If I could steal anything…

I’d steal a library. Yep, how sad is that? Not the crown jewels, not enough money to live for ever, not the heart of the one I love, I want a library. Every book ever written. I want that library from Beauty and the Beast, ever nook and cranny of my house filled with pages of words, stair cases lined with them, shelf after shelf of classics. Its sad I am aware but I do love my books. I love the escapism. I love the way a new book smells, I love reading a book and not breaking the spine. I love seeing a full bookcase of books I’ve read, of those I’m about too, full of little gems.

There are so many books we never get to read, so many great writers that remain obscure, lost in a vast collection that we don’t appreciate. They could be our new favourite, they could have written that book that we read over and over and over. I’d read every spine, every blurb. If I liked it, read a chapter and if I get into it – keep it. I’d make my library stocked with the books I love, with the stuff I want to read, with the things I find interesting.

From poetry, to fact, from fiction to novella, from romantics to Augustine, Victorian to Georgian, from modernism to american, to Gothic and graphic. Erotica, horror, thriller… I’d want them all. To read and read and read. I sat down and read, for Uni, Rasselas, a novel of Augustine Literature. it was about a man trying to to escape paradise in a hope to discover what life was, what made people happy. They went in search of the rich, the poor, the middle ground, the critics, the philosophers, the poets and the leaders, and they all came to some conclusion.

The overall outcome? we can’t all be happy all the time, but we must try to pursue what does make us happy. I’d want knowledge, to learn, eternally, to not work but sit and learn, read, research, reiterate, rediscover – love. There is nothing more exciting and fulfilling than knowledge that of experience or facts or understanding. Of ancient histories and arts, of society and psychology, of art and science.

I know I sound like a massive English toff. I am no academic, I am not the smartest of my classes nor the most profound. I do not write ground-breaking essays of understand things as well as I should, but I do love to learn, to ponder, to think, to muse, to wonder. It’s in my nature to be inquisitive. I get obsessive over a subject I discover for the first time, I want to know everything, to read everything, to understand, to penetrate its core. I’ve been obsessed with researching serial killers and then psychology behind murders, to suddenly being obsessed with epistemology, the theory of knowledge of how we learn, to the life of 1950’s women post war and then to learning about astronomy.

If I could steal anything, I’d steal a library and lend books forever, share my passion with others, decorate my surroundings with the pages, and submerge myself in a world of poetry and prose.

The Eternal Learner…

For me there is nothing greater than studying. I know that sounds clichéd, and like one of the sentences I’m spun at University, about becoming more than just a degree, becoming an academic – but its true. I love studying. Ever since a young child I loved school, I loved the idea of learning, of feeling myself getting cleverer, storing information in my memory banks to draw upon, having those light bulb moments when suddenly everything makes a little more sense, you understand everything a little bit more.

Of course when you’re a child that happens almost continually. You are more or less bombarded with a new slice of information, slither of experience or newly figured fact on a minute by minute basis. As we get older, that seems to change. Suddenly we understand the basics, we have the answers to the simple stuff, how to read, write, (in my case, attempt) maths, science… our biology. It’s all there and readily explained. We’ve drawn our conclusions on our basic views, our opinions on the big stuff, religion, family, politics, education… We’re already quite formed.

What do we learn as adults? Relationships. There’s a wealth of experience and knowledge we continue to learn there, about ourselves more, with each new experience comes a moment of self-awareness… learning to drive? That always seems an odd one, it’s the first time since a child when we learnt to walk, to ride a bike, to swim, we have to do something that seems completely impossible and illogical to us….

Studying, makes the world, my world, more interesting. The more I learn the more I feel I have to offer, to contribute, the more I understand the smaller things in life, the more opportunities I give myself. I reform opinions, have my ideas challenged and tested, have my intellect stretched, my own foundations undermined, and…. I love that feeling. I love learning something new. Studying English it’s almost something everyday, a new word for my vocabulary, a new concept or idea, historical, philosophical, psychological, sociological details I didn’t know before.

I love reading something I’ve never heard, researching something and discovering a new interest, going into the tiny details… I can feel myself brighten up with each new sentence or concept, my brain buzzing with questions, ideas, contradictions. I lose hours lost int he recesses of my brain processing, ordering, thinking, understanding. I love finding out about everything – anything. What really interests me  is the big picture stuff, culture, society, gender… to civilisations, history, the makings of man.

