actually never repealed - if you wanted to, it would be perfectly legal for you to throw your waste out of your window over night!  Might not go down so well with your neighbours though... 

Read 'Edinburgh Tales #1: In Celebration of a Terrible Poet' here!

Read 'Edinburgh Tales #2: Maggie Dickson' here!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Edinburgh Tales #3: Sh!t-faced Drunk

As you walk around the beautiful 'old town' of Edinburgh (slightly ironically named, as ALL of Edinburgh is old, just that the 'old town' is a bit older than the 'new town'), you might notice that many of the tall townhouses have rather luxurious-looking first floor apartments; they often have gorgeous balconies, which the other floors do not have, and generally look much more up-market and better kept than the rest of the building.  The reason for this is a historical one, and has a pretty hilarious relevance to an expression that still we use today!

There are many common reasons for placing high value on first floor apartments, as opposed to ground floor or much higher floors, and I am sure you are familiar with them (especially if you have lived in city apartment buildings); you don't have to worry so much about burglary or privacy, as perhaps you would if your apartment was at ground floor level and looked directly onto the street, and you don't have to walk up mountains of stairs to get home everyday, which is especially inconvenient in old buildings where there are surely no elevators!  But in the old days in Edinburgh there was an extra reason for desiring an apartment on the first floor instead of any other floor. 

Up until the early 20th century, Edinburgh did not have a proper sewage or waste system installed!  This meant that everybody had to chuck all their waste, and I mean ALL their waste, out of their windows onto the streets below.  Some parts of the Royal Mile - the old (often extremely narrow) streets and courtyards in the Old Town - were constantly knee deep in this nastiness.  Can you just imagine how horrific and unbearable it would be to live on the ground floor or, even worse, in the basements, in this kind of environment!?

In order to try and gain some kind of civility, a French phrase was adopted, 'Regardez l'eau', meaning 'watch out for the water' (although water was the least of it).  'Regardez l'eau' was quickly turned into 'Gardy Loo' by the Scots, who were supposed to yell this before throwing our their waste, to warn and save the poor hapless people down below from a terrible experience!  I am imagining the panic and fear of hearing those fateful words, 'Gardy Loo!'. 

In 1749, a 'Nastiness Act' was passed, which meant that it was only allowed to throw your waste out of the windows between 10pm and 7am.  Now, it's no secret that the Scots love a drink - this is definitely a country of fantastic whiskey and beer.  So, picture this, if you will.  The poor worker, who has had a few too many drams, makes his way home late one night, hears the dreaded 'GARDY LOO' but is unfortunately a little to slow and encumbered to get himself out of the way in time.... hence the coining of the phrase 'shit-faced drunk'!  What a souvenir to have of such a time! 

Eventually, a proper sewage system was installed in Edinburgh, which must have been a huge relief for everyone.  However, the Nastiness Act was actually never repealed - if you wanted to, it would be perfectly legal for you to throw your waste out of your window over night!  Might not go down so well with your neighbours though... 

Read 'Edinburgh Tales #1: In Celebration of a Terrible Poet' here!

Read 'Edinburgh Tales #2: Maggie Dickson' here!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Edinburgh Tales #2: Maggie Dickson

One of my favourite corners in Edinburgh is Grassmarket Square. Not only is it exceptionally pretty, full of gorgeous, old, stone buildings and with a perfect view of the castle, but there are also many nice pubs, bars and cool little shops in the area too!  If you ever find yourself with a free afternoon in Edinburgh, I seriously recommend exploring around here and whiling away some time in one of the many cute cafes!

While I was in Edinburgh recently, I discovered that in the 18th century Grassmarket Square was the site of all the public hangings that took place in the city.  These events were extremely popular; apartments that looked onto the square, which are still there today, were highly expensive and much sought after, and if you were lucky enough to own one, you could rent out your front windows to visitors seeking the best view of the hanging!  It seems quite strange to think of this dark part of Edinburgh's history when you are there nowadays, in this place that seems so vibrant and lively, the real heart of the city! In fact, in the exact spot in the square where the gallows were located, there are now outdoor tables and chairs full of people laughing and enjoying their beers! 

I learned of one particular story concerning the public hanging that really stuck out to me, though, and I wanted to retell it in a blog post as part of this little 'Edibnurgh Tales' series.  The story is about the unique and somewhat unbelievable life of one Maggie Dickson.  Maggie lived in Edinburgh at the beginning of the 18th century, and was by all accounts and purposes, an extremely normal girl - there was nothing particularly special about her.  She worked hard in the city and got married, after which, as was quite normal for women at that time, she gave up a lot of her independence.  

However, one day, her husband left her and Maggie found herself totally alone - she had no friends, no work, no money.  Because of this, she was forced to recreate her life; she found work at a local inn, served in pubs around the city and became a total girl boss!  She also fell in love with the innkeeper's son and, after some time, found herself pregnant with his child.  This was bad news for her - she knew that if it was discovered that she was pregnant she would lose her job and be charged with having an extra-marital affair.  And so, Maggie hid her pregnancy for as long as possible while she desperately tried to find relatives who would take her child for her, but since her failed marriage and unconventional feminist lifestyle, no family relatives wanted anything to do with her.

