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.
Who doesn’t want a little pretty on their wrist? I know for sure that I do. And though I rely almost completely on my mobile phone for telling the time, I do love to see those who remain so very dedicated to their wrist watch and wish rather heartily to be in their gang. Wrist watch wearers have always struck me as such sensible people. The sort who probably haven’t tucked their phone into their bra, in case, heaven forbid, they should find themselves less than inches away from their technological lifeline.
I live in hope you see, of turning sensible. Though it seems unlikely at the grand old age of 44 that sensibility will settle on my shoulders I do believe it is important to keep on believing that even the most ludicrous of notions are still possible even when there are hairs growing out of your chin.
So you see now that I have happened across a range of Cath Kidston watches on Very.Co.Uk hope is springing eternal. For there’s a watch or two I might just want to strap to wrist. One I might remember to wear in the same way I remember to wear my Fitbit. One that strikes me as strapping a little happy to my arm. I do so like to add a little happy to my black uniform. A pretty scarf. A pair of earrings tinkling when I turn my head. A vintage brooch to catch the eye…
So umm, yes. Cath Kidston does pretty watches. And I am never, ever going to be sensible. Not even when I grow up.
Yesterday in my Facebook group, one of my lovely Living Roomers posted her “Honesty Injection” and it was a little bit of true wonderful. And so today in the spirit of Kathryn, I hereby present the first in a new series of “Honesty Injections” because I want you to know that my life is just like yours – in all it’s messy, crazy, sometimes ugly glory…
The day begins not with birdsong but with high winds whistling down the chimney and screeching a not so merry tune in the Victorian fireplace in my bedroom. A room with temporary wibbly-wobbly grey fabric wardrobes and seven boxes of overflowing nonsense scattered about in lieu of the furniture I cannot yet decide upon.
I can’t bring myself to start the day. Three days in to the new term and there is already an element of the groundhog that I can barely tolerate. Downstairs Ste will be mutely making porridge for himself, for life takes most of the day to warm up his voice box, while in the far room down the landing stairs, Finn will be unconscious under a tangle of the duvets, quilts and pillows he insists on pinning himself asleep with, and will when I open the door to kiss him awake, point blank refuse to get out of bed, insisting that he needs five more minutes of the kind that will no doubt turn in to forty five.
I know how he feels, so for the moment I lie listening to the trundle of lorry’s heading towards the motorway on this oh so busy road. When I get out of bed I will have to hunch as I try to get dressed as the blinds I have not yet replaced on the two little windows in this room do not quite reach the windowsill and passers by must so very often be treated to a flash of my chubby thighs. For a reason I cannot fathom I have thrown my all in to getting all the other rooms liveable in this house but have in my wisdom chosen to ignore the very room that could set body and soul at peace.
In the bathroom I huff to myself as I straighten the towels scrunched over the rail and put the toothpaste my family cannot lift off the sink back in to the cabinet. I brush my teeth, worry about my gums and go to wake Finn up. He is, as predicted, flat out asleep, though his room is now always tidy (his need to control his own space I think spinning from the chaos inside his head as he learns to navigates his Sensory Processing Disorder), he is himself a beautiful, rather stinky muddle of ruffled hair and acknowledges me with a teenage grunt as I sing Good Morning and switch on the fairy lights draped across his desk to help him blink his grumpy eyes awake.
Out on the lane, my neighbor’s recycling bin has blown on to the road and spilled McDonald’s wrappers, pizza boxes and wine bottles all over the road, my path and his. Cars are screeching to a halt in front of it and in the end Ste goes out in his pajamas to right it. In the kitchen I wash dishes we left last night after a late supper and feel a bit sick to the stomach when I realize that yet again there is no milk. While having a milkman delivering milk in lovely glass bottles is all fine and dandy, if he doesn’t deliver it until after breakfast it rather defeats the object. I make a cafetiere of black coffee and feel like smacking someone. Mostly because in the night the fence panels the builders have left in the garden have blown everywhere and at any moment the wind could topple the huge metal gates they have propped against the gate and bring the conservatory crashing down upon our heads.
In between filling lunchboxes and setting the domestic machinery ago-go with today’s laundry, I run in and out of the kitchen to the hallway to screech at Finley to get out of bed. Though I would prefer music in the mornings, in the living room, BBC breakfast is starting my day with a litany of misery I deeply resent. Ste is still quiet until outside there is the smash of glass. For the milkman has delivered the milk, plonked it down in front of the step and the darling little postman has knocked it over so that there is glass and milk all over the path. I rush out and refuse his offer of money to fix it, get a dustpan and brush, and have Ste crawl on his hands and knees under the car to fetch half the bottle so I do not run over it and burst my tyres on the way to school.
I refuse Ste’s offer of a sunshine smoothie and a slice of wholemeal because with five minutes to spare Finley has just arrived downstairs with perfectly coiffed hair and a pair of Harley Quinn socks that are definitely not school uniform. I decide that if he wants to get in to trouble at school it is up to him, for I am learning to pick my battles with my new teenager and I know that his teachers disapproval is more effective than mine when he can so very easily charm me with the kind of kiss he presses on my head with the words “little Mummy” though I have never been little in my life.
