Nature is not playing fair

Or the end of the world is nigh. One or the other.

I have another cold, and while this is as nothing compared to The Illness that beset me while I was on holiday (of course), it’s still knocked me out for a few days. But Nature is not playing fair, the double-dealing bitch, because the deal is that I have the annual illness and then I’m not ill again. Until the next annual illness.

The cats provided succour by sleeping on me, because a mostly unmoving person with a hot water bottle, the whole covered in a fleecy throw, is the ideal spot for a sleeping cat. But, they were rubbish at fetching me hot drinks or tempting me with delicacies. And, of course, if I don’t bring in firewood or make food, then there’s no fire or dinner. This is the downside of being someone who cooks everything. I have ingredients but I don’t have anything that doesn’t require some prep and washing up, and I frankly couldn’t face it.

Before you ask, I can’t get food delivered here. Or rather, I can, but from both of the places that deliver I have to order vast quantities of food and none of it is very good. So, no.

Things I have learned during this experience:

  1. I need some firewood stored nearer the house. The garage isn’t all that far away but on the days when just coming down stairs exhausted me, the garage may as well have been the moon.
  2. Don’t run out of mint tea. I can’t face coffee at all, or tea with milk when I have a cold, so I ended up drinking hot water for a bit.
  3. This is what Netflix is for. I restarted my subscription, binge watched Sex Education, got a few episodes into The Witcher and decided to read it instead, and watched all of Virgin River. Virgin River is terrible, but ‘woman runs away to small town America to rebuild her life, with entirely predictable story arcs and consistently perfect lipstick’ is made-for-cold viewing. I’m not kidding about the lipstick. I’m sure I missed key plot points while fixating on the fact that her lippy was immaculate in every single scene. Not to mention that scene when immediately after crying in a pretty-but-still-mascara-ruining way, said mascara had all been sorted by the time the camera panned back to her a couple of sentences later.
  4. I need some type of instant meal solution. The freezer is also in the garage, so anything frozen is a backup for the backup. Don’t know what this is going to be but I suppose it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s edible. Maybe miso and noodles.
  5. Podcasts are expensive. On Thursday, when I spent the entire day on the sofa, I listened to a lot of episodes of Backlisted. Duly there followed a generous order to Blackwells and books are on their way.
  6. I need to fix or replace my blender. Then I can at least make soup to store in the freezer. I should freeze some bread as well. I’m prepared to slum it with store bought when I’m sick.
  7. It’s possible that the fact that I got lightheaded every time I stood up on Sunday was more to do with three days of not eating very much than the cold itself. Surprising how long it took me to figure this out and eat something. See point 4.
  8. Apple crumble is not enough to keep you going. I mean, I tried.

Onwards and teawards.

 

 

In which I have written a story

I was joking with someone that I didn’t want Charlie to become The Beast of Retford Moor, and proposed The Cat of Cullen Towers instead. And then that didn’t sound quite right, and Ghost Cat popped into my head, and anyway, now there’s a 500 word story. Both my cats are totally fine, btw.

The Ghost Cat of Cullen Towers

I should say at the outset that Cullen Towers is, in fact, a very ordinary, three-bedroom, mid-terrace house. The windows are sensibly double-glazed and locked, and the doors robustly bolted. It has no towers, wings, or mysteriously intriguing, huge oaken doors that open only with a long-forgotten key. But an Englishwoman’s home is her castle, and so – Cullen Towers.

I lived in the house alone. I thought, often, about getting a dog. But it wouldn’t have been practical.

It began, one day, with a flicker at the corner of my eye. Everyone knows that experience, I suppose. You walk into a room and see a shape where there shouldn’t be one.  You look again, to find the shape has resolved itself into a shadow, or a newspaper you left on the floor. So that was what I thought.

My eyesight isn’t what it was, so after a couple more flickers I just went to the optician. Varifocals, he prescribed. I’d known it was coming.

But then, a few days later, there was a more definite something. What had previously been a flicker took on a more substantial presence. Something, still of indeterminate size and shape, darted through a door. It probably was a cat, I thought. It was a warmish day, and after winter’s relentless cold and rain, I’d left the back door open for just a foretaste of spring to find its way inside. One of the neighbourhood cats had taken advantage, that was all.

