Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Dark days and good advice for low spirits

If you have suffered from ' lowness of spirits',  life can seem like a dark tunnel with any light ahead an unimaginable distance away.
I have had my battles with the 'black dog' in the past but am generally feeling content and happy at present.  Today however, the late January weather has dampened even my relentless optimism and cheerfulness.
I have recently re-discovered these wonderful words with their sound advice and I am sharing them if you too are finding yourself down-hearted and gloomy due to  endlessly pouring rain, wild winds and dark days.

In 1820, English writer Sydney Smith wrote a letter to an unhappy friend, Lady Morpeth, in which he offered her tips for cheering up. His suggestions are as sound now as they were almost 200 years ago.

“1st. Live as well as you dare.
2nd. Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75 or 80 degrees.
3rd. Amusing books.
4th. Short views of human life—not further than dinner or tea.
5th. Be as busy as you can.
6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.
7th. And of those acquaintances who amuse you.
8th. Make no secret of low spirits to you friends, but talk of them freely—they are always worse for dignified concealment.
9th. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you.
10th. Compare your lot with that of other people.
11th. Don’t expect too much from human life—a sorry business at the best.
12th. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion, not ending in active benevolence.
13th. Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree.
14th Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.
15th. Make the room where you commonly sit gay and pleasant.
16th. Struggle by little and little against idleness.
17th. Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.
18th. Keep good blazing fires.
19th. Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion.
20th. Believe me, dear Lady Georgiana.”

I love the writings of Sydney Smith and read the above piece at my Father's funeral, as I felt it was just the sort of advice he would be giving us all in our sadness.

(With thanks to my son Sam Arnold: I snaffled his beautiful photograph of Venice)

Monday, 18 January 2016

Winter Retreat

'Retreat from the world'.
After the bustle and hassles of Christmas, that is all I wanted to do. I do look forward to this wonderful time of celebration- I try to keep it magical and I love being with my family-but find I'm much more able to keep my temper during any silly squabbles or culinary disasters if I have an oasis of calm to look forward to.

I've always loved Devon and my feelings of relaxation and happiness increased as we travelled down the typical winding lanes.

David and I stayed for a week in a little cottage called The Count House in the Tamar Valley. It was a perfect retreat, decorated to my taste and with a log burner that made all the difference to our winter holiday.

It has been such a mild winter up until now, that in Devon the fields were a beautiful emerald green. All remaining colours left in the landscape, bracken, apples left on bare branches and of course this beautiful grass glowed against the grey skies. My favourite moments came on changeable days, when the clouds were high and scudding along and sunshine and rain were all jumbled up together. One moment everything is lit up in bright clear light, you catch a hint of a rainbow and then a torrent of rain swoops down and soaks everything. There is a particular quality to the light on these fast changing days and I felt as if I was glimpsing tiny masterpieces: a Nicholas Hilliard landscape, gone in the blink of an eye.

I have to admit though... the weather was awful! Some days we stayed inside, no, I must be truthful, we actually stayed in bed it was so rainy and blowy.

But on other days I discovered the Pannier Market in Tavistock. I spent hours happily pottering and even returned to David with a few treasures.

We spent one of the most peaceful and happy New Year evenings. The skies had cleared, so just before midnight we bundled up in coats and scarves and, clutching a bottle of fizz, ventured out into the garden, where we watched the stars and finally the distant fire-works bring in the New Year.
The first of January roared in with gales and rain. Not deterred, I drove to the coast and like the eccentric Englishwoman I am, greeted the start of the year with a paddle. I had planned to have a quick dip...but it was not inviting!

It was a good start to the year!