The Sound of Silence: End of a (blog) era

Fisheye footprints in the sand

I’ve not written on this blog for a number of weeks, hence the title of this post. (I’ve always loved Simon & Garfunkel and their melancholic songs.)

Lately I’ve been wondering what my blog-focus is, my real blog niche, and what it is that I want to say here and to share.

Over the years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve written about foreign adventures (Literary Paris, Sunsets in Portugal), adventures closer to home (Weaver’s Cottage, Lossiemouth, Lochearnhead), and the most popular travel post on the blog – my Honeymoon Holiday in the Cape Verde Islands.

I’ve blogged my experience of exhibitions (Damien Hirst @ The Tate Modern, Cuban Art @ The Lighthouse), culture, insights, projects (like taking part in The Sketchbook Project 2013), poetry (she was thin, Found Poetry), thoughts, things I’m passionate about (like saving the bees), and of course my writing process and successes (like *winning* the Pretty Nostalgic Storytelling Competition in 2013).

Wow. What a round up. And then there’s my love of spas

But, after much pondering, wondering, wandering, thinking, debating and careful thought I’ve decided to stop writing* on this blog because it no longer fits in with where I am going and what I want to say.

So… I have carved out a NEW blog-space for myself which is dedicated solely to my writing journey – the real me, the new me, and where I want to be.

View my new blog and follow my writing, poetry and musings on The Magpie Diaries.

Thank for you reading and for commenting, and for being part of this blog-journey with me up to now. I welcome your feedback on my new blog-space and my new blog-journey.

Rebecca

* Although I won’t be posting any new content here, the posts to date will remain in their entirety. As this blog will no longer be ‘active’ however, I have removed all links to other blogs and want to keep a very paired-down feel to my new blog activities. If you did have a link back to this blog, please feel free to remove this link, with the option to link to my new blog at The Magpie Diaries.

Thank you

Creative words are enough

In my mind of late I have been drifting, drifting;  lacking in focus, as if I want to be shipwrecked on a desert island so I can really think hard about my life and my thoughts. Deep stuff. Kind of.

And then I saw a flyer for an ‘intuitive painting’ workshop, and I felt happy just reading it.

I’m  not a painter, and I don’t plan on attending the workshop, but it got me thinking about how just reading about what the course covered, the materials used, the techniques, etc, made me feel so happy and creative and like I wanted to pick up one of my own many creative hobbies and practices, pronto.

Basically, the words conjured in me the desire to take action.

Creative words = creative action.

The words are enough, and then imagination takes care of the rest.

Try these and see how you feel:

acrylic paint and mixed media…help you to go deeper into your own creative process

experiment

be in the moment

stamps, stencils, collage, text, colour mixing and paint layering

vehicles for exploration

self-expression expanding visual vocabulary

mindful drawing

let go of expectations

embrace serendipity

Then: ‘All you need is an open mind’. Such prophecy, such truth!

And finally, the culmination of it all. A materials list:

A3 smooth cartridge paper, putty rubber, fine liner pen in sepia and/or black, 2H pencil, 2B pencil, hard eraser, craft knife, 2 large paper clips, magnifying glass (optional) and pencil sharpener.

It’s nothing short of catnip for creatives. I feel like I should sign up now - I want to write, draw, craft, sew, colour in, knit, crochet, CREATE, sing from the rooftops!

But even if I can’t do any of that just now; those creative words are enough to initiate the process.

And I thought that was worth sharing.

St Valentine’s: The Wedding Day of Birds

Hearts, roses, chocolates, clinking champagne glasses, everything pink and red; all a diabolical confection, commercialisation and converging of ideas and influences that make most people want to vomit. I said most. Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day.

And I wasn’t going to mention it, at all, but then I heard something on the radio that I thought was worth sharing.

It seems that the origins of the most popular customs associated with 14th February date back to the Middle Ages, stating that Valentine’s Day, (halfway through the second month of the year), was the ‘wedding day of birds’ as this is when they would choose their mates in time for Spring.

