Category Archives: my life’s essentials

What makes my life bliss

My life’s essentials 12: feet

feet | @robertz

Yes, feet are essential and my feet are essential to me.

I walk a fair amount, usually between 15 and 22,000 steps a day, but I didn’t always.

When I was younger, I used to cycle a lot, but then stopped when I started work and got a car. For quite a few years I did little exercise, especially when I started working from home. I remember one wintry day in the 1990s when I opened the front door to go out to post a letter, but the wind almost blew me back in and I decided to go another day. As I started to use the internet and email more for work, sometimes I had little reason to go out for two or three days at a stretch. I was slowly putting on weight and starting to bulge a little.

Then, in 2000, we got a dog. A puppy. A spaniel. A little darling. I’ll write about him in another post.

One of the reasons for getting a dog was to get me on my feet and out of the house. Another reason was to have fun. We accomplished both.

From being a stay-at-home stick-in-the mud I turned into an all-weather-outdoor stick-in-the-mud, usually in the middle of a muddy field in the rain. I loved it and still do.

I walk in the dark, in the light, in the dry, the snow, the rain, in howling gales and on beautifully clear, calm days, paddling in the sea.

I play ball with our dog – now our third after losing our first two five years ago – and sometimes we both toddle along, letting our minds wander or admiring plants and trees, views or anything that takes our interest.

Walking is what I enjoy most now, thanks to my feet.

I have come to realise how essential they are after various conversations with many lovely people, some of them now passed on. When they told me stories of their past adventures of walking, touring and sailing, their feet could no longer carry them up a hill and sometimes we had to help them back on to their feet if they took a tumble. Their feet had served them well, but there comes a time for us all when we have walked as far as we can and we have to put our feet up once and for all.

So I make sure I look after my feet as well as I can because I realise how important they are to me. I walk as much as I can while I am fit because one day I will walk no more and then I’ll tell stories of where my feet have taken me.

• I mistakenly posted My life’s essentials 14 after 11, so I’m catching up with this post.

Posted in my life's essentials.

My life’s essentials 14: Canon PowerShot SX500 IS

Canon PowerShot SX500 IS | @robertz

I have always enjoyed photography, although for much of my life did not spend much time on it. Moving to live by the sea and walking with our dogs have given me plenty of opportunities to take more photos. Five years ago, after we lost our dear two spaniels and there was a lot of family illness and pressure around us, we welcomed a new puppy into our home. My old digital camera had just packed up and I replaced it with a Canon PowerShot SX500 IS bridge camera. We had other important spending priorities at the time and this was yet one more thing added to the list, but we thought it important to capture the memories of the early days and weeks of our seven-week-old puppy.

Sprocker spaniel | @robertz

Almost five years later, after much battering by wind and rain, being gummed up with sand on the beach, and accompanying me all over the place, I am so attached to this rugged little camera. I have a digital SLR with a selection of lenses, but that takes planning to carry with me for a photoshoot. The little Canon fits in my pocket, a bag or in the car glove compartment, and has taken thousands of photos, from sunrises and sunsets to family and our dog. It has been repaired once, but I’m astounded it keeps going, especially after going on the beach so much. Sand gets everywhere and the inside of my car looks like I am building my own beach resort.

As well as having a 30X zoom and shooting at 16 mega pixels, the facility to manually set shutter speed, aperture value and ISO speed has enabled me to experiment more than ever with photography, which I throughly enjoy. While I take photos with my dSLR and iPhone, I usually have this little camera at my side too. I’ll be sorry when it stops taking photos because it has given me the ability to take photos that I would have otherwise missed.

I enjoy sharing photos on social media as well as seeing other people’s photos. If you want to connect, please follow me on:


Posted in my life's essentials.

My life’s essentials 11: reading

As a child, there was always something to read in our house: the Radio Times, books, newspapers, magazines, dictionaries, comics.

While we listened to the radio and records, watched television and played with toys and in the garden, sometimes the house would be silent as we would all have our noses in books or magazines.

It seemed natural and I assumed everyone everywhere consumed books ravenously.

While I started out with children’s books, including the one below and the Rev. W Awdry’s railway books, I soon preferred books written for grown-ups and was reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, simply because they were there on the shelves.

Through school and university my tastes developed to include epic literature, including Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West, on which the television series Monkey was based. I grew to love the novels of RS Surtees, especially Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour, along with the works of Tobias Smollett, Jerome K Jerome and Saki. From science fiction to Dorothy L Sayers, from Norman Hunter’s Professor Branestawm stories to histories of the SAS, Queen Elizabeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Stalingrad and William Marshall, I’ve read about human endeavour, adventure, war, science, sex, drink and drugs, comedy, loneliness, loyalty and betrayal, kindness and cruelty, love and hate, life and death, and enjoyed many ripping yarns along the way.

