Hello October, month of witchery

Hello October. I like you because you make me think about stuff like this.

“Mysticism” is derived from the Greek μυω, meaning “I conceal”, and its derivative μυστικός, mystikos, meaning ‘an initiate’.

For mystical London-based events in October, check out Bad Witch’s blog.

All image sources can be found here.

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Why the protestant work ethic sucks or what would happen if things just got better and better all the time

Image by Dukepope.

When I was little and very happy about something an older female relative of mine told me a story about a friend of hers. This friend had managed to trade herself a very beautiful glansbild (glossy pictures of angles and flowers and stuff – less trippy than the one above), the type that young girls traded back in Finland in the 1930s and 40s. She was very proud of her glansbild and held it up for everyone to admire.

She was so happy and so proud that she took it with her when she went to the outdoor toilet, so she could perch there, legs swinging, and admire her picture. But what the little girl hadn’t counted on was that life is horrible and cruel and she dropped her picture in the loo. And that was the end of the story. And I wasn’t happy anymore.

That story has stayed with me ever since. Not because I heard a silly parable at a susceptible age, but because this kind of thinking is hardwired into my being. My parents are generally happy and well adjusted optimists and have done their best to shield me from older more pessimistic relatives, but unfortunately for all of us this mentality has been passed down in my culture, it’s in my blood.

I will call it the protestant work ethic (“the catholic idea of good works was transformed into an obligation to consistently work diligently as a sign of grace”).  A tabloid headline might say that if you’re from Northern Europe or the US there is probably a 95,6 percent chance that you too will be suffering from this! It’s a mindset that tells us that we’re only worth something if we work hard, we can only learn something if we suffer and that life is hard, the rewards will come later.

Even though many of us don’t believe in a glorious afterlife we’re still stuck with the mindset that made that afterlife so appealing.

This way of thinking flared up with gusto a few nights ago. I was sitting in the living room, wine glass in hand, an amazing meal polished off the plate. I looked at my husband and my brother, who is staying with us for a while, and I thought, I’m so happy. This is how life should be. As soon as that thought appeared in my minds something in me reacted – don’t think that, it said to me, it means something bad will happen. And this is what it’s like to be me. As soon as I’m happy about something, as soon as I’m happy in life, I’m slapped in the face by some old misery-guts-preacher from the 1800s telling me thoughts like that are sinful, thoughts like that will mean that there is an end to the happiness.

As all of this was going through my mind I had another thought – what if I ignore all of this cultural programming and even conventional wisdom and decide to think that things will get better and better all the time. If I’m happy now, so what, things can get even better. What would happen if I adopted this mindset? Could things get better? At this point my brain started hurting.

I’m not sure if this is the right antidote to the preacher from the 1800s who lives in my mind, but there’s no harm in trying something new. And I’m tired of expecting a catastrophe as soon as I feel happy. I’m tired of thinking I’m not worthy of being happy. Because in the end that’s what it boils down to. I’m thinking this way because somehow I don’t see myself as worthy of happiness unless I’ve earned it (by working fucking hard, by sobbing and going through some kind of personal/spiritual/emotional crisis, by fighting, by worrying).

Unless there is hard work involved I’m not worth it. Well fuck that I say. What if I feel happy when I drink this coffee. What if I feel happy sitting on a bench in a park, enjoying the sunshine. What if I don’t have to do anything to deserve happiness. What if?

Image by Dukepope.

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5 places I dream about travelling to

Image by Ingolfur Bjargdmunsson.

A while ago I wrote a blog post about the five places I dream about travelling to in the UK. I was approached by a company who asked me to dream some more. Here are the five places I’d like to visit outside the UK.

Image by Edwin de Jongh.

Morocco

A lot of the places I want to see in the world have been planted in my imagination by books. I first wanted to go to Morocco after reading Esther Freud’s Hideous Kinky – where a hippie mum of two leaves London on a road trip to Morocco with her two young daughters. It’s set in the 70s. There are kaftans, men with long hair and adventures. It’s a good book.

Recently I’ve been reading Anais Nin’s amazing diaries and in her second one she writes about visiting Fatima, the queen of the prostitutes, in Fez in the 1930s.

