posted on: Friday, 28 August 2015

When my husband and I were first together, I moved in to his one bedroomed flat. The whole place was so little that I could pace the entire length of it in a handful of steps. I loved it. It was my first chance to play house; fresh out of university, I used to arrange furniture and plant bedding plants in the garden and generally pretend I was a homemaker. With an ironic smile. In those days, we shopped for food together, planned meals and managed the budget, eating out only occasionally. We had friends round for elaborate dinner parties and used hand-me-down china and borrowed chairs. This pre-dated Ikea, after all. Then, as our careers changed and we could take on more, we predictably traded up. When we married we bought a Victorian town house and so it went on; I've written about it more fully here.

As time went on we set about accumulating more and more stuff, until after two children and over ten years together we bought what was meant to be our dream 'forever' house. An old farmhouse that became the love of our lives and the bane of our lives. I've written about it many times, for example here. At time of writing, that house is in the middle of major building work. Last year there was a nine month stretch which generated more issues than I thought possible. Old houses have secrets. Oil leaks and delays, boring tanks and pipes, not much to get excited about. Now - this stage - we assured ourselves we were i) in the home stretch and ii) doing the fun part. Last year was all about utilities and services; this year it's about knocking walls down and actually realising the dream that my husband has been cultivating, with an architect, for years. It definitely his baby. I am the stylist, which is why I haunt Pinterest like a lost ghost, looking for the perfect kitchen that captures both function and charm.

But we can't live there right now, even though I tried to create a makeshift kitchen and strictly speaking, it is possible to bypass the worst of the building site. As the house used to be two houses, we have two staircases, so there is an 'up and over' option. It makes for a high step count. I ask myself daily whether we should have just knocked it down and started again. It would have been easier and cheaper. Old houses have secrets. I couldn't bear to do it.

With a smattering of First World problems; we are camping out somewhere else, furtively returning to the house each day to check progress and collect an ever-growing pile of things that we 'need'. In actual fact I am staggered by how much we supposedly need and how many items we are now schlepping across town. All of that stuff that we were so encumbered by - I am one of the millions who have bought 'The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up' - is missing. The message in that book is that (in a nutshell) you should not keep anything that does not make your heart sing. Well, my ten year son's old rugby boots don't make my heart sing, but they are necessary. I am not sure the magic of tidying up fully extends to family life. Especially the kind of established family life we live. We are years in, well past the days of plastic crockery and cutlery, now into the teenage maelstrom of personalised phone chargers (who stole mine?), hockey sticks and padded bras. Why do they make bras that are so padded?! Seriously, these things could stand up on their own. I digress...

In those heady days of our early coupledom, we needed very little. Now, we need a whole lot more. I find this somewhat depressing; I have become the woman who yearns for simplicity. I see young newly weds and want to whisper in their ear: 'stop buying stuff; travel instead!' There is no doubt that holidays have brought us more joy than stuff, any day. Even after having children.

And so what to conclude? I need to declutter my house before we move back into it. We have evolved in to a high maintenance family and I am not sure I am proud of that. Modern life bites again! Less is more. And is it the dream house? The forever house? Not sure. When you have seen a house this undressed, it changes your relationship with it. It tests whether it's really love, or just infatuation! That house; it's no cheap thrill. It's a long term deep commitment that is presently costing us lots of time, money and stress. But one day...one day...it will all be done!

Summer's lease...

posted on: Thursday, 27 August 2015

I see people around town; mothers from school whom I haven't set eyes on since we broke up and they say they've had 'the most amazing summer.' My mind whirls back, trying to place the most amazing summer I have had. I struggle. Summers have been pretty good on occasion, but rarely do I use a word like 'amazing' to describe an entire season. I respond; 'it's been a funny old summer.' That's as close to the truth as I can get. Emergency dental surgery, one holiday laced with noro-virus, house move upon house move, more close-quartered family time than we know what to do with. Various logistical challenges. An impending sense of anxiety as September looms with my new life direction - a Masters degree. Not enough writing. A teenager and a ten year old. And did I mention the house moves?!

We left for Jersey in July, returned to a summer rental in a waterside village. We then moved home to our beleaguered house for a few nights whilst my husband criss-crossed the globe to do a three day trip to Hawaii (yea, really). We swiftly realised our house was indeed uninhabitable. There's nothing like lying in bed and imagining an abyss of dark, damp rubble beneath you (spider-infested). We went to Portugal to escape, to the place where we often spend our summer holidays, for nearly three weeks. 

Now I type this, we are 'home' but sitting in another rental, this time in another outlying village, not waterside but inland. There is still a week before school starts, not that I am counting. I think it's been the longest hiatus in my blogging career that has spanned over five years. Absence makes the heart grow stronger? Or indeed my small legion of readers might have simply given up and gone home.

So Portugal was an interesting experiment. Having been so many times before, we were forced to look at it with new eyes and try different activities to keep us entertained.  My daughter took a friend for some of it and my Mum joined us too. The weather was characteristically lovely and hot; unlike England which has been shrouded in rain and cloud all summer. A major topic of conversation amongst all inhabitants. 

