Sunday 31 January 2016

My Month in Numbers 2016: January

Numbers you say? Important numbers that defined January?

That's what I'm meant to be documenting here, now, isn't it? [Any one can join me by doing the same, for full details visit the Month in Numbers info page.]

OK then, then there's no two ways about it. I'm going to have to have to be brave, take a deep breath, and include this one aren't I?
This month I turned 40. 

I didn't know if I was going to mention that fact here or not. It's a big number.
  • Emotionally it's a number that sounds like it comes with its own set of judgments; a number that changes things: "I don't want to reach 40 and not have XYZ", "I can't do/be/wear that now I'm 40", "How can you be 40 and not do/be/have XYZ?"
  • Intellectually ... having already lived through reaching other 'big' ages - 18, 21, 30 - I know that the number doesn't change anything, except maybe other people's perceptions of you. Which you can't do anything about anyway. 
So hey, I turned 40. But I don't plan on changing too much any time soon.

If anything, I'm going back to where I started - when people used to say I was a lovely little boy - as the T-shirt I bought to wear as my birthday outfit kind of made clear:
Basically it's the slogan T-shirt equivalent of  the Thomas Merton quote:

  •  "Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already I am." 
And that's the attitude with which I'm facing my 40s.

Regarding the rest of the outfit, the heels were new ... a concession to my now very apparent 'adult lady' age. While I tried them on the shop assistant asked if they were OK to which I replied "I'm just trying to work out if I can walk in them." Because that's an important factor in buying something you're going to wear on your feet.

You don't get to be my ripe old age without developing that kind of wisdom.

[Note how, in the bottom right photo, taken a few hours after lunch, I'd kicked off my heels and replaced them with cosy bed socks. Again ... that's the kind of mature wisdom I can live with.]

My birthday cake was intended to serve 12 (I can only assume that meant 12 different people).
The only thing I declared I truly wanted for my birthday was a full size version of my favourite cake from The Olde Young Teahouse: a vanilla 'Gold Bar' cake. And I got one: 
Apparently when James collected it they told him that it would serve 12 - however, because I'm not a party person, there weren't 12 people around to eat it.

And so ... 6 of us had a slice each after a Sunday lunch of my choosing at my parents' [for the record: I chose mince and dumplings. Party. On.]. The following day 1 other slice made its way to someone else ... but that still left James and I to plough through the remaining 5 slices over the rest of the week.

Which we managed. No problem. In fact ... after a respectable gap of 6 or 7 hours post-birthday-lunch, we ate a second slice each at tea time!

A few more birthday stats:
I received 11 cards:
They were lovely [and only 2 mentioned my age, which was lovelier still.]

One of the nice things about opening the envelopes of the handmade cards was guessing - correctly - which friend had made each one before opening up the card; each one revealed the individual style of the creator!

All the numbers ...
Over the Christmas and birthday gift-giving season I must have received at least 7 notebooks and yet ... when I saw this one, on the shelf in TKMaxx, in all it's leathery embossed numerical glory, there was no way I was going home without it:
I'm still deciding how to use it. Making notes on stories for my Month in Numbers would be the obvious one! Or ideas for a book about life-documenting with numbers? Maybe ...

In other book news: I made a pretty good start to my reading year by getting through [almost 6!]books.

  • This includes two books from my 'Lucky Dip' book club list: Primo Levi's The Periodic Table and Speedboat by Renata Adler. [Both from the 70s, both unique in style and structure, both new authors to me.
  • One non-fiction memoir-ish type book How Not to Travel the World by Lauren Juliff, which fits in with my 'research!' category. The 6th, nearly complete book, is Stephen King's part-memoir, part-writing-manual, On Writing.
  • And the last two are classics - yet they are both the first time I'd read anything by either author: Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.
  • Both of which I found, loaned, read and returned to the university library (on campus) in under 24 hours. The joy of spending my days currently accompanying a student who studies in the library 12 hours a week! 

I'd fallen in love with the Faulkner by the time I reached the second page... 
I must have read and re-read the section which begins "Jewel, fifteen feet behind me ..."  at least 3 or 4 times in a row ... to let the imagery sink in:
Just perfect. Tells you everything you need to know about the two characters. It's all their ... from the very start.

[There are links to the books mentioned on the Pinterest board I'm using to save my 2016 reading list. Recommendations are always welcome.]

And while we're on the subject of the classics ...

We sat in cinema seats J1 - J5 to watch an encore performance of the Branagh Theatre's production of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale
This is the view in the cinema during the interval - of the theatre during the interval - where you can hear the hubbub of the crowd ...
The clock in the top left is a countdown so you know when you need to take your seat for part 2. 

It starred Kenneth Branagh and Judy Dench, plus other, not quite household names such as 'him out of that new Jekyll & Hyde series that I only watched one of then gave up on' and 'him out of Lark Rise to Candleford, with the curly hair'.

If you fancy catching it and - it's Keneth Branagh for goodness sake, why wouldn't you?? you can catch an encore of the encore screenings in some cinemas on Tuesday 9th February. You can find all the details here.

And, in another instance of culture worth leaving the house for ...

3 hours after submitting my 3rd yearly tax return ... I took myself out to a public lecture given by artist Alice Fox
I didn't know if I'd get there, what with all the heart-stopping, blood-pressure raising, accounts-submitting happening in the morning; so the moment I finished and printed out my proof of submission I was packed up and off ... headed to something I'm far more comfortable with: taking notes in a lecture about art!

