The little woman! The clinging vine! This fragile creature!
The wind is battering at the windows. The heating is on high and the dog curled up in a ball in front of the pretend fire. Today the house is a twinkly Christmas card. Curling at the corners and ready for the recycling bin.
I am worrying about snow. People who know about my ludicrous phobia keep texting me and taunting me. It’s on it’s way they say! As if Father Christmas was on his way back and I am not suitably excited! This outrages me. It puts a stop to my gallop and as I am getting so very good at galloping again, the very last thing I need is six inches of the white stuff to stand between me and my ventures in to the wild! Or Southport. Or Manchester. Or even round the corner to the Post Office for a pint of milk!
This then is January. If you know me, you will know that I often wander about telling whoever will listen, that January is the best month because it is so very clean. A crisp, white, blank slate of a month. Dancing with possibility but so very still and contemplative at the same time. But my January this year feels a little muddy. As if I am whizzing around a hamster wheel with a duster in my hand. Too fast to swipe it through the dirt long enough to make an impression. Too giddy to much care.
There is so much yesterday here in this house. I muddle about packing it in boxes that may never be collected and shoving so much stuff in to the loft it is quite possible the ceilings will fall down on me while I sleep. What is left behind seems grubby. As if it is crying out for love again. For a lick of paint. The kiss of a paintbrush. And instead I am in the kitchen baking biscuits. In bed, in a fluster of holey, cosy, snubby blankets, laughing into my phone in the early hours. Standing shivering in the middle of a field as Alfie does laps around me. Living. Eating. Talking. So much talking! Alive again.
This then will have to be the year of the paintbrush. There is no avoiding it. Fresh paint and new carpet. An armchair for the gap. Everything I own placed high enough to avoid the clutches of this mad dog. A mirror hung back where it used to hang. The putting back of what once was. The re-establishment of my own certainty.
And in the meantime this lovely chaos. This muddy re-invention of everything I used to be. My very own dusty January…
There are two types of housewives: those who prioritise cleaning over tidying, and those that prioritise tidying over cleaning. I fall heavily in to the tidying category, mostly because the house is small enough to be almost unmanageable when you are a woman in possession of a boy, a cat, a dog and far too many books and thus I spend many a merry hour chasing my tail in a demented fashion because people and animals seem really rather determined to live in my house: a fact I consider to be tantamount to outrageous rudeness, when frankly I would prefer it if they sat and looked pretty and did not go about needing to eat, and sleep and moult and play and generally add a layer of lovely chaos to my life that I could well do without.
So yes. Pop me firmly in to the tidying category because it is turning out to be my life’s work, though not, I must confess, to the same degree that one Marie Kondo has made it her business.
Kondo is you see the author of the Japanese best-seller, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying. A tour de force in the world of literary housework and the latest spark to ignite my urge to stuff everything I own in to bin bags.
Truth be told though: I struggled with the very premise of the book, perhaps because it is culturally different to my way of life and Marie Kondo writes with all the cheerful enthusiasm for tidying up, I can’t imagine clutter-busting could ever inspire in me. I like her. A lot. But this is a woman who started tidying and organising her entire families house when she was about six, and this strikes me as neither normal, nor even really human in a child!
So yes. She had no qualms about nipping in to her sisters room and throwing her things away when she was out, nor about losing most of her childhood to organising everything her family owned, while doing her best to reduce those belongings to almost nothing. It makes for quite bizarre reading altogether. And obsessional doesn’t begin to describe a trait that eventually became her stock in trade.
Kondo’s main focus is on discarding that which does not bring you joy and I have spent an age since finishing the book, struggling whole-heartedly with this concept. You see I think there is a world of difference between joy and necessity, and Marie Kondo really doesn’t seem to hold much truck with the essential, making frequent reference to the question of joy when one is deciding whether an object should be given house room, when there are things in this life I am quite indifferent to but very much need in order to function domestically.
Furthermore her method for going about discarding everything she owns focus on what she calls “the correct order of categories”: namely clothes, books, paper and then “Komono” which pretty much amounts to almost everything else in the house. While I can get on board with this to a degree, it is in fact the Komono which causes me the most problems. Somedays I feel a bit up to my eyeballs in blooming Komono and then what’s a girl to do? She can’t very well stand everything she owns upright in a drawer the way Kondo consistently advocates now can she? No she certainly can’t. And furthermore, nor does she particularly want to utilise many a cardboard box in the way Ms Kondo so frequently recommends either: for there it is in a nutshell – Kondo cares more for organisation than she does for any degree of aesthetic pleasure and I can’t quite buy into her vision of old cereal boxes organising everything I own.
So despite my reservations, do I still recommend reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up? Abso-bloody-lutely. If only because it will inspire in you, as it has in me, a need to clear the decks of all the flotsam and jetsam we stuff so precariously into every corner of our homes. It will have you wandering the house with a bin bag in hand calling for volunteers for the skip and it will remind you that much of what you own inspires no joy at all.
And joy my darlings, should be our raison d’etre….
Tell me this, and tell me no more: what is it with men and buckets?
It is you see a truth universally acknowledged, that if you buy a bucket, a passing human of the masculine kind will do one of two things:
a) Fill it with something obnoxious
b) Make it disappear never to be seen again.
Hell yes. I do believe that somewhere out yonder there is a place men go to show off all the buckets they have snaffled off women who want to do no more than fill their lovingly chosen pail with hot soapy water and a squirt of something pine-scented. Men love buckets: a fact not often discussed in polite society.
