Simple Pleasures

What are you truly grateful for in life? I’ve always believed that the happiest of people are those who can find pleasure in the habitual. These people are not enlightened, they don’t know something everyone else doesn’t, they don’t have endless zeros at the end of their bank statements. The truly happiest of people just seem to know how to be grateful for the granular, rather than focusing on the big absences in their lives.

For as long as I can remember I have loved to read. Normally I opt for novels, however this week I’ve been getting stuck into a wonderful little book called “Modern Delight” which is a collection of funny, intimate and inspiring essays from an eclectic selection of our countries national treasures on what brings them sheer joy. Reading this book has confirmed what I have long suspected, and it really is the simpler things in life that seem to bring us great pleasure. 

Modern Delight

Feeling inspired by the book, I’ve decided to write about what brings me delight in this modern world…

Walking along the beach in winter whilst bundled up in my coat, scarf and hat. The first sip of a fruity Pimms at a summer party. The first taste of a Baileys laced hot chocolate in December. A Welsh win in the Six Nations (fingers crossed a World Cup triumph next month…). Walking around London at night when the crowds have subsided. Old pubs, you know the kind; with stained carpets, a heady scent of beer, a regular clientele who know the landlord. These old man pubs provide a sense of community that you just don’t get in trendy bars. Smelly, timeworn, uncool pubs are my secret delight. Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”. Lying in bed with my best friend on a Sunday morning, giggling about our merriment and bickering about who’s turn it is to fetch us pints of water and paracetamol. John Legend.

Buying something on eBay for an absolute bargain, or better yet, spotting something on there to replace a much loved item that I lost or broke years ago for a fraction of the original price. Selling something on eBay. Emailing a colleague from the bathroom in the middle of a really important meeting, reapplying my lip-balm and going back to the meeting room knowing I’ve got things in hand. Jamie Roberts scoring a try. Receiving a WhatsApp message from a friend to tell me her dates going well and doing a little dance on my own to celebrate for her. Flipping through cookbooks to find a new recipe to cook for a friend coming to dinner then having a nervous breakdown whilst trying to make it. Baking a birthday cake for my Dad and worrying I’ve ruined his day with the absolute mess I’ve stuck a candle in. Seeing the smile on Dad’s face when he sees it and realising I could have served up a baked cowpat covered in icing sugar and he still would have loved my effort.

A group sing-a-long to Wonderwall. The Thriller video. Knowing each and every word of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air rap (the long version). The opening bars of Maggie May. The riff of Wild Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones.  Even Justin Bieber of late has been banging them out and had me bopping along (Is it too late to say I’m sorry?). Any sentence by Paulo Coelho. Seeing the dog leap out of the car with excitement when I get off the train. Re-soled shoes, straightening up wonky picture frames. Not setting an alarm clock. Eking out the use of an old faithful dress always brings me great delight. A discount code. Writing. Finding a pen I’ve sneaked (ok, pinched) from work at the bottom of my handbag. The plug sockets on a First Great Western train. Re-reading a favourite book.

Perfect scrambled eggs with smoked salmon (or with bacon at the weekends when I can spend time getting it really crisp in the oven – yes, that’s right oven not grill) are a cause for sheer bliss at breakfast time. I find pleasure in making, as well as eating, scrambled eggs too. Salted butter melted slowly in a wide frying pan. Eggs beaten with a folk, but not over-beaten. Seasoning. Pouring the eggs into the hot pan, stirring slowly and quite constantly, taking them off when a little wet and letting them stand to firm up for a minute or two. A tad more seasoning. A successful poached egg can also bring joy, but a different kind. Making the perfect scrambled eggs is a sort of quiet smugness; knowing you’re right and the rest of the world with their milk and their cream and their microwaves are totally wrong. The perfect poached egg is good, but it’s a big noisy triumph of an affair, with a dollop of luck. The humble scramble is pure simplicity.

OK, so that’s the eggs covered, but whilst I’m on food stuffs (I love to eat!) let’s just get all of that out of the way now shall we? The first British strawberries of the summer and the last British strawberries of summer. All and any seafood. Red Lindor chocolates. Sliced tomatoes with rock salt, olive oil, oregano and chilli flakes. A really spicy Dhansak. Broccoli (roasted). Butter and black pepper on hot asparagus. Lightly toasted Welsh cakes with a cup of tea. Salted caramel. Halloumi on the barbecue. Goats cheese. Jeez, now I’m thinking about it, grilled goats cheese might bring me more delight than anything else on planet earth (we may have a When Harry Met Sally moment if I carry on down this path)!

Hot mashed potato. Cold new potatoes. Waiting patiently for a jacket potato in the oven, knowing it will be crispy on the outside and deliciously fluffy on the inside. The filling on that baked potato – a fiery chilli con carne. Hot salty chips smothered in vinegar on the beach, with a piece of battered cod that tastes of the seaside as you sit on the wall watching the waves crash onto the shore. Tangerines. Then there’s the best drunk dish on earth. Cheese on wholemeal toast with a thin spread of Marmite underneath a bubbling layer of hot cheddar. Best eaten with my old flat mate, sitting at the breakfast bar swinging our legs back and forth, ranting about the week we’d just endured in between singing our hearts out to Magic FM with deodorant cans as microphones (naturally).

