Simple Things

Being an adult is hard sometimes, isn’t it? So many decisions to make, so many paths to navigate, so many things outside of our control, so many bills to pay. It can become all too overwhelming, and difficult to see the wood for the trees. When there is so much to hope for, and so much to dream of, and yet so little immediately achievable, it’s easy to let your spirits sink. Coming back from a year where I lived a temporary life of constant novelty, where every day was a gift, every experience – no matter how mundane – a memory to be treasured, and every sight a revelation, has been a struggle. When the everyday has been capable of becoming so remarkable, it is hard to once again find yourself living a life that feels so utterly unremarkable. That sense of constant possibility – of euphoria, even – that I used to feel in just performing the act of walking down the street is nigh on impossible to recapture now I’m back in my old routines, living my old life, in my old city.

But over the past week or so, I’ve been taken by surprise at just how exciting ordinary life can be, and I have learned to appreciate what a gift it is to have all that I do. I often become so wrapped up in what I’ve not done and what I don’t have that I forget to appreciate how miraculous it is just to be alive, to be healthy, to have a family, to have friends, to have a job, to have a home, to have disposable income, to even have the luxury of the choices I agonise over.

Today I was mulling over the last few days, and realising how much fun I have had while doing nothing particularly groundshaking; on Saturday, I had a wonderful lunch of steak frites at Cote with one of my dearest friends, rambled through the beautiful streets of Highgate and marvelled at the magnificent views across London, before heading home for a luxurious night alone on the sofa with a bottle of white wine, indulgently sobbing my way through Bridget Jones’ Diary – joy! On Sunday, as part of my new relaxed me routine, I stayed at home all day. I made peanut millionaire’s shortbread (delicious), I sang along to the radio at the top of my voice, I cooked a lemon and garlic roast chicken, I finally ironed all of my clothes that I have kept shoving to the back of the wardrobe for weeks, I had a wonderful time mentally throttling Fanny Price as I curled up on the sofa with Mansfield Park, my flatmate and I laughed so hard that we cried, several times, and we clutched each other in delight as we watched a fabulous new drama called Call the Midwife, based on this book that I must buy very soon. On Monday I met up with another dear friend for a delicious dinner at Carluccios (they do the best spinach and ricotta ravioli ever) and we walked along the Southbank in the crisp darkness, marvelling at the beauty of the lights strung through the trees and the stunning buildings lining the riverbank, whilst chatting away and just thoroughly enjoying one another’s company. And yesterday night, I went to my French class; it’s proving to be a challenge to go back to learning a language I last spoke when I was 18, but I am loving every second of it. Grappling with grammar and vocabulary is something I relish, because the sense of achievement when it all clicks and you can triumphantly end the lesson able to say a sentence you couldn’t at the beginning is absolutely marvellous. Plus I have met some fascinating people to boot, and we roll around laughing at our pathetic attempts at communicating in halting French!

It’s not a bad life, is it? So much joy comes from simple things, and those are the things I forget about when I assess how my life is going and how far from achieving my lofty ambitions I still am, causing me to fall into pits of first-world-problems despair. I used to remember the simple things – I used to thrive on them – when I lived in New York, but coming back to London – as the idea of taking steps backwards often does – had made me feel that my life was thoroughly humdrum. However, a string of magical lights along the Thames and a series of largely uneventful yet lovely days spent doing ordinary yet wonderful things has shifted my perspective. I might not be setting the world on fire while I am squished between stranger’s armpits on my morning commute, or stuffing envelopes at work, or doing yet another round of washing up, but that’s ok. My life is still pretty brilliant regardless. And so is peanut millionaire’s shortbread, by the way – you seriously have to make that stuff. I’ve been living off it for the past four days!

34 comments

  1. I never, ever get fed up of living in London. Maybe because I didn’t grow up here, but I still walk down the street and think life is so much more entertaining here than anywhere else in Britain.

    1. Well that’s certainly true, Mary – I’d never want to live anywhere else in Britain, but sometimes I do forget how marvellous London is. I take it for granted!

  2. I totally relate – although I suspect I’m a lot less interested in going out at night than you are (and living in a rural area, the options are limited) over the years I’ve come to love being a homebody and focusing my time and friendships around my passions (literature and dogs at the moment). It may not sound exciting, but by and large, this is (I think) the way to a happy life in the long run. Perhaps not right for 20 year olds, but 40, 50 somethings (and beyond) can relish having the time to indulge in good food, movies, books, friends, and passions and know they are building the scaffolding for long-term happiness.