Birdy Print Corsage, Dainty Dora

Chaucer is cited in all this, and his poem, ‘Parliament of Fowls’, the literal meaning of which is ‘Meeting of Birds’.

The poem was apparently penned to honor the grand wedding of Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, regarded as one of the most successful and loving royal marriages of the Middle Ages.

Other (bird-related) symbolisms and superstitions:

  • It was once believed that if a woman noticed a robin flying overhead on Valentine’s Day, it meant she would marry a sailor.
  • If the woman saw a sparrow, the would marry a poor man, but be very happy.
  • If she spied a goldfinch, it was said that her husband would be a man of great wealth.
  • Lovebirds are so named because they tend to sit closely together in pairs.
  • Doves, with their distinctive ‘cooing’ call, symbolize loyalty, fidelity and love since they mate for life. The dove was a bird sacred to Venus and other cultural love deities.

I do adore birds, though I wouldn’t describe myself as a bird-watcher.

I like to feed them though, especially when it is so cold out, and admire their distinct personalities as they strut and wander and feed and then fly away. I wonder if a robin would ever marry a sparrow? Or a crow woo a dove?

Happy Wedding Day to all the beautiful birds of the world. May their plumage conjure love!

‘The Pact’ – Tube Flash Fiction *published* online today

Reaching down to the depths of my bag, fingers grazing the raw underside of the leather, I delve deeper until I feel the rigid filigreed metal of my grandmother’s gun. I trace the cool ivory handle with my fingers and in my mind, taking in the sure smooth certainty of its existence, imagine the recoil jolt that will come when I fire.

It is a solid pistol, heavier than it looks with the dainty paste diamonds inset into the side. A jewel for each word: ‘I-love-you’. A strange gift, though things were different then. The gun was a relic from the war; but it worked. I knew it did. And Danny knew it too. Read on.

I am delighted to be featured as part of this exciting project:

Tube-Flash - original flash fiction inspired by the London Underground and a collection of vintage and contemporary brooches. Each station is paired with a brooch, with writers responding to create a diverse collection of stories.

The brooches belong to Joanna Sterling, the mastermind behind the project.

I chose Gunnersby on the District Line, and the beautiful and unusual gun brooch.

Read ‘The Pact’ in full.

Coming soon: available to download from iTunes!

my heart wanders

When I woke up this morning, I was still in a dream. [nothing to do with kissin' Valentino by a crystal-blue Italian stream...]

In my head, resonating in the darkness between sleep and waking, hung the quote, “My Silence Is Your Power” by Barbara Kruger. Well, actually, it is a bit back to front as the real Barbara Kruger quote is, “Your Comfort Is My Silence”.

Same difference. It was a dream. Things get blurred.

Barbara Kruger badges, blog.rebeccajohnstone.com

Still; it felt like a calling; an omen; an instinct or an impulse planted in my head telling me to take action. Now.

I was also in London (in the dream), on a monochromatic Oxford Street wearing the shocking-pink butterfly shoes that cost me £64.99 from Shellys Shoes in 2003. Yes, that year. When I thought I had won the Samaritans competition, but in fact, I had not. They just wanted to tell me I was ‘A Winner!’ because they didn’t want to offend anyone or make anyone feel like they were not the winner. I was offended. I hadn’t won.

I digress.

As I came out of the dream and thought about that image: me in my shocking-pink shoes, Oxford Street in blurry black and white, the quote plastered above my head like I was part of a Barbara Kruger exhibition, I felt the shoes symbolised two significant points in my life: freedom (through the butterflies wings), and new beginnings (the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis).

A few months after buying those shoes, I graduated from university with a first class honours degree. It was a hot summer and I had a ball. And then I had some difficult decisions to make and the shoes were put away.

The day I had my first kiss with the man who is now my husband, I wore those shoes and had been to a Barbara Kruger exhibition. That was the day I first read those words: Your Comfort Is My Silence.

Throughout the exhibition, hard-hitting slogans and statements feature in a body of work highlighting the hidden – or at least unspoken and shameful – world of domestic abuse of women; the suppression of women; exploitation of women; manipulation of women, with men always the dominant victors.

