For some it’s a nice hot bath, for others it’s sitting in front of a roaring log fire – surely one of the most primeval pleasures – so what are your simple pleasures? One of mine is a hot croissant eaten with unsalted butter, good apricot jam, accompanied by a pot of freshly made coffee, and delivered to me in bed… perhaps not so simple, given the various components required to deliver this perfection!
Then there is the simple pleasure of sitting in the sun on the garden bench by the profusion of rambling nasturtiums, and gently feeling beneath the round flat leaves to find the clusters of green ribbed seeds left by the flowers that have bloomed… my harvest to sow for next year’s pleasure.
These thoughts were prompted by browsing through one of my favourite books which positively encourages hedonism, though hedonism of the sweetest, simplest kind… most of these simple pleasures cost nothing. It’s an anthology by sixty fine writers, and they’ve given their thoughts and services to the National Trust, the body which maintains and protects historic sites and buildings in England.
In the introduction, Dr James le Fanu, after discussing how our genomes are virtually inter-changeable with either a mouse or a primate, goes on to write: ‘It is remarkable the difference it makes to acknowledge that we no longer know… the nature of those genetic instructions. Suddenly the sheer extraordinariness of that rich diversity of shape and form jostling for attention on the fishmonger’s counter – and the florist’s and the greengrocer’s and the whole glorious panoply of nature – is infused with a deep sense of wonder of ‘how can these things be?’
So since one of the simple pleasures of reading an anthology is flicking back and forth, sampling the joys and wonders it holds, I dive into a page which reads: …’and as you take the long single track road snaking down the shady side of Inkpen Beacon, it’s as though you feel the centuries fall away behind you.
‘You pass the ramparts of an Iron Age fort, and then the gibbet on the Beacon, a reminder of the eighteenth century. You twist between hawthorne and wild brambles, and now you’re in Civil War Britain. Pass the old church, and you’re back in Norman times. Then in the village itself, there are flinty tracks and beech hedges, and what Orwell in exasperation called the deep, deep sleep of the English countryside … an unspoilt, timeless view of fields, safely grazing sheep and the sound of rooks chattering contentiously in the beech trees overhanging the lane …old Wessex, Alfred’s ancient kingdom…. Watership Down just over the hill…King Charles fought the battle of Newbury in nearby fields’ … this from Robert McCrum who has written a book on P.G.Wodehouse amongst others.
And then to a delicious essay by Sally Muir, knitting designer…’I was taught by Mother Mary Joseph… it was the sort of thing you did in a convent in the 1960’s. It wasn’t all Carnaby Street and The Beatles for most of us. I think the nuns were working on ‘the devil makes work for idle hands ‘principle, and in a way they were right. One great advantage of an evening spent knitting is that you can’t easily smoke, play video games, buy things from Amazon, or inject drugs at the same time. In fact there are all sorts of things you can’t do, as both hands are fully occupied….’
I dip into ‘Grooming the dog’, and ’In love with the clarinet’, savour ‘Collecting the eggs’, and ‘Picking up litter’, and the arcane discussion of the best litter-picking-up devices, and relish ‘In praise of zoos’, much as I hate them. Philosopher Alain de Botton writes: ‘A zoo unsettles in simultaneously making animals seem more human and humans more animal… in May 1842 Queen Victoria visited Regents Park zoo, and in her diary, noted of the new orang-utan from Calcutta: ‘He is wonderful, preparing and drinking his tea, but he is painfully and disagreeably human.’ (reading this, I imagine being captured and placed in a cage like a room in a Holiday Inn, with three meals a day passed through a hatch, and nothing to do other than watch TV – while a crowd of giraffes look on at me, giggling and videoing, licking giant ice-creams, while saying what a short neck I have.)’
Alain de Botton, I learn, having enjoyed many of his books, is also the founder of two organisations, Living Architecture and The School of Life, the first dedicated to promoting beauty, and the second to wisdom – oh Yes !!!
As I flick the pages of this tiny book – five inches by three and a half – Christmas stocking size, which I bought six copies of to give to friends, I can’t resist ‘Gossip’, written by journalist Sarah Sands. She discovers by chance that historian Simon Schama is ’an A-grade gossip’. ‘How exciting that a man of such an elevated mind is happy to trade in gossip as well as ideas… Gossip is what makes a great historian a delightful dinner companion… the bond of intimacy. One shares gossip as one should share good wine. It is an act of pleasure.
‘There is an art to gossip, which is really a moment of memoir. Philosophers of the human heart… or heartless but comic diarists …, tell us more about social history, politics and humanity than autobiographies of public record… I always learn more from a gossip than a prig. Life is a comedy, it is not Hansard.’ (Hansard is the English Parliamentary record)
The two most thought-provoking of these simple pleasures come at the end of this delicious little book. Historian Anthony Seldon was the headmaster of Wellington College when he wrote his essay. Wellington College is one of the tougher English private schools. I wonder if he changed that reputation, for he writes of the joys of meditation and yoga.
