A few weeks ago I wrote this piece about turning 55 soon and my plan for dealing with feeling a bit odd/off about the number (not the age, the number – I like the 3s, 7s and 9s, and 55 also sounds ever so portentously ‘middle’), so …

LOADS of lovely people responded with brilliant ideas, far more than 55. As I said in the original post, I’ll aim for one joy a week (a couple of joys in a couple of weeks) and share a piece about each one as I do them.

My birthday is at the beginning of March (after I’ve done 3 nights of Learning to Swim in the Abyss at Omnibus Theatre, after Fun Palaces‘ 2018 launch on March 1st, before Money in the Morgue is published on March 8th – bit busy), so I’ll start on the joys some time in the next ten days. Bring it on!

Here’s the list, I’ll grab one I fancy each week and then write a bit about how it was.

Pick a joy yourself and share how it was with me here if you want. Huge thanks to all of you who offered joys. (btw, I love how many of you offered swimming/sea/water joys.)

  1. Go on a very early morning walk in summer. I’d recommend 5am-ish on a good-weather morning, ideally, perhaps, somewhere there will be natural beauty. And, probably, when you’ve got chance later in the day to rest, though I found the early mornings actually energised me and I lasted all day working without a problem – doubt that would have been the same on a winter morning!
  2. Read on the cushioned staircase in the reading room of the Wellcome Collection.
  3. Hear free acoustic music at the Union Chapel on Saturdays (Daylight Music) with a cup of tea and piece of cake
  4. Listen to fave old Desert Island Discs
  5. Walk across the Heath and end up on a bench by the ladies pond with a coffee and pain au raisin – alone or with company
  6. Get hold of a giant bubble wand and run down a hill.
  7. learn the stories of common plants (call them weeds or wildflowers if you will). That plant you see so regularly you’ve never bothered to learn its name. Take a picture, identify it via google (there are also now apps to help). Then find out its folklore, plantlore, other names. For example Tormentil (a little four petalled yellow plant you might see in grass) when brewed and drunk as a tea protects mediums going into trances from being taken over completely by the spirits they are channelling
  8. the sea : a day of joy…go early so you catch the light coming up on the sea, dependent on the time of year make sure you have blankets to keep you warm, a flask of really good coffee, something to read, something to eat, a camera, and perhaps a small sketchbook and pencils. Make your nest in the sand or in the pebbles and just sit…the whole day.
  9. A soprano, a succession of beautifully reached high notes.
  10. The culmination of a firework show, the deep THUD-THUD-THUD of the big ones, the huge ones, that feel like a fist has thumped me in the sternum.
  11. Cheekily this is not a half-hour suggestion, more a Sunday morning out with sandwiches and a flask of tea suggestion, but I highly recommend walking some of the south east London Green Chain: http://www.greenchain.com/greenchainsite/info/5/walking – a great mix of local history and surprising green spaces. You can order the full set of route guide cards for £4.50 and they have extra information about the history of what you’re passing.
  12. Also, on the topic of south east London, Chislehurst Caves are totally fascinating (albeit not caves) and someone has to write a novel inspired by them one day : http://www.chislehurst-caves.co.uk/
  13. Walk in the pouring rain on a warmish day with no rain gear, enjoying the sensation of being thoroughly soaked, and singing at the top of your voice. Arrive home dripping wet and have a hot bath and something lovely to drink to warm you up again.
  14. sit in a library with a book you’ve never heard of or seen before, (usually history!), and enjoy the absolute peace and mostly quiet surroundings.
  15. a recent ‘significant’ birthday my husband’s lovely son and his girlfriend gave me the gift of a day’s painting in Richmond Park complete with painting materials and picnic. They bought all the materials from Tiger but if budgets don’t stretch to canvasses and paints, paper and pencil would work just as well. Just add people you love.
  16. Stroll through Colombia Road flower market
  17. Take a dip in the Ladies Pond