I bought the badges to wear on my lapel. I still have those badges. They are silver, red and black. But the shoes were shocking-pink and they were with me when I met my future; becoming free and becoming who I am now.

But am I truly free?

Today I bought a beautiful book: ‘my heart wanders’ by Pia Jane Bijkerk. I barely scanned it before I knew it was part of my future and a way to be free once again.

my heart wanders, Pia Jane Bijkerk, blog.rebeccajohnstone.com

Here is what it says on the back cover:

Four years ago, something very peculiar happened.

My heart wandered.

It simply packed its suitcase and wandered away. I wrote it a letter in heart language but it never responded. So what does one do when one’s heart wanders?

Follow. For being without a heart is to be no longer alive.

I can’t wait to read it.

And the shocking-pink butterfly shoes are long gone. Worn, used, loved, lost, flown away.

Interview: A Cup of Tea with me…

Did I mention I LOVE tea? Am obsessed by tea? Couldn’t imagine life without tea?

Happy Flowering Tea, Rebecca Johnstone

Well, here’s some other mysteries exposed for all to see in a little interview-myself-assignment, prescribed by the wonderful Pip Lincolne of Meet Me At Mike’s fame, to round-up the recent Blog with Pip e-course. Yey!

Name/Place/What do you do on a day-t0-day basis?

Rebecca Johnstone, living in Renfrewshire, Scotland, on a street my mother refers to as ‘Poison Drive’. Thanks Mum.

I only get to do the fun stuff at evenings and weekends. I need structure and discipline to keep me from dreaming my days away. Mostly I try to fit too much into each day, with ideas and plans and words hatching and unravelling in my head.

And I carry around lots of stuff, including a book, notepad, magazine, pen…ready to capture new ideas before they effervesce. Then things befall me, Bridget-Jones style, and I finish the day hanging up the washing and pairing up socks and wondering when I’ll be living the bourgeois lifestyle…

Favourite things to do?

I love creating scrapbooks and sketchbooks of postcards and ticket stubs and places I’ve been; memories and ephemera, matching themes and colours and sticking everything down with blue tac. Or creating a scrapbook of images relating to fashion, interiors, health, beauty, recipes… And I’m writing a book (started several), and love to tidy things up and change things round and read books and craft magazines and occasionally, get ‘locked onto’ a jigsaw. I find them compulsive, engaging and completely absorbing, which would also be a good way to describe myself!

Favourite place to be?

Ah, that’s easy: at home, in my ‘Creative Room’, surrounded by all my creative tools and aids and my cabinet of fabric. Unless there was a spa I could be at. I love a good thermal experience.

Favourite things to eat/drink?

Apart from tea (obviously), I love chocolate milk (Oatly), broccoli, prawns, hummous (especially the ones with the pesto and seeds and things on. YUM.)

I went through a couscous phase last year but it went drastically wrong on one occasion and that was the end of that. Oh and I love lobster bisque. Super-rich and delicious lobster bisque is an enduring memory from my honeymoon in Amsterdam, (apart from the love and all that.)

Amsterdam Canal View, Rebecca Johnstone

Favourite inspirations?

Right now I’m finding a lot of inspiration visiting art galleries and photography exhibitions. Also, observing nature and the elements at work; misty mountains and deserted roads, all rugged and ripe for inspiring a daring tale of adventure. And birds. Birds are a new fascination for me. There is a little robin who sits on our bird table and he waits to be fed and just hops away, but not too far, and if I leave the door to the shed open, he’s in there!

Other inspirations include beautiful magazines that are more like books (and a similar price…). I miss Borders bookshop for chancing upon new titles.

Something I want to know more about?

Crochet. Definitely. It is a skill I plan to conquer this year. There are so many beautiful crochet patterns out there. A little birdie told me that the best crochet tutorial IN THE WORLD EVER can be found on Pip’s site.

Some favourite blogs:

Top of the list, of course: Meet Me At Mike’s, and all my fellow bloggers from the course.