I assumed the same cat was responsible for the dead mouse I found the following morning. I stared at the mouse for a moment, and then stepped over it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel up to tackling bodies in my slippers, and certainly not before I’ve had coffee. But by the time I was feeling a bit more fortified, it was gone. Had it still been alive? And come to that, how had it got there in the first place? The doors and windows were closed.

As I turned, I saw the flicker again. I paused, and then slowly turned back to look at where the mouse wasn’t. Instead, and unmistakeably, there was a cat. A tabby, still a bit faint around the edges, sort of blurring into the morning shadows. He stared at me in standard unblinking cat fashion. I stared back. We stared at each other.

He wasn’t real, I knew that. But. He wasn’t not real either. He sauntered over and wove around my ankles, and I felt the memory of soft fur. Then the mouse was there again, and I remembered hearing that cats bring their owners presents. I said, ‘Thank you, ghost cat’, a bit uncertainly because I’m not used to talking to cats. Or ghosts.

That was that, of course. I haven’t been out for a few days, now. Once a cat claims you, your soul’s not your own any more. I know that now.

New year, same me

Since this was just Other Christmas and I couldn’t be bothered, it was a straight week off work. I didn’t really speak to anyone and I minimised all that leaving the house nonsense. I read a bunch of books and watched all the Indiana Jones movies and drank pots of coffee and slept. The cats were around a lot. It was great and I was very calm and relaxed by the end of it.

Christmas reading roundup (which was not hugely successful because there wasn’t much that I loved amid all this.)

Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens.  Meh. Thought this was going to be more of a detective novel but it was just a romance. I think the setting was supposed to make it really unusual but it didn’t really gel for me.

Lake Success – Gary Shteyngart. Meh. Ramblings of a middle aged fuck up who has just left his wife and severely autistic son in pursuit of a fantasy about his college girlfriend. Mildly amusing but difficult to get over the fact that the main character is such a complete, self-centred dick. Thank goodness his wife doesn’t take him back but does take him for a lot of money. A lot. And then goes on to have a very nice life.

The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco. Because, I watched about 20 minutes of the TV adaptation and then gave up.

The Ingenious Language: Nine Epic Reason to Love Greek – Andrea Marcolongo. You are so right, Andrea! And I do love Greek! This was the best of my Daunt’s haul, and something I’ll get back to when my Greek has advanced further along from basic.

The Glass Woman – Caroline Lea. 17th century Iceland, woman marries comparatively wealthy stranger so that her mother gets food and fuel. But what really happened to his previous wife? And why won’t her husband let her in the loft? This was billed as a thriller, but I never had any sense of suspense and I didn’t really care what happened to the characters. The setting and the time period was really interesting, though.

Happiness, As Such – Natalia Ginzburg. A nice, epistolary novel, with everyone worried about the prodigal son who has been allowed to grow up being completely self-centred and aimless. The relationships are beautifully drawn.

Sadly, I was back at work on 30th, although working from home so I didn’t have to get up the full 2 hours earlier than I had been. Shudder. Still, when midway through the morning Charlie came in and ate the robin he’d caught, it was a pretty clear sign that the festive period was over. When I did make it into the office, everyone at work was in much the same state of whatthefuckment and sidled off on New Year’s Eve anywhere from lunchtime onwards.

I partied hard by listening to the Backlisted podcast episode about Venetia, and then going to bed and re-reading Venetia. I was just checking, but yes, Damerel is still my favourite.

My main plan for 2020 is to sit my Greek GCSE in May/June. To which end, I need a proper chat with my tutor about how we spend my one hour of tutorial time a week most effectively. I’m thinking it’s time to start reading the set texts, which are Herodotus (yay!) and Euripides’ Electra (double yay!), while I work through the rest of the grammar in my own time. I had a quick look at Electra and it’s bloody hard, but take a language with no set word order and play around with it for metrical effect and ta da! That’s what you get. Anyway, as it’s only GCSE there are copious notes on every line so you barely have to translate anything yourself really.

