David Ginn

Where the skylark soars Time erodes the familiar My heart is heavy

Ingredients

  • 3 large bananas
  • 75g Rapeseed oil (sunflower and vegetable oil works too)
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 3 heaped teaspoons of baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 50g raisins or sultanas

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 C (fan) or 200 C (conventional) (gas 6 in old money) Mash the bananas in a large bowl with a fork. Mix with the oil and the sugar. Add the flour, baking powder and mixed spice. Combine. Add the raisins and mix until distributed throughout.

Line a 2lb loaf tin with parchment paper and grease the paper with oil. Spoon the mixture into the tin and bake for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes has elapsed, remove from the oven and cover the top of the tin with foil to prevent burning the top.

Continue to cook for another 20 minutes. Poke with a skewer. If the skewer is clean, the bread is done. Otherwise, continue to bake.

Cool slightly and serve.

Originally I thought of myself as a minimalist. This later proved to be difficult to maintain, since minimalism usually requires sacrifice.

I see minimalism as an aesthetic consideration first. A way of reducing something to its basic form over functionality. Minimalism grew out of an art movement, after all.

Essentialism, on the other hand, I see it as a way of disciplining the mind to find the essential aspects of an object/animal/activity, and to embrace it.

Minimalism in its pure form might require me to give up on something because I am not reducing my life to basic functionality. Modern minimalists, with all their talk of balance, are actually instead referring to essentialism.


Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown

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Life rarely goes the way we want. That's an overused, but accurate assessment of the way many people feel, especially at a time when our freedoms have been limited by the spread of the coronavirus.

During this time, many of us have chosen to play games, like the wildly popular Animal Crossing, which seems to have come along at just the right time, and escape into a virtual world to socialise and find some comfort away from the problems posed by our real lives.

I'm no exception.

I play computer games to escape the problems of my life, and, unlike many in the media, I believe it to be a vital mechanism for dealing with stress.

In reality I'm a 35 year-old graduate stuck at home, trying to deal with the alcoholism of a family member who lives far away, whilst attempting to reconcile my own mental health problems, and deal with the financial fallout the extended lockdown in the UK has caused for me personally.

In a game such as Animal Crossing, I live on a remote island paradise that I can control. There are no obligations, and I can indulge my passion for design to my heart's content. There are no money worries, because you directly 'earn' rewards that are proportionate to the amount of effort you put into the game. This 'other life' is completely under my thumb. I dictate everything, including how long I spend there. An hour a day is sufficient to bring a feeling of calm before returning to reality.

In actuality, it bears little difference to other forms of escapism, such as reading books, watching TV or going to the movies. The only exception I have noticed is that the interactivity of video games makes them more engrossing.

Granted, escapism does very little to actually deal with the problems directly, but indirectly it helps me to see my choices more clearly by calming me down. The calm is better for my physical health too, which obviously can become another source of stress at a time when I don't need more.

As long as those of us who indulge in this form of escapism take the time to act in our real lives, and don't retreat into the fantasy completely, it can be healthy and at least for me, a vital link in the mental health chain for which I have found no substitute.

I believe it should be noted that escapism is the opposite of mindfulness, and that too is something that can be used to deal with stressful thoughts by grounding ourselves in reality and the present moment. Both methods are valid, although at times when we've all had too much reality, switching off from the problems of the world and our lives by taking a virtual holiday seems more logical than a real one, especially when you take potential virus transmission into account.

In short: stay home, stop reading the paper, put your phone on silent and play a game for an hour a day. You might find a solution to one of those problems suddenly hits you when you're not paying it any attention.


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In my experience, many people associate minimalism with the online images of a perfect monochromatic environment frozen in time, ever unchanging. It’s a comforting thought. Never again needing to clean, to accumulate more things, and the image exudes a timeless quality that doesn’t diminish on the whims of the latest trends, or wear out with age.

What you might not be aware of is the mess that was created off-camera to craft that perfect moment. A sea of tripods, cables and lighting, as well as props of all kinds usually monopolise the rest of the room. As I was browsing through my usual sources of inspiration online, I looked at the photographs used by a similar blog to this one: Minimalism Life, by The Minimalists. The articles are witty, and the headlines hook you into clicking and reading more, but the imagery has always bothered me.