Finding a habitual conversational rhythm with the man who owns the corner shop by work and finding out a single piece of information about each other’s lives that month, so each time I go in, we play out a sing-songy ritual…

Me: “Just a Milkyway and this weeks Grazia please.”
Him: “No problem.”
Me: “Did you watch the match last night?
Him: “Yes, not good – three nil to Manchester City and Terry’s banned for a month.”
Me: “Oh dear, he was hard done by.” (that’s a porky pie – I never think John Terry is hard done by)
Him: “How about you, is your office still freezing?”
Me: “Yep, they still haven’t sorted the air con out.”
Him: “STILL?”
Me: “Yeah.”
Him: “Well I hope it gets fixed soon.”
Me: “I hope you win the next match.”
Him: “Thanks love, have a nice day.”
Me: “You too. Bye

Holidays with friends. Me and my girls rushing about the hotel room in our underwear, doing our makeup in a room that smells of hairspray whilst we gyrate to Justin Timberlake. Waiting for a parcel to arrive, waiting for the boarding gate to be announced, waiting for the boy I’m seeing to come round after he finishes work. The smell of freshly cut grass. Battersea Park, King’s Road, Soho, Westbourne Grove, North End Road market, Richmond Park, Westminster tube station, the signage at Earls Court tube (but absolutely nothing else about Earls Court). Wine in The Hollywood Arms. Cocktails at Jaks. Crepes on Hampstead Heath. The train home from King’s Cross. The “Croeso i Cymru” sign as you cross the Severn Bridge.

Being told casually by a friend that she has put me down as her next of kin on an official document and being asked if that ok with me, or is it too much pressure? Of course it’s ok I smile, you’ve been in my Will for three years! The smell of fresh laundry. A person who understands what wanting strong, milky tea means – you’re aiming for a sumptuous amber nectar – somewhere in-between the gravy or tasteless water so many people seem to mistake and serve as tea. The lyrics to Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman”. Mint choc-chip ice cream (whilst silently singing the Gino Ginelli theme tune from the iconic ’94 advert – whatever happened to Gino?).

Sitting around a table of friends and discussing what their death row meal would be. Changing the fluidity of the rules as we go along and laughing when someone bellows; “hang on if she’s allowed a starter then I’m allowed a side of courgette fries“. Collectively shaming the one person at the table who fancies themselves as a bit of a philosopher and says: “if I’m about to die, I won’t have an appetite”. Yeah right I think. A heartfelt apology I never expected to receive. A handwritten letter. When you smile at someone and they smile back at you, not because they know what you are thinking, but purely because they are happy to see you happy. I love that.

Late night shopping at Westfield one week before Christmas. Liberty any time of year. Sam Warburton. All baby animals exploring their surroundings, particularly kittens.  A text from my Mum that makes absolutely no sense. My hair on a frizz-free day. A nice smelling man (I’ve been known to almost sprint after a boy to get a a whiff of Allure Sport). October. The yellow light of a cab in the pouring rain. Old photographs. Dancing in Archer Street. How a group of women in their early thirties react when they hear the words: “a few questions that I need to know, how you could ever hurt me so” blasted through a bar as they all start singing along to All Saints.

Flying over London at night time. Discovering new freckle constellations on my shoulders in the summer. Ticking things off my to-do list. Finding that perfect gift for someone. A good working pepper mill. A cosy fire to sit beside in the winter. A hug after a bad day. Old people, particularly those game old birds who think it’s completely normal for people over 80 to smoke and swear and drink in the middle of the day.  Bonfires. Epsom bath salts. A nice email from my boss at six o’clock on a Friday. Foreign supermarkets. Hearing people say words I’ve never heard of, nodding along as if I understand, looking them up later and then crow-barring them into conversation later that week. Fireworks. Popadums and all the tasty little accompaniments that come with them. George North singing the national anthem.

Flowers. Any kind. Any time. From anyone. 

I could go on forever with this list but I will call it a a day now and leave it there. I highly recommend you jot down a list of your own, you’ll be surprised how many things instantly spring to mind and how few (if any) of them are material things. I’d love to know what’s on your lists if you want to share.  It is so soothing to appreciate all the little day to day things in life which make up a huge chunk of our inner happiness. If you base your delights on major events like a great new job, vast sums of money, a flawless relationship or expensive purchases, chances are, life is not going to be all that happy. Live for the little things because they will make you realise that is what life is about, they are what it means to be happy. Take delight in the ordinary.

Oh and one final thing that brings me delight in this modern world. You. Yes, that’s right. You, for reading this, thank you.

Sophie x

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