It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you declare your intention to be a milkman growing up, you will be packed off to naughty school faster than you can deliver a pint of semi-skimmed. Oh yes. Milkmen are naughty. Loose cannons with loose mouths and the general demeanor of “heckity pie, I’m round the bend and do not give a damn“.

The last one I employed to have bring fresh milk in lovely glass bottles daily, took the opportunity while I was paying him to reach out a hand and ask if he could touch my hair. Because apparently he just couldn’t resist. Well excuse me, but no. Touching me on my own doorstep just will not do Mr. Milkman.

So I cancelled him. And went back to many years of supermarket milk. And then we moved here and a new milkman came a knocking, a tiny cheeky little chappy in his sixties who didn’t look like he was going to be any trouble at all, and he said why yes, of course I do skimmed milk in glass bottles and and arrangement was made to have one pint delivered daily  and two at weekends and my tea tasted lovely again and I was awfully happy shuffling out to fetch the milk in my dressing gown each morning, scaring passing lorry drivers and pigeons alike, and then it all went wrong.

The milkman couldn’t hold his naughtiness in.

The other day he knocked and I answered in a floral pinny, and he took one look at me and boomed in a voice much bigger than his person, YOU LOVE THIS HOUSE DON’T YOU?

And while this struck me as a rather random statement from a stranger, I nodded and agreed that yes, I do love this house and paid him £12.50 and waited for him to stop writing whatever milkmen write in their little leather books and go away, and when he didn’t I shuffled awkwardly and fiddled about in the pocket of my apron where bizarrely I seemed to be storing a selection of conkers, and then he looked up and boomed “NOW TELL ME DO YOU RENT OR HAVE YOU BOUGHT IT?”

And I felt mildly appalled and muttered I rent it, and he shouted “BLOODY STUPID! – A WASTE OF BLOODY MONEY! I DO HOPE YOU HAVE GOT MONEY PUT AWAY. YOU HAVE GOT MONEY PUT AWAY HAVEN’T YOU?”

And for a moment I stood there debating explaining myself. The reasons why I sold my lovely little house and the thought process behind renting at this stage in my life, when it struck me that it had nothing at all to do with the little toad standing in front of me and I went to say goodbye, but sadly he wasn’t finished. No Siree! He wanted to clinch the cancellation of his service right there and then!

“WHAT DOES YOUR MAN THINK OF THIS STATE OF AFFAIRS? YOU HAVE GOT A MAN HAVEN’T YOU? YOU AREN’T ONE OF THESE BLOODY SINGLE MOTHERS ARE YOU??”

Oh my word. Tears popped in to my eyes. I considered giving his face a good shake.  And instead I said thank-you with something pretending to be a weepy kind of dignity and shut the door, determined to both spike the tyres of his noisy milk wagon and buy my milk in Tesco.

Because frankly, right now, I do believe I would have preferred it if he had asked to grope my hair.  


 

The man who lives next door to me is quite unaware of this truth, but him and I are in a fierce coughing competition and today I am winning with aplomb. Last night was peppered by his coughing: the rapid gunfire of a man seemingly chocking to death and in return, in sympathy, I responded with some rather dramatic coughing, hissing and spluttering of my own. Catching his cough through these old walls in the same manner that the mere suggestion of a yawn can have me yawning too.

Oh yes. I have caught the dreaded lurgy. And although I warned myself rather severely not to give in to that felling many a better woman than me around these parts, I, as usual, took no notice of myself and all the vitamin C and zinc in the world turned out to be no match for the Lady Flu – an ailment a man today assured me was only about 5% as terrible as the man flu. Ahem.

It has been a lovely weekend. I took my cough to the Lake District yesterday, having decided that I was made of sturdy stuff and could easily manage a walk up and around the loveliest waterfall in the land, despite the fact that there was clearly not enough air in my lungs and I looked like Mad Mary, with a huge mohair scarf wrapped around my head and deeply unsuitable boots on my feet, edging down slippy steps and stopping to choke every few minutes. Because I am not so much sturdy as nesh. And a nesh woman, climbing cliffs with the Lady Flu is a terrible combination indeed. And one that inspired much mirth among those who purport to love me I will have you know.

