The English summer
It is August. In England. It is raining and cold enough for the central heating to have kicked in.
This time last year I was in Melbourne, their winter, weather about the same. But that was Melbourne and that makes everything better.
I am house sitting and dog sitting in the countryside in the UK. There are similarities between the last two years house and dog sitting in Melbourne and this house and dog sit. The dogs are delighted to have company, love cuddles and a lot of fuss, and while they can be left for a few hours (which is rarely), greet us like long lost friends on our return.
The Melbourne houses were beautiful, in lovely suburbs. The house in England is luxurious, very quiet, and comfortable. There is a cleaner, a handy man and a gardener. And yet – I would rather be in Melbourne.
I miss the rattle of the tram at the end of the street. I miss the Greek food. I miss Melbourne.
Melbourne versus the Worcestershire Countryside
I miss the coffee, the burgers, the graffiti and going for brunch and knowing that the eggs will always be perfectly poached and the coffee good. Don’t waste your breath and tell me that poached eggs, barista made coffee and smashed avo are increasingly available in England. Tell me, can you ever add the prefix ‘good’ in front of these menu items in England? Quite frankly, all a bit hit and miss and frequently a disappointment. In so much now that I have but all but given up on brunch in England and opt for a bacon sarnie and a cup of tea instead. That we, us Brits, can do.
Take for example the ‘barista made coffee’. Somewhere along the line cafes in the UK have started buying in expensive coffee machines – in the mistaken belief that they by owning one they can miraculously make good coffee.
The same cafes have added poached eggs to the menu while having no idea how to cook them and smother them with shop bought hollandaise to disguise the poorly poached egg. A £1000 coffee machine does not make the operator a barista. It is a practiced skill. And yes I like pretty pictures on my coffee. I do.
If you can’t make good coffee or serve perfect poached eggs, don’t put them on the menu. Just don’t. And smash the avo please because sliced avo is nasty and slimy and the reason why I never ate in the UK before I became ever so slightly addicted to it in Melbourne.
I put all this whinging pom behaviour down to the summertime blues. Seriously, August, rain, confined to barracks and I am wearing a fleecy for goodness sake.
I am a city girl
Yet the countryside here is beautiful and green (the rain). There are canal walks and good pubs with excellent food. There is an Arboretum a few minutes away. Cities with cathedrals and Tudor buildings. The Commandery in Worcester is a few miles away and there are heaps of old buildings and gardens managed by The National Trust within driving distance. It is lovely here. My sleep is uninterrupted by light pollution, the traffic noise is minimal. The Severn Valley Railway is close by as is Bewdley and the River Severn. I need to get out more. And stop whinging.
Filling the time
The upside is that I am reading my fifth book – the downside is that I am isolated as it is 30 minutes brisk walk to the village that has one shop and one pub. My husband is at work four days a week so for 9 hours a day it is me, the dogs and the 3 acres of woodland and some rabbits.
For five weeks. Week Three. I am bored now. I had great plans – one was to start running – couch to 5k – but then I had a fall and that came to a standstill. The other was to finally treating my blog seriously, move hosts, increase SEO. That did not go well. Post fall injuries make sitting at a desk for more that 30 minutes painful. I have too many photos stored that I have not edited properly. I almost threw in the towel.
And in the end I wonder if I care that much. Do I want to be that person who has adverts on her blog to make some money? I am not sure that I do.
What about the book I keep saying I will write? What about? The reality of decluttering? Will people be interested in a book to tell them that actually you can’t do it in 7 days and your house won’t be sparking joy in 5 days? No – the hoarders all want a quick fix and when it doesn’t work – whatever method they choose, Kon Mari or Peter Walsh – and they ‘fail’ they say that that method is crap and move on to the next one. Of course they do – have you seen how many self help books there are on decluttering? If they worked there would only be one book needed. Instead there are hundreds and all give conflicting advice.
Don’t follow decluttering groups on social media
I do because I thought I wanted to write the book about decluttering. Seriously the people who whine about their kids rooms and the Lego depress me. They are the people that bought all that bloody Lego. ‘My children have seven pairs of shoes and five pairs of jeans and twenty thousand t shirts’. They do? Who bought them? A mother despairs and says ‘I tell them to tidy their room’ yet they themselves don’t have the energy to do more than watch re runs of Hoarders and shop for storage containers on ebay. “Lol.” The child can’t get in the room because the Lego covers the floor.
Honestly if I write the book I will call it ‘first get off the sofa and stop whining’. Chapter One ‘turn off the TV’. Chapter 2 ‘Turn off Facebook’. Chapter 3 ‘If they can use a mobile phone they can use a washing machine’. I may have my outline now.
Some have got it tough – ill health, unemployment, family break ups – and there is great support in many of the groups. And that is good. But it is nearly all women who pick up constantly after kids and husbands and think that this is OK or whine about it. It is not OK. Which is why decluttering and the process is personal to each of us – we cannot give advice. Just do it for ourselves. Offer support and empathy but not advice. And stop buying the Lego.