  18. Set your alarm and watch the dawn
  19. Witness a meteor shower https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/sights-to-see.html
  20. Borrow a bike and see where it takes you
  21. Reread your favourite novel
  22. Watch your favourite film
  23. Walk through a bluebell wood in April
  24. Pick blackberries in September
  25. Call up your oldest friend
  26. Bake bread
  27. Browse an old bookshop
  28. Write letters
  29. Going for walks up hills are very joyful. I have profound joy, and feel suitably rewarded, whenever I find one of those markers on the top of a hill which helps make sense of and appreciate the view below. Memorable and favourite ones are the one of the top of Lickey in South Birmingham, the one of top of Clent Hill; and there’s one on the edge of the hill overlooking Norwich on Mousehold Heath.
  30. Dark clear skies looking at our universe.
  31. A full moon without light pollution, watching her beautiful light cast tree shadows and make still water a mirror.
  32. Dawn, in Spring/summer for the bird song and to see the majestic light which warms us.
  33. Dawn in winter, sparling on frost.
  34. Find somewhere you can light a big bonfire using fallen wood, keep stoking then watch it go down.
  35. In London free lunchtime concerts eg St Lawrence Jewry in August or mudlarking.
  36. How about taking a flying lesson?
  37. Pick a thing, any thing, and decide it’s meaningful. (Even though it’s not really.) It can be anything, crocodiles, coathangers, cherry buns, yellow candles, seven spots in a line, stripy jumpers, or the exact colour of your favourite coffee mug. Discard these and come up with your own randomness, the point is that random is good for this project. Then spend some time looking out for your random thing, maybe just for a day, it doesn’t have to be all year.
  38. Discover the joys of cooking (and eating) Persian rice chelow with saffron from Norfolk. https://www.norfolksaffron.co.uk 30 minutes should just about work.
  39. For sheer unadulterated joy I do not think anything can surpass the smell of a freshly bathed baby, though this is a little trickier as it does require access!
  40. On a hot,cloudless day, walk into the middle of a corn/hay field and lie down. No one will ever know you are there and you will be cocooned by the butter-milky corn stalks and the bluest sky above. Listen. Notice. Be. Sun on your face. Shielded from the world. Heaven.
  41. Go and watch fabulous indigo cloth being woven on old clicketty-clacketty looms at London Cloth Company’s mill in East London. There is something about the robust mechanical rhythm of the machines, the noise and the swinging motion of the loom, and then this beautiful cloth of the bluest blue spooling out of the other end, that I found properly joyful. http://www.londoncloth.com/about/
  42. (a dance offer from a friend) Offering to teach my heart piece to you.
  43. Lie on the ground in a bluebell wood and looking up. Even better if you can see the bells at sunset, which turns them pink
  44. Spend the month of May (or June) making a point of noting the light half an hour before sunset. When you can see it’s going to be a good one, chase it – in a car, to a field, to the woods, however far you can get til you find the perfect spot to stay still and watch those last five minutes in quiet awe. Trespassing is often indicated for this one.
  45. It requires more than half an hour, but choose a holiday destination where the water is clear, and snorkel. It’s mind blowing, and reduces all to childlike wonder
  46. I know you already do yoga but what about working towards one of the more challenging poses? One you’ve always wanted to achieve? Obviously yoga is not a race(!) or a competition(!) but in our class we spend a bit of time each week working towards the splits. One of us got there the other day after three months training and the joy in the room was palpable!
  47. Dawn at the beach hut.
  48. Dusk at the beach hut.
  49. Kissing at the beach hut (for a whole 30 mins!)
  50. Yoga at the beach hut.
  51. Writing a letter at the beach hut.
  52. Writing a letter TO the beach hut.
  53. Standing in the sea looking back at the beach hut.
  54. Standing in the beach hut looking out to the sea.
  55. Riding a bike from the beach hut along the sea front to Herne Bay and back.
