I started writing the Grateful series back in 2012. With so many years of practice, you’d think being grateful would come naturally to me by now. But no. I still have to work on it. I still have to remind myself that there is something to be grateful for in everything. Read more
‘When you first get down here [the village], you’re grumpy as hell. But when you’ve been here a day you’re in much better humour. Remarkable really.’ I’ve noticed that myself but having himself point it out made it all the more real. Read more
There was a time in my life when I mistakenly believed that asking for help was a sign of weakness, of not being able to cope, of not being in control. If it had to be done, I had to do it. If there wasn’t enough time in the working day to do everything I had to do, I’d sacrifice my sleep. And if you know me at all, you’ll know how much I need my sleep. Those were bad years. Nightmare years. Stressful years. Read more
I have friends in the hospitality business who on occasion fall foul of bad reviews. I listen to their stories of guests wrecking the place, leaving traces of drugs in the bathrooms, being generally boorish and obnoxious. And then, when challenged or asked to pay for damages, the guests/punters take to social media and leave a bad review with little thought and even less consideration for the damage their irresponsible reviews can do.
I’ve been feeling a different sort of gratitude these days. Not gratitude for stuff that has happened – although there’s plenty of that in me – more being grateful for things that haven’t happened, with two big ones this week. Last summer, in Ireland, in Lidl, I bought a kettle. Mad you say. Surely they sell kettles in Hungary. Even ones not made in China. And yes, they do.
The first month of the new year isn’t even in double digits yet and already I’m beset by a feeling of foreboding that just won’t go away. I can’t quite put my finger on it but 2019 has none of the hope or expectation that its predecessor had. It’s not like anything is wrong; it’s more a feeling that things could be heading for a downswing and the chances of avoiding or averting whatever’s in store seem small, if non-existent. I’m not depressed. I’m not paranoid. I’m not even fatalistic – I’d be more than happy if I’m wrong. It’s just a sense I have that it’s going to be a year to remember and not for any good reason. Only time will tell. It’s been a while, years in fact, since I’ve felt this way and thankfully, I know from experience that I have a coping mechanism that works. I need to delight in the ordinary. I need to lose sight of the big picture and concentrate on the little things.
A few weeks back, I took the car for a spin through the local carwash. The last time I’d been there, the chap in charge all but pulled out what few hairs he had left in desperation at my stupidity. Am sure that his account of ‘that idiot woman’ kept the local pub entertained that evening. Okay. My bad. But no, I didn’t for a minute think that the car had to be out of gear and the handbrake had to be off for it to move – wasn’t that the whole point of automation? Of course, in retrospect, it’s completely sensible. The car has to be free to move through the wash; it doesn’t just get up on a track and trundle along unaided. But who would have thunk it, eh? My Hungarian wasn’t quite up to understanding the finer mechanics of the workings of a carwash but after a few shouts, yells, and wild gesticulations, I got the message. Finally.
And he remembered me. I left an impression. I could see the universal upwards eye-shift that screams – oh, no, not her again. But then he spotted himself beside me and relaxed. All was well. I had a man in the car who’d tell me what to do. How was he to know that I don’t need to be told twice? Bless him.
Anyway, as I sat looking out at what was going on, it struck me that way back whenever, some bright spark sat down one day and dreamed up this idea. It’s a spectacular piece of work really. The rollers, the runners, the hoses, the jets, the pipes, the pullies, the nozzles, the water, the suds, the foam, the drying columns, the fans … each piece playing its part in an operation that had my car looking like new in a matter of minutes. Harmony in motion. I wondered who was behind it.
It seems there are a number of contenders for the title.
Back in 1914, in Detroit, MI, Frank McCormick and J.W. Hinkle opened what they called an automatic laundry. But the only automation going was human. As the car went through a tunnel (being pushed by a few chaps, no doubt), one guy soaped, another rinsed, and a third dried. It wasn’t until 1940 in Hollywood, CA, that someone had the idea to pull the car through the tunnel using a winch. And it was later again, in 1946, that Thomas Simpson came up with the sprinkler idea, but still, some poor sod had to do the rubbing and the drying.
Here’s where Google divides. One site says that Paul Maranian, opened Paul’s Auto Wash in Detroit – the world’s first automatic car wash – in 1948. But a second says it was the Anderson brothers of Seattle, WA, who finally went fully automated in 1951. Archie, Dean, and Eldon didn’t have the benefit of social media to spread the word and it would appear that in 1956, some parts of the USA still hadn’t gotten wind of their invention. Dan Hanna, from Portland, OR, which is really only down the road from Seattle, while on vacation in Mexico became fascinated with the workings of the local carwash. He went back home, got his mother to mortgage the house, and opened his own Rub-a-Dub in Milwaukie, OR. By 1959, according to the Hanna website, he had a working model of ‘the first mechanized car washing system’. Automated vs mechanized. mmmm….
