Mr Hudson was my favourite customer. Mr Hudson died of fucking Covid.


Mr Hudson liked the Rolling Stones. Mr Hudson liked Dr Feelgood. Mr Hudson liked Magic Tea (vodka in a mug).


Mr Hudson liked salty liquorice (so do I) and we would try to find places to purchase it in Scotland.


I introduced him to the Lennox book series by Craig Russell. Lennox is a non-PC Canadian PI scuttling round Glasgow in the 50s (the same decade and place Mr Hudson was born).


I will miss you, El Hudo.

As it’s Burns Day I wanted to post something Scottish. I have previously written about Scottish words, Scottish foods and more recently, Hogmanay. (Any other Scottish suggestions are welcome).

When I was back in Ayrshire pre-pandemic I visited the Burns Monument (1823) and Alloway Auld Kirk (16th c). Robert Burns (1759-1796) was born in South Ayrshire but he’s not buried there – his grave is in Dumfries. Family members including his father have plots in the Kirk.

Burns’ first volume of poetry was published in 1786 in Kilmarnock, featuring some of his best known work, including To a Mouse. He continued to write extensively and his lyrical, romantic style led to songwriting.

The Monument and grounds are picturesque and it’s fun walking over the medieval cobbled bridge aka the Brig o’ Doon or the Auld Brig. The Brig of course was made famous by the poem Tam o’ Shanter, in which a drunken Tam is chased on horseback by witches and the devil.

You can also visit the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum (not right now sadly) and the cottage he grew up in.

Ayrshire sunsets are always a treat. This was taken at Ayr beach.

What else is worth visiting in Ayrshire:
Culzean Castle
Kelburn Castle and Estate
-Beaches – I like Croy and the drive there is stunning, especially on a sunny day
-Isle of Arran (get the ferry from Ardrossan in the north)

I’ve been finding the past few weeks quite difficult. The weather where I am has been terrible and mostly too unsafe to go for walks and my physical health hasn’t been good enough to properly exercise at home. Usual pleasures like seeing a friend or visiting a cafe are on hold due to the current UK lockdown.

During my weekly supermarket shop I decided to buy something I almost never buy – flowers. I knew I wanted purely white and very simple so chose gypsophila – what would normally be classed as ‘filler’. I was drawn to the delicateness, the fragility and the contrast between the fresh green and the white.

I placed the flowers in a ceramic jug I got from a charity shop and set it on a table. I then did something else I never do during the day – I lit a candle. The light seems almost non-existent here in January and the glow and gentle movement of the candle flame was quite serene. This one has a soothing scent – peppermint and white tea (soft, subtle, almost lightly citrus).

This is my favourite mug (size and shape is perfect) that I use almost every time I drink tea. It’s an old style from Anthropologie and I wish I’d bought more.

It’s not lost on me that everything I’ve picked out is white – I suppose this was me trying to counteract the gloom of both the weather and my mood.

Candles, tea and flowers won’t cure depression or solve deep problems but they remind me to take care of myself in small ways and to use nice things every day.

Today, I read the sad news of the passing of Sylvain Sylvain, rhythm guitarist for the New York Dolls. He was born Sylvain Mizrahi in Cairo in 1951 and moved to the States as a child. Sylvain formed the Dolls in 1971 with his friend Billy Murcia (original drummer), David Johansen (vocals), Arthur Kane (bass) and Johnny Thunders (lead guitar).

The New York Dolls released two acclaimed albums before disbanding in 1976 fuelled by drug and alcohol addiction. Most members went on to form other bands or became solo artists. They re-formed in the 2000s, with three original members including Sylvain, and released three further albums.

My favourite Dolls songs:

As one of my goals for this year is to broaden my mind, I thought I’d take a look at a few options for online learning.


Future Learn – I spoke about using this site last month and it’s pretty good – my course featured a series of videos, articles and discussions. It also included a few short quizzes but no formal assessment or essays. Most of the courses are free but you can pay to upgrade to receive certificates and there are professional programmes there too. Topics include Law, Healthcare & Medicine and Nature & Environment among others. A course I’m interested in is Cultures and Identities in Europe, which starts in April.

Coursera – I’ve used this in the past but not for a while. Frustratingly I had to give up on my course as it was the type where if you missed a week you lost access to previous materials. The set up appears to be similar to Future Learn with some free course and others you need to pay for.

Skillshare – This has been advertised a lot recently online and most of the courses incur a fee, although there’s still a fair amount of free content. There are discount codes available if you search. The site is video based and I’d say there’s more of a focus on practical skills than the previous two sites.

