Tough times, strong women

Time is a little bit blurry for me at the moment, but the fact that we’re now in July means that I’ve been at S’s house for about 10 days. Wow. Which at least is enough time for some dust to settle. Life persists in feeling surreal, though, so I think I might still be in some kind of shock. I’m aware of waiting for life to get back to normal, so I have to keep reminding myself that this is the new normal.

What I’ve learned, or rather, been reminded of, is that when the going gets tough, it is the strong women in your life who you fall back on. For the practical stuff, for the pep talks, for the wine, the doughnuts and the kick up the arse to get out of the house or do some yoga. So it’s my sister who says ‘Don’t be stupid, of course you’ll get another job and in the meantime you could do this, and this, and this…’ It’s my friend S who cleared out her spare room, set up the air mattress, made space in the closet and the fridge and the freezer, and made dinner –  and all that on the day she got back from the US after an overnight flight and a painful journey home. It’s the friend who, amid her own crazy work and family life, makes time to call and check in on me; and the friend who said ‘If you need me, I will get on a ‘plane.’

These are the women who are keeping my head above the water, and I know damn well that I’m lucky.

Meanwhile, in the latest dramatic switchback on the hurtling coastal road of life, the house is back on. Well, maybe. I had a couple of conversations with my vendors, who have found a new house to buy and are pretty sure it can all happen by the end of July. That is the cut off point I’ve set, and if all goes tits up again, I will walk away and back to the grim world of renting. For now, it’s a holding pattern.

Which means, the cats are now in their second cattery. This is far and away the worst part of this whole life collapse business. I don’t care how luxurious a cattery is and how much people claim their cats settle down, it’s jail for kittens. I saw Belle and Charlie in their last, lovely, spacious place, where I know they were being well looked after by great people. Charlie would barely come out of his box, both of them were jumpy and wide eyed at every sudden noise. It breaks me to see them and it breaks me not to see them and I will never get over the guilt.

There are jobs to be applied for and some recruiters are calling. There is a certain kind of freedom and luxury in stepping away from the position of ‘Well, I earn x so I don’t see how I could work for less than y’ to ‘If I earn z then I’m covered.’ I’m lucky here, too, in that as my identity isn’t bound up in holding a certain professional position or earning a certain amount, any which way I can cover my costs will be fine by me. I’ve stacked shelves in a store before, and I’ve also been in meetings that are way more boring than that. Thank goodness for savings, though. I can hold the wolf from the door until the end of the year, and if I have to I will fucking kill and skin the wolf, the cats can eat him and we’ll all huddle together in a wolfskin.

So that’s a plan, right?

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In which I do not have a home

Last week, when I started packing boxes for the move, it was tiring but it was also exciting. Because the boxes needed labelling as to which room they were destined for in my house, and so I had that image in my head of the unpacking and the sorting and the arranging. After months of waiting, my own place was finally in reach.

Now, I’m finishing the packing and I don’t know where the boxes will go. On Monday, the chain collapsed. One of the vendors further down the line doesn’t even have their mortgage approved; my vendors decided not to go ahead with the sale. While this saved me a decision, it also crash landed my hopes and wrecked the day dreams that have basically gotten me through the last few months. I had a lot riding on that house, and I am bereft of that vision of my future, of my own home.

On Tuesday, I had a conversation with my manager in which I negotiated my exit from my job. (I’ve just realised that was yesterday, but time seems particularly fluid at the moment.) I’ll take a few days to wrap things up, some paid vacation time and then three months’ paid gardening leave. It will see me through to October, and in the moments when I’m not panicking I think it must be perfectly possible to find a job, any job within that timescale.

Also on Tuesday, I took a lunch hour and spent it sitting in my car, phoning letting agents and trying to book appointments to see rentals at the weekend. The usual conversations ensued: ‘No, the landlord won’t accept pets’, ‘Oh, I’m really sorry we’ve just had references back on that one’, ‘Well, we’ve got four viewings on that today so I think it’ll be gone by the weekend’. And so the whole, tedious process began.