Other favs include Vintage Reflections, Shift and Penelope Trunk. There are so many more, with some linked from my homepage. I need to work on this. Later.

But for now…

Thanks so much Pip! I’ve learnt all sorts of technical know-how and fancy tricks, as well as quite a bit about myself and my creative journey, with the most enlightening and freeing piece of advice being to “Just do it. Just write the bloody book!”

Anyone fancy a cup of tea?

Bring on Happiness Week!

After the initial thrill at having a WHOLE NEW YEAR to fill with fabulousness, the cold fingers of January-blues have come calling. Today. A bit earlier than forecast. A general fog of tiredness and inertia are resting on my shoulders, making it harder to stay motivated, alert to the wonder of life, and most importantly, happy.

Then I heard about Happiness Week. Aha! Just what everyone needs at this time of year. It starts on 19th January and runs until 25th, so really I should be talking about this in a weeks’ time, but I felt the need to capitalise right now.

So with renewed vim and vigour, here’s 14 things that make me happy to think about in 2014:

  1. Receiving a letter or card through the post, especially one with a pretty envelope. People should write more letters. Fact.
  2. A brisk walk. Even in the cold or rain. It somehow resets the focus onto something much more simple and physical. And the sun might come out. Or you might bump into a friend. Or make a new one. Or save a life!
  3. A good chat on the phone. Miaow miaow miaow. Rant. Miaow. Get it all out there. Share. Analyse. Connect. Discuss. Highly cathartic. LOVE this.
  4. A spritz of my favourite perfume or scent. Scent is such a personal and evocative sense. I have lots of different perfume loves for different occasions – everyday, evening, romance…but my go-to perk-up scent is Clarins’ Eau Dynamisante. It is just so fresh and invigorating. Friends who know me well will be LOL-ing when I say it is the scent of ‘hot soapy men’!
  5. Feeding the birds and watching them squabble. Hilarious. 
  6. Getting lost in a great film or book. Often it feels like a guilty pleasure to escape on a Sunday afternoon to the cinema or to take time out to read a book (or is that just me?) These are both great ways to ‘detach’ from the hum-drum of the day-to-day though, and truly immerse in another (better?) world. A few tears at the end can be a happy thing too.
  7. Music. THE game-changer when it comes to feeling upbeat and happy. I can’t imagine life without song. I like to listen to the radio for some random chat and to hear new music, but I always go back to my fav albums. Other times I just play my iPod on shuffle and see where it takes me. Note to self: make up a  ‘Happy’ playlist of NOW.
  8. Crafting and creating: knitting, sewing, writing, scribbling, scrapbooking, sorting. Working with tangible and tactile items can’t fail to ‘turn a frown upside down’* – fabric, wool, a new notebook, upcycling, learning a new skill. Just going with the flow and seeing where you end up, then showing off new talents and skills. Win-win.
  9. Chocolate milk. Yeah. Love the stuff #childatheart
  10. An afternoon-bath (or morning, or bedtime) filled with beautiful bath salts or indulgent bath oil. With the radio on in the background. Drift away. Blissful.
  11. Swimming. Free, free as a bird. Or a fish. I find swimming great for clearing my mind, as well as for fitness (as long as it isn’t full of children at the time, or an aqua-zumba class. Then, avoid, avoid like the plague.)
  12. Manners. Someone giving way to you and letting you go first – on the road,  in a queue. Or in Sainsbury’s last week when a men let me and my weekly shop go first at an empty check out. That gives you a little buzz doesn’t it? And perhaps a little blush too!
  13. Reciprocating the above. And you get double the buzz back.
  14. Accepting the moments that cannot be described as ‘happy’ are still valid and OK and part of life. If we were in an extreme state of happiness ALL the time, how would we…know? Would we just become happy-complacent and find that even happiness had become a bit, well, boring?

The next time I’m feeling a little less than myself; under the weather, a bit blaaaaaaah, meh, not in any way LOL-ing, I can revisit my list of happy things**.

