Sparking Joy (what I got for my birthday)

I am now in the latest of my late twenties and I just really don’t even want to talk about it. But I have realised:

1. You only start saying ‘age is just a number’ or ‘you’re only as old as you feel' when you turn 29.

2. When you see anyone younger, you feel like this:

Inspired by Marie Kondo, I spent the day tidying. I used to identify as a minimalist and I suppose I do have less stuff than the average person, but after reading Kondo's The Life-changing Magic of Tidying up', I realised I had a long way to go.

Calling myself a minimalist was really just an aspirational claim - like when I was 16 and used to buy bras in the size I wanted to be, not the size I was. A roomy bra, just like having too much stuff, is a lie and enhances nothing.

So I got rid of a lot of stuff and was happy to find that the gifts I got this year allowed me to only let in what I found useful or sparked joy. 

Behold

JOHN LEWIS GIFT CARD 

My in-laws gave me a John Lewis gift card and with it I bought A DYSON. I'm so excited. Finger cyclone technology, I am ready for you.

HARRODS GIFT CARD

From my husband. He did actually buy me a necklace but it was so so so delicate that I knew it would break when caught up in my hair (which happens all the time, I need a sturdy chain). So we transferred it into a gift card, I haven't spent it yet, still deciding. Here are my thoughts so far...

MARA HOFFMAN SWIMSUIT

I love this designer so much. So this was a birthday treat to myself. I actually bought it after my birthday and after our last hot holiday but I will treasure it until next year for its debut. 

M&S gift card

My mum always gets me something M&S related. I haven't spent it yet, but here are  my ideas

The tablecloth

This is an accurate retelling of two conversations I had with Riddle Woman (mum). 

Mum: Can you find me a Batik-style tablecloth?

Sarah: That's a very specific request.

Mum: I'd like it to go in the dining room.

Sarah: Ok, I'll have a look.

(One week later)

Sarah: I found a Batik-style tablecloth, here is a picture of it. 

Mum: It's amazing

Sarah: So shall I get it?

Mum: No. Don't bother. Goodbye.

(FIN) 

I could've spent a lot of time debating whether to buy the tablecloth based her conflicting messages.

Then I realised, in life, there are some things which are worth just doing. If you can afford to do something and there's a chance it'll bring someone even a bit of happiness, just do it. As I've said before, it's not like the world's biggest problem is that there's too much love. 

So I bought the tablecloth for her and put it in the post and she was delighted. She even sent me an email,  saying 'DEAR SARAH TABLECLOTH IS BEAUTIFUL'. 

It turned out that the reason why she didn't want me to bother buying it was because she thought I shouldn't waste money on her. I was put in mind of that famous story about a billionaire who died. 'How much did he leave?' Someone asked. 'I believe he left it all' was the reply. 

 This is from Zara Home. 

This is from Zara Home. 

Olds Friends

The week after I finished my journalism course I became a business reporter.

It was not a great time to be alive. 

I'll insert a Venn diagram to explain it:

As part of my job (the only bit that was remotely bearable) I covered social events in the business world.

I met Daniel at one such event, a charity dinner. He was the PR guy for the organisers. I didn’t want to like Daniel because...PR...but he turned out to be alright. 

We were put on the same table as the evening's entertainment: a magician. The magician seemed to be very on edge and emotional. I overheard as he explained to a child that he used to be a very famous actor.  Grim. After the meal, he pulled ten pence from behind my ear. He was pretty good, I mean, how did my salary get behind my ear?

Daniel was a bright spot on the evening. He was funny and thoughtful and we had enough in common for a viable friendship to commence and so we did that. We lived in the same neighbourhood and hung out on the weekends in Hyde Park and Holland Park.

Daniel gave me Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds when it came out in 2012. It's a collection of poems about the end of her marriage and hope that comes with healing. Olds won the T.S.Eliot Prize in 2012 and a Pulitzer prize for it in 2013.

I changed jobs, flats and some life stuff happened. We lost touch and three years passed. 

About a month ago I had to travel across town to a meeting. Mid-meeting I remembered that he worked in the same building. As I had no other means of contacting him, I sent him a message through Linkedin (who knew that would be useful?) 

Anyway, to conclude the story, he’d moved to China and wasn’t in the building. We're now back in touch. Good news. 

Parting gifts

Easyjet sent this email recently:

Far from being freaked out that the company still held this data, I thought fondly of that Easyjet flight, which cost just £10.

Flights on budget airlines aren't typically things you get nostalgic and dewy-eyed over, but this one was different.

I was making my way to the university of my dreams and I also met one of my best friends on that flight, Julia.

Julia was a visiting student from Canada. We were assigned to the same hall of residence. After we landed in Edinburgh we boarded a university-bound bus. On the way to our hall, our luggage got lost.

Julia and I had to go to our first formal event that evening (dress code: black tie) in Birkenstocks and flip flops, respectively.

One of my favourite memories was at an Ancient Greek-themed ball, instead of dressing up as a toga-clad goddess, which is what every other girl did, she went as Medusa. She wore a brown dress, Birkenstock sandals and clipped long rubber snakes into her hair. It was so weird and so funny. 

The day before she returned to Canada, she gave me Birthday Letters, a collection of poems about Sylvia Plath by Ted Hughes (I like Sylvia Plath) I think it had just been released and I hadn't read it yet. It was really thoughtful. 

The message on the inside cover of the book had a summary of our greatest times and a quote by R.L. Stephenson.

“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.”

 

For the person who has everything

My significant other is in the rare position of having everything that he wants and is happy with everything that he has.

He’s not mopping his brow with £50s, let me be clear. He just doesn't like clutter. Buying gifts for someone like him is difficult, but like a sum done well, you can experience the satisfaction of getting to the right answer, or close to it.

