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.

Hello? Hello? Is anyone still there?

Bit of an unexpected blogging break there, chaps. My laptop died unexpectedly, and it’s taken a few weeks to figure out what’s wrong and get it fixed. Back up your laptops, friends! I managed to upload my CV to Dropbox from email, but other than that, I wiped everything. I didn’t have much stored anyway, and really old photos are on my really old Mac, which still fires up if I can round up enough hamsters to power it, but still. Read my cautionary tale and be afeared! TimeMachine is synching with a shiny new external hard drive even as I type.

So, what’s been happening at Musings Towers, you cry? Well, in no particular order:

  1. The cats have killed the usual number of small birds and mammals, and memorably, one bloody huge pigeon. Belle made a valiant attempt to eat it, but after strewing feathers everywhere she gave up and slept for the rest of the day.
  2. I’m in shock (and anger, and disbelief and denial, and and and) about Brexit. Let’s just not go there.
  3. In partial response to the above, I started comfort reading fiction. I’m half way through A.S. Byatt’s Frederica quartet. I know I’d read The Virgin in the Garden and Babel Tower years ago, but I’ve never read the whole thing. Part of it was being read on R4 and it immediately became imperative to acquire the lot. Reading it has been interspersed with various other books, ranging from the last Terry Pratchet, to the latest Tessa Hadley, The Past. Fiction helps when the world’s gone mad, as it assuredly has.
  4. Not so much on the baking front, but this weekend I managed to make:
    1. Coconut macaroons that did not turn into coconut soup
    2. Some gluten free scones that didn’t rise at all, but to which all the baking powder (5tsp!) did impart a slightly metallic taste. I must be able to do better than that.
    3. Proper scones, to be eaten with proper jam and proper clotted cream.
  5. After several lovely years at this incarnation of Musing Towers, I’m moving. I will be sad to leave, but my landlords are getting on a bit and keeping the farm going is incredibly hard work, so they’re thinking about selling up and retiring into this house. I think my new place will be good, though. It’s in a village that has a shop, two pubs, a vets, a library and a doctor’s surgery. Inevitably, it also has a fair number of people in order to support all that but with any luck, I’ll never meet any of them. I’m moving over the Bank Holiday weekend in August, so I’m in that in between phase where I have to get all the moving out chores done here as well as planning packing and the purchasing of new bits & pieces for the house.
  6. After several years of being bored off my tits a lot of the time, I’ve finally knuckled down and registered for another OU course. I still can’t afford to do a PhD, and there’s no other classics stuff I can sensibly do, so I’ve taken a complete change of direction and gone for a degree in Psychology & Law instead. It will start in October, and I got very excited, anticipating the delivery of the usual OU box of readables I could dive into, but it turns out that this course is all online. Newfangled didactic methods, I never heard the like.
  7. In order to afford the OU course, I’m planning to give back my really quite nice convertible and swap it for something that isn’t a convertible and is therefore about half the price. I don’t much care what, because in my spoilt, princess way, if the roof doesn’t come down it’s not a proper car anyway, so who cares? Anyway, let’s hope that Mercedes-Benz will play along with the idea, ‘cos I don’t have a Plan B.
  8. Because some attempt at exercise was well overdue, I suffered through 5 personal training sessions. Every one of them left me aching, but I got stronger every time, too, and a decade plus old injury seems to have been fixed.  I’m definitely booking some more, and it’s beginning to seem inevitable that I’ll start running again, too.
  9. Bringing us right up to date, I drank a bit too much sparkling stuff at Battle Proms at Blenheim last night, and am slightly suffering for it today. But there were fireworks, and cannon and musket fire as well as the music, and if Land of Hope and Glory only sounds ironic at the moment? This too shall pass.


2016-07-16 21.46.26

2016-07-16 21.45.49




In which change is unsettling

Yeah, I know, let’s state the obvious for the thicky twins at the back of the class. And maybe ‘unsettling’ isn’t the right word anyway, maybe it’s more ‘tiring’. Whatever the apposite term,  I find myself resistant to the prospect of change, even while simultaneously trying to impose some control over it.

What’s behind this is the slight prospect of redundancy. I say slight, because while there will definitely be redundancies, the area of the business I work in is still getting investment. Digital marketing should be a pretty safe place to ride out whatever is coming.  Should be. Should.

And that’s my concern. I don’t have a whole lot of safety net, and ‘should’ isn’t secure enough. Much as I’ve tried to train the cats to hunt £50 notes, they still keep coming home with small animals instead, so it looks like I’m the one who’ll need to keep a roof over their furry little heads.

As a result I’m doing a bit of light job hunting, but that in itself provokes more questions.  I’m also trying to save for a deposit for a house, and I’ve no expectation of trying to buy in the South East. I was already thinking that moving north would be the logical way to stretch my money; if I can get the same salary in a cheaper part of the country, then the saving, and the buying, gets easier.