So this morning I woke up and knew that the lurgy had won. That hanging around a damp forest on a cold Saturday in February was a lovely but otherwise preposterous thing to do and a person will be made to pay by losing an entire day to croaking and sniffing and generally being rather dramatic, and will in her delirium do all ten of the things she usually does when illness takes hold. Namely…

  1. Try to carry on. Go a little housework crazy in an effort to prove that I will not be defeated by something as common as a cold. Splash the whole house in Thieves Oil and convince myself this alone will do the trick.
  2. Eat pineapple till it comes out of my ears. Because I once heard that pineapple will go in to battle with congestion on our behalf so I consume it by the bucket-load when I’m snuffly and I don’t know whether it works or it doesn’t but I can’t stop and risk feeling worse.
  3.  Have a little cry over something silly. While furiously sweeping the floor and sipping at a glass full of dis-solvable Vitamin C.
  4. Fall in to a flat, sweaty sleep and wake up at four o’clock in the afternoon thoroughly bewildered.
  5. Feel incapable of reading so watch something surreal instead. This time The Love Witch. For which there are no words but should you ever find yourself wanting to experience something utterly weird and true then this visually stunning, downright bizarre film is for you.
  6. Eat marshmallows and take Buttercup syrup at regular intervals. Because nothing soothes a sore, scratchy, hairy throat faster than this cosy combination from my childhood. (And I swear I have never had a throat that felt quite so hairy as I do today!)
  7. Wrap up my sore throat in a pink pashmina so old it is almost threadbare. Occasionally alternate my Lady Flu fashion choice by wrapping said pashmina turban style over my itchy ears and appalling my thirteen year old.
  8. Decide gin might be a good plan. With whisky. And brandy. In a vase.
  9. Wonder whether I will ever feel normal again. Rack my brains to remember how normal felt. Resolve to feel grateful for normal next time I notice the absence of the damn lurgy.
  10.  Change my sheets. And my pillowcases. Twice in a day. In case they are riddled with Lady Flu and I keep on re-infecting myself. Feel fully aware of how ludicrous I am being.

It’s such terribly hard work being a person isn’t it? 

Night night Darlings. I am heading to bed to compete with the man next door. It is entirely possible we might just get a bit of sleep in before the dawn chorus of coughing begins all over again.


 

Happy Saturday Honeybuns. Who fancies a teeny bit of ever so restorative retail therapy today?

I am longing for Spring and swinging a basket over my arm as I make my way in to the village, peeking at the heads of tulips, snowdrops and daffodils forcing their lovely way through the last vestiges of Winter strikes me as quite the most soothing way to celebrate this cheery little sunny morning…

Of course my village is good for little more than fresh bread, a newspaper or a roll of carpet, which is why indulging in a little hop around the internets is always just the thing when a person has a retail itch that just will not be scratched by a pint of milk…

And so, once a month I will be gathering a collection of needful things here on BrocanteHome. A fantasy shopping list of sorts, to reflect the seasons of both home and heart.

In My First Edit?

A pair of Moroccan slippers because the terracotta tiles in my kitchen are a little (a lot) chilly first thing in the morning and I am resolving here and now to always wear something pretty on my feet. Girl Boss because its time to get serious and extend my tiny little empire and I do believe Sophie Amoruso knows what she is talking about. The much heralded Blue Tansy Clarity Mask because Winter has laid a blanket of dust upon my skin and it needs banishing pronto. One perfect candle for my bedside chest now that my bedroom is almost finished. The prettiest blanket in the world for snuggles and tears. Divinely scented, deliciously old-fashioned bath salts in a glass decanter because afternoon baths are still my favorite thing in the world, second only to midnight, candlelit baths in salts blessed with abundance and intention. Two reminders…. Be Happy, Be Bright, Be You (because sometimes I shove the most authentic me under worry and anxiety) and Home Sweet Home, because above all else home matters to me. A set of rose gold stacking letter trays because I have got paperwork coming out of my ears, and a quirky lampshade for the laundry room because it so very much reminds me of being a kid in the seventies. Marvis Jasmine toothpaste because it is JASMINE and really, if we cannot elevate the mundanity of brushing our teeth, then pray tell what is the point of this life?? Oh and I am obsessed by my teeth. OBSESSED I tell you. Obsessed! Finally, the perfect hemp shopping basket for wandering up to the village, a pretty something for around my neck,  a pretty something else for displaying my little collection of vintage perfume bottles (currently living in the loft!) and a pair of fancy embroidery scissors, not because I have ever really embroidered anything in my entire life, but simply because sometimes a person gets to needing something she doesn’t need at all…

Enjoy the rest of February won’t you?