And so my lovelies in an unprecedented act of independence I have bought another bucket (and a very tasteful bucket it is too) and I intend to guard it with all the screechy lunacy I usually reserve for those who help themselves to MY violet cremes.
Be warned men in the vicinity: I take no prisoners.
I have said before, that to me, my relationship with this one hundred and sixty year old cottage is akin to a marriage. A marriage of two highly compatible souls that just like any other relationship, ebbs and flows but is retained by an intimate bond forged throughout the years.
In this house there are memories on every surface. In the skirting boards chipped by Finley’s scooter. In all the furniture Mark built from nothing, the kitchen Richard brought to life. There is where I brought my new born baby home and the place where I sobbed when life fell apart. There’s the bathroom floor I slipped and fell on, bashing my face and knocking myself unconscious (ouch!), the garden in which I have grown tomatoes, strawberries and a soul. Look there, behind the bannister and you will see a tiny slither of the frightening green and gold flocked landing wallpaper I chose when I was pregnant. In the bathroom a collection of floral paintings I have hunted in car boot sales across the land and on close inspection, the track of little feline paws that trotted across the painted floor too soon.
I know this house. I know who lived in it before I did, and the purpose it served before it was purely the dwelling place of those lucky enough to occupy it. I sometimes dream of those who must have queued up at the door to buy bread or other daily necessities. Each and every day I walk across the original wide planks on the dining room floor, tracing the route all those who live as ghosts here, used to tread. I know how it creaks at night. The gap between the roof tiles no-one seems able to fix. The trace of green paint the last occupant covered the house in. I know this house and it knows me.
And yet and yet and yet. There are periods of time in which we lose each other, this house and I. When the intimate secrets we share seem lost under clutter and the debris of a busy life. This always happens in Summer.
It happens when I am trying too hard to balance work with the demands and needs of a ten year old boy.
It happens when the air is stifling and the house is oppressed by windows that cannot be opened too wide in case our silly cat jumps out and decided to play chicken in the lane.
It happens and each and every time I resent it. I blame the house. I call it names. I declare living in such a tiny space is unmanageable. That a new house wouldn’t be so darn dusty. That I want to leave it, to call the divorce lawyers, throw in the key and run away to a space so pure and white and fresh and new that I would not have to deal with the horrors of watching something we love try to wear the indignities of the ageing process. Would not have to deal with memories stuffed in every corner.
What we need is some alone time when there is none to be had for at least a few weeks. Time to wander around these rooms reminding myself how good it feels when this house and I are in harmony. When it is mine again. No longer the preserve of children on sleepovers, or busy, buzzy bees whizzing around my head as I try to sleep, but mine again. So I can feel it almost smiling. So that I have the time to hug the house so it will hug us back.
This then is what is wrong. Like the man who wears the same face but seems to have replaced everything else that he was, the house feels lost to me, and I need to devote myself to it again, so we can both feel at home again.
This too shall pass. It is in fact a feeling, as fleeting as a hot Summer day.
I am feeling a little frantic. Finn’s summer holidays have already begun and we have got seven and a half whole weeks to fill.
Seven and a half weeks! That’s nearly two months in which to fill my son’s days with activities that won’t melt his brain. Activities that do not include talking nonsense to friends on the X-Box of filming himself rolling over the sofa three hundred times to enchant his friends with on Snapchat.
Oh yes: while I am not adverse to a pyjama day or two each week, I draw the line at spending each and every day of the holidays with no plan at all in place and so today I have spent the afternoon creating and filling in a Summer Holiday plan in my Housekeepers Planner so the answer to that all too common question “what are we doing today” (usually shortly followed by, I don’t want to!!) can be pre-empted and both Finn and I are fully in the picture and able to take up kindly offers of playdates with friends and family when they arise.
And so my lovelies, please find my Summer Holiday planner attached and enjoy yourself planning your Summer Holidays too. Getting organised is what Sunday afternoons for don’t you know?
(P.S: I have attached the weekly activity planner pages to a clipboard and hung it in the kitchen so both Finn and I can look at the days and weeks ahead)
Today Housekeepers I have a scrumptious little puttery treat for you, just right for long, languid sunny days spent lying in the grass, or indeed keeping children busy during the holidays…
Once upon a time, we were little girls and little girls like nothing better than a sunny day spent holding a buttercup under the chin of willing family to determine whether they like butter. Now why this should be such a matter of curiousity is anyone’s guess but I bet you too remember seeing that yellow glow and feeling a teeny bit joyful don’t you? We all do… I think it is one of the tiniest pleasures of childhood we all too quickly forget in the humdrum of daily life…
So this little puttery treat is to remind you what it was to be a little girl. The simple pleasure of picking as many buttercups as you can, determining who likes butter and then using their essence to create a balm ideal for troubled skin.
Note: this recipe contains Vaseline. Which while not totally organic, it is considered to be non-carcinogenic and is therefore safe to use. If you prefer not to use petroleum jelly on your skin, you can substitute coconut oil and beeswax for it.
1 Small tub of vaseline
As many buttercup flower heads as you can find.
1. Scoop out the contents of your vaseline tub into a bain-marie
2. Add your buttercups and press into the vaseline as thoroughly as possible.
3. Simmer gently for one hour.
4. Then strain your balm through muslin and decant into a small screw-top jar.
P.S: You can also use rose petals in the same way to create a rose-scented lip-balm. Add colour by using a short length of lipstick and stirring before straining.