What Happened Next?

It occurred to me today that while I bring up a lot of subjects on this blog, I seldom revisit them. While I know what happened next, I don’t often share that with the rest of the world.
How has it been since I cut my hair short? Have I actually done any of the exercise I praised, fun or otherwise? Have all my screeds over the years on the subject of decluttering had any measurable effects in real life? Or was it all just talk?


1815 Isabey Portrait Katharina Pawlowna von Russland anagoria

My hair is still short, and definitely curly. On a good morning, there’s a vague resemblance to Helena Bonham Carter; on a bad morning, the resemblance is more to Edward Scissorhands – and a lot stronger. I’m planning to grow it out as winter approaches – partly for warmth and partly just to see what happens!

As for exercise, I mentioned that my exercise goals included buying a skipping rope, and learning to dance the galliard (aka the cinquepace). I have indeed bought a skipping rope, and have even skipped with it – mostly outside on the grass for the sake of my joints. It’s harder than it was when I was little, though I have not yet tried any fancy touches like the Inverse Toad.

Woodcut Galliard

When it comes to the galliard, however, I have met with less success. Apart from the useful information that one could dance the galliard to the tune of God Save the Queen (perhaps why the dance was so popular with Queen Elizabeth I, who danced six or seven of a morning by way of exercise), I have got nowhere. As wonderful as our local library is, it is singularly lacking in books on how to dance the dances of history. I shall have to keep looking. Next stop: the great wide web.

I have also acquired a new swimming-suit (of which more hereafter) and gone to a swimming-pool for the first time in a long time. (Years.) I happily paddled and splashed about, enjoying the absence of large waves trying to give me a forcible sinus rinse, and even essayed a few lengths, with variable success. Running your head into the wall while swimming on your back: not success.

0ld keyboards

On the same day as we went to the pool, we took a quantity of e-waste to the safe-disposal-of-electronic-waste people. I was very happy to see the back of it. As well as safely breaking down the parts of things no longer functional (recycling), they also fix things where possible (reuse) or turn them into other things (repurpose) – all very good for the planet, as well as those not able (or not willing) to buy their belongings new.

Since I last wrote about tidying, decluttering and purging, I have also gone through the bathroom cupboards like a dose of salts (pun intended – please forgive me) as well as the pantry cupboard and the shelves in the hallway.

I’m also sleeping better. I stopped worrying about it, and that seemed to help, although I’m inclined to give the recent sudden arrival of autumn a bit of credit too – no more waking up overheated. Now I sleep like a hibernating dormouse, although happily I don’t snore like one.

Glis glis (edible dormouse) in winter sleep

What have I missed? Is there anything I mentioned once and never got back to you about? Let me know in the comments!

In Search of Simplicity

If only there was a button. Not a Big Red Button, but a tastefully proportioned button in a calming shade of blue. A button which, when pressed, would magically rid your home and life of all the extraneous unnecessary complications which make it so stressful. A simplifying button.

Sadly, life is not like that. There Is No Spoon Button. Simplifying is a process, usually a slow process, and sometimes a difficult one. But do not be discouraged. Lasting, healthy change is generally incremental.

If I had a chocolate cookie for every time I’ve done a big clean-up and sworn I would keep it that way, I would be a happy woman. I would be even happier if I had actually ever managed to do it. My temperament is suited to big, sweeping changes – but they don’t last.

I lurch from extreme to extreme. From “is that a crumb you just dropped on your place-mat? Horror!” to “eh, just drop it on the floor, it’ll get cleaned up sometime.”

Messy floor mosaic

Consistency is – um, well, I know what it means. And I can spell it. That’s about as far as my abilities extend in that direction. (It has just occurred to me that I might not be very easy to live with.)

Sometimes, almost despite myself, I make a small change. And it lasts. And slowly (oh so slowly!) the small changes are starting to add up. Thinking about it, I realize most of my lasting changes lie in the area where simplicity and eco-friendliness overlap. And most of them are incremental.

Lip balm, for example. I was vaguely dissatisfied with the ‘classic’ one I was using (ingredients including octyl methoxycinnamate, oxybenzone, pigments & hydroxybenzoates, as well as an unspecified “emollient base”) for some years before I realized that the more I used, the more I seemed to need to use, and went looking for a new one.

Government Exhibit 133, Chapstick Tubes with Hidden Microphones - NARA - 304967

I soon found a beeswax-based one – which also included octyl methoxycinnamate (again), benzophenone 3 (aka oxybenzone, again) and butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane! And peppermint oil, which made my lips tingle, which is not a sensation I enjoy. (Allergic reaction? Oxygen deprivation? No, lip balm.)

Finally I found one which has a grand total of three ingredients: sweet almond oil, beeswax and plant-based cetearyl alcohol. That’s it. No colours, no flavours, no polysyllabic anonymities. (Ecostore beeswax lip balm, if you’re interested. It also comes in a peppermint version, if you like the allergic-reaction-sensation.)

The downside of not having all the polysyllabic chemicals mentioned above is that this lip balm does not double as a sunscreen. Another reason to love the hat: eco-friendly, skin-friendly, reusable and (if chosen carefully) flattering.