For now, I’m re-reading Dracula because I got 14 minutes through the new Gatiss/Moffatt adaptation and gave up. On audio, I’m just finishing up Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, which I’ve found sort of compellingly tedious and occasionally identifiable. Really, I’m just in a holding pattern, waiting for the new Hilary Mantel to land in March and Blue Moon to hit pb in April. Should I read, Ducks, Newburyport?

What a difference a year makes

365 little days. Although, it’s actually been longer than a year that I’ve been in my little house now, and my second Christmas is coming up fast. I know, I know, it’s early for the C word. Even more bizarrely, I’m actually doing Christmas next week. But I’ll get to that.

So, let’s check in shall we? How y’all doin’? Is there flooding near you? I hope you’re dry and safe. The rain has seemed endless here and although I fortuitously chose a house on high enough ground not to be at risk, the weather has been ceaselessly vile for weeks. Ick.

Here at Musings Towers, first things first. The cats are spoilt, contented moggies. Charlie is depredating the local wildlife to an almost embarrassing extent. Belle sleeps and is fluffy. They continue to be excellent at being cats, bless their paws and whiskers.

I have been in my job for almost 8 months and I still like it, and it’s going well. I’m through the probationary period, about which my rational brain wasn’t worried and my anxiety brain most definitely was. Now that the mornings are dark, I really wish I didn’t have to get up so early, because I know I felt much better last year when I fell into my body’s natural sleep patterns. But, while I loved the flexibility and the rarely leaving the house aspects of being self-employed, I hated the hustle. Hello, regular pay check and hello 6am.

I’ve done a few bits around the house, most importantly the dressing room storage is in. I still need more space for, erm, shoes and I have a Lloyd Loom ottoman and matching chair to refurbish to contribute to the room. That will be my first foray into re-upholstering, and it’s entirely likely to end as a total fuck up that I have to pay someone to sort out. But hey, may as well give it a go.

The realities of home ownership are sinking in. There are tiles on the roof that need replacing, and apparently some of the rendering is cement not lime and so liable to absorbing water and then flaking away. Next spring I’ll need to do something about that. My fridge grows icebergs and I don’t know why. Storage heaters are absolutely fucking useless and yet cost a fortune to run. There doesn’t seem to be a grown up around to sort out any of this, so I think it’s going to have to be me. Huh.

Single life continues to be awesome. I really like living a life unseen. It is such a relief not to have to be considerate. The small joy of not having to plan, coordinate, organise with another person is so addictive that even when I could choose company, I mostly don’t.

Occasionally I think about dating but I am totally bemused by the thought. Put on nice clothes? Leave the house? Feign interest for quite possibly hours? I can’t see what I’d get in return, when what I actually want is someone to help with life admin (a PA), someone to do some driving so I don’t have to (a chauffeur) and good company for dinner (a book). On the whole, I’ll keep the status quo, which is going to be pretty easy unless Tom Hiddleston actually rocks up to my front door.

I’m (re)learning Ancient Greek! My own prioritisation somewhat amuses me. I’d have liked a cleaner, couldn’t justify the cost. Regular manicures? Nope, too expensive. Tutor for Greek? I’ll just eat less, cancel Netflix and never go to the cinema! I love Greek, though, I’m a couple of months in and targeting GCSE next year. It’s so absorbing that if anything I have to stop myself getting too far ahead and bombarding my tutor with work to mark. I’ve bought the compendium of set texts so I think I might start sneakily working through them if I can. Heh heh heh.

As for doing Christmas next week, I’ll be meeting up with my sister and her husband and their dogs at cabin in a forest. The last time we were all at a cabin in a forest, when we were in the hot tub and onto the second bottle of champagne, we somehow decided that Christmas in November would be A Good Thing. So that’s what we are doing. I will then have actual Christmas at home, with the cats. Win all round.

 

And, we’re back

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

So, yeah. I thought I was done but maybe I’m not. That was a good break, but I kept thinking ‘I should write a blog post about that’, and then remembering that I don’t do that any more. Then I had a three month stint of being paid for my writing via a ton of articles I wrote for a project that in the end didn’t happen but whatevs, I got all the money anyway and some stuff got published on a corporate blog somewheres on the interwebs.

