Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Small pleasures

"Wish I was an English Muffin

About to make the most out a toaster.

I'd ease my self down,

Coming up brown.”

When I put a recently purchased record on a few weeks ago, these absurdly pleasing lyrics floated out of the speakers and made me smile. I’d listened to Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel before, but clearly not close enough.

The whole ritual involved in record-playing is what made me cave into becoming a 20-something cliché, buying an old school turntable when the technology available these days is a tad more advanced. Taking a record carefully out of its sleeve, dusting it off with a special little brush, placing it tenderly onto the table before dropping the needle and waiting for the ever so slightly scratchy music to start up, then listening to an entire album, no skip option possible, before lovingly returning it to its cover. Ooooh. It’s so satisfying.

For someone who can moan for England, I also happen to get a heck of a lot of pleasure out of life. I’m the type of person my mum frequently refers to as ‘easily pleased’. And I always have been: when I was a kid and being dragged to National Trusts in various green corners of Britain because the weather wasn't co-operating, the Tudor mansions and crumbling abbeys tended to blur into one, but there’s one thing, shamefully, that I can still remember in glorious technicolour – the good old gift shop. The promised visit once all the cultural stuff was out of the way was the only thing that could keep a a tantrum at bay. I LIVED for little hedgehog-shaped chocolates and those triangular shaped highlighters with a different colour at each point. Like I said, easily pleased.

In a world where every day brings news of new terrorist attacks and murders and suffering, I think finding pleasure in the small things is vital for holding on to your sanity. I'm not suggesting that you should bury your head in the sand and completely ignore all the shit that's going on in favour of acting like a tragic character from a Noah Baumbach movie, caring for nothing but your record collection and black and white TV (side note: I do not own one of these). But getting a little kick out of a ridiculous song lyric is just one of the many things that makes living in what can be a pretty fucked up world, pretty fucking great actually.

Day to day, it's the satisfaction I get from the small things that means I tend to stick to my own set of routines and rituals. I love, for instance, getting on the same train carriage every morning. I love seeing one of my best pals for a few stops and a daily debrief before she heads off to work. I love getting my first cup of tea of the day before I even think of turning my computer on. I love listening to the 6Music breakfast show. I love going on my daily afternoon snack run. I even love the inane chit chat that any office worker will be familiar with: the 'how was your weekend?'s and the 'what are you doing tonight?'s, even if you can pretty much guarantee the answer will be a variation of 'getting drunk' and 'watching Netflix' or 'had a pretty chilled one, actually'.

When I visited one of my friends in Wiltshire last year, the train I took from Paddington was delayed, and when it eventually set off I spent the best part of two hours huddled in the corner next to a toilet and a middle-class hen party, whose polite conversation over Waitrose nibbles was far worse than any raucous rosé-fuelled ranting ever could have been. But when I eventually reached the station and my friend picked me up, it just so happened that the sun was about to set over England, and as we climbed up and then trundled down hills across the expansive landscape en route to her parents' cottage in the middle of nowhere, the vivid orange sunset was just about one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Just the view from the window of a little Nissan, a mere two and a bit hours from my house, and it was something I feel like I'll never forget.

Then there was the time it was my birthday and I'd ended up with some of my friends in a bit of a dive in Shoreditch, where they were playing the kind of music that no amount of birthday good will can make tolerable. A couple of members of the party snuck off, and when they eventually came back and the club was closing and we were about to be kicked out, Candi Staton’s Young Hearts Run Free started up, and I realised they'd spent the last half an hour convincing some edgy East London DJ to end the night with a song that happens to be not just a disco CLASSIC, but my eternal karaoke choice. Those three minutes alone were worth any number of extravagant birthday presents.

There's a scene in Richard Curtis's latest film About Time that is of course as cheesy as you'd expect from the man who wrote the line 'I'm quite nice, actually, apart from my terrible taste in pie!', but it's one that I think about from time to time. The main character in the film (played by man of the moment Domhnall Gleeson) has the power to time travel, and after receiving advice from his late Dad, decides to try out his 'secret formula for happiness'.

Part one of this formula is simple: just get on with ordinary life, living it like anyone else. Part two: live every day twice, the first time 'with all the tensions and worries that stop us from noticing how sweet life can be', but the second time, 'noticing'. This is followed by a montage of one such ordinary day – grabbing his lunch and seeing the radiant smile from the person behind the till, when usually he'd already have rushed off; taking the time to look up and wonder at the beautiful building he tries cases in as a lawyer instead of just heading grim-faced straight into the courtroom; nodding along to the music blasting from his neighbour's headphones on the tube instead of glaring at him and willing him to turn it down.

Sadly, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to think of the people who play obnoxiously loud music on public transport with anything but disgust, but, as twee as it might sound, you don't have to live in a Love Actually-style Richard Curtis land to find truly amazing things in the most dreary of days. And with that in mind, I thought I'd leave you with a non-exhaustive list of the hashtag little things that I get incredible amounts of pleasure from, come rain or shine...

New stationary, especially notebooks
A perfectly brewed cup of tea
Anything monogramed
A particularly pleasing shade of nail varnish
The word 'pleasing'
Long train journeys where you select an appropriate album for staring out of the window
When my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify knows me well
Reading a really gripping book
Being complimented
Complimenting other people
A disco beat
When my eyeliner's particularly on fleek
Listening to Desert Island Discs
Considering what my Desert Island Discs would be
Carrot cake. All types of cake.
When your friends tag you in things they think you'll like on Instagram
Crisp, sunny winter days
Fresh bed sheets
Fairy lights
Saturday morning lie ins
A shiny new lipstick

And the list goes on...