And, AND, has anyone else noticed that it is staying that teeniest bit lighter in the afternoons? Well it is, and that makes me pretty happy.

*Yes. I hate this phrase too. I don’t know why I used it. Shoot me.

** OK, when everything caves in and life starts to feel a bit pointless and crap and like the whole world is against you, a glass of chocolate milk or someone letting you get in the lift first isn’t going to cut it. BUT. It’s a start. It’s something. And listening to some good old rock’n’roll or taking a brisk walk might just be the difference between and crap day and a terrible day.

Happy days!

Taking Stock & Looking Forward: 2014

Wow. A whole new year to live, breathe, dream, experience and achieve in. So many possibilities. So many ideas.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Edinburgh sunset, Rebecca Johnstone

A lot of people find this time of year depressing, but I look on it as a fresh start with a clean slate (or drawing board, blank canvas, virgin Moleskin…whatever): fresh perspectives, ideas and challenges with days, weeks and months stretching ahead, all shiny and new and untainted by plans, chores or commitments. Anything could happen.

With that in mind, it seemed like a good time to ‘take stock’ of right now, while also looking forward.

Here’s my list of NOW, pimped from the wonderful Pip Lincolne:

Making : pom-poms (they are EVERYWHERE right now – worldwide pom-pom synchronicity!?)
Cooking : with gas
Drinking : tea. Always. All the time. All kinds: Assam, Lady Grey, Earl Grey, Peppermint…
Reading: Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’. Amazing. Hysterical.
Wanting: the holidays to go on forever (or just a little bit longer)
Looking: forward
Playing: my iPod on shuffle
Deciding: to meditate and practice ‘mindfulness’. Everyday.
Wishing: I could crochet (so many beautiful patterns!)
Enjoying: the space and time to relax and create
Waiting: for no-one
Liking: the glow of candlelight
Wondering: What 2014 will bring
Loving: the vintage typewriter my husband restored for me #lucky
Pondering: the big questions in life
Considering: all the things I want to achieve
Watching: birds in the garden
Hoping: the rain will stop soon
Marvelling: at the creativity of others
Needing: a pom-pom maker!
Smelling: Eau Dynamisante (by Clarins)
Wearing: no make-up
Following: lots of new bloggers
Noticing: the simple things to be grateful for in life
Knowing: that I’m loved
Thinking: of distant friends and family
Feeling: like the world is my oyster
Admiring: the people who ‘JUST DO IT’
Buying: flowers for my Mum
Getting: lost in daydreams
Bookmarking: craft magazines
Opening: my mind
Giggling: at Caitlin Moran’s witty words
Feeling: creative and inspired

Why not ‘take stock’ of YOUR right now?

There was snow…

Just over a week ago, I was manically photographing a series of snow-scenes: footprints, bird prints, tyre tracks, streets, trees, and unblemished, virgin snow, while visiting my Dad up in Grantown-on-Spey, in the heart of the Scottish Highlands and the Cairngorm National Park.

Snow in Grantown-on-Spey, Rebecca Johnstone

Snow in Grantown-on-Spey, Rebecca Johnstone

We sat snug by the woodburner over the weekend, and shared a few Cairngorm Real Ales, waking up to more and more snow as the weekend progressed. There was ice under the snow and a biting, chilly wind. We wrapped up well with scarves, hats, gloves and boots.

Snow in Grantown-on-Spey, Rebecca Johnstone

Snow in Grantown-on-Spey, Rebecca Johnstone

Snow in Grantown-on-Spey, Rebecca Johnstone

Snow in Grantown-on-Spey, Rebecca Johnstone

It was magical to look at and oh so Christmassy, with delicate bird tracks all round the garden.

Snow in Grantown-on-Spey, Rebecca Johnstone

And then it was time to travel home for Christmas.

The roads seemed ok to us; all frosted trees and picturesque scenes as if we had driven straight through the wardrobe into Narnia. What a novelty! It would be a white Christmas after all!