The vast majority of the photographs materialise from the same place online: unsplash.com. A repository for free stock photography. The trouble is exactly that: they’re stock photographs of simple monochrome scenes and objects. They happen to employ keywords that facilitate a user looking for ‘minimalism’, but they’re not directly related to the article in any way. After all, isn’t minimalism the lack of things? How can one photograph what isn’t there? Unfortunately: Imagery is generally very important online. As I’m sure most people will agree, someone is more likely to read an article if there are pictures to go with the blocks of text. They should really be related, and ideally taken by the writer themselves, even if they aren’t as ‘picture perfect’ as those taken by professional photographers. The photograph should accentuate the meaning of the original writing. That is best done with an equally original image.

The point I’m driving at is the pursuit of perfection often distracts us from the message, and the pursuit of perfect minimalism, the kind that appears on the front of a glossy magazine, is no exception.

Labelling yourself as a minimalist and feeling pressured into measuring yourself against that label each and every day can be a source of stress. Especially if you are constantly asking yourself, “If I buy this thing, can I call myself a minimalist anymore?”

Everyone, even minimalists will have an extra slice of cake on their birthday, or make an impulse buy every once in a while. Part of the trick is not to beat yourself up over it afterwards, but rather ask what made that impulse buy so special in the first place. Life is all about balance, and the chances are if you’re using everything you buy, you’re not tripping over everything to reach the front door, and you aren’t in debt, then you’re doing just fine.

If you find yourself in the contrary position, however, perhaps you can benefit from some minimalist practices in your life. Just arm yourself with the prescience of mind that most of the minimalist images around the Internet are a fantasy scenario of perfection none of us can have.

To that end, I’m planning on creating simple sketches as a part of my morning mindfulness to go with each article from now on, unless there is a photograph that better suits. The images will always be mine, but perhaps these sketches will illustrate my state of mind on the day when I also write an entry such as this. They may not be directly related on topic, but they are directly related in as much as all the content here comes from me, and it always will.

David


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Several months ago I decided to replace my slow PC with a faster one. I went forward with the best of intentions and, for the sake of the environment, I bought the component parts of a desktop PC and assembled it myself. This was during the Coronavirus lockdown when it was difficult to get out of doors and a PC was really an essential piece of equipment for the sake of staying in touch with family and friends, as well as keeping occupied with the odd game here and there.

Fast forward to August of the same year, and I've had numerous problems with both the computer and the company that sold me the parts, which eventually culminated in my decision to buy a Chromebook and minimise my dependency on PCs in general. I hadn't originally factored the potential stress the purchase may cause because I was excited at the prospect of all the things I would be able to do with the new machine.

The point of my experience, and the reason I'm writing about it is that this has been a learning experience, though a costly one. Life is full of such pitfalls, but sometimes they can lead to radical positive changes in our lives. Naturally I will still try to get the PC fixed because I don't like the idea of wasting resources, but I will not be buying another one when it reaches end of life. I also won't be buying any further software for it in the future, saving money on 'impulse' software buys. The Chromebook is enough for my professional needs as both a photographer and writer, and much easier to replace should anything go wrong with it because it is about 8 times cheaper than the desktop PC. There are also numerous environmental benefits to owning a Chromebook which I won't get into here for the sake of brevity.

It may have cost me a lot of money over the short term to find out that I don't want a PC any longer, but at the same time it has saved both money and resources if I don't buy one again. That's 40 or so years free from the tyranny of Microsoft and Apple. Often people lament these short-term losses, forgetting they may make long-term gains. Having a Chromebook has already proven beneficial to me, and it has stopped me sitting in one place for hours at a stretch, glued to my screen. In fact I'm currently writing this entry while sat in a car, miles from home.

In conclusion, it's important to know that you needn't be afraid to make changes in your life, even if you feel people may judge you for them over the short term. Do what is right to support your long-term well-being, and even though you may feel a momentary pang of guilt for having made a mistake, you will reap the benefits in the long run.