Then I came home to a half empty house because A had moved out. Odd how a half empty house can seem emptier than one that is fully vacant. I suppose because what is missing is emphasised.

Today I tricked the cats into their carriers and took them to the cattery. We all cried, until I realised that I would absolutely never forgive myself if I had an accident and they got hurt, and so pulled myself together. I don’t know when they’ll be coming home or where home will be.

If I could pack myself away in one of the boxes, I would. It would be dark, and cosy and safe. It would be time stolen from time, and I would just sleep, dreamlessly.

The slowest break up in history

I think it was January that conversations started, and here we are, still in the same house. The situation is simultaneously fine, weird, exhausting and normal. We are definitely splitting up, there is no avoiding that, but because of the reasons (Him: ‘I think I might want to get married and have children’;  Me: ‘I was never that woman’), it’s all very amicable. If not downright supportive.

We are both buying houses, both moving north to do so. So long, Oxfordshire, you’re just too damned expensive. There was no point either of us going through the hassle of a short term move, so instead we discuss wallpaper and paint options, new tableware or cutlery. If we can’t be bothered to cook, we go out for dinner – normal. The removal company who came round to do a quote, did one for each of us at the same time – weird.

Whoever moves first will make the break, and currently my house buying process is nosing ahead. Either way, we have to move in June. The end is in sight, even if still indistinct on the horizon. I don’t think this protracted state of limbo has made things any easier. It’ll still be a matter of ripping off the plaster, even though we both know that’s what has to happen. We’ve said we’ll stay in touch and remain friends, and I believe that is true; right up until a new girlfriend arrives on the scene, at least.

It is, also, impossible not to behave a little more independently. We have our own plans for the bank holidays, and random days off and future holidays and there is a certain luxury in being able to do exactly what I want. It’s not that I’ve been constrained in the past few years but change drives other change more readily. I find myself stepping out of my comfort zone, perhaps even permanently re-establishing its boundaries. I booked myself a ticket for a festival in August, not the most dramatic step in the world but it will be three days of camping, surrounded by strangers.

And I did a nude art photo shoot at my sister’s photography studio. The reasons for that are complicated, but ultimately celebratory. A is nine years younger than me, and if he wants children then it’s an achievable life goal with someone else. Reproduction has never been my body’s purpose, and even if I had wanted to scream a crazy yes to the idea this year, I just got my first pair of varifocals. It would be very easy to be defined by what I’m not right now, with the primary signifier being ‘not young’. That is not the definition I choose.

Both of us are taking steps into our separate, single futures. Maybe this slow break up is splitting up, but with each other as stabilisers. For which one can only be grateful.

Things I will do when I live on my own

I have had an offer on a house accepted, so now I’m working slowly through the strangely Dickensian conveyancing process. Sending documents via the post, really? Still, at the end of it, I will have a house. I realise that I’m supposed to be more excited than I am about this sudden achievement of a long held dream, but circumstance is rather against me. Buried deep, there is some excitement, it’s just that I have to excavate down through layers of sadness, tiredness, anxiety, dislike of paperwork, worry about my job, concern about how the cats will cope with another move… Inner me may be whooping it up with champagne, to which I say ‘You go, girl!’; but outer me is knackered.

As well, this reality of becoming a home owner is still incomprehensible to me. I realise that all my thinking about where I will live is short term and assumes precariousness. So presently, I’m fighting the impulse to rush to buy curtains or blinds, or think about paintwork, or organise built in shelves. Yes, all that will need to be addressed. No, it doesn’t have to be done immediately. I’m planning on being in this house for at least 5 years. I can take my time settling in before effecting its gradual transformation into Musings Towers.

