Life lessons from hula hooping toddlers

I was at a random street party in my neighbourhood, the free kind, the kind with quirky folk bands ranting about class, the kind with Morris dancing and Arabic bread. You know… The usual…
It was glorious sunshine. The drinks were flowing.

And yet… while I was watching POG reject their middle class heritage via warbling vocals and banjos, I was checking my phone for emails, messages, my mind was wandering towards that list of things I have to do that never gets done. That worst of all chores, banking, crept into the fray. I started thinking forward, towards that inevitable working week that begins at the end of every Sunday evening…

Thank goodness, I was distracted from this downwards spiral of depression by a young girl, maybe 4 years old, holding a hula hoop. It had a diameter the length of her entire body and she was attempting to spin it around her waist to the music. I know – naw bless. She was about to throw a tantrum because it wouldn’t dance around her like it did for the fully grown people, who didn’t care as much anyway. The upper lip was trembling. The face was getting red. Life is so unfair.

But just in time, swooped Dad, to the rescue. He picked up the hoop and spun it round and round, while free spirit carni in the middle lost her shit and danced in circles, giggling. The day was made. Maybe the year. Christmas had come early, life didn’t get much better than this. I watched this all unfold, nostalgic.

Do you remember a time when happiness was a simple hoop of plastic away? Do you remember when life was so easily turned around? (Pun intended).

One little girl shut her eyes, opened her arms wide and giggled her way round in circles. And I thought, this little girl has got it right. This tiny child, barely out of her toddler tantrums, is smarter than most grown working adults. There’s only one key to happiness. It’s called allowing yourself to be happy.

So where, in her situation, I would have said ‘but I didn’t achieve this’ and fallen into (another) existential crisis, and where others might have resented and feared the lack of control of a revolving world taken out of their hands, our hulaing heroine let it all go. She focused on the most important thing: she was now hulaing. What she had wanted, came about, through love. A happiness barred had become a happiness attained. She didn’t bitch and moan about the social implications or the environmental impact of a toy made from plastic. She processed the event like so: something happened. It was great. IT’S SO FUCKING SIMPLE.

I’m taking a leaf out of hula heroine’s book. I’m going to let myself enjoy things just because they’re enjoyable. I’ll let happiness in, via simple stand alone moments. 

Because, okay, things have long term implications. But they’re never what we expect them to be anyway. So really, the only accurate thing to say is this: life is a thing counted. We just add all the moments together. So why on earth wouldn’t you start by making each moment the sum of what your whole life could be?

A life in music, 1 Life Laughing

A life in music

This week has been a roller coaster of music-induced emotion. I’ve mentioned music and memory before (I know, broken record, how topical) but this time, let me take you on a ride…

I don’t know what music you play in the office (or if you even work in an office) but in our second floor cubby hole, there’s all kinds of gems. Classical music is a big front runner. As are old, calm musical numbers from the likes of Doris Day. A bit of Neil Diamond always hits the sweet (Caroline) spot. I know, I’m not paid enough.

It’s amazing how music can master a mood. A selection of Kooks, Jason Mraz and Bruno Mars had me suppressing the urge to dance around the office. It had me cracking inappropriate jokes I should probably have kept quiet until after my probationary period. My work suddenly seemed easy, writing was effortless.

And then came Neil Diamond. Every word was dragged from my finger tips as if each was a nail ripped from the skin. Every sentence out of my mouth was a complaint, irritating even to myself. Who is Caroline anyway? And why is she so fucking sweet all the time? I’m exaggerating a little here, I’ll admit. But I’m not making it up. Music matters. The right chord puts me on top of the world. Have you heard Sean Paul and Sia? They get me. I’m honestly thrilled (and it really was cheap). Let me at ya, let me at anything, give me a blank page, a bottle of vodka, a man. In fact don’t give me anything, I’m already there.

Then we switch, quite suddenly, to an eighties breakdown. We’re swimming in the mellow eerie chimes of Talking Heads. I’m in my dad’s Saab, imagining long blades protruding outwards from water stains on the window, chopping down the trees that line the motorway. (I was a strange child, okay…) Some Lou Reed and I’m sitting on my dad’s lap in the living room, falling asleep. He tells me nothing feels the same as your child nodding off on your chest. Some Pink Floyd and I’m torn between the stark still of my dad, a bouncy castle, attempting to nap on a Saturday afternoon while me and my sister jump on his prone form. Torn between that, and the stark still of a church full of sober figures, of people crying, of my dad spoken of in past tense by 7 different people over a podium.

It’s nice, lovely, I tell myself, to have these memories. It’s a miracle that a simple song can take me back so far, can give me this crystal clear memory.