Masterclass – I wasn’t sure whether to include this as I haven’t used it personally and it’s quite expensive. The reason for the expense is that the teachers are public figures. Don’t get me wrong, the figures are experts in their field, for example Serena Williams, Margaret Atwood and Annie Liebovitz, but they’re all known names. Learning is video-based with around 200 minutes with each celebrity.

University and college offerings – the world is your oyster here as most of the classes are being taught online, vastly broadening your options. The same goes for museums. For example, the V&A has courses in Couture Hand-Sewing; A History of the Caribbean (1673-1974); Frank Lloyd Wright: Works and Influences, and Foundations of Digital Photography (paid courses). You can also tour the museum’s collection virtually, which is the case for a lot of museums in the current climate. Another museum site I enjoy having a nose around is the Smithsonian Image Gallery

Google Arts and Culture is an excellent resource and it’s free. As an example, I searched for the German painter Franz Marc and it brought up a short biography, a gallery of his work and links to movements he was associated with such as Expressionism and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), the movement which began in 1911 with Marc and Kandinsky. This was also the name of a famous work of his, which I would recommend seeing in person if you’re ever in Munich.


For the younger generations you can have a look at:
Code.org – learn to code for all ages and abilities.
Khan Academy – US-based but offers free online learning for all. STEM is the main focus but also includes history.
BBC Bitesize (in the UK only) – the link is to Creativity Week for 13-14 year-olds but there’s much more, including videos in Welsh and Gaelic.
-For physical education, Joe Wicks has just resumed his PE With Joe sessions.

For fellow overthinkers


A Calming Voice

Bob Ross (1942-1995). Bob Ross is one of those people you cannot dislike and that’s a fact. If you’ve never heard of Bob, he was a US Air Force sergeant who taught painting classes on public access TV. His art focused on forest landscapes (happy little trees :-)), often with mountain backdrops. The scenes were inspired by his military base in Alaska.

He arguably became more famous for his highly relaxing voice and positive catchphrases. Bob was a kind soul who hand-reared orphaned baby squirrels – I know….a real life Snow White. It’s telling that he has suddenly become so popular again of late although I have been privy to his shows since childhood as my mother is a fan of his. This April she is even taking part in the virtual race, The Run for the Trees: Happy Little 5K. Proceeds from the entry fee support tree planting and preservation at Michigan’s state parks.

Bob’s dulcet tones have led him to be described as ‘the godfather of ASMR’ (Autonomous Sensory Meridan Response), the phenomenon of using auditory or visual stimuli to invoke feelings of deep relaxation and physical ‘tingles’ in the head and/or spine. ASMR has only begun to be studied scientifically but there are now hundreds of people generating videos devoted to this sensation. Popular British creators include FredsVoice and WhispersRed.

The Joy of Painting programmes are currently available via BBC iPlayer in the UK. There is also a documentary about him on the same platform.



Slow Living

Slow living developed in the 1980s in Italy as an antithesis to the rise of fast food. The movement has seen a recent resurgence and is particularly popular in Japan. Slow living is concerned with living in a more deliberate, connected way in order to increase contentedness and reduce stress.

There are many YouTube channels dedicated to this way of life:

Tina’s Life (Japanese) – this channel has been inactive for 10 months but it’s a very good example of the trend. Topics include cooking (interesting to see foods and techniques I’m not used to), cleaning and nightly routines. Similar channels include Rhea (from the Philippines living in Japan) and ivykitchen (South Korea). Most creators do not show their faces or talk as a means to focus on the task being shown, although many use music to enhance the experience.

Fairyland Cottage (Irish) – this is slightly different as talking is included, but just as relaxing. There are also many tips on sustainability, recipes and gardening. Green living (simple, organic and eco-friendly) often goes hand in hand with the slow movement.

Another ‘slow’ show I watched recently was All Aboard: The Great Reindeer Migration on iPlayer, a two hour trek through Scandinavia with a Sami reindeer herd. Slow TV is popular in the Nordic nations, epic train journeys in particular.

Also try Moving Art on Netflix for aerial views of stunning landscapes from all over the world.



Yoga and Meditation

Yoga With Adriene – so many people rave about Adriene with good reason. She has over nine million subscribers on YouTube and 572 videos (and counting) to choose from. Videos range widely in difficulty and length so there’s something for everyone. She has a soothing voice and a calming demeanor – her dog Benji is often seen passed out in the background.

