Depending on how you interpret statistics, it seems that 80% of people check their phones within fifteen minutes of waking up. I imagine them rummaging around under the duvet, growing more frantic if their fingers don’t connect immediately with their precious device. An irrational fear of missing out on something that had happened over night, seems to override common sense. I know this feeling, because I was one of those people.
I’m looking out through my study window down to the river, pondering on those halcyon days before the internet sunk its claws into us. I’d be gently woken by the radio, tuned quietly to a local station while the Teasmade whirred into action. Fifteen minutes of uninterrupted time, before getting ready for work, always put me in the right frame of mind for the day. Nobody would have dreamt of phoning so early, unless in an emergency. An unspoken etiquette wrapped a framework around such intrusive behaviour.
Today’s waking up times are shattered by compulsive tweeting and messaging. Just because everyone else seems to be plugged in, doesn’t mean we have to be. Surely whatever feels so urgent can wait. Count to ten, breathe slowly and let that urge to respond in a flurry of righteous indignation dissipate.
I asked some sensible, grounded people I’ve met since I started my writing life, to share their post-waking up moments. Many are common sense but that doesn’t mean they’re common practice.
Tea, (and biscuits), books, walking, wandering, observing, watching the morning news, nature and dogs all featured in the research results. Maybe you do some or all of these things, or you have your own morning routines that don’t involve technology, but if not, you might want to consider the benefits of replacing that small blue screen with nature’s enormous, colourful canvas. If only for fifteen minutes.
Photograph courtesy of Charles Evans, Northumberland.
Thank you to everyone who took part.
As a Derbyshire lass, my favourite Saturday treat was an oatcake with bacon and eggs for breakfast. Sometimes, lunch and even tea. It’s a cross between a pancake and a crumpet and you wouldn’t think that something so humble could cause rivalry across boundary lines. That’s because they make them in Staffordshire too, a bit different, but I’m not going to get into debate here about which are best. Remember though, I’m Derbyshire born and bred.
My Mum made them by mixing ground oatmeal with yeast and water, setting it aside to activate, I think is the term. She added flour, salt and sugar to the batter before pouring some of the mixture into a frying pan to make neat round circles – except hers came out looking like Iceland a lot of the time.
They are nutritious and so versatile you can fry or grill them and have them with any filling of your choice. These days my husband makes them for me with gluten free flour, equally as delicious but I’ve always thought there was something missing.
A well -known maker of oatcakes are the folks out at Owlgreave Farm in Comb, a tiny village in the heart of the High Peak. (near Chapel en le Frith and Castleton). They’ve been producing oatcakes using a recipe with a secret ingredient since 1949. So that’s it. I knew there was something special about the ones we used to buy in Bakewell.
In my new novel, Edna’s Death Café, eighty year old Edna runs a café called The Happy Oatcake. Her speciality is the oatcakes from her mother’s recipe. I wanted readers to discover this delicious product for themselves. She so happens to run meetings where locals can talk about the things in life that make them happy, (oatcakes) and how they feel about their eventual demise. Set against the stunning backdrop of Castleton in a hard winter, the novel explores community, simple pleasures, good food and how to approach the end of life. They chat over tea and, of course, oatcakes.
I spent a couple of weeks in Castleton in May 2017, staying at the quaint and utterly delightful Oatcake Cottage whilst polishing the book for publication. It was the time of the Garland Ceremony and this is plays a significant part in the novel. Here’s a link for those of you interested in English history.
It was wonderful revisiting old haunts – Hope, Hathersage where I used to swim in the outdoor Lido, Surprise View where I climbed onto the granite boulders with my grandad and ice-creams by the river in Bakewell. I may have travelled round the world since I left Derbyshire in 1974, but my heart belongs in the Peak District which is why I wanted to bring this new book and a little bit of me to my loyal readers and hopefully some new ones this year.
Edna’s Death Café is available from September 5th 2018 from all on-line retailers. The paperback is planned for early next year.
Why not get yourself a copy. Put on the kettle and where ever you are in the world, pop an oatcake under the grill and load with your favourite filling. Enjoy.
LIVE EVERY DAY AS IF IT IS YOUR LAST
When gratitude has to have a hashtag and the Twitterati behave as if it’s an amazing new invention, I have to wonder what philosophy of life people are buying into. There’s a difference between wanting something from life and seeking something rewarding out of it. The former links to the material successes and comforts, the latter a sense of a life well lived.
Gratitude lists have become the new affirmations or the latest ‘must-have’, ‘must-do’:- something else to mark off as completed on life’s ever-growing checklist of achievement. Surely there’s something wrong with this thinking.
The Stoics suggested we should never underestimate or overlook the small things in life and paying attention to the micro details benefits our wellbeing; morning dew on a rose, tea warming in a beautiful pot, colouring with a child.
I’ve talked to many people suffering from mental ill health who assured me that by reconnecting with the simplest of things and performing day to day actions with care and attention helped their recovery.
Gratitude for being in the world, for the experiences we’ve had so far, without putting a value or judgement on them – good or bad – reminds us that the world will keep spinning when we’ve gone, like the billions before and after us. Those fields we tramped with the dog in the pouring rain, moaning about sodden socks and miserable fellow walkers, will still be there. Maybe it’s time to enjoy sodden socks and wet dogs before the chance trickles down the drain to join the stream of all past lives.
If we release control and treat each day as it comes as a gift, accepting that all experience is beneficial even if it’s not what we want – in fact, it’s those negative experiences that help us grow - we free ourselves from a craving for more that can never be satisfied.
I’m sometimes criticised for being a pessimist when in fact I’m a realist. Planning for the worst possible scenario is good business practice as I found during my career. Today this translates into accepting whatever comes my way and knowing that it doesn’t really matter either way. Accept the worst and move on. If you lose your job, you’ll be in good company and if your relationship breaks down – ditto.
There’s an old saying, What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. That’s not universally true. Many people are broken by tragedy and bad luck but the strength comes from accepting that this is how things are until death, the great leveller, brings release from the suffering. It amazes me how many people behave as if they are going to go on forever - as if death doesn’t have their card marked.
I am drawn to the philosophy of Seneca. We get caught up in the inessentials, the stuff that doesn’t matter and in so doing, spend no time in exploring our minds and hearts, ( instead of watching Love Island J ) He said,
‘It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile, they take no account of time that will never more return.’
The future is uncertain and always has been. That’s the nature of it so living in the now is the way to keep a sense of perspective.
Letting go of all expectations is not the mark of a loser or a failure. On the contrary, when we reach this point of releasing the ego and merging into the true self, we gain awareness of what we want from life. It maybe acceptance that you did your best, that you find joy in day to day things or if you’re like me, you found a calm spot under an oak tree from where you could watch the birds, simply being.
For a short read on Seneca, this book is worthwhile.
My new novel, Edna’s Death Café is out with Matador on September 8th 2018