He ignores the beautifully laid out breakfast table (one wonders why one bothers!), gulps down tea and then I rush him to school for he will not walk since he was run over, with the car screeching all the way as the fan-belt is on its way out. At home I close the door behind me and breathe a sigh of relief that the morning is over and the house is my own long enough to add another three thousand things to my list of things I must do before life will feel perfect. Perfect is something of an ogre. A constant mither on my mind.
In the little laundry room I peel off the mouldy spores growing on the sky blue chipped paint and take a soggy cucumber out of the spare fridge I keep forgetting I own. The door to the outdoor loo has been flung open and the room is full of leaves but I can’t bring myself to go out and fix it because it smells of the many builders who have used it and I am convinced a family of rats live in there though I am assured this is deeply unlikely and I am preposterous.
While I know it would take only moments to scooch around with the steam cleaner to remove the faint prints left by those who will insist on wearing shoes in the house I decide instead to ignore that and the many hand prints on the conservatory doors and opt instead for a cup of mint tea and ten minutes being a bad housekeeper and playing Sim City when I could be improving my life…
And now I am here. In bed. With yet another cup of tea and the mustard yellow floral quilt pulled up high though I am fully dressed in my usual uniform of black. I am cold and I feel weary. But despite the fact that Ste has laid out a rather bizarre arrangement of Nivea products on the top of the little junk shop drawers currently living in the corner of the room as if he was setting up shop himself, I am comfortable here away from the stares of passers by, and from my own need to keep a watch out for those who seem to live by the clock on this lane and do exactly the same things at exactly the same time each day as if I have found myself living in The Truman Show…
I am longing for Summer but while it is blowing a hooley outside I will work here. My laptop propped upon a cushion and my head full of ideas. Later I will prepare a plate of sliced roast beef and my beloved pickled onions and though I know the very thought of pickled onions in bed is outrageous I will bring them back up here regardless.
This then is my reality and I do not mind it at all.
What if today was the day you decide to do as much as you can manage? No more, and here’s the rub, no less.
If you are anything like me (please say you are like me – I feel better in a crowd) then this business of housekeeping is a fluctuating matter. One day full throttle. The next nothing at all. And equipping yourself with all the fancy scrubbing brushes and ecologically sound cleaning fluids you can find just doesn’t make a jot of difference to what comes to pass on any given day. Rather it seems to be a matter of the very careful weighing up of hormones, energy levels, mood, kids, and reason to be interested.
Oh yes, let no man or women assert that we are all in the mood for disinfecting the u-bend at any given hour of the day. In fact should this be true then I must insist you find a hobby. Housework exists to support our way of life – not to be our way of life and the minute it becomes obsessive, is the very minute I suggest you have a lie down with a flannel soaked in hot water and rosemary oil so you can take a thorough squint inside your empty soul.
Ahem. I’m clearly feeling feisty today.
Anyway my point is this: housework has to be done. Surfaces have to be lickably clean. It is awfully nice to have fresh sheets and so much easier if the children aren’t careering around the house naked in search of clean underwear. We have to do it and we do it because unlike some of those we live with, we have a certain amount of home-related pride and we feel better when life is primped and preened.
But some days housework is hard. Some days tipping milk in to our tea seems like an effort so chances are such days are not those we are likely to find ourselves dragging a step-ladder upstairs and tackling the dust bunnies in the eaves. And it on those days I am urging a new “as much as we can manage” attitude to keeping the house spick and span. Even if that means hoovering the living room with your bottom parked firmly on the sofa. Or swiping the shower screen with a squeegee just before you step out to get dry enough to go and swoon in dramatic, melancholic style on the chaise lounge.
If however, doing what we can on the days we don’t feel like is important, then so too is doing as much as we can manage on the days when our hormonal stars are a-lining. The days we feel so fully alive we rather fancy hopping around the shops and buying lots of things we don’t need and dragging the dog around the woods, and meeting everyone we know for coffee and generally wasting entire days busy doing nothing when we could be channeling our energy in to scrubbing, sorting, getting wildly KonMari about the insides of our cupboards or getting ahead on a decorating project.
Oh yes: those days when we have got energy and determination beaming out of the top of our head are just right for really throwing ourselves in to the domestic melee and getting a grip on it, so on the days when we are wearing fat pants, eating chocolate for breakfast and feeling more than ready to launch the next cheeky chappie who tells us to smile, we can feel more than OK about skulking in our bedrooms and losing ourselves in our much loved stack of Georgette Heyer paperbacks with a truffle stolen from our comfort drawer and earplugs jammed firmly in our ears.
This then is doing “as much as we can manage” and it requires us to be totally honest about how we are feeling: to tune in to both our body and mind, assess what we are capable of and act accordingly. You see if BrocanteHome is about anything it is about extreme self-care and we practice that both when we are gentle with ourselves AND when we are disciplined enough to do what we are more than capable of doing.
What can you manage today?