Guided Meditations – type this into YouTube and you’ll find a plethora of options with a variety of visual backdrops and outcomes, for example you may be seeking mindfulness, relief from anxiety or just to chill out for five minutes. The app Headspace has also launched an eight episode series on Netflix using animation to teach you the basics of meditation.

Libraries have suffered enormously over the past nine months with a huge decrease in footfall, book issues and profits, even when they’ve been allowed to open. Councils are clearly at breaking point and culture services will probably be culled first when inevitable savings need to be made.

There are many services you can access online that will save you a lot of money and also help out your local library, many of which aren’t well-publicised. Libraries are a lifeline for a lot of people, especially those who may be vulnerable or lonely or those who rely on them for computer access or learning materials.

Most libraries are currently letting you join online so you can download e-books and e-audio for both children and adults using free apps like Borrowbox or Overdrive (check your local council’s website). There are also services like Press Reader, featuring newspapers and magazines from all over the world. You won’t find absolutely everything but there are many niche titles as well as the more popular publications. For example, with my local service I checked women’s monthlies and found Red, Women’s Health, Cosmopolitan, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar to name but a few – all completely free. Every download counts towards a library’s issue numbers.

Some authorities (typically wealthier) also have access to music or film streaming services like Naxos Music Library or Kanopy.

You can research your family tree with Ancestry (works best for English heritage). This is usually one that you’d need to visit a branch for but home access is currently available with most councils.

If you’re learning to drive Theory Test Pro lets you practise your hazard perception and access official questions for car, motorcycle and HGV.

For children, storytime and singalongs are now being recorded and screened via social media channels, some even have live offerings.

Other services I found:
-Times Digital Archive
-New Oxford Shakespeare
-Oxford Research Encyclopedias
-Oxford Bibliographies
-Oxford Reference Online


When libraries are able to operate again fully, I’d recommend checking their websites and social media pages for in-house activities and events. In the past I’ve seen wine tastings, free yoga and mindfulness sessions, quiz nights and murder mystery events as well as the more typical offerings like author readings and board games clubs. If we don’t use our libraries – and local museums – we may lose them forever.

Resources, documentaries and YouTube channels that have helped me.


Minimalism

I’m not a minimalist but I’m not a maximalist either. I don’t like mess but I also like my belongings and am too much of a planner to not have back up supplies in the house – good for things like pandemics! However, I like things to be organised and to be able to find things quickly and easily.

Despite this I could definitely do with de-cluttering a bit more and find watching stories about minimalism freeing and inspiring. A YouTube channel I enjoy is Benita Larsson, a calming voice from Stockholm. Whilst minimalism is the heart of her channel, it’s about more than just that – organisation, home improvements, gardening and the Swedish way of life. She lives with her two cute cats in a small ground-floor apartment with patio.

Most people have heard about Marie Kondo and her KonMari method of de-cluttering. The idea is that each item in your home must earn its place by ‘sparking joy’ or at least adding something to your life. I personally found the books helpful – the second one Spark Joy has a lot of visual guides for things like folding clothes. Kondo’s Netflix show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo is worth a look too.

For your wardrobe, I found the book The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees interesting, It helps you find your personal style with the aim of buying less and to choose quality over quantity.

I also found this documentary on Netflix a good watch – Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things. A documentary called The Minimalists: Less is Now has also just landed on Netflix, although it has a slightly depressing tone. The Minimalists also have a TEDx Talk.


Organisation and Cleaning

Apartment Therapy’s January Cure – a daily newsletter (Mon – Fri) to help motivate and inspire you to clean, organise and complete unfinished projects around your home. I have taken part in this a couple of times in the past and it was helpful. At the end of the challenge you are encouraged to buy yourself some fresh flowers and host a get together in your home. Perhaps no get togethers this January but certainly a nice dinner with whoever you live with and maybe some new bits and pieces to help you celebrate a clean, organised space.


Another YouTube channel I’ve found useful is Do It On A Dime, run by an American woman named Kathryn. Some of the videos are very US-centric eg products from Dollar Tree not available outside North America, but she has a very upbeat personality (without being irritating) and inventive ideas for DIY projects and home organising.



Products

-For organisation I like IKEA, TK Maxx, Muji and HAY.

-For cleaning I like Method and eco.

Here is my first step – an organised bedside table drawer. Start small 🙂 I used a Muji container (plastic in case of spillage) with two sections to corral medicines and handcare items and a few ceramic dishes I already had to separate hair ties and foreign currency. I put lip balms and perfume samples in a small cardboard box that was Burts Bees packaging.

What else have I got in there? A portable phone charger, vitamins, a pen and a ring sizer .

My next small job is cleaning out my handbag.