Tuesday 21 May 2013


A few weekends ago Alex and I went to Santorini.

see, glorious
This is a fairly extravagant way to spend a few days for someone in my current earning bracket, I'll admit, but I'd booked it as a surprise Christmas present way back when both life and pay were rather different and it was non-refundable.

So, we had no choice but to go. Terrible shame that.

And to cut a 2 day story short, it was, quite simply, utterly glorious.  I cannot remember feeling so relaxed in a very, very long time. Both of us.

Not just relaxed because we were on holiday and holidays are relaxing, but also relaxed in terms of laid back about how everything panned out.

It could be said that I am something of a perfectionist.  And something of a planner...hell it was in my job title for most of my working life (the planner bit, not the perfectionist bit, just to clarify).

Which means, it could also be said, that not all of the 'relaxing' things I plan  are quite as perfectly relaxing as they should be.

Note 'plan' and 'should'.

If I plan a fun day...it HAS to be fun.  If I plan a jolly family gathering and somebody (especially me) utters something even vaguely miserable, I'm devastated. If I plan a romantic night out, bluebirds had better be circling overhead.  If the lighting in the restaurant isn't quite at the level I'd imagined, or I get seated in an area of the restaurant I deem not to be quite romantic enough, or the music is a bit off....or anything else that's not quite 'perfect', it's all ruined.  I'll smile through it but everyone in my vicinity will know (much to their detriment) everything is not quite as it 'should' be.

I have been known to traipse from restaurant to restaurant (to restaurant etc) in search of this holy grail of restaurant perfectness until the night is so beyond repair that no restaurant, no matter how perfect, could ever  salvage it.

Or to summarise: I tend to put a lot of pressure on both myself and other people to experience the occasion in the exact way I have planned/imagined the occasion should be experienced.

Or I did. Turns out this is an excellent example of a story I tell about myself that might not actually be true (something we all do by the way).  It is true that I once did this, but it turns out I don't really do it anymore (so desperate to hold onto this particular story I can't even say I don't do it...I've written I don't 'really' do it!). Turns out it's a story I'm carrying around in the present tense that should really be rewritten in the past tense.

And it took a quiet moment watching the world go by in Santorini to realise this about myself.

Actually I realised a few things.

Firstly, despite being sorely tempted to plan the whole short break to within an inch of its life (and ours), I made a conscious decision before we went not to plan anything at all about it. Actually I don't know if it was a conscious decision or not. I kept thinking about planning it but almost accidentally on purpose kept not doing anything about it. I had done the smallest amount of research as to what was on offer (and I do mean small, I read a few articles...when we went to Cuba I think I had about 20 different guide books, all annotated) but that was it.

On the one hand we only had a few days so I wanted to make sure we made the most of it. But on the other, and apparently much more important hand, making the most of it also meant not overdoing it. Making the most of the time, the place, each other. Just being. Not rushing around to pre-arranged plans and timings.  Even when we got there, something inside me refused to succumb to any arrangements at all. We just got up and went were we went and did what we did, when we felt like it.

first night

Oh ok, I did book a restaurant at the last minute on the first night as opposed to just seeing where we ended up or chancing our arm at a table with a sunset view. But that was the only time. And interestingly, the second night where we left it to chance, we ended up with a much better table at a much nicer restaurant and a much more spectacular view. Make of that what you will.

Anyway, there I was leaving (nearly) everything to chance and just mooching around without a plan (although ironically, I had planned not to have a plan so am still debating whether or not this counts. It's a step anyway). And instead of wandering around at a loose end or being all highly strung about missing out on whatever it was I hadn't planned into the agenda, I was relaxed. I was just being. I had relinquished foolish notions of being in control. I was present. I was soaking it all up and enjoying every single second of  it.

I'd just like to add at this point that I haven't given up 'planning' nor am I poo pooing it. Planning has its, often very important place, just that this wasn't it. The point here is that I'm learning to live without planning...and that life can't actually always be planned for.

Secondly, I realised that not all of the restaurants/bars/cafes/situations we ended up in would have quite met the 'perfect' grade had I been testing them. Which meant, I wasn't testing them.  I was just letting them be what they were and enjoying them for that, not bemoaning them for what they weren't.

The culprit
And then, on our last day we  both had in mind a specific sort of place for lunch.  We went into one place, sat down and decided it was a bit too busy and noisy, especially given the hangover courtesy of too much local rose the night before. We popped into the next place and decided the menu didn't appeal quite as much as some we'd seen. The third place was a bit iffy but from the roof terrace we spotted a 4th that looked just right. So we went there, and it was.  As I sat there I thought to myself, it feels like a long time since I've done that holy grail restaurant traipse. But more importantly, had we just done this particular restaurant traipse a few years ago I would have been quite wound up by now. I'd have been upset that we were wasting time, worried that I was annoying Alex traipsing from place to place, embarrassed to be leaving places as soon as I'd arrived, anxious that we were never going to find the right place, caught up on all the bad points of everywhere we tried and generally quite stressed by the whole thing.  But on this occasion I was carefree, relaxed and...happy.

us, looking happy
And I think this is what my whole long meandering post is about:  Happiness.

In the past I've focused on the planning, not on the moment, the living. I've relied on the restaurant, the event, the day, the occasion, the whatever it was I'd planned, the outside stuff to deliver the fun, the romance, the happiness.

But while a bad seat in a horrible restaurant can make an unhappy me unhappier, a good seat in a nice restaurant cannot be solely responsible for making me happy. It has to come from within. If it's not already there, the more you pursue it externally, the further away it feels.

And it was there in Santorini.  Yes it's a beautiful place, yes it's romantic and all the rest of it and all of that helps, but it has to be there already, inside.

So, I concluded, with a contented sigh, that this was proof. That somewhere along this journey I have learnt to relax, to switch off, to take the pressure off, to just be. That all this chatting happy, has paid off in some little way...

But please, for your own safety, never, ever offer me a seat facing into a corner in a restaurant.

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