Stefanie Bielenstein Gemälde

I’ve also started using a botanical conditioner, having heard that it’s much better for curly hair than the usual sort. Being a compulsive reader, I frequently read the backs of my old shampoo and conditioner bottles, and can now fluently pronounce “methylisothiazolinone” and “methylchloroisothiazolinone” – both of which, I discovered when I worked in a import/export office, are classified as Dangerous Goods.
This means they are subject to international laws regarding labelling, transport & handling. Until they’re put into your shampoo and conditioner, because they’re only used in minute quantities. Which is just as well, under the circumstances.

The botanical conditioner smells delicious. The only downside is that now my old shampoo smells like window-cleaner. Possibly because the first ingredient (after water) is ammonium lauryl sulphate. My hair seems happy with the change. Sadly, the delicious smell doesn’t seem to linger after rinsing, but on the plus side, I don’t smell like Mrs Bennet’s smelling salts any more either.


Another area I’ve made incremental change in is the area of writing instruments: an important one for me, being a writer who frequently works in longhand. I used to write with the ubiquitous blue ballpoint pens – which somehow manage to be ubiquitous without you being able to find one when you need it – but on completion of my undergraduate degree, a friend bought me a fountain pen.
It was a Parker, with a cartridge system – rather like having a disposable pen section inside a reusable pen. I used that poor pen to death.

And then I was given a bundle of old fountain pens. Some of them were past saving, but that bundle included the Faber-Castell pen I wrote my first draft with (all 158,840 words), and a Platignum short-hand pen which I also use. The Faber-Castell is a piston-filler (are there any words in the English language more beautiful than “piston-filling fountain pen”?) and the Platignum has a rubber bulb arrangement. Both of them use bottled ink. Both work perfectly, and they’re probably both older than I am.

Stipula fountain pen

And here’s the thing. Having decided on purple ink for Tsifira‘s thematic colour, I bought a 30mL bottle of Diamine’s Majestic Purple ink. 158,840 words later (not counting innumerable notes etc.) the bottle is still over half full. All for less than fifteen dollars, including the cost of having it posted to my house. Good value? I think so.

And as a left-handed writer, I was surprised to find that I can write for three hours with a flowing fountain pen and end up with less ink on my hand than I did with a ball-point. By the end of a 3 hour exam, I’d have a crescent of dark blue along the side of my hand from the tarry, slow-drying ballpoint ink. Three hours of a morning with my purple-filled Faber-Castell, and there’s not a mark on me.

Lip balm, hair care, everyday writing – these are small changes, and for the most part, made step-by-step. But it all adds up.

What small changes have you made? What are you thinking about changing next?

In Praise of Old Technologies

A bit of a oxymoron, I know, but in these days of planned obsolescence, last year’s technology can be dismissed as ‘old’.

Now, I’m no pitchfork-wielding Luddite demanding a return to the good old days before the Industrial Revolution. It would make it harder to have a blog, for a start. But I do think there is a case to be made for some of the old technologies.

Angry peasant mob

Take my sewing machine, for example. (Please don’t – I’m using it.) It was made soon after World War II by Japanese craftsmen, in an early example of the time-honoured principle of using someone else’s idea and selling more of it (the idea in this case being Mr Singer‘s).

It is largely composed of cast iron and weighs about as much as a moderately-sized child. I wouldn’t call it indestructible, but if I dropped it on the floor I’d be more worried about the floor than the machine.

Ceiling Hole

The best thing about it is how relationally-friendly it is. OK, the marketing guff on modern machines probably talks about how quiet they are instead (it’s a shorter word, to begin with), but the result is the same. And I’ll bet mine’s quieter. I can have it running at full speed (i.e. as fast as I can turn the handle) and still keep up an audible conversation. In a whisper.

Not to mention my machine is about as old as the oldest surviving member of my family, and is still in perfect working order. Look so good when you are sixty, you will not, o sewing machine of today!


It isn’t just sewing machines. I’ve mentioned before that I write with a fountain pen (more than one, in fact). I wouldn’t give one to a five year old, perhaps, but once you’ve mastered the art of writing, using a fountain pen is not all that esoterically difficult. And it’s beautiful, fun, and better for the environment – same as the sewing machine.

And then there’s the candle-lamp with glass shade I inherited from my grandmother. No naked flames, so it’s fire-safe, but it provides enough light for me to read by. Again, there is no obsolescence, planned or otherwise. As long as they keep making machine needles, candles and ink, I’m set.

Reading By Lamplight

Of course, there are those who are all for the new and shiny and can’t imagine why someone would see value in the pre-penicillin era. Well, we’re rapidly approaching a post-penicillin era, so at least I’ll fit in.
And when the fossil fuels run out (or the price is more than most can afford), will my life be obsolete? No. I’ll be sewing, writing or reading, by the light of my candle-lamp – just as I do now.

What’s your favourite ‘old technology’ – or would you like to make a case for the new? If you’d like to make the argument for no technology at all, get off the internet, you hypocrite! That aside, all comments welcomed – have your say.