I don’t know about you, but in the run up to my kids school holidays I get a bit antsy, wondering how to best entertain them, yet also get work things done too, as I work from home. Lately I seem to have settled into a natural flow, where I dedicate time to kids during the day almost fully, trying to empty my mind by learning alongside them. I then put some of that new knowledge to good use in the evening, when they are in bed & I am back at my desk.
”Wonder is the very engine of life.” Ealing Kagge
We only had one long bank holiday weekend when I set down to pen this post, yet there are so many things that were done & which brought equal measures of frustration & pleasure.
- I have heard a while back about a wonderful documentary called ‘Walk With Me’ about a Tibetan monk Thich Nhat Hanh & his world-famous Plum Village Monastery (what a delicious name) that he runs in rural France. The DVD has arrived this weekend & even though my initial plan was to watch it by myself, as I wasn’t sure kids were keen to see it as well, we actually started watching it together as a family, hubby included, just before kids bedtime. It is narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, but it is the people, their faces & voices that are the real heroes of the movie. You are drawn to the simple beauty of their actions & the beauty of nature we often take for granted, in our rush, getting from point A to B & then madly dashing to C. We haven’t finished watching the film yet (call it the slowing down of the pleasurable process), but we already integrated the ‘slow marching’ into our bedtime routine (you have to watch the movie to know exactly what I mean) and we also bought a Tibetan singing bowl, which my kids decided was theirs to use. After today, we ‘reigned’ things in & said that only adults can use it, as kids ‘run away’ with the fun and ‘ding’ it as often as they please. All the while what also lingers in my mind is Thich Nhat Hanh’s answer to a little girl’s question about the sadness she feels about her dog that passed away. While most of us don’t get to talk to Buddhist monks, reading books or watching a documentary like this can certainly change our perspective on things, as well as teach us invaluable lessons.
- As we mulled over our lateness in making any travel plans (everything we wanted to book was (not surprisingly) booked & whatever was available we weren’t keen on – we humans are sometimes hard to please .), we drove to Bath (somehow my childhood memories of it were vastly different to how I saw the city today) & Sussex. In Bath things didn’t go according to plan, as we couldn’t find the parking where we needed, but then we found it next to cricket pitch, much to the delight of my eldest. Boys visited the famous Baths, graciously bringing us some water to drink after their visit & girls went to the Bath Abbey & pj shopping, as well as discovering the small alleyways in the centre of the city. By the time we were back in the car, everyone seemed happy.
- The following day we drove to Sherbourne Park (beautiful scenery, dull food & hence quite grumpy me), but then in the afternoon we just about made it to one of my favourite National Trust places, Rudyard Kipling‘s estate Bateman’s and that was just pure bliss. The house was sadly closed, but having glimpsed Maugli at the entrance, we dashed into the gardens smiling. A tub of ice-cream melting on the tongue, toes buried in the lush green grass, skin exposed to hot sunshine. Cartwheels & laughter, walking to the mill, then falling down on the grass again & observing the clouds float by. The garden in full bloom, with busy bees buzzing around. Then driving in the sunshine back to London, sunny bunnies dancing on our faces, as kids argued, sang, giggled & tickled. Getting a place outside in a favourite local pub, ordering some food from the barbecue and then having the sense to grab a table inside, before the skies opened. Eating delicious cod & chips, alongside cote de boeuf. Lemonade for kids, a glass of red for adults. Exchanging fun & grumpy impressions of the day. Smiling at people, babies & dogs, as well as our friendly waiters. Getting home & then going for a walk (to burn off all that delicious food). Pure happiness, simple pleasures – realisation & appreciation of how lucky we are to have what we do, to pause & to appreciate every single moment.
- A great exhibition recently opened at V & A (one of my favourite London museums, which seems to be going from strength to strength, with former politician Tristram Hunt & Conde Nast’s Nicholas Coleridge now on board & introducing & overseeing formidable changes). Titled ‘The Future Starts Here’ We have spent about an hour & a half wondrously exploring technology & contemplating the way technology & our lives are so closely connected. Is it good for us? Or shall we be mere observers? I read voraciously & kids ran around, exploring things. The wonderful thing was that there were so many people of different ages – even quite elderly ladies exploring driverless car prototypes. I walked out deep in thought & my eldest (who it has to be said loves Science & Design Museums & is somewhat reluctant to visit V & A, said it was ‘the best exhibition he has seen this year’.
- Last, but not least, I have finished reading a book that came highly recommended by Annee de Mamiel, called ‘Silence In The Age Of Noise’ by Erling Kagge. As I tend to support my local booksellers, Daunt Books & Waterstones ( as a way to subside the guilty consciousness of the voracious Amazon consumer), I dropped in before school run. The lovely lady at the till looked for it & couldn’t locate it. I tried again, two days later, only to be told that they just sold three copies to the same person, who raved about it & planned on gifting copies to friends. As luck would have it, staff managed to locate the last copy, just for me (my pleading eyes coupled with wonderfully passionate staff can create positive synergy & make the impossible possible .)
The book itself is only 145 pages long, but it is one of those that you read slowly, pausing to think & to digest, before turning another page. My new copy looks quite worn now & that’s the ‘fault’ of rain in which kids & I were caught. This is a book for adults & possibly teenagers, but not young children. Instead of telling you about it, let me share a small paragraph with you instead:
‘The New York Review of Books has labelled the battle between producers of apps ‘the new opium wars’, and the paper claims ‘marketers have adopted addiction as an explicit commercial strategy’. The only difference is that the pushers aren’t peddling a product that can be smoked in a pipe, but rather is ingested via sugar-coated apps.
In a way, silence is the opposite of all of this. it’s about getting inside what you are doing. Experiencing rather than over-thinking. Allowing each moment to be big enough. Not living through other people and other things. Shutting out the world and fashioning your own silence whenever you run, cook food, have sex, study, chat, work, think of a new idea, read or dance’.
The day after I finished reading it, I announced to my kids that they were having a day away from screens of any kind (that meant no TV, iPad or computer). My youngest was utterly fine, my eldest moaned & made pleading eyes, but in the end we had a great day, both doing sweet nothing, as well as exploring the city, savouring food, sounds, architecture. We read, we chatted, we cleaned the house, did some homework. I ‘cheated’ myself, doing some editing on the laptop in the evening & checking my social media, but I made a solemn promise to the kids that I will fully switch off on Sunday & they will shut me down, if I attempt to access either. But you know what? I already know my life won’t change for the worse, I won’t miss anything important or vital when I have digital silence – instead I will cherish time with my loved ones, as well as reading, listening & watching the world go by, just as a did when I was a child & internet & mobile weren’t part of my world or my vocabulary. Some lessons of the past are perfectly relevant now, as well as for the future – well, at least that’s how I see it!