Unusually for me though, this wasn't for work, so I wasn't taking notes for someone else, I was doing it for me. I think some call it an 'artist's date' [isn't it a Julia Cameron thing? where you take yourself out to an inspiring place?]. And  I already knew of - and admired - Alice's work and really wanted to hear her talk about her work. So I went. [If you love the idea of working with nature, found items, rust, paper and more ... then absolutely do check out her work. She has a website and you can get a quick 'in' to her style through her @alicefoxartist Instagram page here.]

Strangely, she talked about having self-published several books of her work ... which tied in nicely to another event I took myself along to in January, one hosted by an  appropriately numbery themed company ...

I attended a workshop by 6E, an indie-publishing company, called From Notebook - to Published Book.
Because ... clearly book publishing is on  my mind this year!

This was the stationery I picked to take with me: a 'Best Seller' notebook [one of those 7 new ones I mentioned earlier] and a 'Be Yourself' pencil. I reckoned it was a pretty good combination of attitudes with which to face the unknown with ... 
And finally ... as the format of this final photo might suggest ...

I've been sharing a lot of everyday nonsense on Instagram this month. 29 nonsenses in fact.

I used to think that Instagram wasn't going to be the place for me. I like imagery ... but I love words. I love Twitter.  But then the more I got into Instagram ... the more I realised that rather than use it to share perfect images, I could simply use a quick photo to help me tell tiny tales. And now I'm hooked doing just that.  

If you feel the same, and you want to use IG to document your #monthinnumbers ... then I'd love it if you'd help me build a numbery themed tiny tale telling community over there. For now - let's just use that as the hashtag ... and I'll get to thinking how we can expand! 


So, fare thee well January: you've stolen 39 from me and replaced it with a daunting 4 and 0. 

I know you didn't mean to scare me, and you tried your best to distract me by sending in cake and gifts and thoughts of book publishing. But FYI: while the cake and gifts did the trick ... the thoughts on book publishing? Well they're just as scary as the whole being 40 thing! 

Or maybe that's how you intended it? 

Hello February, can you hear me? Take note from January .... if you've got something you need me to face up to ... can you throw in some cake along with it? Just to help me along? And maybe some burgundy leather boots too? Because ... alongside seeing my name on a book cover, I've got an appetite for a pair of those right now too. 

Wishing you an equally fair February ahead.

Feel free to reuse my plea to February for your own ends, substituting 'cake' and 'boots' with whatever gets you through.


p.s: Responses to this post via comments, shares, retweets and shoving it  under your friend's nose to read because you think they'll like it, are all most gratefully accepted! 


  1. 40 - ah, I wistfully remember 40 - although it was a LONG time ago! Someone told me that you know you're grown up when you go shoe shopping and you pick up the first pair that make you think 'oh they look comfy'. So looking at those heels you chose, I'm guessing you haven't reached that advanced stage yet!
    Good luck on the book writing/publishing. As you know, my friend cracked it via Kindle and my son's managing to get published on online sites - so things happen in 3's - good luck!

  2. Happy Birthday, Julie!
    I'll send you a birthday card!
    Happy 40!

  3. Happy Birthday Julie! 40 is a long time ago for me too:) Glad you had a good birthday, the cake looks very yummy! Good luck with the book publising.X

  4. 40? Are you kidding?! I thought you're about 30, really.
    Happy birthday!! And good luck to all your beginnings! :)

  5. Wow! Would never have believed you were 40. Not that it is old of course. The new 30, or 21, or something like that! It's my next big birthday too, and tbh, not too scared about it - life keeps getting better really so I am excited for what my 40s will bring :-)
    That cake looks flipping amazing. Need one. Now, preferably.
    Also, was the book publishing talk any good? I would love to go to something like that - I have had a novel planned for like, ever, and I should probably make a start on it at some point! Maybe not this year though, at least, not until my house is fully standing again and my wedding is over!
    Happy birthday anyway! x

  6. Congratulations on 40 years. Beautiful life, delicious cake, loving family & presents - you cannot ask for much more or can you?

  7. Here's to the next 40! (at the very least!) I'm so glad you had plenty of cake and presents and some high heels too. xx

  8. Happy Birthday! I've been in the 40s for 5 years now and I can assure you its not so bad! :o)
    & re the 'heels vs walking' I have a sensible rule for a night out - for me its either heels or alcohol - I don't mix the two much these days.. :o)

    & thanks for the heads up about the encore of 'Winters Tale'! :o)

  9. Happy much belated BDAY!
    I turned 48 this past January, ouch ;)
    I love birthdays, mine and other peoples'
    Thanks for sharing and for making me smile

  10. It seems to me there are two 'camps' on turning 40. There are those who seem to love the idea and throw a huge party etc. Then there are those of us who threatened to do unpleasant things to anyone who mentioned the number 40 for several months before or after the said event. I am now 4 and half years of the NEXT big one and no nearer to accepting that either!

  11. Wow! So much here! YOu know I put off reading your blog until I have time to really enjoy and savor it because there's so much!!!
    First off, happy birthday! Getting older is great; it's just the life that can be hard. I like myself better all the time; everyone else, not necessarily so much!
    Second, I love having birthday cake for breakfast. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting is definitely my favorite.
    Third, I loved The periodic Table by Primo Levi. Faulkner, not so much! But I can see how it would fit you.
    Happy Birthday!

  12. I'm very late reading this, but I always enjoy your MIN posts. I like your outfit - and your philosophy - around turning 40, but what I really want to know is where I can get a Magrathea shirt like James'?!? =) I like the idea of a month in numbers hashtag. I struggle to put together a full post but I'm on Instagram a lot. You may see me there! =)

    1. Hi Mary - I think I replied directly to you didn't I ... but just in case anyone else reading wants to know the answer too ... the Magrathea T-Shirt came from The Guardian Shop :


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