Fatima had a beautiful face, straight patrician nose, enormous black velvet eyes, tawny smooth skin, full but firm … She could only move with difficulty on her enormous legs. She was both queenly and magnificent, opulent and voluptuous.

She sat among pillows in a room shaped like many bedrooms in Fez, long and narrow. At each end of the room she had a brass bed, a sign of luxury and success. They are not used as beds, they are only a symbol of wealth. In between the two brass beds lay all the pillows, rugs, and low divans. Fatima not only collected brass beds but also cuckoo clocks from Switzerland. One wall was covered with them, each one telling a different time … The atmosphere was heavy with perfume, enclosed and voluptuous, the womb itself.

Fez is a drug. It enmeshes you. The life of the senses, of poetry … of illusion and dream. It made me passionate, just to sit there on pillows, with music, the birds, the fountains, the infinite beauty of mosaic designs, the teakettle singing, the many copper trays shining, the twelve bottles of rose perfume and the sandalwood smoking in the brazier, and the cuckoo clocks chiming in disunion, as they pleased.

I know Anais Nin has a sensual way of writing about things, but oh I would love to visit a surreal and magical place like the one she describes. Morocco and Fez have probably changed a lot since she visited, but the winding, narrows streets are still there, so are the colours, the sounds, the smells, the market places. I would like to see the vividness, the magic, the cacophony of life that exists in a place like that.

And I’m also a bit of a hippie. I dream about going to Morocco because it seems like the right thing to do. Is it too much of a cliché to want to go there in an old Volkswagen bus, wearing long skirts, lots of jangly jewellery and never brushing my hair? Probably.

Greece

For a long time I was a bit skeptical about Greece. I looked at pictures and thought – the sky is just too blue, the sea is too pure, the whites are too white. Can this place really be possible? Would it not hurt your eyes? Is it actually just photoshopped? It somehow looked too perfect.

I tend to prefer grey northern coasts, storms and angry dark waves. Greece just seemed too pleasant. Recently I’ve started to change my mind. And it all started with the food. By reading different blogs and listening to friends it slowly dawned on me that Greece is a good place to find excellent, fresh food. Wine made locally, olives picked from the trees, fresh salads, fresh cheese. It’s making me hungry just to think about it.

Sarah Wilson wrote about Ikaria, a Greek island where the inhabitants live for an unusually long time because they have a healthy diet and a healthy family-focused lifestyle. Suddenly the beauty of Greece didn’t seem so intimidating anymore. It seemed inviting. And I now keep dreaming about a spontaneous trip to one of the Greek island.

I dream of finding a cheap flight on a late night browsing binge, everyday stress looming over my head, a cup of tea going cold next to me. But there is that deal for a weekend, the thought “fuck it” and then there you are a couple of days later, eating healthy food, walking and writing.

Photo by Jerry Law.

Portugal

Where to start? The people, the food, the wine, the sea, the tiles(!) and interesting cities. It’s only a short flight away from London. I can’t believe I’ve not been to Portugal yet.

When I was blogging in my teens I got to know a few people from there and I’ve kept following them online since. The photos they post from their home country are always stunning. I would love to see Lisbon and I would love to see the coast. I think Portuguese is an amazingly beautiful language, it sounds like a song. One day, when I want to go somewhere to just have fun, to rest, to eat. This is where I’ll go.

Iceland

I know the previous three places are all warm and sunny – but I’ve always felt even more attracted to northern places. I’ve been through Iceland while flying to New York, but sitting in an airport eating Skyr doesn’t really count.

There are so many places I would like to see. The lagoons, the geysers, the coast line, the barren volcanic landscape. I love that there are still people in this country who think about asking the elves for permission before building a road.

Their political life sound quite interesting and forward-thinking. Reykjavik looks like the perfect Nordic city. I imagine it as a mix of everything that is great in all the other Nordic capitals. I imagine the Icelandic people would know how to throw a pretty good party. This is one of the first places I would go if I had a spare week and some extra cash.

Image via tumblr.