Finally, left with no other options and in total desperation, Maggie decided she would have to kill her own baby.  One night, she took the baby to the bank of the River Tweed with the intent to drown it, but at the last minute she couldn't bring herself to go through with it.  Instead, she just left the baby by the river and it was found dead a few days later.  

It was eventually discovered that the baby had belonged to Maggie and she was charged to be hanged, NOT for murdering a baby, but for concealing a pregnancy! The day for Maggie's execution arrived and she was publicly hanged as normal in Grassmarket Square.  Afterwards, her body was placed into a coffin and was being taken to the cemetery, as was the normal order of events, when the driver suddenly started to hear some banging noises coming from the back of the cart.  He pulled off the road and saw that Maggie's coffin was moving, so he opened it up to find her alive!! She was immediately taken back to Grassmarket Square, where she was about to be hanged for a second time when it was stopped, just in time.  The law claimed that, technically, Maggie's punishment had been followed through - she had been hanged and therefore served the court's ruling and now, in the eyes of the law, she didn't exist and should be free to go!

After all of this drama, Maggie found her feet again in Edinburgh; she became known as 'Half Hangit' Maggie', and opened up her own pub in Grassmarket Square, called Maggie Dickson's Pub, which is still there today!! It is said that she used to open the windows of her pub every time a hanging was taking place, and would shout out to the convicts, 'Ah, it's not that bad, what are ye complanin' abou'!'.

Check out 'Edinburgh Tales #1: In Celebration of a Terrible Poet' here!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Edinburgh Tales #2: Maggie Dickson

One of my favourite corners in Edinburgh is Grassmarket Square. Not only is it exceptionally pretty, full of gorgeous, old, stone buildings and with a perfect view of the castle, but there are also many nice pubs, bars and cool little shops in the area too!  If you ever find yourself with a free afternoon in Edinburgh, I seriously recommend exploring around here and whiling away some time in one of the many cute cafes!

While I was in Edinburgh recently, I discovered that in the 18th century Grassmarket Square was the site of all the public hangings that took place in the city.  These events were extremely popular; apartments that looked onto the square, which are still there today, were highly expensive and much sought after, and if you were lucky enough to own one, you could rent out your front windows to visitors seeking the best view of the hanging!  It seems quite strange to think of this dark part of Edinburgh's history when you are there nowadays, in this place that seems so vibrant and lively, the real heart of the city! In fact, in the exact spot in the square where the gallows were located, there are now outdoor tables and chairs full of people laughing and enjoying their beers! 

I learned of one particular story concerning the public hanging that really stuck out to me, though, and I wanted to retell it in a blog post as part of this little 'Edibnurgh Tales' series.  The story is about the unique and somewhat unbelievable life of one Maggie Dickson.  Maggie lived in Edinburgh at the beginning of the 18th century, and was by all accounts and purposes, an extremely normal girl - there was nothing particularly special about her.  She worked hard in the city and got married, after which, as was quite normal for women at that time, she gave up a lot of her independence.  

However, one day, her husband left her and Maggie found herself totally alone - she had no friends, no work, no money.  Because of this, she was forced to recreate her life; she found work at a local inn, served in pubs around the city and became a total girl boss!  She also fell in love with the innkeeper's son and, after some time, found herself pregnant with his child.  This was bad news for her - she knew that if it was discovered that she was pregnant she would lose her job and be charged with having an extra-marital affair.  And so, Maggie hid her pregnancy for as long as possible while she desperately tried to find relatives who would take her child for her, but since her failed marriage and unconventional feminist lifestyle, no family relatives wanted anything to do with her.

Finally, left with no other options and in total desperation, Maggie decided she would have to kill her own baby.  One night, she took the baby to the bank of the River Tweed with the intent to drown it, but at the last minute she couldn't bring herself to go through with it.  Instead, she just left the baby by the river and it was found dead a few days later.  

It was eventually discovered that the baby had belonged to Maggie and she was charged to be hanged, NOT for murdering a baby, but for concealing a pregnancy! The day for Maggie's execution arrived and she was publicly hanged as normal in Grassmarket Square.  Afterwards, her body was placed into a coffin and was being taken to the cemetery, as was the normal order of events, when the driver suddenly started to hear some banging noises coming from the back of the cart.  He pulled off the road and saw that Maggie's coffin was moving, so he opened it up to find her alive!! She was immediately taken back to Grassmarket Square, where she was about to be hanged for a second time when it was stopped, just in time.  The law claimed that, technically, Maggie's punishment had been followed through - she had been hanged and therefore served the court's ruling and now, in the eyes of the law, she didn't exist and should be free to go!