That took me off on a whole other tangent.
According to those in the know, mechanization saves the use of human muscles whereas automation saves the use of human judgement. Now, I’m the first to admit that I’ve failed repeatedly and spectacularly when taking aptitude tests where cog A turns in one direction, cog B turns in another, and I’m supposed to figure out which way cog C goes. I’m damn near useless with any sort of instructional diagram. I need it in word format. My brain simply doesn’t interpret diagrams, but even with this limitation, surely mechanization would come before automation?
It doesn’t matter a whit to me, really, which came first or who gets the credit for what. I’m grateful that my coping mechanism still works and that I can still be distracted if I find delight in the ordinary. Who knows what I’ll learn this year!
People ask me why I blog. No one reads anything any more, they say. It’s all pictures. So I went on Pinterest in an effort to drive traffic to my blog. I doubt it’s worked as I’m not giving it the attention it needs. But then Pinterest was yesterday’s news, they say. Today it’s Instagram. Spare me. I know we live in a world driven by social media and an insatiable need to connect, but it’s doing my head in. I tried Twitter and apart from giving me something to do if I’m stuck in a queue somewhere, that hasn’t helped much either. I know I rarely click through to read what’s been posted because the story is so often in the headline. And my Twitter feed during the Pope’s visit made me question why I ever felt the need to know what some people think. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Anyway, I decided to give Instagram a go – but only for my latest blog devoted entirely to cemeteries, epitaphs, and gravestones. That way I can keep track of how successful (or not) it is. I’m not holding my breath. For me the effort needed doesn’t warrant the return, but I’ll give it bash for a few months and see.
So back to why I blog if so few people are reading?
Friends in far-flung places are curious about what I’m up to, particularly life in the village. Those posts seem to resonate. Other acquaintances liked the Budapest Times series. Those who travel have switched over to my travel blog – an offshoot of Unpacking My Bottom Drawer – where I now post all my travel stuff. Trouble is, if I’m not travelling, I don’t post so subscribing to that is a little like binge watching a box set – all or nothing. Readership on that is sketchy, but for me, it’s a record of where I’ve been and what impressed me – an aide memoir, if you like, one that’s there for public consumption.
That’s a lot of why I blog – to keep a record of fleeting thoughts and quiet moments; of people, places, and events; of books I’ve read and plays I’ve seen. My memory is slowly dissolving to the point that I can read something I wrote 10 years ago and wonder who wrote it as it rings not the faintest of bells.
But it’s the Grateful series that really keeps me anchored, the one I can’t miss, the weekly blog that keeps me focused.
Back in 2012 when I started the series, Grateful 18 was about a trip to Eger and how ‘my appreciation of the ordinary, the mundane, has grown in leaps and bounds’. In 2013, I was grateful for my love of reading and for those authors whose ability to paint pictures with words transports me to other worlds from the comfort of my couch – and in particular Peter May and the lovely Finlay McLeod. In 2014, in Week 18, I had a meltdown (I’d forgotten all about it) but was saved by a young friend, Deak Attila and was grateful that age is not a barrier to friendship. In 2015, I was
…keeping fairly constant company with a lovely man who has the most amazing green eyes and even more amazing hands. He’s in his mid-fifties, Jewish, Israeli, and absolutely and utterly fascinating. He goes by many names but the one I like most is his real one – Gabriel Allon.
Now, that I remember well. Wow. The following year, when Grateful 18 came around, I was in Rosslare revelling in the quacky and the zany having visited a house that had been shipped to Ireland in pieces from Paris in the 1900s and then put back together. In 2017, I was in the village enjoying a watermelon prayer flag a friend had crocheted and reminding myself to make better use of my time.
This year, 2018, I’m grateful that I’m in the habit of being grateful.
Is the grass always greener on the other side or is it greener where you water it? I find myself occasionally coveting a way of life and perhaps a piece of furniture and maybe sometimes, in a restaurant, I have plate envy. Then I think of those who’ve said they envy my life, my faith, my situation. And while I’m in it, living it, it doesn’t seem all that remarkable. But when I take the time to stop and think and appreciate it all, and see that I only need one hand to count my regrets, then I realise I’m blessed. Bunny rabbits and chocolate eggs aside, whatever your faith, whomever you look to when things go pear-shaped … Kellemes Húsvéti Ünnepeket. Happy Easter.
Am grateful. Period.
I heard once that what you do on New Year’s Day determines what you do for the rest of the year. At 11.55 last night, I was standing on my balcony, sipping a glass of bubbly, looking into the dark. All was quiet. Even the geese. I was reminded of Pico Iyer’s piece on the Eloquent Sounds of Silence:
We have to earn silence, then, to work for it: to make it not an absence but a presence; not emptiness but repletion. Silence is something more than just a pause; it is that enchanted place where space is cleared and time is stayed and the horizon itself expands. In silence, we often say, we can hear ourselves think; but what is truer to say is that in silence we can hear ourselves not think, and so sink below our selves into a place far deeper than mere thought allows.