Other thoughts that come unbidden are the small mental pop ups about the difference between now and then. Inevitably, when you live with someone, you both adapt your life’s natural patterns. I have early starts, I’m gone in the morning before my partner gets up and a weekend lie in for me is 7am. This isn’t to say that I resent the status quo. I wouldn’t get up early if I didn’t have to and I quite see that being disturbed several hours before you need to be is horrible. But, this is a sad parting of the ways, prompted by a single but insurmountable difference in life choices. Instead of focusing on that, I’d prefer to look at the small sources of contentment that will follow.

  1. I will put the lights on the morning when I get up. Well, not overhead lights because who can face that cruel blinding brightness at 5.30am? In fact, I might not have any overhead lights at all because I’ve always hated them. Give me the soft, reflected glow of uplighters. But the main thing is I will not be navigating around by torchlight.
  2. I will get a really good reading lamp in the bedroom, and stay up late at weekends, to read in bed.
  3. I will go back to bed on weekend mornings with a novel and a pot of coffee.
  4. Or, I will get all my cleaning done by 9am so it’s out of the way, and then I can sit down with the novel and the coffee.
  5. I will buy a beautiful, colourful rug. We have never managed to agree on a rug for this house, so there are none.
  6. I will have music throughout the house. Or The Archers. Or audiobooks.
  7. I will buy more pictures, and put them up on any walls that don’t have bookcases and I won’t have to leave space for a TV because there won’t be one.
  8. I will scent things my airing cupboard with lavender and rosemary.

In which I’m supposed to care about stuff but I don’t

There is a shed load of shit out there that as a woman, I’m automatically supposed to have an interest in. I can tell this, because when I’m looking for gifts for my female friends, it’s all the tat that is specially selected to be ‘Just what she wants’. I don’t know who ‘she’ is, but if I ever meet her, I’m going to bitchslap her for being such a god awful stereotype.

If I weren’t me and I faced the constant barrage of bullshit from websites and TV and magazines, I’d be thinking the problem was me. As I am me, I think the problem is the constant barrage of bullshit. Anyway. Here is a list of stuff that I don’t give a rat’s ass about.

  1. Matching tableware or glassware – because shit gets broken. That’s part of its raison d’être.
  2. Looking younger – and hence, wrinkles/crow’s feet/fine lines/redness. I’m supposed to be spending a fortune on repair creams to fix all that damage. Because, why? What possible difference will it make to my life? It might conceivably make anyone who is looking at me a bit happier, but surely one of the joyful things about being in one’s mid-40s is that no one is looking at me? It’s an introvert’s dream, so I’m not particularly minded to fuck with it.
  3. Pleasing people – so, look. You can’t keep everyone happy all the time so why bother trying? Also, some people are far too high maintenance, so why bother trying? Much better if you just sort of accidentally keep a couple of people happy as you go along, purely by doing whatever you were going to do anyway. That way, it’s serendipitous.
  4. Whatever the latest box set is – it’s the investment of time thing. I simply can’t commit hours and hours to watching television and however good it is, it won’t be as good as a novel. It just won’t. No, not even that series you really loved, unless possibly you have just caught up with either Buffy or Brideshead.
  5. Diets – I think they’re all bollocks. Just aim for not too much of anything, cut yourself some slack if you had say, chips and wine for dinner on Friday (ahem) and don’t obsess about it. End of.
  6. Expensive scented candles – I’m never going to spend £40 on a candle. Sorry, Jo Malone. If I want my house to smell amazing, I’ll bake a cake and make some coffee.
  7. Personalised anything – I can still remember my name. So I think we can leave it a few years before I need it emblazoned on everything I own.
  8. Magazines – not entirely true, I do subscribe to The Economist.  The Economist is not big on celebrity tell all stories, sex tips, beach body tips, beach makeup tips, Christmas party wear tips or Christmas party catering tips. Thank fuck.
  9. Cooking/recipes – I’m increasingly less interested in cooking because I have increasingly less time and therefore I don’t want to fritter it away faffing around with food prep, cooking and clearing up. Bring on the roast veg or avocado on sourdough. Job done.
  10. Interior design – oh look, big empty wall, stick a book case on it. Add one reading chair and a decent lamp. Sorted.