A Day at the Zoo | Robzlog | @robertz

One of the first books I read

Much of my business life has been spent writing, which requires a lot of reading for research, so in recent years I have read less for pleasure than I used to. Social media and the  dumbing down of news has also meant that, like everyone else, I am bombarded with sound bites and news reports that lose much of their meaning and context due to their brevity. I am very aware of this after starting my MA in History, which has required me to read books that I would not have chosen to read but have opened my eyes to the superficial level of my knowledge of some topics. It has reminded me that we need to think for ourselves and not accept readymade opinions created for convenience and, possibly, to further others’ agendas. Learning also requires effort, but, like exercise and other activities, can provide great satisfaction.

In an article in the July 2018 Oldie magazine, Sophia Waugh discusses how few boys read literature now. As a teacher, Waugh is concerned about how unpopular English, languages and arts subjects are with boys, describing how some boys sneak in to talk to her about reading because they don’t want their peers to find out. She adds that currently only 26% of teachers are male and just 15% of primary school teachers are men. Apart from appealing for more men to take up teaching, Sophia Waugh appeals to all men to act as role models: to talk to young people about what they’re reading, to carry a book with them when out and about or on public transport, and to demonstrate that reading is important for everyone. She says this will not only help boys and all young people, but teachers too.

This article made me think back to my own childhood. I was fortunate to have parents who read about pretty much anything and let my brothers and me read anything too. I was also lucky to have many teachers who fed my enthusiasm for reading. In fact, the university lecturers for my MA are still doing this and I am acquiring a stack of books I am itching to read.

Reading, for me, is essential. I hope I can help pass on this enthusiasm to younger generations.

What effect has reading had on your life? And what are you reading now?

Posted in my life's essentials.

I need it all

I need it all

It’s probably because of the seasonal bombardment by adverts for things which I don’t need that I’ve been thinking a lot about what I do need.

While I post a series on ‘my life’s essentials’, many of these are tongue-in-cheek as I’ve come to realise that I need very little to be content.

Recently, I’ve narrowed my needs down to:

  • Good, simple nourishing food – we are so lucky to be able to buy high quality ingredients that are very affordable and to know how to use these to prepare healthy, tasty meals.
  • Shelter and safety – we are fortunate to have a home where we are safe and warm and to live in a community which is generally safe.
  • Freedom to think for myself – and not be told by individuals, groups or organisations what I should or should not, can or cannot think.
  • Awareness of responsibilities – my own to contribute to others and the community who support my existence and others’ responsibility to do the same as well as to treat everyone and everything with respect.
  • Natural, healthy environment – I am so grateful to live in an area of outstanding natural beauty, even though there are many challenges to maintaining this.
  • Time – to be me.

I feel I am truly blessed to have so much.

Anything more is a bonus.

At a time of year when there are so many attempts to seduce us into needing so much else that we don’t really need, it helps me to remind myself what really matters.

Posted in a musing, my life's essentials.

My life’s essentials 10: breakfast

My life's essentials 10: breakfast

I’ve noticed that food figures a lot in my life’s essentials.

It is, after all, essential to life for us and I think it figures so highly because I’ve had to look at my diet closely because of my Crohn’s disease and also to prevent middle-age spread.

My aim is to achieve a balance of eating healthily while enjoying meals and having the occasional treat.

Take breakfast as an example: I couldn’t get through the day without it and as I eat it after my morning walk, I am usually very hungry.

In the week when I’m working, breakfast is a serving of natural yogurt followed by porridge. It took me a while to develop a taste for porridge, but now I eat it all year round in preference to manufactured cereals. I really enjoy it and know it gives me fuel to get through the day.

On a Sunday it’s time for a treat and that’s when we usually have a cooked breakfast. Our table is laid with cups and saucers, sugar bowl, milk jug and cafetiere. The toast rack makes an appearance along with the butter dish and knife, and the jars of marmalade and homemade jam line up as if on parade, jam spoons at the ready.

Whereas porridge is eaten on the go, our eggs and bacon, chipolata, black pudding, mushrooms, tomato and hash browns, or occasionally fried bread, are savoured leisurely with accompanying music. (Allegro’s Miserere performed by the Sixteen was a favourite of one our spaniels.) This creates the perfect balance to working days.


Posted in Crohn's disease, food & drink, my life's essentials.
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