Snow near Aviemore, Rebecca Johnstone

Snow near Aviemore, Rebecca Johnstone

Snow near Aviemore, Rebecca Johnstone

Snow near Aviemore, Rebecca Johnstone

And then we saw the first of the traffic alerts advising that the snow gates were shut at Drumochter, (over 1500 ft above sea level, and a wilderness of exposed mountains). We carried on. There is no other way home.

As we neared the snow gates, the road conditions were deteriorating. Ruts of icy tracks had led to a number of accidents, with mounds of snow piled up at the side of the road in the nearest towns (Kingussie and Newtonmore).

Police were diverting south-bound traffic to Fort William. Nooooooo! That is a terrible diversion, miles out of the way! (Only later we learnt that road was also closed, with similarly treacherous driving conditions. We were glad not to have panicked and taken that route out of desperation.)

Instead we waited. Waited over two hours in the car, with no mobile phone signal (too mountainous, too high up, bad weather…), unsure if the road would be opened back up at all that day, or even, before Christmas if the weather worsened as had been forecast.

We didn’t have supplies, clothes, food, or our presents to share. These thoughts were the least of our worries however, as sleet and wind and tailed back traffic had us in its wintry grip.

Snow on the A9, Rebecca Johnstone

We were beginning to give up hope. Our feet were numb. I wanted a cup of tea.

And then engines began to roar into life, headlights and tail-lights lit up around us; white and red and anxious to move along, make progress, recommence the long journey ahead.

We travelled in a police convoy for around five miles at 30mph, over the highest ground and through the worst of the snow and ice.

Dusk loomed. We were just glad to be moving.

Snow on the A9, Rebecca Johnstone

Snow on the A9, Rebecca Johnstone

Great mists hung over us in frozen swathes, and at one point, to the left high up in the hills, a herd of stag and deer tramped majestically in the thick mountain snow. When I saw them, dozens of them, poised and elegant, their antlers outlined against the snow-white backdrop, I knew we would make it home safe. And thankfully, we did.

Snow on the A9, Rebecca Johnstone

The sleet and snow thinned eventually to rain. As we neared Perth the roads were wet but completely passable*.

Another intrepid journey made. Another Christmas miracle.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, and New Year is still to come, so roll on 2014 and new challenges, experiences and intrepid journeys!

*I was in the passenger seat throughout this entire journey. No risks were taken in the pursuit of ‘action’ shots.

Heirloom: Victorian Silver Chest

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I bought a beautiful Victorian Silver Chest. I spotted it in a vintage shop in Glasgow’s West End, and knew I had to have it.

Not only is it an example of well-crafted heirloom furniture, but it is practical too with room to stow a cornucopia of ‘stuff’ (or clutter…)

Victorian Silver Chest, Rebecca Johnstone

When I first saw it, immediately I was transported to the grand house in the film adaptation of Charles Kingsley’s’ The Water Babies (which is actually called Denton Hall, and is in Yorkshire).

I always wanted to be that girl (Ellie) in the huge, perfect room of pristine white and cream, waking up to find the chimney sweep boy walking sooty footprints into the carpet before racing off together on a fantastical adventure…

Yes, I’ve always lived in a fantasy land!

Victorian Silver Chest, Rebecca Johnstone

I can shoehorn a LOT into that space.

The chest was originally designed to store up to five stone of silver for transporting between only the wealthiest of households, carried by two men.

Unfortunately, I have no silver. But I have got plenty of boots and shoes and random things (like clutter).

Victorian Silver Chest, Rebecca Johnstone

I love a good metal lock. And keys. Vintage keys are a favourite, though there was no padlock or key with this chest.

Don’t worry: I have my own.

Victorian Silver Chest, Rebecca Johnstone

The chest was so heavy it  had to be delivered, and I’d really hyped it up so the husband thought it was actually MADE of silver.

Err, no…

Victorian Silver Chest, Rebecca Johnstone

In situ it sits solid and stately. A firm fixture. A one-of-kind purchase that will never go out of fashion; and a fashionable way to store things out of sight.

The aging and marking of the wood only adds to its character, and of course the many secrets it could tell.

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