Grey Life (Thank God for Books)

The new year rolls on and it was bloody cold last week: grey cold. Some days with no sunlight or blue sky. Just half-light to fill the period between sunrise and sunset. And even when we had days with light, it was still very cold. Thankfully slightly improving over the weekend, though the outlook is back to rain and wind.

I talked previously about dealing with the gloom of January (and February) but my most recent blog was about the need to try to create adventure otherwise life is pretty grim – read it here. And I am trying to be positive but it’s hard at times like this. I try to stay future focused but there is that thing about getting older and seeing more past with less future.

It hasn’t been a particularly bad week in many ways. Lots of exercise plus caring done and friends seen. And some very good books read, this is one of the main things in life that makes me feel good. I probably need to centre on the things that make me feel good and ignore the negative grey macro environment around me.

Next week: Off to Gran Canaria

Meanwhile, one of my key ways of dealing with the grey kicks in next week. I am going on holiday ! Me and Dave are off to Gran Canaria for our annual winter holiday. One of our favourite places in a hotel we love. Much of the week gone has been about getting everything in place before we go.

Gran Canaria Hotel Neptuno

  • A grey week (weather and general mood) particularly alleviated by two good books read and holiday next week
  • Time spent with mum and Patrick particularly making sure arrangements are in place for when we are away. I also met up with my old friends Fang Fang and David (aka Daisy)
  • Gym but no swim, weight warning, and a good QPR win

I met up with a couple of old friends during the week: Fang Fang and Daisy (see below). With both we talked and I realised a couple of things about my reading. First, we all have things to try to measure time passing by. One of the main things I measure my life with is the books I read. Second, and linked to the previous thought, reading is my favourite way of consuming culture above cinema and theatre.

‘Prophet Song’ by Paul Lynch

First of two books completed last week. This was the winner of the Booker Prize 2023 and it is very good indeed. Definitely not a book to read to make you feel good but the bleak story told matches the greyness around us at this current time.

Set in near future Ireland, we witness the rise of a neo-fascist regime through the eyes of a mother trying to keep her family going. It initially feels far-fetched to think a peaceful place like Ireland can deteriorate like that. But I can remember Ireland before Mary Robinson being a dark, authoritarian Catholic state. Abortion and being gay was illegal as well as a woman’s place being very clear – baby carrier and housewife.

However, this novel is bigger than one country. The author is telling us how civil society can erode very quickly. Laws are suspended, militias arise, and people start disappearing. Society divides and breaks down then civil war erupts. As can be seen in places like Syria, Ukraine, and Gaza. Indeed, I can remember how Bosnia collapsed overnight and now we see chaos even in a very orderly country like Ecuador.

It’s a warning to never assume that things can’t change for the worse. But the book also makes you think about what causes refugees to try to escape; particularly women and children. Helping us try to understand why someone would risk everything putting their lives in the hands of people carriers and inflatable boats.

Colonial mentality

‘Night Side of the River: Ghost stories’ by Jeanette Winterson

A selection of ghost writings by the renowned author of the brilliant ‘Oranges are Not the Only Fruit’. The title suggests these are all fictional stories and most are. But there are also some personal spiritual experiences relayed by the author.

As with so many ghost stories, these aren’t really scary and in many ways ghost stories shouldn’t be. Visits by grey spirits of people who were once colour, flesh and blood should give comfort and succour as much as fear and dread. I don’t believe in ghosts but I wish they did exist. To give us reassurance that there is more than just this life.

I think Winterson is on the same wavelength but she does suggest some other things. One of the themes in her book is the possibility of some residual ‘energy’ remaining immediately after a person dies or buildings and things retaining ‘pictures’ of events and people. Nice ideas but no scientific evidence. Plus she looks into how new tech such as the metaverse carries the potential for creating ghosts as a virtual person can live forever.

Spirit

Mum and Patrick: Trips out

I am a bit worried about mum and Patrick coping whilst me and Dave are away. So we’ve spent a lot of time with them in the week gone making sure everything is in place whilst we are away.

The main thing with mum last week was a trip out. We had toyed with going out on Monday or Tuesday but the grey cold put us off. We eventually got our shit together on Wednesday afternoon. And I met mum in Hammersmith after visiting Patrick so it would force her to get out of the flat and meet me.