In the midst of that, I got a new, full time job that doesn’t require a shitty commute or stupid hours and lo! I’m home before 6pm on week nights. Oh, and it’s a good job paying a proper salary and the company seems really nice. Huh.

And I had all my hair cut off, and did some decorating and read some books and listened to some audiobooks, and Charlie has so far left three dead rabbits under the bed. I’m going to start storing stuff there just to stop him using it as a larder.

I made a sourdough starter and my sourdough isn’t the greatest but it’s ok. Loaves are rising as I type, and will continue to rise overnight until I bake them before I go to a yoga workshop in the morning.

I’m still single. It’s still fucking awesome. John Wick 3 was ok, better than 2, not as good as 1. I need to see Avengers Endgame again and I meant to see Rocketman this evening but then I painted my fence with teak oil, rewarded myself with wine and ordered a takeaway instead.

I’m reading a book about otters, and listening to Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver and I simply cannot find the right pair of black shoes.

I think we’re up to date now. Did you miss me?

 

 

Things I actually do now I live on my own

 

white coffee mug on brown surface
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Way back when I first put the offer in on this house, before life proper blew up around me, I wrote about what I’d do when I lived on my own. So I thought I’d go back and see if I realised any of that particular fantasy.

  1. Put the lights on in the morning when I wake up – No. But, when I wrote that originally, I expected still to be working and therefore getting up in the dark by now. At some point, I will set an alarm to make me get up before it’s light, but not quite yet.
  2. Get a really good reading lamp in the bedroom – No, but I curse my current lamp every evening. I haven’t bought a new one because I don’t have any money but it’s inching its way up the priority list.
  3. Go back to bed on weekend mornings with a novel and a pot of coffee – Yes! And not only weekends. For a while, it was most mornings, now I’ve managed to shift myself downstairs earlier. It is one of the small but great pleasures of my new life that because I’m not dashing off anywhere in the morning, I get to make a pot of coffee and sit around to drink two cups while reading, or listening to the radio. In fact, it is one of the incentives to make my own business work, so that I have the flexibility to continue to do that.
  4. Or, get all the cleaning done by 9am so I can sit down with coffee and a novel – this varies. I do tend to get the cleaning out of the way as early as possible. It helps that this house is small and easy to clean – 45 minutes tops.
  5. I will buy a beautiful, colourful rug – No, again because by the time I moved I didn’t have any money. But I will when I get some, the impetus hasn’t gone away.
  6. Music throughout the house – Yes! I bought a Sonos speaker months in advance, so that covers downstairs. I’d like another one for upstairs as well, so that whatever I’m listening to can follow me around the house.
  7. Buy more pictures and not have a TV – Yes! I bought pictures from a couple of artists  I visited as part of Oxford Art Weeks. Plus I have a ton of images that I got from my art nude shoot. But, lack of finance is getting in the way again, so nothing new has been framed. In fact, I still have to hang all my old pictures and there is less wall space than I remembered. Definitely no TV though. I did wonder if I would notice this, as during the summer I got quite used to Neflix on a big screen. But I’ve defaulted happily back to my old ways and watch Strictly on the laptop without noticing the difference.
  8. Scent things in the airing cupboard with lavender and rosemary – Not yet, but good idea, Earlier Me! I shall put that on my list. I have rosemary in the garden so I could dry some of that as a start.

But the main difference I’m seeing is not the living on my own, it’s the unexpected change of not working and therefore having so much more time. My dears, it is glorious. I can’t remember the last time I felt this relaxed and it may well be never, given that I’ve been working full time since 1994. It makes the fact that I’ll never be able to retire even more poignant, now that I’ve had a taste of what life could be like.

Of course, I am putting in a good few hours on my own business, but that is currently very flexible. At the moment, I prefer to start later, as a counterpoint to all those early mornings of the last few years. But I spend my time reading or baking or getting other chores done. I also find that I don’t mind working in the evening. I take a break from about 4pm – 7pm, so that I can go for a run, cook dinner, feed the cats and watch Strictly It Takes Two (yes, I am organising my life around Strictly. Because I can.) But then I don’t mind fitting in another couple of hours, particularly if it’s writing work.