I study when I shouldn’t be studying, constantly undertaking a new course or programme to keep my mind active. I qualified as a TEFL teacher last summer and this took at Level Four, Educational Psychology, learning about studying – learning why I like studying, we like learning – studying about studying. It couldn’t have been a more perfect course… I’m reading and studying Epistemology, the theory of knowledge, after my degree I begin teacher training, a masters… I’ll never stop wanting to learn – it’s just me.

Everything is a learning experience. Reading, articles, the newspaper, novels, facts, watching programmes on life, on art, on culture, on history… Talking to people. Getting to know them, their story, imparting and sharing knowledge. Life is so rich, so full of amazing things; of knowledge, interesting people, of questions, I just want to enjoy and share it all. We never stop learning, so why don’t we embrace it whole heartedly and aim to learn something new, each and everyday. I certainly do, do you?

The Black Destruction of Words…

As writers we all want to create something new, something poignant, something funny, something heartfelt, something honest…We strive to find that perfect phrasing, that sentence that says more in a few words than a paragraph could. We want clarity, perfection – drama.

We strive to delete all the unnecessary words, to strip back to what’s not needed to what simply is. It’s a hard task. Then there’s the inspiration. Where to start, how to draw together an idea from the hundreds of bubbling brooding thoughts of our mind.

What if, there was a way of using another’s work, and creating something, totally unique, unrelated to what was there before, that brings life, colour and meaning to a piece of work. Well, I introduce, Black out poetry.

Created by Austin Kleon, the idea is simple. Take a newspaper, find an article. Do not read it, do not spend time working through the article, do not try to force something out of it that is already there… Find a word – A phrase – something that stands out. It could and probably should be random, something that stands out to you. Skim for related words, words that fit the idea or the topic, the mood you’ve already chosen. Get a marker pen. Heres the fun bit… Draw around your chosen words, link the words across the page, and create something ingenious.

It sounds easy, but it’s a skill, a talent and something that will take time. Everyone can do it, but its a new way of working and as we all know, it takes a little time to adjust. When your little poems formed, black out everything else. Wipe the page clean so its only your words, your work that stands out against the darkness. You’ve made your first poem.

Blackout poetry provides a great starting point for all poets, writers and those who enjoy literature in general. It gets your creative flow going, it allows in the shortest of time to create something unique from something plain, bland – the pages of a newspaper. You can use the poem as inspiration for a longer piece of writing, to adapt into an epic poem or simply, to hold on its own, as its own piece of art.

The best thing about Newspaper Blackout is simply, you can do it anywhere. Over a morning coffee, on the train to and from work, in bed when you can’t sleep, in any spare five minutes you have a day. We all know of five-minute exercises that are supposed to keep us in touch with our creativity and help our writing, but what better way to do it than to, force something from our minds and get stressed about that five minutes. Sit back, relax, and just do it.

Austin Kleon is to me, a hero in his own right. A figurehead for the generation of writers that are finding more creative ways to be, well, creative. To find art in the profoundest of places, to work with something that’s already there, to reinvent the written word and poem.

Stealing! I hear you say… How can something be creative, be individual, be unique, when you’ve stolen someone else words, when you’ve had no hand in the writing itself. If you’re still of this mind, you’ve missed the point of Blackout completely. Its recreating not reiterating. You aren’t working with something already there and condensing, your finding something new, something hidden, amongst the garble of corporate wording.

Now I’ll admit, I’m not that great. I’m hardly the next and newest Blackout poet, ready to set your minds alight and show you examples of brilliance but you know, its a new hobby. Its something exciting and more importantly, its something I enjoy. Why not give it a go, and see what you may discover, lost and found on your favourite broadsheet.

To get a better idea of what I’m talking about check out, Austin Kleon’s book “Blackout Poetry” or http://newspaperblackout.com/ for examples and ideas to inspire you all. The best thing about the website, you can post your own works, and if your lucky (such as my friend and colleague at Uni) Austin may just reblog it himself as a fine example, of just what he wanted to achieve.

But why stop at newspapers. Think of the possibility, every old book you hate, those long-winded Victorian epics that bored you silly, wouldn’t you like to destroy the text and create something, brilliant? A journal, a pamphlet, an old novel, a horoscope… The opportunities are endless. Suddenly every word ever written can be recreated, redesigned, reinvented, recreated.