Alison May

 

I ran away. I packed my little red going away bag, tucked my son under my arm and caught a train. Because sometimes the only place to hide is within the tight knit walls of your family. And it helped. It helped to stick me back together a bit. And to remind me of the things I love. What matters to me.  And why I have long loved nesting, creating sanctuary and pretty things…

I am home again now. Dad tucked both me and Finn under his arm and brought us home and we took Finn to Jodrell Bank and stared in awe at the big satellite thingy, and I failed completely to understand the science of it, and Dad cooked something spicy with fish and I felt safe again…

These then are scenes from my phone. Little snippets of the past few days…

This little rascal insisted on having his photo taken next to this very impressive puddle. A puddle I think you will agree, that deserves commemoration…

 

We went to Sunbury Market at Kempton Park Racecourse in search of treasure. It was a bright, sunny morning and the market was full of quirky people and wonderful somethings, and Finn declared it an “experience” and Helen stalked around with determination in her eyes and I wanted to climb on board one of the vans and dash around French Brocantes with a man in a beret forevermore.

And then it was on to Station Mill Antiques at Chipping Norton where we have a stall – to give one of the two Sylvia Warman busts we had acquired pride of place…

Before going back to Helen’s lovely house so that I could have cuddles with these two… (Look! That’s my Alfie asleep there… oh how I miss him.).

I feel restored. Better. Awake. I even slept almost through the entire night last night! So never again will I underestimate the healing powers of family and antiques.

All is well and all shall be well and all shall be well…


 

I am struggling right now. My world seems noisy to me and I keep finding myself sitting in the creamy calm of the bedroom I have spent the past three days decorating. Prettifying. Beautifying. Soothing…

Now the room is pale and calm. My Mums yellow quilt pulled over the bed and two tall narrow chests painted cream standing like sentries guarding either side of the room. I am hiding here. Retreating here when I have delivered Finley to school and closing the door on the world, to sip tea, read books, weep a little and worry. Mostly about how to mow the lawn. While it might seem impossible, I have managed to get to almost forty-five without ever using a lawnmower. I feel rather stressed about the possibility of mowing the wire and electrocuting myself to a frazzle!

In times like this I have to resist temptation to re-invent my own wheel. To lay the blame for all manner of unrelated emotional muddle upon Brocantehome. (How odd that something I so adore should become my virtual punchbag). Blogging has seen me through so very much. Break ups and break downs. Death, drama and house moves. Above all it has been here to help me see the beautiful ordinary. To document my days and to remind me what matters. I love it. Even after thirteen years online, turning up here daily sometimes just to look at it, I love it. But at times like this, when my head feels loud, I almost hate it. Blogging you see is the most demanding of Mistresses. And as the years have gone by, it has become screechy, and complicated. Not what it was. Partly because of the nature of this ever-changing beast and partly because in my own madness, in times when life has felt secure – I have had enough energy to complicate it in a way I can barely manage when my world belly flops as it has right now. A fact I am utterly mortified about writing down but have no choice if I am to remain committed to telling the truth here.

Look in to the business of blogging these days and you will find an endless litany of advice about landing pages and email lists, analytics and affiliate programs. While bogged down in this endless mire it struck me that as bloggers we are no longer required to write, but to market. To be marketers. But do forgive my titty lip won’t you, but I don’t want to market. I want to write. I have never wanted to do anything other than write. Because I’m no good at selling. It embarrases me and from the moment I started selling furniture when I was nineteen, to now when I have to sell here to keep a roof over our heads, I still want to die the moment I actually have to say please buy this

A few weeks ago in The Living Room I asked my lovely community what they would prefer… for me to continue working on The Salon and The Living Room or for me to go back to blogging daily and release all my work on Kindle? An overwhelming majority said blog please. Write daily. Share pretty things. Let your work live in our Kindles. Stop sending yourself around the bend!  What little business acumen I have says that I have to listen to the majority and more than that, the part of me that IS going around the bend says the time is right to scale back all over again. That there is no shame in saying this didn’t work or that needs fixing and to simply go ahead and fix it.

Fixing things is my forte. I can fix dinners. Fix rooms. And fix technical problems. I can’t fix people, try as I might (and I do believe I am going to stop trying altogether), but I can fix myself. For myself. Can’t I? Last night on Twitter, a friend of mine, a Doctor, responded to one of my housekeeping tweets with the words, what about self? #selfcare and when I said I wasn’t sure I could manage self-care right now, he said peek in to it, try it out, see what happens… 

Peek in to it.

Peeking doesn’t sound scary does it? Peeking sounds like something I could do. Not going gung-ho as I am so very prone, but dipping my toes in. Testing the water. Giving up trying to please and experimenting with pleasing myself, Writing again. Looking after myself first. Avoiding muddle. Angst. And drama. And seeking peace and truth.

Yes. A spoonful of my own medicine. Just what the doctor ordered.