  56. Tub of favourite ice cream plus a beach, or favourite film.
  57. Water exercise class, there’s something about being in water up to your neck pedalling and punching like fury to beat music that releases joy endorphins (and no need to be able to swim).
  58. Sit in the quietest glade of a wood, beech is best, and listen and look in silence for at least 15 minutes.
  59. Rescue a dog, you will be loved and loved and loved and get fit.
  60. Go horse riding with hot bath after for the muscles you have awoken.
  61. Stroke a cat until it purrs.
  62. Walk in a wild flower meadow
  63. Dig up home grown potatoes (if not yours ask if you can at allotment harvest time). It is as exciting as finding jewels. Better still, plant you own in a perforated bucket or sack in anticipation of the harvesting.
  64. Go blackberry gathering in autumn and make a pie. Freeze some to eat when snow comes in winter and remember summer.
  65. Ditto homemade pea and mint soup. In deepest winter it will recall hot days.
  66. Climb a small mountain and be queen of all you survey
  67. Ride a bike hands-free (downhill if you dare) OFF ROAD
  68. Wear a silly hat and enjoy the smiles
  69. Give a homeless person a meal
  70. Know that five is the number that means mankind so you have reached a pinnacle of humanness
  71. Swing like a child in a park. Ditto the slide.
  72. Make a list of 55 of your most favourite songs/ tunes and treat yourself to playing one each week & preferably while you’re in the kitchen or front room – space you can dance & sing along freely with no ties – a break – purely doing that so you’re not jogging, yoga, cooking, cleaning – dance & sing to one of your favourite tunes while doing no other thing especially
  73. Going outside or sitting by a window and watching the birds. Such a simple joy and totally free. Beware though, I’ve found I lose HOURS out of my day by doing this!
  74. Book a dawn chorus walk (or do one of your own).
  75. Find a local butterfly hotspot and go there for a walk or a picnic on a sunny day.
  76. Buy a cheap canvas and some cheap paint and make a splatter canvas.
  77. Make cookies and give (most!) of them away.
  78. Walk barefoot in the grass.
  79. Buy a copy of your favourite book/s, wrap them and leave them for strangers to find.
  80. Decorate hard boiled eggs for Easter.
  81. Send a postcard to someone you haven’t been in contact with for ages.
  82. Get/give a foot massage/pedicure from a loved one.
  83. Freezing cold shower.
  84. Try a new recipe you’ve been meaning to try for ages.
  85. An A-Z photo scavenger hunt – take a photo of something in your neighbourhood that starts with each letter.
  86. Leave kindness notes for strangers in unexpected places.
  87. Camp out in the lounge.
  88. Time in the garden. Calms me down. I love it so and enjoy watching it grow and develop and growing my own veg.
  89. Stroking my cat and having her on my knee gives me great joy. I know you have a cat. Always great to remember the joy our pets give us.
  90. Going for a walk locally and being aware of all the plants around. Smelling any favourites.
  91. Go to Choral evensong at St Paul’s or another cathedral, about 35 mins, spiritual uplift, transcendent music, free apart from collection.
  92. (a singing lesson offer from a friend) you wanna sing dah ‘awpwah lady? I gots a lesson(s) for ya
  93. I love some of the ideas in Keri Smith’s Wander Society, especially to look for anything purple in the area around where you live.
  94. Buy sparklers. Keep them in a pot by your door and sparkle whenever you need a boost. They never fail to make me happy.
  95. Buy a bunch of flowers, and put them on your bedside table. Feels inexplicably luxurious, and a lovely start to each day.
  96. An outdoor swim (or dip) – exhilarating fun!
  97. A night-time picnic, with candles.
  98. Borrow a camping stove, drive somewhere with a gorgeous view, and fry up something delicious for breakfast. One of the nicest moments of last year was bacon rolls overlooking the sea in Applecross.
  99. Surf!
  100. Have a gaming evening with friends – or even a tabletop role play game evening with me and a bunch of us. I’ll scribe us an adventure and off we go. We could potluck some dinner too.
  101. Have a hand massage. It doesn’t take long, isn’t hugely expensive, and is just delicious. Get Shelley to do it for free, or find a pro you want to go to.