 

In which I don’t understand things

The things I don’t understand are many and varied. Pretty much anything to do with numbers (yesterday, I had to think really hard to divide 330 by 2. Yup.) Pretty much anything to do with domestic technology. I now live with a television in the house and there seem to be four remote controls for it and its associated boxes. My only interaction with the remotes has been to take the AA batteries out of one of them, so that I could use them to test if the microchip reading cat-flap was still working.

Still, there are some specific things that I have been not understanding lately.

  1. Black sinks – the new house has a black sink and draining board. No idea what it’s made of, but it’s sort of shiny. It would be shinier, but this is Oxfordshire where the water comes with a generous helping of limescale. Black and limescale do not seem to me to be natural partners.
  2. ‘I’ll do it later’ – based on serious quantitative research (quick chat with a couple of friends at work), this is the guiding principle of man time. But when is this enviable stage of ‘later’ when there are not hundreds of other things to be done? How does one get there? I do stuff now, because later, there’ll be more to do. So if I leave it until later, then later there’ll be even more to do. Clearly, there is a fold in time and only men have access to it. Fucking patriarchy.
  3. Why Ed Balls is still on Strictly – on the one hand, it’s all a bit of a laugh, innit? On the other hand, it’s scary evidence of the way that people approach voting for everything and therefore single-handedly makes a strong case against democracy.
  4. Why people, and women in particular, are obsessed with recapturing youth. There was an article today about the food you can eat that will keep you young. It won’t, of course, because time is inexorable. Until sci-fi delivers for us, or Airbnb opens up in Shangri-La, we’re all going to continue to age. So, what the article means is that there are some ways in which you can maybe help yourself to look ‘younger’. Younger than what? You aren’t going to look younger than someone who is 25, but if you’re 45, you might look younger than someone who is 70. You might also ‘not look your age’, which is a totally meaningless phrase as it’s impossible to do other than look your age, so it’s in fact an expression referring to a media construction of what people at certain ages look like. Break it all down and it’s the media telling you that you can appear different to how the media tell you people appear, if you’ll just pay the nice snake oil lady over there. What. The. Actual. Fuck.

In which Musings Towers has relocated

So, here we are, properly in the Cotswolds, in a village that puts one irresistibly in mind of Hot Fuzz. Fellow villagers say ‘Hello’ as one passes them on the street. A neighbour popped round to introduce herself. Drivers wait politely in turn to negotiate the narrow streets. T’aint natural.

The house has been beaten into some sort of order, with only a few boxes remaining unpacked, and that mostly for lack of anywhere to put their contents. I’m not sure everything is in the right place yet, but it’s in a place and that’ll do as a start. I seek a new bookcase and some kitchen storage, as well as a couple of rugs. But the bare bones are there.

The cats, poor little things, were traumatised by the whole experience. By the time it came to lure them into cat carriers, in fact they walked in of their own accord. They were very unsure of the new house for a day or so, and they seemed increasingly desperate to go outside. When I found Charlie outside an upstairs window, on a 2-inch wide ledge, eyeing up the jump to the garage roof, I cracked and let them out. He’s all right, but Belle’s developed a habit of waking me up at 2am by affectionately kneading me and purring, while trying to nibble my nose and ears. She can keep it up for literally hours and she won’t take no, or being shut out of the room for an answer. She just barges back in again.

Still, I feel a bit like one of the cats myself, prowling and restless. With none of the routines in place yet, I’m gradually adapting myself into a way of living here. I haven’t found that easy flow that gets you out the door in the morning on autopilot. There seem to be too many rooms involved and they’re on different floors.

So at the moment it’s all strange and ill fitting, not bad, but different and with rough edges to be smoothed out. There’s a list of tasks to be done and items to be bought. Ask me again in a month.