 

A dreek day. Green tea with jasmine inspired by my Dad. Making a list of what must be done in my fancy-schmancy LEUCHTTURM1917 copper foiled notebook. Watching the wind bash the conservatory doors to and fro.  

Today I am lining the drawers of my new/old walnut dressing table with floral paper fragranced with roses and hanging scented sachets among the clothes hanging in the his and hers matching wardrobes we fight to open with little brass keys. I have bedroom furniture! Clunky, brown and deliciously old-fashioned – just right for this high-ceiling room with its cast iron fireplace and picture rails.

Soon I will paint away the red beneath the chair rail with something creamy so the room will no longer be grounded but will become something more akin to that I consider floaty sanctuary. A light space broody with shadows and the sprinkle of the pattern the doilly dotted lampshade throws on to my ceiling. Crystal decanters gathered on the dressing table. A pot of English Ivy wandering around the mirror. For whimsy and better air quality in this sacred space. A Jo Malone candle still in its box – a blessing for when the room is finally finished.

I am, as always, cold, I have forgotten to take my tablets. My head full of the boy who lived just up the hill from here and who at only a year older than Finn, burned to death in a barn on Sunday. Sometimes news stories creep under my skin and mercilessly scratch at my veins. Sometimes I am every child’s Mother and endure the horror of losing them even when they are not mine to mourn. For me it is always a symptom of my own melancholy. A warning sign that perhaps a return to anti-depressants might be key to thriving again. Sometimes we forget how to love ourselves don’t we? Sometimes with all the will in the world we fail to cope.

Now I am getting in to the car to escape these four walls. A trip to the nursery for the beginnings of my garden. A detour to my favorite fishmonger for Morecambe shrimp for tonight’s Jambalaya. Perhaps a coffee sipped alone. Or a wander round the library in search of a book that might dig through this relentless anxiety.

My hair is too dark this time. My ever-complimentary son tells me it looks like a helmet. Like a Lego-Ladies wig. Did I tell you how much I love him? How I have watched him playing with my sister’s little boy over the past few days, astonished at how gentle he is? How instinctively nurturing? He is all of these things and abundant with the kind of compliments that spike my silly heart, quickly followed by a wonderful, patronising kiss. How then do they grow up? How do the roles reverse? How is it that I find myself only an inch taller than him and wondering how one Mothers a little person suddenly bigger than oneself?

Oh and did I tell you that there is a line of daffodils poking there heads up along the front wall of the house? One of the kind of gifts a new home keeps a secret until the time is right. Daffodils for my Mum. A house filled with them, carried in by my sister to stand nodding their happy little heads as I fill the sink to wash yet more dishes. Beaming at me from the breakfast table in the faraway room.

Dishes, daffodils and shrimp. Lego hair and English Ivy. This then is my today. 


 

You are not failing. You are not hopeless. You are not broken. You are not rubbish.

If you are anything like me then thoughts like these revolve around your head every day. They scratch at your eyes in the middle of the night so you have to open them and stare all over again at the lies you are perpetuating because these are the things you feel.  But feelings aren’t real. Feelings are not facts. All too often feelings are nonsense.

I know that you have long read that you must learn to trust your feelings. I also know that you have been taught to listen to that oh so feminine of traits – the instinct – so you already know instinct is quite separate to feeling. Feelings live in your head while instinct is a whole body possession. The goose-pimples on your arm. The stone inside your stomach. Instinct can be trusted because it pushes feelings aside and forces you to acknowledge truth so we ignore it at our peril.

But not so with feelings. Feelings are born from thoughts and thoughts are nothing more than a litany of mindless words formed in your head when you have quite forgotten how to look for your own truth. And heckity-pie aren’t we just abundant with thoughts and feelings these days, for wouldn’t the internet and the TV and the media and the lies we tell each other be enough to send us all insane?

Modern life means that at every second of every day we are confronted by perfection. Or perceived perfection. We read a blog and decide she who wrote it is perfection. That she follows every last piece of her own advice to the letter and always looks like she has fallen out of the pages of a magazine. But neither the written word nor a picture frozen in time can tell the whole truth. We do not know her: only the manicured version of her life she is willing to share. For she, like you, like me, feels shame about the gaps inside her head: the places where she doesn’t feel whole, lets people down, gets screechy and eats pot noodles when she is supposed to be eating kale.

We have to stop comparing ourselves to half-truths. We have to remember that even those we consider our closest friends do not always share their truth. That the woman we admire from afar may be living through her own particular type of hell and that glossy hairdo is merely her only means of controlling a life spiraling out of control.