We always say how can you write something new when everything’s been written once before? Well… start with the stuff that has been done, and find your own magic within…

Rediscovering your past love…

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For once I am not referring to men, or women. No I’m talking about hobbies and those things we used to love doing, yet somehow no longer have the time too. I’ve many, we all have, things in our past that we were almost obsessed with at the time. I danced, nearly gave up school for dance school at 11, swam for my county, amateur dramatics – performances, singing, dancing the whole she-bang (nearly drama school instead of Uni)… I played cards, was an avid poker fan, read for fun before Uni got in the way, played Badminton, Rock climbed…. and of course, the crux of and purpose of my post.

Played the piano. Since returning home for the summer and getting to play as much as I want, having a piano back has been quite something. I’d forgotten how much I’d missed it, the hours of practising, getting a piece, then playing as though you always could, the sanitation, my hands dancing over the chords and arpeggios, my long nails clicking against the ivories with each note. I couldn’t be any happier when sat at my piano for hours.

I get wrist cramp, I swear, I get up make a cuppa in a mood only to return with a “right you bastard” as I stare out the music, the notes, the staves tormenting me. It’s a love hate relationship and I love every minute of it. It’s not that I’m amazing, I gave up lessons after my grade 5 exam, not wanting to put myself through the torment of a theory exam, which now… you could say seems pointless but never mind, Oh! to be young and headstrong. But what does make the difference…

Its my passion. Its something I will always enjoy doing. I rarely play for others, I find it unnerving, I’m happy playing in the hall and if people can hear well then I hope they enjoy. But I play for me. For the personal accomplishment, for my own pleasure, for the satisfaction of completing something. There are rare moments in life when we can literally acknowledge progress, doing well. We work hard at work and feel like we’ve made headway but there’s no proof, maybe a smaller pile of papers, we cultivate friendships, but there’s no pat on the back, there’s just another name in a phone book and maybe an occasional text… That’s pessimistic I realise. But playing the piano for me is progress and accomplishment personified.

I can see me having learnt, I can feel the change and the growth in my playing, in my repertoire, in my mood. I have a favourite composer, I will save the details for a later blog but I determined to learn all of his work. I know that seems somewhat daft and copycat. I have no desire to learn or write my own music, it’s not one of my talents, I know that already, but what I do know is I love his pieces, I like playing them, the way they feel, the running notes, the epic crescendo’s, the softness…

So, this post really only has one message, as ever as a conclusion. What’s your passion? Go find something you loved doing, and do it. Whether it was a squash game with buddies every week, or a bath that you no longer get time to take, or swimming … or anything. Rediscover it, explore it, enjoy it. We only live once and life’s far to full of the un-fun stuff. Its time reclaimed the things we do love.

Coffee Houses: Kitsch, Cute and Comfortable Corners.

I read a post on ‘Freshly Pressed’ that made me think: It was about coffee houses, little unique coffee shops, that are as individual as the coffee blends themselves. Now I’m not talking Starbucks or costa, cafe Nero or wherever else you choose to frequent. I’m talking, family run, homemade, kitsch little gems that are hidden off the main streets, and have that, bohemian, individual, ‘totally comfortable at home’  feel.

If you don’t know of one, then I’m afraid to say, you’re missing out. Start poking around the back streets where you live, the cobbled rows of old houses, get off the walk or the high street and start exploring. Find all the little shops that are totally unique, the shop that is everything just cakes, the hippy clothes, full of incense and glorious handmade jewellery, scarves of every colour and pattern…

For me, a cup of coffee, or more specifically a mug, a heavy, broad handled steaming mug full – is an experience. Its an actual moment, a pleasure. To sit back in a comfy chair, with a book, on my own in my mind, with friends or watching passers-by, an experience I cherish. The mix of coffee beans and milk, of that bitter and rich taste, that smooth and warm feeling as you sip, warming your hands on the mug. It doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of winter or now, ask anyone, everyone fancies an ice-cold beer or a pimms, both of which I am not adverse to, but nine times out of ten. I want a coffee.