It’s all feasible. There are jobs, in Manchester and Leeds, and good jobs at that. I wouldn’t live in either city, but the countryside is glorious and I’m so used to driving now that any commute coming in under 100 miles for the round trip seems a breeze. Chuck in a probably negotiable one day a week at home, and a house somewhere with good walking on the doorstep, and that’s certainly a lifestyle I could tolerate.

But. Making it all happen feels knackering rather than exciting. Even looking for somewhere to rent in a location several hours away is a logistical horror. I’m unusually comfortable with the current status quo, and while I’ve upended my life entirely several times in the past, all I really want to do now is to settle. Any change that happens will be the opposite of that. Yet change is also inevitable, if not inexorable, in that even if my job turns out to be secure, the house owning goal still requires moving. In fact, it probably demands moving sooner rather than later, so why not take this current uncertainty as a nudge to action?

I’ll resolve the problem of my own inertia one way or the other. Waiting around to see how things turn out is never my preferred approach, so it’s likely that in fairly short order I’ll pull myself together. Just, not quite yet.


In which I have another vision

Just call me Hildegard.

So, I survived the training and, of course, it in no way fulfilled my fears. No one cried, darkest secrets remained buried and there were some very useful pointers to take away from it and put into immediate effect. Admittedly, there was one reading from Chicken Soup for the Soul, which made me twitch, not least because I’ve heard at least one other version of the same inspiring story and now suspect it’s entirely apocryphal and was created merely as a way of getting a message across with added cheese. I chose not to mention this at the time.

We have homework before the final day of the course on Feb 10, part of which is to appreciate 50 things a day. 50! I’ve set up a spreadsheet, but it’s very slow going. Mr W suggested appreciating 50 authors and 50 cheeses, and it may well come to that. There’s a whole host of things I appreciate regularly anyway, from the cats to central heating (spend a week in February when you’ve run out of domestic oil and you quickly appreciate heating), to coming home to an empty house on a Friday night with episode 2 of Wolf Hall to watch. But still, getting to 50 is a bit of a slog.

(We are all watching Wolf Hall, right? There will be a huge, Thomas Cromwell shaped gap in my life when vol 3 is complete in all its inevitable incarnations.)

Another bit of homework was to write up our visions and share them. These were points that would identify the best six months of our lives, as a sort of positive thinking/empowerment/take responsibility for your own life activity. I don’t mind that approach, because I find people who make poor decisions and then whine about the consequences and act as if life has it in for them entirely punch worthy. Anyway, this was my vision:

1. I’ve just moved into my lovely three bedroom cottage with garden. It is off road, for cat safety, and in a village which doesn’t have street lights. The previous owners were sensible people so there are built in bookshelves on every spare wall. All my furniture fits properly, there’s an open fire in the sitting room, an Aga in the kitchen and wooden or tiled flooring throughout. The village is simultaneously in the middle of nowhere and yet close enough to a reasonable city to provide shopping and theatre. Miraculously, said cottage is in entirely livable condition.

2. Which is just as well, because I’ve been accepted on a part time PhD course. It’s being fully funded by some generous organization and the Bodleian has just renewed my card.

3. When I’m not in the library, I’m doing enough exercise to be in good shape to run a 10k. (My promise to run the Town & Gown is haunting me.)

4. And it doesn’t matter that I don’t have time to read fiction any more, because I’ve finished reading volume 3 of Proust (yes, this did feel like the most unrealistic item on the list.)

5. Also, I’ve cracked making croissants from scratch and getting the texture right.

6. Just before I go on holiday. Probably to the US.

7.  Which I can do because all is going well at work, with my team shooting the lights out and me being pretty well regarded for whatever it is I do at the time.

Duly shared. But, if anyone is interested in turning this best six months thing into a meme,(cough, Emily, cough) do play along. It’s been ages since we had a good meme.

On liminality

Today has been all about the packing. I don’t move until next Saturday but I can’t abide a last minute rush. Mind you, I don’t much like living in chaos either, it’s just hard to avoid when there are boxes everywhere, either flat-packed and waiting expectantly or already hiding their contents out of sight.

Odd how you dismantle a few key things and a home is transformed back into simply being a building. The cottage is currently mid-transformation: the spare room is packed, the sitting room contains the packed boxes. But the kitchen is largely intact and the bathroom hasn’t been touched. The pictures are down from the walls and all the windows are naked, because the curtains have gone for dry-cleaning. To round things off, I ran out of oil this morning so it’s a bit chilly. How’s that for creating the appropriate metaphor in ambience?

So the week will be spent in a kind of limbo, while I technically still live here but only in a makeshift sort of way. I’ll do more packing tomorrow and over the course of the rest of the week, and my plan is that by Friday night (when I go out for dinner), the only remaining objects will the kettle and the last mug. Then there’ll be a bit of hanging around, nowhere to sit and nothing to do. Which is why I have The Woman in White tucked away for emergencies.

Moving day itself will be the usual mix of exciting and exasperating, of course. There’s no way round it being a bloody great hassle for all involved and I expect there to be a lot of swearing. And that’s just from me. But then, when the heavy lifting is over, there’s all the fun of fitting stuff into a new environment and effecting the reverse transformation: building to home.