We also have to stop pretending. For there is no glory in hiding our experience. No reward for stoicism. None at all. It merely further enables our misery. Perpetuates the myth that telling the truth about our lives would be letting the side down, when actually telling the truth in a safe space is the sigh of relief that gives other women – our sisters, our friends, the woman in the library, the blog reader – permission to live out loud too.

Once in the supermarket, the lady at the till served me with tears in her eyes. And I was looking at her and she was looking back at me and in the end I couldn’t bear it and I asked her what was wrong. She told me that her best friend was in hospital dying of a brain tumor that very day, and I, deep within my own grief, only two weeks after Mum had died,  told her that I was not coping either and there we were: holding hands at the till. Ignoring the queue of horrified Middle-Englanders. Acknowledging another woman’s pain and feeling better for it and then carrying on with our lives because there was no other choice.

We have to learn to ask.  To stop being polite. We have to look in to he eyes of both those we love and those we do not know from Adam and dare them to tell us the truth. Women are so very good at faking a life. So ludicrously wonderful at having ha ha ha isn’t he funny conversations when HE is breaking her heart at every turn. And more than that the comparison has to stop for it is that which inspires the kind of devastatingly low self-esteem that tells us at every turn that we are not worthy.

This then is what I want you to know: we are who we are in this moment. Doing our best in these circumstances. So very few of us are wicked. Or stupid. Or both. Some of us are dealing with the unimaginable. Some of us are barely coping. Some of us lie next to men who have long left the relationships. Others walking around with a pain in their chest that terrifies them the moment they have a second to think about it. That woman there? She has a Mother who will, even now, not let her breathe. And that one over there? She is in the midst of an affair (of the kind that is going nowhere) that makes her feel at once alive and so very, very dead. Your best friend may never step in to the shower because she cannot bear her body, or may always insist on visiting you because her house is falling down around her and she is too tired to deal with it.

The trials and tribulations of modern life are not to be underestimated. Social media is turning our children in to heartbreaking monsters and we cannot prevent it. Men are suffering the kind of mid-life crisis’s that make no sense but destroy our families anyway. Our parents are ageing before our eyes. We are less beautiful than we were yesterday in a world that insists beauty is the only currency worth having. We eat too much. Alcoholism is rife among women of a certain age and the frittering of money on tiny bits of nonsense prevalent and threatening to our own financial security.

Life is horribly hard. And despite all the images we are bombarded with it is hard for everyone and we are all making it up as we go along. Today then I want you to know that you aren’t rubbish. Or broken. You are surviving in difficult times, challenged by the need to live up to the standards you imagine the rest of the world is living up to.

So do your best and do no more. Be a woman less ordinary at every turn. Ask questions and find comfort in other peoples truth. Acknowledge your shame. Write it on a piece of paper and give it form so that it is no longer something fleeting but something concrete you can put in to the bin. Give up being so hard on yourself. Carry on muddling through. Stop listening to that voice in your head. Let other women help you. Don’t contribute to the myth of perfection. Don’t add to that noise. Stop standing still. Do little things. Big things. Things that scare you. Don’t wallow. Don’t stall. Seek help. Stop allowing the mutterings of teenagers to sting you when they know not what they say. Find your tribe, a community, a book-club where truth is poured like so much wine. Don’t take the kind of calls you know will cloud your day. Don’t allow the child to crawl all over you when you long for just a moment when your body belongs to you and you alone. Be your own bodyguard. Say no. Calmly but quietly. Have conversations that hurt. Stop comparing yourself to anyone at all. Tell yourself you are doing your best every time you pass a mirror. Out loud. In fact screech it whenever you find yourself alone. Screech it because you can and because screeching feels good and telling the truth feels astonishing and mess doesn’t matter and your children probably wont grow up completely horrible and you are OK.

Right now, in this moment you are OK so tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and pop your feelings on a bonfire. 


I do know it isn’t Christmas anymore. Honestly I do.

But one afternoon just before Christmas I found myself with an hour to spare and a box of truffles. And a quick shufty around Amazon turned up the most wonderful little literary treat and it started off a little peculiar and turned out to be about housekeeping (because sometimes the universe likes to send me the loveliest of unexpected surprises) and the joy of being alive. Which frankly are one and the same thing really.

I forgot to tell you because I am rather hopeless blogger but I’m telling you now so all is well and good and thus I will re-iterate: I know it isn’t Christmas, but do download A Faraway Smell of Lemon anyway won’t you and decide to take it to bed with a cup of hot chocolate made the Napoleon way, this evening? It costs less than a pound or a dollar and it is really rather scrumptious.

Get it on Amazon.Com here and Amazon.Co.Uk here. You are welcome.x