I injured my wrist sea kayaking. I read 'The Narrow Road to the Deep North'. I felt awe at the power of words. My biggest daily decision was which bikini to wear. My husband and I endlessly discussed tiles and wall colours (white) for the house that is not yet built. My hair went crazy-blonde. We got the train to Lisbon and spent a day or two. We missed the puppy (who remains very confused due to multiple changes of location). We had deep family discussions about all sorts of random matters. We dissected what makes the perfect holiday. We reminisced and laughed and ate lots of grilled fish. We fought about the usual stuff; unreasonable demands and snappy moments. I considered again how parents who home-school must come from a  different planet to me. We bonded. We fell out. We laughed about it after.

And so here I am. It's nearly the end of August, the evenings are drawing in and a whole new chapter is about to start.

I've missed you. Hello.


posted on: Friday, 31 July 2015

The strange displacement of not living at home. I am finding it is one to get used to; perks and disadvantages. We are staying in the middle of a village, hemmed in by the water, where there are a number of the most beautiful houses. All week I have wondered by, peering over walled gardens, to glimpse some of the prettiest real estate in the country. So many are shut up and dark during the week, signifying that they are holiday homes or weekend bolt holes for Londoners wanting to head South. I surmise this, not really knowing, but assuming. We are living day to day, popping back to our real house which presently looks unrecognisable from certain angles. The building work continues relentlessly, which is good, as we had a pause for so long that the inactivity was making me tetchy. Now I am looking forward again, looking toward they day when I can move back into my white-washed, new place. It'll be months...

Living out of a suitcase limits what I can wear each day - at the same time liberating and frustrating. I miss the choice that my wardrobe offered. I come home and peer in it, wondering what I will need (facing the prospect of shuttling items of clothing across town) and then conclude I will make do; dress down.

A return to yoga, always always welcome. How I miss it when it doesn't feature in my life.

Reading 'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt...all 900-odd pages of it. Stunningly well written, I am only a third of the way through.

Constantly and endlessly formulating my book plot in my mind. Yet not actually writing much! Too much upheaval. Time to start in earnest...ever the procrastinator. There is a reason why not everyone writes a book; it's hard!

New silky trousers that I can ill-afford but they did just speak to me. Impulse buy.

A funny old summer. And of course the weather is changeable and most of the time I wonder whether when September comes I will look back and think where did that summer go? It feels like time is skipping by at such a rate.

Living with less.

Reverting in all cases to my usual mantra that white is best.

Liking the free-fall but secretly missing the routine.

As ever, undecided; vintage Lou.


posted on: Tuesday, 28 July 2015

It's been the longest time. I last wrote when in some kind of personal maelstrom, struggling to make sense of the return of horrid pain symptoms I had thought were behind me. And then...things got a million times worse! Hah! Always the optimist, I found my way through. Oh, if that were true! In fact I kinda cracked up for a while as the pain increased to an extent that was reminiscent of childbirth. I had a bad wisdom tooth. This didn't become clear until there had been weeks of simultaneous pain and panic. The thing with living with chronic pain is that you have to re assimilate the fact that each day there is pain. When it is a known pain it becomes like an annoying but tolerable acquaintance; you recognise it, you can live with it, it will never finish your sentences but it is part of your life, nonetheless. Then...the pain changes and everything is on its head. This new unknown pain was traumatic - I wondered if my life was just going to be that way from then on? Excruciating pain, forever. Google that and you find some pretty dark places.

And so, the day it became clear that I simply had a bad tooth, despite my near-phobic emotions about dentistry, I was pleased. A bad tooth I can deal with; a life of abject misery I can't! And so I had it out. Emergency wisdom tooth extraction the day or so before I went on holiday and whilst my home was being pulled down around my ears by the builders! It was testing, I am not going to lie. But now...well now it's much, much better. In fact I have had no pain since that bad tooth was taken out and honestly, it had been bothering me for months.

And so - what do we learn? Everything in life is a phase; the best of things and the worst of things.

We went away to Jersey - in the Channel Islands, a place I have never been to before but loved. Beautiful - wide arching beaches and dramatic cliffs. We went with our good friends and it was lovely, however in one of those spooky twists of fate, there was a sickness bug that hit 7 out of 9 of us! Yep, really. The week was spent managing the progression of this nasty virus, disinfecting, and then disinfecting again. It was a shame. We tried to make the best of it! And all the while, the view outside remained as stunning as ever. I would love to go back.

We returned, unable to stay in our tumbling-down house, we have rented a local cottage in a pretty place near here right by the water. Rather surreal to stay in a holiday home in your home town but it's refreshing. Unlike where we normally live, there are people walking by outside, it's not rural but boat-y. Everyone looks like they are ready to take on the high seas. I love living at the coast, never more than now. I don't think I could ever live inland.

Meanwhile, half way through the summer holidays, the days are merging as I try to keep up with the displacement we have in our living arrangements and my children's social life. I hate that I find the holidays so disruptive; they broke up on July 3rd, I mean, seriously? It's a long way to September...

And then deep down I know...September means back to school for me too. The reading list for my Masters has been released and this provoked mild anxiety and excitement for me. I am starting to realise the enormity of what I am taking on. Another degree? I haven't done a degree in twenty years. All of the self doubt I have ever had stored up is seeping through the cracks in my resolve. Trying to hold it together. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this!
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