After all of this drama, Maggie found her feet again in Edinburgh; she became known as 'Half Hangit' Maggie', and opened up her own pub in Grassmarket Square, called Maggie Dickson's Pub, which is still there today!! It is said that she used to open the windows of her pub every time a hanging was taking place, and would shout out to the convicts, 'Ah, it's not that bad, what are ye complanin' abou'!'.

Check out 'Edinburgh Tales #1: In Celebration of a Terrible Poet' here!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Monday, 24 April 2017

Edinburgh Tales #1: In Celebration of a Terrible Poet

Having just returned home from a brilliant trip to Scotland, where I spent most of my time in the glorious city of Edinburgh, my head is so full of stories that I picked up there that I want to get them all down as soon as possible, before I forget any!  The fact is, Scotland is just SO full of history; it is such an old country, which is something that really strikes you as you travel around, and it has been home to some fantastic characters throughout history.  Edinburgh itself is an incredibly unique city - it's dark, old, gloomy and romantic, the perfect backdrop to some truly gruesome and horrific stories from its past (think Game of Thrones, which is actually pretty tame compared to the real stuff, on which the show is based).  Maybe it's that I have a dark side to my personality that absolutely loves this kind of thing (the more gore the better), but it became clear very quickly that I had too much to write about and too many tales to recount in one blog post alone, which is why I have decided to split them up, giving each story it's own deserved space.  I have also decided to start off with one that is not so gory, but more comic, about a certain poet who had quite an interesting life.

You might not know, I didn't anyway, that J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter, at least the first book for sure, in a cafe in Edinburgh.  She has described how she used to work for hours at a time in this particular cafe, taking breaks to stroll around the neighbouring old Greyfriars graveyard.  Well, in this graveyard, you can find a few graves where Rowling evidently took inspiration for some of her own character names; there is one Tom Riddle, who became Rowling's Lord Voldemort, and another William McGonagall, Professor McGonagall in the books, although a character of the opposite gender.  I was really interested to learn that this William McGonagall was a very well known, and very bad, Scottish poet!  In fact, he is famous for being the writer of some of the worst poetry in the English language!

William McGonagall, who was born in 1825 and died in 1902, wasn't always a poet - he actually began his career as a budding actor.  Already though, he was known amongst his peers and friends for being atrociously bad on stage and the theatre where he performed only allowed him to do so if he paid for it!  On one occasion, performing the role of Macbeth, who is supposed to die at the end of the play, McGonagall felt that one of his fellow actors was trying to upstage him, so he refused to follow the script and die!  I would have loved to be in the audience for that one.

McGonagall began writing poetry after he felt a wave of divine inspiration to do so, and he actually has a vast catalogue of work, including about 200 poems!  He performed his poetry in pubs and music halls, recited and sold it on the streets of Edinburgh and London, once tried to become 'poet laureate' to Queen Victoria, and even worked for some time in a circus, where the audience was allowed to pelt poor McGonagall with eggs while he recited his poetry!  However, he never really made any money from writing; instead he survived off loans and donations from his friends. 

Unfortunately, for his whole working life, McGonagall was continuously mocked and made fun of for his terrible poetry.  His friends detested his work so much that they once came up with quite a devious plan to get rid of him; they fabricated a letter from the Mayor of New York, requesting that William McGonagall come to New York, offering him the position of resident poet there.  McGonagall believed it immediately and set off on the long voyage to the new world by boat.  After months of being cooped up on the boat, McGonagall finally arrived in New York and declared his presence to the Mayor himself, who, as you can imagine, was extremely confused, angered and sent him right back to Scotland on the boat!  At least his friends got what they wanted - a few months of peace!

What I find really amusing though, is that, throughout his whole life, McGonagall never seemed to realise that he was a terrible poet!  He never noticed his bad reviews or heard his critics, he paid no attention to his friends when they made fun of him and when his job in the circus, which consisted of having eggs thrown at him, was cut, he was disappointed and argued to get it back!  His belief in his own work was so strong that he left for New York straight away, without even questioning the letter.  Isn't there something remarkable about that?!  If ever anyone was hurt by a stupid/bad review or an insensitive remark by a colleague or critic, take some inspiration from old William McGonagall!

Lines in Praise of Sunlight Soap
~William McGonagall

Ye charwomen, where’er ye be,
I pray ye all be advised by me,
Nay, do not think that I do joke,
When I advise ye to wash with Sunlight Soap.

In my time I’ve tried many kinds of soap,
But no other soap can with it cope,
Because it makes the clothes look nice and clean,
That they are most beautiful to be seen.

Ye can use it, with great pleasure and ease,
Without wasting any elbow grease,
And, while washing the most dirty clothes,
The sweat won’t be dripping off your nose.

Therefore think of it, charwomen, one and all,
And, when at any shop ye chance to call,
Be sure and ask for Sunlight Soap,
For, believe me, no other soap can with it cope.

You can wash your clothes with little rubbing,
And without scarcely any scrubbing,
And I tell you once again without any joke,
There’s no soap can surpass Sunlight Soap;
And believe me, charwomen, one and all,
I remain, yours truly, the Poet McGonagall.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin