This week 3

It has been crazy hot weather this week, to the point where one day I just put on shorts and a t-shirt and remembered not to walk around on video calls. Thankfully the house gets a good cross-breeze and so benefits from any cool air going. Charlie has been out most of the time, apparently sleeping under a neighbour’s hedge with only his tail sticking out; but my poor Bellecat has been suffering in all her fluff and sleeping curled up in odd patches of shade.

I’ve been…

Reading – Persephone books, specifically books about houses. I don’t know why, except that it struck me that a lot of the Persephone list is a bit depressing and I couldn’t face anything bleak. The four novels I’ve read have all all been set early to mid 20th century, and they all feature families in transition. It strikes me that if I’d been born earlier in the 20th century I’d have had a grim time of it, not clever enough to get a scholarship and just intelligent enough to realise that there could be more to life than whatever ghastly office or shop opportunities presented themselves. Even if I’d been wealthy, I’d have been a disaster at the round of parties required by being launched into society. Horrors.

Although the Persephone books do also make you feel sorry for the male characters, so often married to fractious, helpless child-women. On the other hand, so often repressive, sexist, bullying and manipulative figures.

Bricks and Mortar – Helen Ashton. Which begins with young architect, Martin, travelling to Rome with the intention of studying the buildings there. Instead, he gets caught by a scheming old woman who is looking for a suitable husband for her fundamentally useless but very lovely daughter. So poor Martin gets trapped and the novel is about his life with Letty, his architectural practice and his daughter Stacy.

Greenbanks – Dorothy Whipple. Has a cast of unpleasant, but of their time male characters, and various women who are struggling to somehow live differently. The house, Greenbanks, is the family home, just about maintained by Louisa, the matriarch. One of her sons-in-law, who looks after her money for her, almost manages it away entirely. Another character called Letty finally inherits some money that will give her freedom at the age of 50; her daughter Rachel, born into a period when women had more freedoms anyway, gets to college and chooses love over familial duty.

The New House – Lettice Cooper. Set over one day (a device I always enjoy), in which a mother, daughter and their remaining servant are moving out of the family home to a smaller, manageable house. The old one is sold, its eventual fate undecided but likely to be either turned into a club or torn down and replaced with terraces. The move becomes a pivotal day for Rhoda, on the cusp of being the dutiful daughter and continuing to stay at home to look after her mother but recognising her last chance to find her own life.

Mariana – Monica Dickens. Not a ‘house’ story, but a coming of age tale that I hadn’t remembered being as wickedly funny as it is. It’s about the eponymous Mary as she grows up, struggles through school, suffers through a truly embarrassing time at theatre school and a near-miss engagement before everything comes good for her.

Sorting out plants – I had bought a planter at the beginning of lockdown and then got overwhelmed by plant choice. And then overwhelmed again by the total faff of re-planting into a planter. Finally, I made a decision, and now I have a parlour palm: air purifying, non-toxic and allegedly difficult to kill.

IMG_4673

And a sneaky ivy as well, because I do like a trailing plant. The poem in the frame, by the way, is Adlestrop by Edward Thomas.

IMG_4674

I’m inspired to get a few more plants too, but there’s more thinking and planning to be done first. So that’s a next month activity.

In which I come to terms with housework

Like most people, I tend to do the housework once a week. I’m fairly clean and tidy so I keep on top of it as I go, but chores like dusting and vacuuming only happen on a weekly basis. But over the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to find more time for me to do things I like doing versus those I think I should be doing. As a result, the cleaning hasn’t been as thorough as it could have been.

Now, I love it when I’ve just cleaned the house and can look around in satisfaction at my gleaming surfaces and extra tidy rooms. But usually, within the next 10 minutes, a wet cat comes in and leaves paw prints on the floor or fur on the carpet, or I start cooking something in the kitchen. My lovely, pristine environment doesn’t stay that way for long. Ideally, the kitchen would look like no one ever uses it. Except, I do use it. Particularly at weekends.

I don’t like housework, but it has to be done. I’ve already revised my approach once by switching my thinking from ‘Oh my god, it’s the weekend and I’ve got all those chores to do’, to ‘These 3 activities will only take an hour,’ but I’m still chasing an impossible scenario.

So I’ve decided to stop. Instead of aiming for once-a-week-short-lived-perfection, I’m aiming for ongoing okayness. This could turn into a gradual decline towards squalor, but I don’t think so. If I don’t have the mindset that ‘I’ll sort that out at the weekend’, then I should do micro-tasks more often. So that there’s less to do at the weekend, and an overall better standard during the week.

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?