Now lets clarify what I mean by coffee. If you’re talking about Tesco’s finest instant, then you mistake what I mean by coffee. If you’re a coffee hater and have drunk that rubbish, then there is your first problem. Lets set it straight, I’m talking proper ground coffee, fresh coffee, from a cafetière. I don’t need a fancy coffee maker, that makes me a cappuccino, or an espresso, or a mocha with all its percolating, steaming and shaking. I mean just simple, push down and filter coffee.

Now back to the place. If you are to sit and enjoy anything it’s not just about the activity, it’s the environment. Reading  a book is blissful on your bed with the sun streaming in, surrounded by cushions and quilt; on a beach, with the sun dancing off the pages, the wind ruffling them gently, sunning yourself at the same time; in a hammock, wrapped up, swaying gently, with a pillow under your head and the wind in the trees… it’s the whole experience not just the what.

I’m lucky to have two fabulous coffee shops in my home towns. I say home towns because as a student, I class myself to have two, the home where I grew up, the city I spent my youth, finding myself, exploring, feeling every bit the adult in my naivety; and my new home. The place I chose, the city I live on my own, spend my days walking about, studying, frequenting book shops and cafe’s alike. Norwich, and Lincoln, if you wanted a name.

First there’s Morellos, Norwich. Family run, quirky, girly, homemade and kitsch – This place is straight out of Cath Kitsons catalogue, before she even became a household name. With cute little momentos, signs, vintage pictures, flowery teapots, hand-made cotton flowers, hooks with straw hats and ribbons, and mismatched chairs, its perfect in its own way.  They serve fresh coffee, homemade lunches, handmade cakes and treats, and all with a friendly hug for anyone who stops through the door. It truly is a beautiful place to spend your time. For me is the place I went with my mum, girly and cute,  lunches sat after a hard days shopping, surrounded by floral prints and lace, it was like a little girls heaven, and to be honest, it’s still one of my favourite places in this world.

The second is the award-winning, rated one of the top ten coffee shops in the country, Cafe Aroma, Lincoln. Its got that charm of a proper Italian coffee shop. Coffee served on a board, with a glass of water as it should be. No fuss, no pretence, the coffee speaks for itself. The upstairs is like a bohemian dream, full of little corners to snuggle into and enjoy. One one is mismatched with large tables, odd chairs, window seats covered in cushions of every pattern, and the walls covered in music sheets, making the most interesting wall paper. There is artwork from local artists, all abstract and obscure, bright and colourful, much like the shop itself. Next through an arch and curtain is the den. Stacked wall to wall with a bookcase full of every novel and story you could ever hope to read, big comfy leather sofas, and coffee tables, the windows draped with rich fabrics and curtains… its like being in your own den, the sort as a child you’d have died to make, attempted to in your bedroom under a quilt.

Both offer an experience, a sense of belonging, a real atmosphere of calm, tranquility, of enjoyment and individualism. There the sort of places you frequent with friends for a quick drink and six hours, 7 coffee’s and a few shortbreads later, your still there, curled up in a big chair, or perched at a table, chatting away, hopelessly happy to stay there all day. If you live in either of these places, you must visit, absolutely without fail.

And if you don’t, isn’t it about time you found your own place? That special little corner of a room, a room that gives you a hug as you come in and a smile, to sit, to think, to muse, to dwell, to drink coffee, to socialize, to have a meeting, to read… to be you. What are you waiting for?

Wimbledon, A National Treasure.

So it’s finally happened. I know there will be a thousand posts about the tennis tournament, people wishing Andy the best of Luck, pinning their hopes on one game. For those of who you aren’t clued up for the first time in 76 years an Englishman is in the final of Wimbledon.I say Englishman, there has always been a lot of contention surrounding Murray, when he’s losing he’s Scottish, when he’s doing well he’s England’s next best thing, that I guess is the way of the media, they want to sell papers, make controversial headlines and if they back what they think is local opinion or put something that will cause debate on front page, well then they will. I guess poor Murray’s just had enough stick.

Either way, he is our guy, born on bred on these shores, if not down the Southern End. Watching todays seminal final, the sublime first two sets and then the third, him crumble under the pressure, Tsonga suddenly come out with some strokes of pure genius and the fight that was the last set. It was one of those moments I can appreciate what all the fuss is about. I was out of my seat, cheering, urging him on, heart pounding, feeling his pain, his stress, urging him to do well.