He'd been researching his family tree. One afternoon, he talked me through what he’d found out. His family lived in a lovely house in the middle of Ireland, which was sold in the 1960s and its contents were auctioned off. It later became a hotel, which it remains to this day.

At first I thought I would book a trip to the house. It turned out that booking a room at the hotel was almost impossible plus the flights, hotel and taking time off work would probably be more of a stress than a pleasure. So I began to Google. I Googled the names of his ancestors. I wasn’t sure what I’d find, if anything at all.

I found two purchasable things: two mustard spoons which once belonged to his great, great, great grandfather a painting of a pony that once hung in the hall of the house in an auction for £300,000.

The pony picture was never going to be a goer, let's be honest.

I had a near-religious experience when I found out about the spoons. They were listed on an antiques website for an affordable-but-not-insubstantial amount.

It was fate.

My husband adds mustard to everything. It seemed evidence enough that a passion for mustard was a genetic trait. Maybe I read a bit too much into that.

I contacted the antiques house by email and asked to view the spoons.

Here’s a tip – if you’re buying an antique, don’t say how much it means to you to have it and definitely don’t say it used to belong to a family member. The dealer will be more likely to knock off a few pounds if you adopt an astute but relaxed attitude. If you show that you really, really want it it's unlikely they'll give you a discount.

I just said I was interested in spoons generally (I panicked), and the dealer wrote up a history of the spoons, where they were made, who made them and the design.

I found myself riveted by spoons.

When I asked to view the spoons, it turned out that they lived one street away from the flat.

It blows my mind to think that 300 years after his great, great, great grandfather commissioned these spoons, they would live one road away from his great, great, great, grandson.

I had to engineer a respoonion.

While I was chatting with the dealer and inspecting the tiny spoons wrapped in Kleenex tissue (which looked like it had served a former purpose) I asked him if he’d studied history at university. Of course he had. At the same university that I went to! It seemed like the gods were smiling on me and he knocked off £10 as an ‘alumni discount’.

To accompany the spoons, I wrote up their history: where they had been made, the fiddle-shape design, what happened to them after the estate was sold and how they ended up just one street away. I found a picture of his great, great, great grandfather too (Google) and enclosed a copy of it to bring the spoons to life. Is that a glove in hand or is it one of his mustard spoons? We will never know. Unless we look really closely.

I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the world appreciating these spoons as much as my husband and I gave them to him on Christmas day. He said it was the most 'meaningful gift anyone had given him' and because he's a bit quirky and because I'd given him some really weird gifts in the past (a pig bookmark and a shredder) I believed him.

I found it helpful to give myself rules to steer me to ideas

  • Establish what you can afford and don't overspend
  • Recollect conversations and experiences. The things that you've shared with each other will contain clues: a special edition of their favourite childhood book, a framed picture of a place they have happy memories of, a penchant for mustard.
  • Add value: think of what will improve their life. Maybe it's not anything you can buy. Maybe it's spending a day helping them sort through their wardrobe.

Gift of the week: Friendship Bracelets

Aged ten, I came back from holiday in the Bahamas with six friendship bracelets made by a lady on the beach. 

I gave them all to one dinner lady, Mrs. H. 

Read into that what you will.

Here are the loveliest friendship bracelets I can find.



San Fran, The Beats & A Gift For Laurie

I am not a daring person. I never swim out of my depth, I am always several hours early for flights and I won’t let a dog lick my face.

On that last point, I don’t hate dogs. It’s just that I once witnessed a dog jump in and out of a pond and then lick his owner's eye. His wide-open eye. I'm 100% sure that can cause blindness.

Being risk-averse means that traveling alone isn’t something which appeals to me. But inspired by the wisdom in Kylie Jenner’s video, I’m trying to make 2016 the year of realising and doing stuff.

So last week, I threw caution to the wind and flew to San Francisco. I'm 'into' American poetry from the 1950s onward. I wanted to visit the home of the Beat Generation, see Vesuvio Café where the writer Allen Ginsberg drank with Jack Kerouac and visit City Lights Bookstore.

I contacted my friend Laurie who lives in San Francisco to ask if she was around to meet up. Without a second thought, she invited me to stay at her flat and booked a day off work to hang out. That's the kind of excellent-hearted person she is. 

I told her about the literary sights I wanted to see. She hadn’t come across the Beats before which was great for me because it meant that I got to talk about it at length. It occurred to me that it had been a long time since I had confidently talked about something which actually mattered to me without saying: ‘Sorry, I’ve been talking for ages’ or ‘Sorry, I'm being geeky’ or 'Sorry, this probably isn't interesting'. 

It also occurred to me that it had been a long time since I’d found someone willing to listen. Unlucky, Laurie!

So together we went to City Lights and read some poems, bought some books and had a drink at Vesuvio. 

To thank her for hosting me and for being a good friend (one who can bear to be a tourist when she is really a local) I decided on a trio of Jo Malone gifts, a jumper, fresh flowers selected by a lovely lady called Courtney from the Floral Loft and a meal at AQ (which I'd heard was awesome - confirmed).

I'm glad I found and embraced my pioneer spirit in San Francisco, if only for a few days. 

It seems appropriate to end the post with a quote from Kerouac's Desolation Angels:

SO SHUT UP, LIVE, TRAVEL, ADVENTURE, BLESS AND DON’T BE SORRY.
— Jack Kerouac

SAN FRANCISCO HIGHLIGHTS

Here are some pictures from my visit. They include stops at City Lights, The Japanese Tea Gardens in Golden Gate Park, Alamo Square, Twitter HQ and Pier 39.