Monday, June 29, 2015

10 Simple Things That Give Me Joy

I have much to be joyful about—three sons, two grandsons, a pending granddaughter, lovely wife, income, published books, et al—but these are the deep-seated joys, the ones that infuse the fabric of life with a cheerful background color. And they are often (far too often) taken for granted. But, acknowledged or not, they are not the things that make your life truly joyful.

And I am not alone in thinking this:

“Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom to a man in the course of his life,” says my alleged great (great, great…) grand Uncle Ben. "Thus, if you teach a poor young man to shave himself, and keep his razor in order, you may contribute more to the happiness of his life than in giving him a thousand guineas.”
My favorite portrait of Uncle Ben, who also said:
"If you give a man a fish, he will eat today,

teach a man to fish and he'll sit in a boat and drink beer all day."
Wait a minute...I may be wrong on that one.
A kind word from a stranger, a laugh shared with the bus driver, an unexpectedly fine cup of tea—link a few of these together and you have a good day, live without them for very long, and life becomes monotonous and dreary.

That said, and to follow up my Modern Anxiety list, I offer here a few of the things that, throughout my day, I can count on to inject a little cheer:

This is a bottle of Baylis and Harding hand wash (Sweet Mandarin & Grapfruit). By scratching out a portion of the D, I made myself part owner in the company, and every time I look at it I want to giggle like a school girl.
My very own brand of hand soap.
Shower Squeegee
My shower resembles a glass phone booth with a shower head instead of a phone. It’s a nice shower, but the sight of the glass walls speckled with water spots made my inner OCD cleaner uneasy. Then I found a shower squeegee. Now, after a couple of deep-knee bends while holding the squeegee against the glass, I have a sparkling clean cubicle every day.
Squeegee. Photo taken through the squeaky (literally) clean walls of my shower. 
Mirror Hob
We have one of those newfangled hobs with pictures instead of burners and electronics instead of dials. I hate it. You have to wait for it to boot up, then fiddle with the buttons to get it to do anything and then it has only two settings: not hot enough and way too hot. Also, it gets dirty easily.

Fortunately, a quick scrub with Hob Brite makes it glow like an obsidian mirror.
Disclaimer: This is not my actual reflection.
The View
I liked the view from our previous flat, but I love the view from here. And it is especially pleasing when I think that almost everyone else in this block of flats gets to enjoy the panorama of Sainsbury's car park.
What I see.
What they see.

The Balcony
Unlike the balcony on our previous flat, this one is actually a usable size, and it has become one of our favortie rooms.

In agreeable weather, we eat breakfast in the warm morning sunshine, and spend lazy afternoons reading and enjoying the view. It’s a marvellous enhancement, and yet no one else seems to bother with theirs.

Most of them contain a few neglected plant boxes or even a small table and chair set, as if the residents had initial enthusiasm but then decided they couldn't be arsed. And since this is a more "upscale" location, I don't even see people popping out for a fag. It's sad really, but only sad for them; we're very happy.
If people don't start using their balconies, 'they' will take them away.
Future generations may thank us.
Pipe Tool
A friend of mine gave his father's pipe tool to me. I was overwhelmed, but he said he didn't smoke and, although the pipe tool was over 60 years old and had belonged to his father, it really didn't hold any value for him so he thought I should have it.

My friend's generosity, and the pipe tool's pedigree, are never far from my mind as I enjoy the convenience it affords. But this is not the main reason it brings me joy.

I have decided to bequeath it to my son, who has also been known to enjoy a pipe, and I am going to tell him the original owner was an RAF pilot in the Battle of Britain, and that the dent is from hitting the side of his Hawker Hurricane as he was bailing out over the Channel.

Family legends have to start somewhere, so I figured, why not start my own.

Pipe tool, with Battle of Britain dent.

Seeing 10,000 On My Pedometer
My wife and I have pedometers. The type we use has a little man that appears and raises his arms up and down in a congratulatory "touchdown" motion when you hit 10,000 steps. Needless to say, seeing this little man is always a cause for celebration.
Ohhhh! Twelve thousand! That was a particularly good day.
Our Galileo Thermometer
A friend of ours gave this to us and it has brought unanticipated joy. Being, as it is, a crude measure of temperature, it mostly doubles as an ornamenta sort of lava lamp for the incredibly patient. Accordingly, seeing a bauble rise to the top or sink to the bottom brings the same sort of exhilaration usually reserved for bird watchers sighting a Hudsonian Whimbrel.

Galileo Thermometer

Hudsonian Whimbrel
Our New Electric Kettle
An electric kettle boils watera simple but useful task—and that was all we looked for in a new one after our old one broke. But when I turned on the new one, I found it also glowed in the dark. A patently useless feature, but one I never get tired of seeing.