What’s more, is I’m not fussed about the title for England or for us, but for him. To see a grown man cry and breakdown at making the final, that shows how much it means to him. I was so pleased for him, for his achievement, for his victory after struggling for two sets. I just, want him to do well, because you can see it’s all he’s ever wanted, the Wimbledon title, for a year at least.

For those of you who don’t understand what all the fuss is about, Wimbledon is kind of, an English Thing. It’s an event and tournament everyone loves, not like football where you support a team or if your female, normally don’t have that much time for. The Tennis on those greens, on centre court, on the outside lawns is, somewhat of a treasure. It’s all very English, Tennis; like Cream Tea’s and scones, bowling and croquet; it’s the old school Englishman, with his walking stick and wife with her parasol. It goes back to a time when we were great, when we were undoubtedly English.

Wimbledon itself is the centre of the summer for many. There have been films on it, endless coverage on telly and in the papers, it’s our thing. The grounds are famous; all players from around the globe know of the lawns, of playing at Wimbledon, what it means. They’re the best grass courts in the world, and there the place that everyone wants to do well, just because its Wimbledon, not because it’s a grand slam or because it’s another tournament, there is something special the place itself.

It’s the atmosphere. There is a buzz, tennis, comes alive. Everyone after watching that wants to be tennis pro, sling a cable knit sweater over their shoulders and a polo shirt, eat strawberries in the sun and watch a marvellous sport. We all want to be in whites, serving for set, there with the crowd cheering, that sense of achievement. We want to be sat up on Henman hill or in the stands staring down, cheering along, sighing and applauding every forehand and backhand, lob and slice. It doesn’t matter who’s playing either, it’s about the tennis, the amazing matches.

There have been some epic games in recent years, some amazing titles, the never-ending Federer- Nadal battles, Djokovic last season and to date last year’s champion, for two more days at least. But of course, we all remember the record-breaking match of Isner and Mahut. The longest, ever recorded and ever played tennis match, in history. It was Wimbledon 2012, The American took on the Frenchmen in the first round, both eager to make a good start and move on. It had been a close match all the way through. It came down to a tiebreak in the final set, incredibly tense, each man matched well. It was only the first round and both men burned each other out, knocking each other out of the competition, one by defeat, one from sheer exhaustion. The match totalled an incredible 11 hours five minutes and finished up, 6-4, 2-6, 6-7(7-9), 7-6(7-3), 70-68. Yes that was Seventy, Sixty eight, a total of 183 games. It was an endless battle; each man served over 100 aces that day, and made history.

Its events like that, not just of that grand scale, but that level of tennis, that desire to win, to strive to do well on those courts, that atmosphere that make Wimbledon what it is. We all desire to go, to be there, in the crowd, to soak up that atmosphere, to see anyone, everyone, the big seeds and the freshers coming in that season.

It’s another one of those events that reminds us of our national pride, that thing I was talking of the other day, it’s something I am proud is British, that I treasure each year, it makes a British summer, along with the rubbish weather, endless coastlines and seaside holidays. So can you imagine, to have someone representing our country, in the final. The last man to do so was, in 1936 by Fred Perry, who had also won the two previous years. Standing at Wimbledon, a statue to the legend still stands today, and since then, no Englishman has been able to reach the title.  We had Henman and he never made it, now we have Murray, and we all pray they’ll be a statue in his name soon. He’ll be the player we all remember for breaking the English Wimbledon Winners drought, the man we’ll consider the treasure of our tennis history.

I’m not going to sit here and say Murray should win, there is enough pressure on him after all, but, Wouldn’t it be fantastic? It would make 2012 the UK’s true sporting sensation. He’s on good form, there’s a sense of timing, of things coming together, a glimmer of hope for all us Wimbledon and Tennis Fanatics, could this be our time?  I’m too jumbled with nerves, elation, pride and ecstasy to even write reasonably, with clarity and cohesion let alone start predicting scores and pinning the hopes of a nation on the racket of one man. I’m  just proud he’s got this far, proud to have the chance  at winning and for his personal achievement, proud to have sat sharing that experience with my nation, all watching and enthralled all the same. Come Sunday my only hope, is that he plays well, to give it the best shot, I hope he is as proud as we are for him taking us all to a final we won’t forget, whatever the outcome.