He ends by saying: ‘Most exciting of all is the sense I have that the happiness and joy I experience are only the tip of the iceberg. They cost nothing, harm nobody and I feel connected to life in all its fullness. The future promise is that the joy will only get deeper year by year, and the fear of crossing that divide from dry land into the water, from life into death, fades into utter inconsequence.’
Sue Crewe has edited the splendid magazine English House and Garden with zest and skill since 1994 – not the sort of person I would have expected to write the exquisite little gem that ends this book. Over the years I’ve followed from afar her career, and noted that she had had what she bravely describes as a ‘period of turbulence’, and which I knew had been full of heartbreak.
She describes how a friend gave her a little book in which she had to write five things she was grateful for, every day. A simple practice which over the years has grown into what she describes as ‘several feet of bookshelves’. She tells how for the first five years she kept to the five one-liners, and how at first she groped for entries, and fell back on being grateful for her warm bed, or being well fed. Then she felt brave enough to branch out into what she calls ‘free-range gratitude diary-keeping’ and expanded her thoughts.
Now she writes: ‘Almost imperceptibly, free-floating anxiety and feelings of discontent with myself and the world were replaced by contentment and a clearer understanding of what I found acceptable and unacceptable about my own and other people’s behaviour…. It did and does help me keep things in perspective…
‘But the most transformative revelation is the power of gratitude itself: it takes up so much room that everything corrosive and depressing is squeezed to the margins. It seems to push out resentment, fear, envy, self-pity and all the other ugly sentiments that bring you down, leaving room for serenity, contentment, and optimism to take up residence.’
On this glorious note, one of my favourite books ends… full of such simple pleasures, those which don’t just add joy to life, but also enlightenment. I feel nothing but gratitude to all these writers when I re-read this little book yet again… and gratitude too, for the reminder of the power of words. The right words can transform our own thoughts and lives, and this reminder of the power of words, reminds me too, of the power of our blogs – each one mostly written with pleasure, and with words from the heart, to reach other hearts in that extraordinary network of friends and souls around the world.
Simple Pleasures – Little things that make life worth living. Published by Random House.
Food for threadbare gourmets
Made a pile of ham sandwiches for lunch, and some were left over. My thrifty soul decided to wrap them tightly in silver foil and store them in the fridge to have for supper that night. But I forgot, and several days later found this anonymous packet of foil on a shelf with butter and yogurt. Cautiously opening it, I discovered the now somewhat stale ham sandwiches. Undeterred, I decided it was ham sandwiches for me that night. I dunked them in egg like French toast and fried them in a little olive oil and butter. They were absolutely delicious – the best way to have ham sandwiches!!!
Food for thought
‘The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.’ G.K.Chesterton
30 responses to “Simple pleasures- they may not be what you think !”
Life is always so much richer through the prism of gratitude, Valerie! 😉 xoxoM
So true, Margarita … love your phrase, the prism of gratitude.. tThank you for reading and commenting !!!
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Thank you, Valerie, I will continue to enjoy my simple pleasures, but now I shall embrace them guilt-free!
Lovely to hear from you Elisa … Your comment reminded me of the saying from the Kabbalah, I think… something like ‘we shall be answerable for all the permitted pleasures we failed to enjoy!’
So enjoy, guilt-free!!!!
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I love it when your post comes in on a Sunday morning and I have time to savour every word. Thie little book you describe sounds like a gem that I shall try to find. Simple pleasures are indeed the best. Thank you for another lovely read. 🙂
Sally, so lovely to hear from you and read your generous words … and I say with truth, that I savour your beautiful things, and experiencing life seen through the lens of your vision. One of my simple pleasures….
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Thank you very much. It is always lovely to be appreciated! 🙂
It’s so easy to get caught up in life’s troubles and toils isn’t it? I love the term ‘free-range gratitude’
For me, the simplest pleasure is a long delicious swim. Back and forth lap swimming that some might think boring.
This morning I made my daily one-mile trek to the swimming pool and on the way back I made a conscious effort to be conscious of what was going on around me, particularly to sounds Squirrels chattering…the sounds their claws made as they scurried up trees…birds…at least three different types…an owl…in addition to a man raking his leaves…You get the general idea.
You see, I’d already begun to read your post, then set it aside so I didn’t miss my window of swimming opportunity. So you can say that you inspired me to take the time to savor.
Thank you and shalom,
What a simply beautiful comment to find … your swimming routine sounds very like meditation, and sounds perfect for you… we all have to find our own special go- to place of peace…
I loved your description of your walk home.. – and that sounds like mindfulness, being here now, and all the other phrases used to describe that special experience… thank you for sharing it with me,
It was a great compliment that you felt my writing had had some influence…I felt a bit of free-range gratitude !!!
thank you, good friend,
A book that sounds as delightful as a Christmas chocolate box, full of tasty morsels and delightful flavours, even better because you can consume it over and over again!
You’re so right, Claire… as you can tell I am a consummate re-reader, and this one is always close at hand to dip into !!!