Unfortunately, with all that extra time comes less money. But even that has an upside: necessity means that I’m cooking so much more and fortunately, I love a veggie casserole at this time of year. I’m baking my own bread or cakes too, so my grocery bill has plummeted. Over all, I’d say I’m eating less (the workday boredom doesn’t kick in and drive me to snack), but more healthily and for cheaper. I am driven not to waste the fresh ingredients I do have, and that pushes me to be more creative in what I’m cooking. It’s a matter of ‘What can I do with what I’ve got that needs using?’, but I enjoy that, and the knowledge that I’m being less wasteful.

And finally, it’s an absolute joy to spend so much time with the cats. In the seven years I’ve had them, I’ve always been away most of the time. They are older and calmer these days, and spend most of their days sleeping. But they come and find me several times a day, and Belle in particular likes to be nearby. Previously, it seemed that just when they wanted attention, I had to head out the door. Now, I can always stop and make time for them, so I do.

These halcyon days can’t last, because I must earn some money. I am gathering all the rosebuds I can right now.

5 things I learned this summer

lessons-learned-SYLVIE

It is safe to say that 2018 is not going down as one of my favourite years. But, I am mostly through all the stressful stuff and safely on the other side, and it’s a very different place to where I was in the first six months of the year. So I’m in retrospective mode, because you might as well learn when you get the chance.

The sit rep is that I finally moved into my own house nearly three weeks ago. I’ve got the cats back and they have settled in here more easily than I’ve known them settle anywhere. If anything, they’ve been more affectionate since I got them back, and Charlie is already back to his one mouse a day diet.

Today, I’m going to a business networking event to introduce myself as a ‘business coach and accountability partner’ (the LinkedIn version), which basically means ‘helping people get the right shit properly done’. I’ve done a couple of planning and prioritisation sessions with a business owner who is prepared to pay me for my time, mostly because the first session contributed directly to a big uptick in revenue for her business. I spy a case study! A few more of those and I’ve got an income…

I turned 47 last week, which seems a weird number to apply to myself but, ok. I still think, overall, this is a good time in my life.

So, what have I learned?

  1. A lot about my own resilience. That it’s not about how you are on the way down, it’s the bouncing back that counts. I had a long, slow fall for the first time in my life but the come back has been quick. I’m tougher than I thought I was, and that gives me confidence for the next time round.
  2.  This year saw several of my big fears realised and when that happened, it was manageable. Not enjoyable, but manageable. I believe that in critical thinking, nothing is off the table for discussion and re-evaluation. And yet, I have shied away from objectively assessing my relationship with my job, and my huge fear about not having somewhere to live, and let those concerns dictate my actions. Now I know that all the worst things have to be faced head on, so that they can’t come and lurk around your bed in the early hours.
  3. What comfort zone? Someone blew up the boundaries to mine and it’s been liberating. From the art nude shoot, to sending in writing samples to a magazine, to attending the networking event today, I am stepping forward in ways that I would not have done six months ago. The thing about giving fewer fucks is that it’s positively re-affirming. It’s getting to the point where I don’t even think ‘Fuck it’, I just get on with it.
  4. Rolling with the punches. Oh, this is a hard, hard lesson for me, but I realised that my control freakery is increased in times of stress. Turns out, ‘time of stress’ has been my single mode of living for I don’t even know how long, until the situation finally hit critical and was so out of my control that I had no choice but acceptance. I’m going to spend my life learning acceptance, but at least I now have a huge, flashing neon example to remind me of the benefits.
  5. Get help sooner. I lived with clinically high levels of anxiety for a long time before getting a counsellor and I don’t ever want to feel like that again. My anxiety was situational, which I knew, but I should not have relied solely upon the certainty of future change to fix things.

And, here we go. Into the last quarter of the year with a whole lot working in my favour. Maybe 2018 will redeem itself yet.