Come Sunday the country will be sat, glued to their telly’s, with munchies and refreshments ready, hardly daring to go to the loo, to glance away from the screen, to breath, desperately urging the our nations hopeful on. I’ll be there, talking to Andy, Yelling Murray Chants at the top of my lungs, jumping up and down, crying out in elation, and hopefully, hopefully…Triumph. Whatever Sunday holds, a records already been broken and It’s a match, no of us will miss.

Lifes intricacies.

We all love the simple life. Or we like to think so. Our lives are so overcomplicated, its life’s little treasures, or own little pleasures that make it worthwhile, really.

  • Walking along a beach. I’ve mentioned it a lot on my blog recently, and that’s because I’ve returned to my parents home at the coast and have spent every evening if not most of my day sitting, or wandering blissfully. Its my calm place. my special place. What beats a deserted beach?
  • A sweet cup of tea. With just one sugar. When your tired at the end of the day, or maybe your feeling under the weather. That hot sweet taste, glancing your taste buds. Just gets me – every time.
  • Unexpected smiling. You know when you just smile. For no apparent reason, a good old grin. It might be a song comes on you like, or you may just have a little thought to yourself. It could be seeing someone you didn’t know you’d missed or wanted to see. But that massive grin that just creeps up on you. The one that makes strangers in the street look like your mad.
  • Singing out loud with headphones on. I know I’m not a great singer, but singing at the top of your lungs, is something incredible. Doing it when no one can hear; the song cant mask your own terrible attempts at a well-known tune, well that’s carefree at its best.
  • Plucking my eyebrows. Yes an odd one. But I’m a little brow obsessed. Having been lumbered with my fathers brows and constantly teased for having slugs as a kid. I love looking at them when they’re perfect, if a little red, gorgeously shaped.
  • Antique shops. I never buy anything, it’s just a browsing activity. They’re mainly full of rubbish or old furniture, costume jewellery and war memorabilia, but there’s something special about items from the past. Of times good-bye, the good times, or so it always seems. Everything looks full of character, decadent, loved.
  • A good row. Maybe that’s just me, but getting all that tension out, having everything out in the open, a good shout. Getting rid of tension and pressure, or clearing the air.
  • Getting post. How irrational is it to excited about receiving a letter. I guess it goes back to being a kid. Your parents always seemed to get a letter, and the only time you did was a special occasion, a birthday or a ‘passing your exams’ sort of thing. But I still, love, getting mail. Even if I know it’s secretly a bill disguised.
  • A good cry. Especially at an emotional film. Nothing better, sometimes you don’t need to cry. Your not upset but a good cry, a release of emotion, letting go. Something about it, just, makes you feel better after I guess.
  • Nonsense conversations. When you sit and muse about nothing, someone makes a random comment and that’s if you are off at a complete tangent, discussing something completely pointless and hypothetical, with excitement and a great deal of enthusiasm.
  • A cuddle. I mean a proper cuddle. One of those long hugs with someone when you completely relax and just stand or sit, nestled into them, a perfect comfortable fit and feel altogether safe.
  • Laughing Hysterically. Everyone likes laughing but with my mum its a whole new experience. We both get the giggles over nothing. Stomach crunching, shaky giggles. When you can’t breathe and looks slightly like your having af it, heaving in silence with your eyes watering, only to suddenly take a massive deep breath and carry on. Laughing till your stomach hurts.
  • Driving.  I know that’s an odd one for most people who find driving a means to an end, a boring experience, but for me its the ultimate freedom, driving around aimlessly. you can go anywhere, do anything, see anything. It’s not just the experience its the drive.  Changing down to slow and hearing the revs kick higher, the acceleration as you overtake something, the gentle wobble as you sit chugging in traffic. The smooth leather of the wheel, worn where your hands are…. I am never happier than when out on my own, down some country lanes, just driving, for driving sake.
  • First times. First experiences of anything. That mix of trepidation, anticipation and excitement all rolled into one. It could be a personal achievement, or something you’ve always wanted to do, it could be conquering a fear or starting something new with that special someone in your life. Whatever it is, that mixed curdling feeling. You know your on the brink of something great.

They are but a few things in life that make it all a little bit better. I could go into the more amusing personal ones, but they’re the ones that always spring to mind. They may be obvious, but isn’t that just because, they’re the things we all appreciate and enjoy most?