  102. Do some life laundry: go through a cupboard / a drawer / a box and free yourself of anything unnecessary, (Just do one cupboard or one drawer or one box. After that it stops being joyful.)
  103. Walk through a rose garden in full bloom. It’s even better if it’s walled so you can enjoy the scent.
  104. Can definitely recommend the bluebell woods – magical.
  105. Go up to the Ting Restaurant/hotel lounge (floor 35 the Shard) and sit in the swivel chairs below the mezzanine floor, looking out over the amazing view. Completely free, no booking, nice coffee if you want it.
  106. Walking through Dulwich Woods.
  107. Having a coffee at newly (newish) opened Bridge Theatre.
  108. Having a swim/sauna/steam at the newly opened Thames Lido.
  109. Make some fat-balls for garden birds. Poke a hole in a yoghurt pot (or 4) and thread some string through. Melt 250g lard. Add twice the amount of birdseed. Add raisins, suet, peanuts, sunflower seeds if you like. Get your hands in and knead it (this is lovely). Push it into the yoghurt pots. Refrigerate. Remove from pots. Hang on a tree. Enjoy watching the birds!
  110. Try a food you’ve never tried before. It doesn’t have to be fancy – try wandering the spice section in the supermarket until you find something that you have *no idea* what it tastes like.
  111. Buy a pack of postcards, and spend an evening sending kind notes to people you’ve not spoken to for a while. It’s nice to do, and you get a kick-back of happiness when they get in touch to say how nice it was to receive one!
  112. https://storycorps.org/
  113. Go to a park or garden and make a paint chart out of all the colours you can find (leaves, petals etc.). By make a paint chart, I mean cut little squares or rectangles from the leaf and paste it onto a sheet of paper or card, but they all need to be the same size and perfectly aligned, just like Dulux do. Or you can make a colour scale from jasmine to peat just out of dead leaves. Or a mosaic from petals. Or you might have fun naming the colours you can find. The joy is in really looking at the colours you can find and how different they are, and then treating nature’s cast-offs as if they were precious. Which they are.
  114. Play with an animal or child and let them determine exactly what you do and for how long. When they’ve had enough of one thing ask “what next?”
  115. Walk to a waterfall and scramble close enough so that the spray hits you. Or – if possible – swim in the pool under the waterfall.
  116. Lie on grass and gaze at clouds for a luxurious length of time.
  117. Get outside and soak up the light from a full moon (it seems this idea is already popular).
  118. Dancing in a way which is unfamiliar (going to a class/joining a flashmob/teaching yourself/learning via YouTube…)
  119. Going for a walk or run in the bush just after the rain. Greens are greener and shinier, the birds are ecstatic, everything smells lush.
  120. Blow out a dandelion clock … Can’t do it 55 times, but you can have fun trying!
  121. At the end of a long working day, a small ritual to mark the finish of work is by making yourself a cocktail. (And maybe one for Shelley too!) It needs a sexy glass and all the proper ingredients so it feels special. Sugar the rim of the glass, make a lemon twist garnish or whatever it calls for. It’s a lovely moment of touching base with each other and winding down for the evening…
  122.  Watch an episode of a show you loved in the 80s on YouTube.
  123. Ditto the 90s.
  124. Wrapping yourself in battery operated fairy lights, dancing around the kitchen to Bugsy Malone.
  125. Take a bacon sandwich and a coffee to a morning screening at the cinema (oddly luxurious).
  126. Cook a feast (see present – gorgeous cookbook Feast, from Amie & Gemma)
  127. Paint a sunset (in Brockwell Park) or a sunrise (in Primrose Hill) – this from my artist god-daughter Lily. Am pretty sure other sunset/rise locations are also permissible.
  128. working on a Bank Holiday when everyone else leaves you alone to just quietly work

ps – wordpress tells me this is my 500th blog post. feels ever so fitting. that’s nice.

Here’s some joyous dancing-in-public photos by Nadia Nervo. They were taken in 2014 between a bunch of surgeries after my second cancer – it was so good to dance.