Svalbard

I have written about this place before. I don’t really have a bucket list, but this is definitely one of the places I would like to set foot on in my life. It’s about as far north you can go without being a full on arctic explorer. You can stay in hotels and live pretty comfortably, which is great since I’m not very good at camping. There is an abandoned Soviet mining town. There are polar bears and seabirds and whales. If I was a better photographer I would apply for grants and spend a couple of months taking photos of the changing sky, the water, the ice. That would be a pretty nice way to live.

If you don’t want to put together your own travel plan, companies like First Choice offer cheap package holidays. Although I’m too stressed to start browsing for last minute deals at the moment. That’s a bad excuse right?

This post has been contributed to by First Choice.

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37 hours in Camden

image

Take 7 days. Add one pop-up in Camden. A Music 4.5 event. Three deadlines. Some video editing and an open studio night. What do you get? Lots and lots of empty coffee cups.

I’m spending a lot of time in Camden this week, at the Camden Collective pop-up shop, where Gerry and I are taking turns to sell some Plane Clothing wares. The coffee and the company is good. I get to make new friends and hang out with fun people like Natasha of An Original Leroy and Jennifer of Sosome. I’ve also met one of the few other Lottas in London.

Then there are the hours when I stare into space as my brain slowly freezes. There is the person peeing in a rubbish bin outside, the sirens rushing by, the fire alarm going off. Lots of candy crush. Dancing around to bleepy electro and Beyonce to keep the blood flowing. Trying not to look at the other brands in the store because the last few months of creative writing adventures has left me bank account in the state of a starved toddler looking longingly at other people eating chocolate. Retail is hard work, it’s also awesome.

There is one thing I ponder as I sit here – how do people with young children/young animals/a regular exercise routine do it? Where do they find the time, you know that extra time… the time that has been squeezed out of this week. The time that means that dishes are done, clothes are washed, books read, thoughts organised, empty wine bottles taken down to the recycling. I’m looking around for that time, suspecting it might be hiding somewhere amongst those hours I use for sleeping.

One more week of time squeeze left.

Ps. I love periods like this.

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Mother Thames – a river full of skulls

It’s Sunday in the city of London, the heart of the old medieval city. The streets are quiet. All the bankers and the office workers are somewhere else, the restaurants and cafes serving them are empty. The buses are fast and every sound echoes between fat stone buildings. The white dome of Saint Pauls in the distance is attracting every backpack wearing tourist within a mile. There are tours on guided buses, someone wearing the british colours standing on the top deck, microphone in hand. All the tourists seem to nod and pay attention. It’s a nice day for sightseeing. Clear and autumn bright.

I’m heading to the river, to a talk about the myths and mysteries of the Thames. I’m going with Madicken and we climb onto the HMS President which is rocking gently at the Victoria Embankment. Somehow that gentle rocking is disturbing enough to make both of us feel slightly seasick.

It’s not even noon, the boat is packed. We learn that thirty to fifty bodies are discovered in the river every year. We learn that the Thames used to be a sacred river, a sort of Ganges, where the celts dumped ceremonial objects. The river was a way to another world. Camelot has been placed in Westminster. Arthur and his knights in London.

Perhaps that’s why the river is also full of skulls. Lots and lots and lots of human skulls resting in the riverbed. Strangely though there are no bodies and no one seems to know where all the skulls come from.

There are more stories. What we see around us today on the shores of the river are many islands. Every place which ends on an ea or ey used to be an island, Battersea, Bermondsey. It’s just like on Orkney where the ey is a leftover from my ancestors. En ö, öy, ey, an island. London Bridge could have fallen down when it was invaded by vikings and King Canute saved the country by commanding the tide and drowning his enemies, no I’m getting ahead of myself here. That’s not really how the story goes.

King Canute by Stanley Donwood.

There are so many stories in this city, mysteries, hidden lore, hidden history. I walk these streets and I only see today, I only ever scrape the surface. But there are layers and layers of lives and thoughts, hopes and dreams, going down deep into the mud underneath our feet. This place has been a metropolis for centuries. All that energy is stored within stone walls, all those lives, loves, fears, the worship, the ambition, it’s all still here. And I love it. That’s what makes this city great.

For more Thames lore check out the Totally Thames festival. And for London mysteries look up the Fortean Society

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