I used to run away when ‘Wish You Were Here’ played on the radio, appeared on shuffle or vibrated through the office speakers, blasting out from a communal Spotify playlist. But now, I’ll enter a room just to hear it. Because suddenly, I remember what it was like to have my dad in a room with me, living, breathing and physical and nothing else in the field of science, technology or psychology has ever mastered the effect quite so completely.

The art of waking

The art of waking

When I moved house, I left a lot behind. I left my keyboard (predictably coated in an inch of dust anyway), my toolkit (I don’t know how to use any of the weird heavy metal things inside it – banging works. I bang things.) I left my alarm clock. I left my family (a WhatsApp group doesn’t quite fill that void and no one can beat my mum’s roasties or my sister’s ability to play fight at the age of 27). They’re on holiday without me right now so I can safely compliment them without being discovered.

I left my cat too. That was hard. She’s really cute.

The art of waking, 1 Life Laughing

See.

Anyway. My point. I left all of these things intentionally for the sake of a job, a life by the sea, growing up, opportunities, a puppy and so on. I miss them all. Except. The alarm clock – the only forgotten object. It took time to realise that I had even forgotten it.

Let me explain. I am a deep sleeper. But not just ‘sometimes I can sleep through a thunderstorm’ deep. Think bottom of the ocean. Think Pizza Hut base. Think Chris Martin, after 4 joints. I sleep with the curtains open, I sleep with 2 alarms set, I change my alarm every few weeks so that I don’t get used to the sounds and sleep through them. It’s almost a medical problem, how deeply I can sleep.

So now, with no alarm clock, why do I always wake up an hour before I need to?
Well, it could be the avocado in the fridge that I can’t wait to spread on toasted multiseed wholemeal bread. It could be the chance to go to work and do a challenging job I worked so hard to get. It could be the prospect of the sea view at the top of the hill, the fresh salty breeze. Maybe it’s the temptation of puppy cuddles. Or the discovery of coconut milk in decaf coffee (try it, try it now.)

Maybe it’s all of the above. You don’t have to drop everything and go travelling to have an adventure and you don’t need to get a job in the city at a bank to grow up and settle down. There are little things in life, such as chip butties on beaches or vegetables on a BBQ, such as waking up to silence, that are the real big deal.

‘Big life changes’, ‘huge milestones’ – they just don’t compute. I can’t see myself in 10 years (and thank god for that) but I can see tomorrow, eating a lunch of spinach and falafel, on a beach. I can see a phone ringing, with a friend’s name onscreen. And I can see myself waking up in a bed, wanting to get straight out of it. Why can’t a big change just be a bunch of small ones? And why can’t settling down be a massive adventure?

Sunset stalking, 1 Life Laughing

Sunset Voyeurism

There’s something right about a sunset. The image of a sun descending behind a horizon immediately conjures romantic associations of exotic holidays, coconut cocktails and balmy evenings. A sunset reverberates with the possibilities of a life less ignored, a life lived. ‘In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.’ A sun, sinking, accepts this. The sun admits that we can plan all we like, but life will happen anyway.

So why am I writing this aggravating, conceptual, poetry-quoting bullshit at you? Because I got a waft of lemon recently on a Saturday afternoon and I was immediately back in Vietnam, drinking lemon juice on the beach. (I know, another SE Asia name drop, what a surprise). But the memory was so vivid that my whole mood changed – old hormones washed back to shore and I was suddenly excited, relaxed, content. And I realised how physically different I am at home, where I’m constantly worried about the future, busy with (well, nothing, really…) and always rushing, constantly rushing, with very little justification. It’s like my life runs to a different, perhaps more dubstep-based theme tune than the reggae-founded sun-induced beat of backpackerism.

My friends say to me that my travels were ‘like a dream’, that they were just a temporary escape. I know. I’m not about to up-tail and run back out of the country. But I think there’s something vital to be captured from the whole spirit of the nomadic that I let go of far too easily. I think it comes down to acceptance. That time will keep on moving, that it should be treasured, not measured.

So today, I am sitting on the beach, and I am watching that goddamn sun go down. Because laundry can wait. Monday is still far away. And life is short and sweet.

Egg coffee, 1 Life Laughing

Eggstremely good coffee

This is an experiment I carried out a while ago, borrowed from the far distant lands of Vietnam. I’m writing about it now because, no matter how many times I tell my friends it’s the best drink I’ve ever tasted, they still tell me that ‘egg coffee’ is an unnatural freak of the hot beverage world that they are not willing to try.

So bear with me folks, hold back the instictive response of ‘eugh, gross’. Because egg coffee is the finest invention the Vietnamese have come up with (shortly followed by Bahn Mis and conical hats).

Continue reading