Then 2017 came flooding in and the silence was shattered. The geese kicked up quite the racket down by the water and the village dogs howled at the fireworks that were going off all around the lake. I had my own private viewing point. It was pretty spectacular. No people. No crowds. Just me and the geese and the bubbly and the cold. When the fireworks stopped, the stars looked all the brighter.
Cold but happy, I went downstairs and, in true Hungarian tradition, ate a spoonful of lentil soup that I’d made earlier. This, apparently, will ensure that I have enough of everything in 2017. [Enough is a concept that is underrated. If we had more appreciation for it, we might be a lot happier.]
I fell asleep with Cormoran Strike, the detective created by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling) [an excellent series, btw] and woke this morning in time for 8 am mass. Someone else was in what I’ve come to regard as my seat in the church – visiting family no doubt – and we’re not due a priest till next Sunday so it wasn’t the full Monty- but it was a lovely way to start the day.
Since then I’ve been cleaning and cooking and making beds in preparation for The Visitors who are wending their way down the north shore of the Balaton as I write. At last contact they were in Tihanyi. The table is set. The beer and wine are chilling. The fish is prepped. And the lentil soup is just waiting for its ham.
All is good in my world. My closing Grateful piece of 2016 spoke of restoration and my hope that 2017 would be a restorative one. So far it’s off to a great start. Life is good.
But in Istanbul, hundreds of people trying to make sense of more senseless deaths. In Russia, families of those lost in the plane crash on Christmas Day are in mourning. In Syria and other war-torn parts of the world, people woke up to a different sort of day. I have a blessed life and with that blessing comes a duty, an obligation, to make the most of it. And remembering to say thanks is just the start.
I started this series of blogs back in 2012. Five years later, I can’t imagine not taking the time to appreciate just how good I have it. This is how it began:
Many years ago I worked with this very bubbly young American girl whom I avoided like the plague in the mornings. I just couldn’t handle her effervescence; I liked mine soluble, in tablet form. Working late one evening, we were chatting about whatever, when she told me that every night, before she went to sleep, she tried to think of ten things that had happened that day for which she could be thankful. And some nights she fell asleep before she reached No. 10.
She challenged me to try it. I was sure that I’d have no trouble finding ten things to be thankful for. And I’ve been doing it every night for the last eight years because it keeps me focused and it keeps me positive…well, sort of positive ?
It’s way too easy to let go and submerge myself in the daily horrors of 21st century living. It’s far too convenient to spend my days worrying about global problems that I cannot hope to fix or even effect and in doing so miss out on today. It’s really not all that difficult to lose sight of what’s important – and who’s important – as I spend my time moaning about what might have been.
My nightly lists will never be published in a miscellany. David Letterman is unlikely to ask to borrow them for his Top 10. But ranging as they do from the ridiculous (I am grateful that I noticed my skirt was tucked into my tights before I walked out on to the street) to the sublime (I am grateful to Árpád at Kadarka wine bar on Kiraly utca for introducing me to Fecsegő), chalking them up each night has become a ritual and as close to meditation as I can get.
I can’t help but wonder what our world would be like if more people took the time to give thanks – to themselves and to others. Thanks for the little things that make life worth living. Thanks for the people in our lives who keep us sane. And thanks for karma – who, will, at the end of the day, make sure that all wrongs are righted.
Inspired by the inimitable Biddy McD in Australia who has kept the world amused by her photo album Grateful 365 and posted a pic a day of something she and her two sons are grateful for, I’ve decided to be less adventurous but equally committed and focus each week on something I’m grateful for. Introducing Grateful 52.
Today, as 2017 gets underway, I’m grateful for gratitude and the comfort it brings.
Boldog új évet – Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh – Happy New Year
Sometimes, we stay in relationships for the good of others and to the detriment of ourselves We put up with situations for a quiet life, not caring about the damage we are doing to our souls. We sacrifice, we struggle, we stay, thinking we are doing the right thing. And slowly, we die. Alone in our misery. Unhappy.
Selflessness can be over-rated. People can give so much of themselves that they have nothing left to give to themselves. We can accomplish so much more if we are strong, sorted, sensible. And yet all too often we fail to prioritise our own health and wellbeing. We put others before ourselves. Understandable, yes. Especially for those with children and dependants. But what happens to our dependants when we break down, when we have neither the physical nor the emotional energy to care? What then?
Last week, I was grateful that I had shared an inaccurate post that led to the discovery of a wonderful poem, one that has stayed with me all week. This week, I’m grateful that a comment on that post led to the discovery of yet another one I think worth sharing.
The Journey, by Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice – – –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations – – –
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do – – –
determined to save the only life you could save.