A trip round the shops then onto the library. As I was with mum we could load up with stuff for me to carry including books. Mum is like me, she enjoys reading but she gets through books very quickly. It’s a big issue finding ones that she hasn’t already read. It was so cold that we had to call it quits earlier than expected and get the bus home.

As with mum, the highlight of last week for Patrick was going out. On Friday me, Dave, and Patrick met up for a lovely pub lunch with our friend Frances. Nice food and a relaxed chat catching up with what we’ve all been up to. Then on Saturday, I took Patrick to his local supermarket to stock up on food.

The joy of seeing old friends

Two lovely meetings that were supposed to happen the previous week but which were postponed due to the tube strike that got cancelled an hour after it had started. Would probably have been easier to meet before with the cold making motivation to go out that much harder.

Fang Fang was great and came from home into central London to meet. I took her to the Union Jack Club, which is a fascinating place to visit. The bar was busy and almost totally with old people – we were like twinks there. A fascinating chat about life in general as well as careers and parents.

I met with Daisy (aka David) on Wednesday afternoon in-between seeing Patrick and mum. A nice coffee and another general catch-up though also talking about the cultural stuff we are into. David particularly loves cinema but also has the collecting bug which I am so desperately trying to fight at the moment. I would be so happy if he treated himself to a nice holiday away from the grey cold.

Be happy and grateful about nice things

Mental health: Worry and sleep issues

Blue Monday came and went. The domination of grey at the moment is very much based on the weather and my mental health is better than it’s been for a long-time; I think not working is primarily responsible. But my head is not in a great place as I worry about the future. About money, health, and people passing.

Regular readers know I aim to be future-focused and look to what will come with hope. I try to be an optimist but it doesn’t come naturally. And last week I had a few nights of poor sleep. A routine of waking up in the middle of the night and thinking about awful things that could happen. As well as wondering if we are already in the beginning of the sort of civil society collapse that ‘Prophet Song’ outlines.

Head in hands

Gym but no swim

3 gym sessions done last week and on my normal times: mornings of Mon, Wed, Fri. Good to see some old faces back from the hols as well as some new ones mainly people visiting London. I am focusing on really pushing some of the weight levels till I can feel my muscles hurting.

8 gym sessions since the start of 2024 divided by the annual membership = £68.75 per session.

range of dumbells

Exercise, like reading and learning, is one of my key ways to deal with grey gloom. And I am getting back into swimming. However, I didn’t do any swims in the week gone. Two reasons. First, it was too bloody cold. But more importantly, I don’t want risk catching an ear infection just before I go on holiday. I will return to swimming with a vengeance on my return (I’ll be back !)

Weight: Just below the landmark 13 stone mark

My weight of the week before was confirmed last week at just under 13 stone. That’s a general upward direction generally but still below that significant number. I would be very depressed to move back into being 13 stone something. Could be challenging with holiday living to come.

Spanish and German both useful for next week

Been doing my daily Duolingo language learning. As we are in Spain next week, it makes sense to focus on Spanish and that is what I have been doing. Though there will probably be enough Germans there for me also to practice my German.

Do you speak German

QPR: A glimpse of light in the grey

Finally, a good win: 2-0 at home against London rivals Millwall. Supporting a team is about ups and downs but I have had too many downs recently. Particularly as this season is now just to see if we can survive and avoid relegation. That’s what things have simply come down to; quite depressing.

QPR

  • Me and Dave are off to Gran Canaria for our annual winter holiday.
  • I’m getting ready my big pile of holiday reading – this always excites me !
  • Gonna have to be careful about my weight as the temptation on holiday is to focus on good food and alcohol (as well as just lounging in the sun hopefully).
  • Similarly, my exercise routine will go to pot. I might get to the little hotel gym and have a paddle in the pool but nothing serious. Last year I used my holiday as a springboard to start jogging again, well that ain’t gonna happen this year with my ankle / Achilles still so dodgy.
  • Big game for QPR next Sunday, we are playing the team just above us (Huddersfield). A straight win against them and we are out of the relegation zone.
Acceptance or struggle

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