    And, as you say, everything is relative – London sounds pretty exciting to me, but I’ve only been there once (actually, I’ll be at Heathrow for a few hours next month, sadly on a day Persephone is closed!) and NYC is cool, but I’ve been there many times. I’m glad you are learning to savor the ordinary because life is mostly made out of it (and as you say we can be grateful for this – the extraordinary is an alternative, but so is the tragic). Enjoy! Kathy

    1. I think the way to true happiness is finding what thrills you and focusing on it, regardless of what other people expect or consider to be important. It sounds like you’ve managed to do that – literature and dogs sound wonderful to me!!

      Everything is relative, yes – and it’s easy to start taking things for granted. Growing up in London was great but it does have a downside of it losing that excitement that people who move here later feel about it.

      Ordinary is beautiful!

  3. Life is, indeed, pretty awesome. Since I’ve moved home, I’ve been so happy every single day just to be here, to be surrounded by my family and the place that I love. It has made me appreciate everything so much more, be it making a meal, going out with friends, or simply walking around my neighbourhood; whenever I’m walking, I pick my favourite home on each street. It’s silly and completely meaningless but always makes me excited to walk past it again the next day, the next week, etc. Finding excitement in the ordinary is what makes life so enjoyable and it’s wonderful that you have the gift of being able to see that!

    1. I’m so pleased moving home has made you so happy, Claire. I know how it feels to come back home – I appreciate my family so much more now and thoroughly enjoy every minute I spend with them. Finding excitement in the ordinary is what makes life enjoyable, indeed – I need to make sure I keep remembering that!

  4. So glad you have found joy in the simple things!
    I have Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth on my dinning room table at the moment. A Christmas present from my sister-in-law who knows I grew up in London in the 1950’s. I have previously read Shadows of the Workhouse which is the follow up book. I am looking forward to the TV series getting to Melbourne hopefully later this year!

    1. Thanks Denise! What a coincidence! My sister read it a few years ago and really enjoyed it though she said it’s more harrowing than the TV series! Hope the drama series makes it over to Oz soon!

  5. Oh! That picture made me very very whatever the adjective is that is equivalent to homesick but when you’re homesick for a place that isn’t home. That bit of London is my favorite bit of the whole world.

  6. When you were in New York, you noticed the small things because you were without the big important things… your family, your old friends, your country, and your culture. You did the right thing to go back, and you know that. When you start getting fed up with things at home that means it’s time for a holiday. And New York will be a familiar place to visit now, and I’m sure you made friends while you were there. Your new life at home sounds divine to me… As always, your post was very well written and thought-provoking. Thank You!

    1. That is very true, Margaret, thank you! Time for a holiday indeed…I’m going to Paris next month so that will probably do the trick!

      Oh yes, I left behind so many wonderful people in New York…I am already planning a trip back! I have awful pangs for it sometimes…it’s such a gorgeous place.

      Thank you Margaret, I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  7. You are young to have learned such an important lesson. Life can’t all be new and exciting every moment. There is so much joy in the simple things. Being a lifelong learner is a joy in itself. I have been thinking of learning a new language and I am waaay older than you are. A few years ago, I learned American Sign Language. I had fun, learned a skill, and made some new friends.

    1. Thank you Janet! I think it’s really important to always be learning and retain a sense of curiosity. You’re never too old to learn new things! How wonderful that you learned sign language – I’d love to do that! Good for you!

  8. Yes, Rachel, and ordinary life can be exciting and it is in the simple things we find such true joy. I think sometimes we just have to vocalize, or write about, the simple things; a bird in flight, a baby nephew cuddling, enjoying a meal with a friend. For me it was the dancing sunlight this morning and a long walk in the cold air. As Janet says above, “being a lifelong learned is a joy in itself”. You do that through your books and your joy of exploration.

    I love the way your write and express yourself and I am enjoying reading your posts and the comments about Mansfield Park – and that peanut shortbread, oh my!

    1. Yes Penny, as usual, you are perfectly right – it is important to write these things down in order to properly appreciate them. I am very blessed but sometimes I can too easily forget it, until I stop and actually take stock.

      Oh thank you, Penny – you are so lovely! Glad you are enjoying the MP posts – I certainly have enjoyed the ensuing discussions – and you MUST try the peanut shortbread, it’s amazing! Truly!

  9. Absolutely, the pleasure in the everyday is so important, and sometimes it’s easy to miss that, either because you’re stuck in the daily grind or because you’re busy doing fun and important things. It’s something I wish I was betetr at.

  10. Ooh, ooh…just spied the Bowen in your sidebar! I ordered The House in Paris last week and can’t wait to read it! Anyway, aren’t you just having a super time over there in your Highgate flat, you lucky woman, you. Sent an email yesterday to Mary saying there was a problem with commenting on her blog and in her reply she told me about Call the Midwife and now your endorsement. This definitely calls for more illicit viewing! As for that deliciously decadent shortbread recipe, if I can’t get my jeans to zip up next month I’ll know who to blame. Au revoir, mon ami!

