Hearing my thoughts

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Like we all do, every week I put the laptop away for a while and go to the local supermarket to do the food shopping. Boring maybe, for some, but I quite enjoy strolling round the aisles, looking for things that I haven’t tried before and browsing in the ‘pet’ aisle, for something nice for the dog, who is waiting patiently at home for me to return.

It’s not all fun and games though – choosing which till to go to is always a gamble, and picking one with a reasonably short queue is no guarantee that you’ll soon be in the car, winging your way home to your furry friend, with a packet of pet treats on the seat beside you. There’s often a customer at the front of the queue who decides, just as they’re about to pay, that they have to nip back for something else.

‘It’ll only take me a second to grab one more thing!’ they say in a bright, reassuring voice, only to disappear into the crowds of shoppers for ten minutes or more, while the rest of us shuffle about in irritation. Finally they’ll reappear, avoiding eye contact as they huff and puff their ways through the crowds, their arms laden down with what is definitely a lot more than just “one more thing”!

I always think that these situations must be very stressful for the person on the till, as they watch the rest of us get more and more impatient, and they can only cross their fingers that we won’t start blaming them for the delay. But when I went to the supermarket last week, it was, luckily, not too busy, and the young chap on the till appeared quite relaxed. As he seemed chatty, I asked him whether he preferred it to be busy or quiet, and his answer really made me think.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I like it to be in the middle – not so quiet that time drags, but not too busy either. In fact,’ he said as he expertly flicked the dog treats into a bag-for-life, ‘ideally, I like just a little gap between customers, so that I can hear my thoughts.’

As I climbed back into the car a few minutes later, this line kept running through my head. I really liked the idea of having a little gap to ‘hear my thoughts’, and it struck me, how important this is. It’s nice to have a little gap between tasks, whether you’re writing a story, doing some homework, compiling a complicated report or – indeed – running round the garden chasing a dog toy. In future, I’m going to try to always take a few second’s gap between tasks to hear my thoughts – I’m hoping that it might even lead me to a new story idea!

The Chocolate Pot

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Recently, the family and I started packing our suitcases and getting ready to go on holiday, for a little break from work, school and writing. The dog wasn’t impressed and quickly suggested that he could come with us – surely if he lay down, he’d fit into the biggest case, wouldn’t he? But after promising to bring him back a nice present, we took him to the kennels and then set off for the train station.

A few hours later we arrived in Bruges. It was great! There was lots of nice architecture to look at, plenty of kid-friendly restaurants to eat in and – of course – vast quantities of chocolate.

Lots of the streets were almost wall-to-wall chocolate shops – some very expensive and others more affordable, but all of them very appealing. We even visited a museum dedicated to the story of chocolate – and on most of its levels, there were pots of chocolate drops that you could help yourself to as you strolled around, admiring the exhibits.

One of the things that appealed to me in the chocolate museum, was an exhibition of antique chocolate pots – sounds a bit boring, you might think, but in fact it was really interesting, and as I looked at the big, silver pots with their ornate handles and feet shaped like lions’ paws, I got to thinking about how people’s perceptions of chocolate have changed through the ages – starting as an exotic bitter drink that was unheard of outside South America, moving on to be a slightly sweeter luxury drink that was reserved for Europe’s wealthy families, and – finally – becoming a very sweet solid or liquid treat that could be bought daily in vast quantities, right across the world.

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All in all, it was a very chocolate-focused holiday, and of course we brought back a lot of it to eat at home. I even bought a cheap, second-hand chocolate pot online, so that I could attempt to recreate the delicious drinking chocolate that we’d tried while we were away.

When the dog came back from the kennels, he suggested that he should try it too, but unfortunately I had to tell him that chocolate was bad for dogs. With a bad grace, he agreed to have something else, instead. Crunching his treats, he watched me suspiciously from beneath his eyebrows as I poured some frothy chocolate from the pot into a cup. But I couldn’t help thinking, as I switched the laptop on to get back to the writing, that it tasted nicer when we were on holiday – it’s always the way!