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Writers on the Internet aren't saints. They don't start out with a picture-perfect Instagram life, but they strive to make it appear that way to sell copies of their books and gain subscribers on their Patreon accounts. Minimalism to some is a new fad, which is rife with commercial entities detracting from the essence of the message, and subverting it to sell more products. In short, commercialised minimalism is maximal-ism all dressed up. It's meant to make you feel good about yourself, and trick you into buying more, instead of buying intentionally.

This may sound sinister, but the companies don't hide the fact they want you to buy things. They also don't make it obvious that it's a clever marketing trick either. The trick that we, the consumers can employ is to keep in mind that a company is far different an entity than that of a person. A person often speaks favourably to you in order to make friends, because human beings are social creatures who feel safer in larger groups rather than by themselves. This forms a mutually beneficial partnership. A company, however, wants to make money, and speaks kindly to you to encourage you to open your wallet and spend. In the long run, a large company makes so much money that if it were a person, their wealth would be seen as decadent and distasteful, especially in this age of austerity. Remember: Companies are not your friend, and don't deserve your loyalty in the way a real person does.

This approach encourages us to think of our belongings and companies as tools and services we use in exchange for a fee. They are machines, manned and maintained by people but they aren't people themselves. We pay them, and so they are inclined to render goods and services in exchange for that payment. Perhaps we are hardwired to see a machine like a smartphone as more than the wad of cash we exchange for it, because paper can't play cat videos or order pizza. Just keep in mind that the money you're paying is valuable, finite, and universal. It can be used everywhere, unlike that phone, and it won't depreciate in value to nothing over time, just like your phone does, either. All in all, a company almost always ends up on the more profitable side of a transaction in the long run.

I'm not saying we need to do away with companies, nor am I saying people should stop buying things. mnml.news is not sensationalist, with attention-grabbing clickbait headlines. It's just important that we look into whom it is we're buying from, and their ethics, before making a purchase.

To that end, I've created what I will refer to as 'The List'. Which you can reach by clicking here.

The List is a constantly updated list of books, products and services I regularly maintain that generally run on ethical practices including psychologically uplifting texts, support the paying of fair wages, using recyclable/user-repairable materials and products, or encourage reforestation and the spread of wildlife and wildflowers. In short, if you feel you can trust me to do the digging for you, then you can be assured that you're buying something that is less damaging to society than mainstream products.

Final Note: I am not affiliated with any of the companies I recommend, and were they to approach mnml.news for a review I would be compelled to give honest feedback, regardless of if it is favourable or otherwise. Any such review would also be labelled as sponsored if they are providing the goods. – David


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Another recipe! This is simple and easy to make from home, but with a Vegan twist. This coffee-flavoured drink originated from Korea, but I've adapted it a little for Western palates. Most people will have these ingredients laying around their home, and you can obviously substitute all the vegan ingredients for dairy and make a more mainstream version.

Please note that the recipe only works with instant coffee and cannot be made with espresso. Whipping the air into the mixture to create the foam fails with anything else. Chemistry!

Ingredients

Makes one coffee

  • Half a glass of oat milk
  • One tsp instant Coffee granules (I used Carte Noir)
  • One tsp agave syrup (I used this to replace the refined cane sugar called for in the original)
  • Boiling water
  • Ice cubes (usually about 5 average-sized ones work well)

Method

Pour the oat milk into a glass, add ice cubes and set aside. Begin to heat some water and put the coffee granules and syrup into a small bowl with high sides. When the water boils, add just enough water to make the granules dissolve completely into a thick coffee and syrup mixture. Using an electric whisk or electric mixer on the lowest setting, begin to whip air into the mixture until it starts the froth, gradually increasing the speed as you go to avoid splashes. The instant coffee granules and the sugar reacting together to trap the air make this effect possible! After a minute or so, the characteristic foam will form. The foam is complete when the colour changes to a very light brown and the whisk leaves soft peaks behind. Immediately spoon the foam onto the chilled oat milk and serve.

I generally advise serving with a spoon because this drink tastes best when some of the coffee foam is mixed into the milk. Otherwise you get the not altogether unpleasant taste of coffee foam completely separate from the oat milk below it. It's an art!


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