    1. I am LOVING The Death of the Heart, Darlene…can’t believe I left such a big gap between Bowens! I shall read The House in Paris next so I eagerly await your review!

      I know, I know…I can’t complain really! You would love Call the Midwife…definitely get your fake IP address going!!😉 Enjoy the shortbread – it’s divine!!

  11. Everyday is a special day. I have always thought that and beng indulge of the little things in life actually makes us live longer I am sure.

    I get so pleased when I set it just to achieve one thing in a day, or work relate, like making soup, finishing some sewing, walking that bit further, swimming an extra km this week that I just think my life is pretty good.

    Oooo the shortbread – not sure when I will it out but I will!

    You will live Call The Midwife Books and the programme is excellent. I have recently just commented on it all on my blog. I cannot wait for the next episode, i also have Worth’s final book to read on my bedside table.

    1. Jo, you are a wise woman! I need to take some leaves out of your book!

      I’ll have to come over and see what you have to say about Call the Midwife…I can’t wait for the next episode and I also can’t wait to read the books! Such remarkable stories of real life…the way those women had to live and raise so many children has opened my eyes to how lucky I am!

  12. All so true, I love millionaire shortbread but my apres chistmas waistline needs to be whittled not widened, maybe I will treat myself once I’ve shifted the excess

    1. Lilac, you can’t NOT try this stuff…I’ve eaten it twice a day over the past 5 days because I made WAY too much and I still have enough for another few days…then I will have to make more! I am addicted!

  13. “The luxury of choice.” YES! I think I would do well to remember that phrase, even when the choices I have before me don’t appear to be luxurious in the least😉

    My choice today was to go ahead and clean the house up first, then exercise, then immediately get back into my pjs and finish reading a book, so I could inevitably get right into another one. These choices were not so bad today, even though they involved some work before enjoyment. Sometimes, that makes the reward all the more sweeter, you know??

    I think it’s wonderful you’re able to find joy again in the small things you have around you and are filling your days with worthwhile activities–especially the French class! I took four years of French in high school, but have managed to forget almost all of it. I would love to start taking a Spanish class, since I’d be more likely to use it here in the US.

    1. The luxury of choice is definitely something I need to appreciate more, Stacey! Your day sounds fabulous – wish I could have done the same!

      Thank you! Learning a language is so much fun and so useful too – I encourage you to take the plunge and start the Spanish class – what’s to lose?!

  14. Rachel thank you for the reply, but I feel must apologise for such applying writing and grammar. This iPad takes some getting used to with correcting words. Or perhaps I should just type slower?

    1. Oh Jo, don’t worry – Apple technology might be pretty but I know what a nightmare it causes with spelling – my text messages never say what I meant them to!!

  15. And you forget, dear R, the simple pleasure of your nice blog and it’s lovely book talk.

    I think January is also the problem, especially a British January of constant grey skies. It’s certainly so for me, the low point of the year when I yearn for light and warmth and it is coming – yes! the days are slightly slightly longer! – but it’s not here yet.

    Remember when you were in NY pining for London? I think one has to exercise one’s imagination thus, to recover the sparkle in life; and SPRING IS COMING, R! – spring is coming!!!

    Daffodils, tulips, the crocus, and the gentle explosion of pleasant English green which is probably like nowhere else in the world…my favourite, the pink cherry blossom.

    1. Oh Bop, you always make me smile! Yes indeed – January is such a bloody miserable month and it really doesn’t help the spirits. I long for spring!! You have described it so beautifully. Spring in London will be special this year – I can’t wait!🙂

  16. Rachel, I intended to write an appreciative note about this blog when you posted it two weeks ago. Since it’s still chasing around in my head (perhaps pursuing all those things I can’t remember!), I decided I should offer you my tardy gratitude anyway for such a nuanced, thoughtful account of being reminded of the extraordinariness of the unremarkable–simple gifts indeed. Glad you seem in subsequent posts to be back to your voracious reading, intelligent & engaging writing, & enthusiasm for life. One of the things that pulls me out of an “unremarkable” frame of mind & away from first-world sort of worries is photography: it makes me focus on one simple thing (or one grand vista). It’s that moment of stopping to really look that is so important. It’s amazing how everything else falls away from view and consciousness & the unremarkable suddenly becomes fascinating on its own account.

    And on a completely unrelated note–I wonder if you or your friends might know anything about a club called Alpha on Brockley Rd. Could this be the same women’s club that was flourishing in the 1930s? I’m can’t seem to figure it out on the internet (they have no web site, all other references are just addresses, & I’m a techno moron). It could just as easily be a strip club patronized by middle-aged businessmen for all I know, not an error I’d like to make in research! As you may have guessed, this is a Helen Hull question. Thanks! Best, Pat

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