The vicious cycle of depression
Hoarding is a mental health issue. Like depression you cannot snap out of it. Indeed, anxiety, depression and hoarding is often part of the same vicious cycle. But please don’t project your issues onto your kids. And quit asking how many towels a family needs, justifying why a crafter needs 7 million bales of material, and buying more plastic storage to keep the beanie babies because you know you will never make that quilt and one towel each is enough and Beanie Babies will not be your pension fund. And then I remember how many towels I had. And I still have those Nat West Piggies and ‘vintage’ teddy bears.
Diets work, people don’t
Like diets – join WW and lose 7lb in the first month or your money back. And most people do lose 7 lb then by month two or three they plateau or gain and say it’s crap. As a former helper at WW I heard all this. “I stuck to it. It doesn’t work”. In reality we all know they have a stash of chocolate in the car and choose that over a salad.
Three months later they are a stone heavier and join Slimming World and lose weight and after 6 months get disillusioned as their once size 18 body is now size 14 and they wanted to be a size 8 by now so the diet is crap and they leave. They put on weight and in 6 months are on the next fad diet.
If I wrote a diet book called ‘Losing Weight isn’t Easy’ would it sell? Because no one want the unpalatable truth that is you have to work at stuff. Paying £5 a week to be weighed won’t make you thin. Eating healthily will improve your health, exercise will make you fitter and improve your well being. You know this.
Gaining back control
When I announced my couch to 5k intentions I had a lot of support from friends and genuine sympathy when a fall the first day put me back on the bench. I also had some people say that the NHS have no business advocating a running plan and should concentrate on making people better. Going for the burn and running through the pain was the only way to gain. Not for me it isn’t. I know my body best.
And as I decided to do this to get some control in my life as other aspects seemed to be out of control and some people offered support there while others told me I had made a big fat mess. Yes a big fat mess of my blog, my attempts to run and therefore everything in my life right now that keep me sane, the temptation to crawl into a hole and hibernate in this autumnal summer was overwhelming.
Instead I read
Bloody good short stories in The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon. Writing that makes you wonder where they find the words. Writing that make me think I can never be a writer if I can’t write like this. I read some not so good books, with the over and unnecessary use of the words really and literally. When did everything have to be really amazing or literally the best thing ever?
Writers like Mark Haddon and Bill Bryson make me feel it is not worth my time picking up a pen and writing ever again. Then I read a poorly concocted tale that gathers four 60 something women in a villa in Italy. Five hundred words about forgetting a passport that add nothing to the plot, a dig at Investment Bankers and a millionaire property developer. Add to the mix a stereotypical young Italian gardener, a husband bonking the intern from Essex and an English bounder art stealing hotelier and some lemons. And I think, yeah, I can can write.
Be the Change
To get something done, to make a change to your life you have to make a change in how you live. Losing weight isn’t difficult. I have done it before, half a dozen times. What is difficult is committing to the things you need to do to lose weight. And you know you did not put on those pounds overnight so why do you think a diet that promises losing a dress size in a week will work?
I spent my teenage years (skinny teenage years) watching my mom on one diet after another, putting vile artificial sweeteners in her tea, PLJ in her hot water then eating a whole loaf of bread, butter and cheese in one sitting. Or going to the carvery and having all of the meat, three types of potato, followed up with a Black Forest Gateaux.
At 15 I was adding sweeteners to my tea, eating baked beans out of a tin (the baked bean diet was a thing) as I thought I was fat. I wasn’t. I was 8 stone (51kg). It was just that did not fit into clothes made for the typical English figure with curves. Only mens trousers fitted me. Thank goodness for Levis.
At 18 I lived on cottage cheese and bran flakes. I was a student and still a beanpole. I cycled or walked everywhere which offset the beer.
At age 25 at full term with my first born I was 61 kg. I was not fat. I got fat. Only I have the tools to reverse this. No one else.
So where did all the stuff come from?
In my teenage years and life as a student I could pack up my belongings in a couple of bags. I did use a van to move to London – I had a moped by then, a few more books and possibly two pairs of shoes. How did I go from this to a 6 bed house full of stuff? Because those magazines sold me a lifestyle of swags and Roman Blinds and shabby chic and collectables. Like weight, clutter is not something you acquire in a week. It takes years to acquire it so you are not going to lose it in a week. The link between excess stuff and excess weight is there to see for all – almost everyone is hoarding clothes three sizes too small for them. Wish clothes. That mock us all.
Magazines perpetuate the myth of perfection
If you hoard magazines, go look at them now. If you don’t have a backlog to 1985, leaf through them at the newsagents or supermarket. A good 50% of the content will be advertising. You are paying £5 to read adverts.
Every spring there will be a ‘spring clean’ article. Early summer the ‘bikini diet’ – interspersed with chocolate feasts for Easter and the best ever Christmas by Nigella/Delia/Jamie. Next month will the January money makeover. You are broke, of course, because you were told by the same magazine the best gifts to buy for Christmas that cost a fortune and no one needs. Made to feel guilty by a helpful account on why experiences count for more than stuff. The February edition will be the pre spring clean decluttering advice. It will delight in telling you it is ok to donate that expensive unwanted gift. The one you were told to buy for the man in your life.
Sell the family silver as your family won’t want it will appear after last months article on why using the silver for the best table decorations will make your Christmas party sparkle. The digital detox guide will be on the same page as the must have gadgets for this year. Frugal food articles fight for space with sumptuous feasts with impossible to source ingredients.
No wonder we are all confused.
I need a flat white.