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‘‘There is an art to gossip, which is really a moment of memoir. Philosophers of the human heart… or heartless but comic diarists …, tell us more about social history, politics and humanity than autobiographies of public record… I always learn more from a gossip than a prig. Life is a comedy, it is not Hansard.’ (Hansard is the English Parliamentary record).’
I think I like de Botton, although he shouldn’t have tackled Twitter: philosophy doesn’t scale down to 140 characters well.
Love the French Ham sandwiches – going to use that. Just finished preparing cauliflower herb roast here.
Yes, Yes, Yes ! Gossip and its value is one of my hobby horses ( I think I can feel a blog coming on !!)
I know how Pepys ( a favourite – as well as John Evelyn, his contemporary)
felt… that was what I felt about writing my book The Sound of Water… it was my daily pleasure and many other things…
I’ve never mastered the art of getting into Twitter and all those other arcane commentaries, I know I must be missing out… and yet again… maybe not… I have a pile of books to spend my time on instead !!!!!
Cauliflower herb roast sounds delicious… any hope of the recipe in your next blog? I do enjoy these conversations…
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Better than that. Cauliflower herb roast … re quantities, use your considerable judgement, I’ve long lost the original recipe and have deviated from it over time to what we like 🙂
Put your desired quantity of cauliflower into a roasting dish (two people, half a cauliflower head for us), drizzle with oil and toss well to coat. Cook on high temperature (235 Celcius) for fifteen minutes – or until cauliflower starts to brown – tossing cauliflower in oil every five minutes. On third take out and toss, scatter over your desired quantity of minced garlic (for two of us I use 3 – but we like garlic!), plus chopped *fresh* sage, chives and rosemary (again for two I use about 3/4 tablespoon of sage, then half again amounts of chives and rosemary). Toss, put back in oven and cook further five minutes. Finally, take out and sprinkle over top (then toss) your desired quantity of grated Parmesan cheese (just under a cup for two of us), juice of half a lemon, with salt and pepper to taste.
Easy and lovely. Herbs are entirely down to taste. I remember the original recipe was for parsley (in proportion to my sage) and thyme and tarragon. That’s great, we prefer sage, chives and rosemary. I do other combinations depending on my herb garden – what’s still growing – but that’s our favourite.
Thank you Mark, sounds delish… I love sage too, so will be trying your version… at the moment I have them all growing ..might use my precious lemon flavoured olive oil too….
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Forgot to say above, I read there was a point when Samuel Pepys realised he wasn’t going to be published, and his diary was his art, so be put himself wholly into that.
There’s also a Twitter bot reading Pepys: like de Botton, not recommended.
Anything delivered to bed is delicious! And appreciated!! xxoo
Good morning Moira
I love your comment… you’re so right… cups of tea.. hot buttered toast – even champagne – is special – when delivered to bed !!!
My third time around, Valerie!! Every moment bestows a special gift. May we understand and recognize the gift that has been given. Hugs and love coming your way.
Oh Rebecca, I had been thinking of you… so often I read a blog and find you’ve been there just before me… the last one at Petre, and the NZ bird story !!!
Thank you, thank you… to know that you read and understand my stories is such a gift, and then your comments give me another gift, love Valerie
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I have added this to my must have in my library list! Simple pleasures are always the best kind, they sooth us and lift us up sometimes when we most need it. You are one of my favorite simple pleasures, I read you with delight and you never fail to charm. Thank you.
Val, I treasure your beautiful comment, and am so grateful that you read and comment, and never fail to uplift me with your words and encouragement … thank you yet again, with love, Valerie
Valerie, what a clever idea for the sandwiches! The other day somebody told me to take whatever I had that was leftover and make it into a frittata. Why don’t I think of these things?! One of my simple pleasures is to break off a leaf of mint or rosemary (are those little spikes called leaves?) and break it to release the scent–then breathe deeply.
Thank you Luanne, so nice to know that one’s thrifty little ideas appeal to others too!!! I like your frittata idea and will be using it !
I love your simple pleasure… I also do this with lemon verbena and basil… mint is one of my favourites too.
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Mmmm, those are good, too! I do love almost anything with eggs!
Thankyou so much for bringing this book to our attention : I have been lucky enough to find it at our local Library, & am enjoying a few pages each day – trying to make it last…!
So good to hear from you… and so glad you were able to find the little book… I know what you mean about spinning it out… so many unexpected and quirky ways of looking at things… enjoy !!!!
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I’ve been revisiting your blog and struck again by your thoughtful and varied insights into the world you live in, from your musings on super-yachts to the gifts of the many mothers in your life, to this one. Your final quote from Chesterton says it all. You are one who does bring the wonders of the world to the forefront.
Dear Deborah – what a delight to see your name and face and comment. I used to follow your beautiful blog a few years ago, but first my computer meltdown when I lost everything, and then my months in hospital with my shattered leg ( wrote about this in a blog ‘ Helicopters, hospitals etc) meant I lost all my contacts and blogs.
Now back to reading your thoughtful, exquisitely written blog… what a pleasure.. so good to be back in contact, and also, thank you for your generous comments about my blog … like you, I write it for pleasure…and the rewards are great !