It boils water, and glows! Seriously, how cool is that?
My Bialetti Coffee Maker
After years of trying one gadget or anotheralways with disappointing resultsand eventually consigning myself to a life of instant coffee, a German Hausfrau introduced me to the Bailetti. It makes the best cup of coffee I have ever tasted and I am thankful for every sip.

Thanks for telling me about this, Mella, it's brilliant!
I could go on, but I think it's time you went out and found a few of your own. Little joys are everywhere, if you care to look,

And while you're at it, think about exchanging a few kind words with a stranger; you may be the joy that brightens up their day.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Me and My Bike(s)

Back when I was “retired” I bought a bike.

I made good use of it that first year but then my office hired me back part-time and my carefree ways suddenly became restricted. Still, that second year, I managed a few rides.

Then the winter set in. Then we moved and my bike came with us, to be propped up in our assigned parking bay in the secure garage beneath or flats. I was looking forward to trying the bike in this new setting—where I have instant access to the bike path instead of having to play dodge ‘em with the cars whizzing down the busy road I had to travel to get to it—but, just as the warm weather showed promise of returning, someone stole it.

I can see now where I was a bit naïve. I just propped my bike up against the wall, thinking it was safe in the secure garage. To be fair, other bikes were propped up as well, some locked, some not. It was, however, my bike that went walkabout.

So I reported it to the police, got an incident number and the brush off, and called my insurance company.

No problem there—stolen bikes are all too common—but they had definite ideas about how they wanted to settle the claim.

“We’ll send you a new bike,” they said.

“Look,” I told them. “I haven’t used the bike in a long time, I’m working full time now so I doubt I’ll get to use it any time soon. Can I just get the settlement and I’ll buy a new bike when I can actually use one?”

“Well, yes we could arrange a settlement,” the woman said, a bit uncertainly.

Half an hour later I was called by a bike company in Swindon. “Your insurance company just told us to send you a new bike,” the man said.

“I told them I wanted the money, not a bike.”

“Well, you could have the money,” he said, a bit uncertainly, “but, you know, deductible, fees…”

“So, I can get the money, then?”

“Sure. Now what kind of bike do you want?”

Three days and 200 quid later (deductible, fees, etc.) a delivery van appeared with a bike in a box. I assembled it, bought a sturdy lock and secured the bike to the ring bolted in the wall at the end of our parking bay put there for just that reason.

Two days later the bike, and the lock, were gone.

This time, I went down to the police station to report it so I could get the brush-off in person.

“You’re not really going to look for the bikes, are you?” I asked as she handed me my incident number, assured me they would look into it and told me to go away, um, I mean, have a good day.

“No,” she said.

"And what's your fucking problem...I mean, how can I help you?"
So I called my insurance company. Again. Not surprisingly, there was a bit of confusion and consternation but, after a few phone interviews wherein I was subject to rigorous interrogation to ascertain if I was a compulsive liar, incredibly negligent or just plain unlucky, they consented to send me another new bike.

“Can’t I just have the money?” I pleaded.

“Well, you could have the money, I suppose…” she said, a bit uncertainly.

“You know they’re just going to steal this one, too?”

“Most likely,” she agreed.

Half an hour later I got a phone call from Swindon.

“We sent you a bike last week,” the man said. “Was there some problem with the order?”

“No,” I told him. “They stole it.”

“Oh. So what kind of bike do you want?”

To their credit, they suggested a really sturdy lock, one that would take an hour or more to get through.

“Well, it’s in a secure garage,” I said. “Once they get in, they pretty much have all night.”

I bought the lock anyway.

Three days and 200 quid later, another bike-in-a-box arrived. This time, I dragged the box up the two flights of stairs, down the corridor, across the catwalk and up two more flights of stairs to our flat. There, I left the box in the hallway (after asking my one and only neighbor if they minded) and tried to think of something more permanent to do with it.

I wanted to sell it, but in order to recoup the amount of money it had cost me, I would have to sell it for nearly the retail cost, and no one wants to pay that much for a used bicycle, even one that hasn’t been taken out of the box.

This is what my current bike looks like.
I could have sold it cheap and taken the loss but if I was going to do that, I figured I might as well just stick it out in the town square with a sign reading, “Steal me” on it.

And so, after a week of indecision, it is still in the box, propped up in the hallway, a testament to the tenacity of the local thieves and my refusal to hand another bike over to them.

I expect it will be there for some time to come.

For the record, this is what my original bike looks like.

And this is what my second bike looks like.