Category Archives: Things I am crap at

In which I fail the TBR dare. And buy books. And then read them.

So. Two blog posts ago, I excitedly signed up to the TBR dare and dug out the books that have been kicking around for a while unread.

In January, I re-read three books, faffed around online, paced the house and felt generally restless and ill at ease. The unread books remained steadfastly unread, and instead loomed at me accusingly from the window ledge.

Turns out that there’s a reason why they’re unread. It’s not that I never want to read them, it’s just that I especially don’t want to read them when they’re my only choice. But not reading anything makes me stressed and miserable and aimless.

So I did the only sensible thing and hit Blackwell’s, waving my account card triumphantly and to hell with the bill. (Which won’t turn up for a couple of months anyway because one of the endearing quirks of the account card is it runs so far in arrears and the statements are so impenetrable that I  basically never have a clue how much I’ve spent or when the amount will leave my bank account. As a result of which, I don’t bother checking.)

Anyway. I bought a lovely stack of books and I have read:

Watch Her Disappear by Eva Dolan. This is the fourth in the Zigic and Ferreira series and deals with the murder of a transgender woman. I like the concept of the Hate Crimes Unit, it’s a nice device for Dolan to explore less ordinary murders. This one explores the trans community a bit, sympathetically overall and without reduction to stereotypes. The perspective on the murdered woman, Corinne, shifts around as well. Of course she’s a victim, but as more information comes to light and the witness interviews mount up, it becomes clear that she could be very unpleasant.

Since the last book, Zigic’s wife has had another baby, and Ferreira has moved into what appears to be a grotty flat and is having an affair with a superior. But by the end of the novel, the Hate Crimes Unit is closing  – is this the end of Zigic & Ferreira?

Real Tigers by Mick Herron. In which someone has kidnapped Catherine Standish to try to get the Slow Horses to steal some files from MI5 in return for her release. As ever with the internal machinations of MI5, there are wheels within wheels and the double-crosses come thick and fast.  In this one, the body count went up a bit as well, with a splendid shoot out. On balance, I think you’d want Jackson Lamb on your side. Just not close enough to be able to smell him or let him steal your food. He does get all the best lines, though: ‘Mind like a razor. Disposable’.

Daughter of the Wolf by Victoria Whitworth. This got onto my list after a glowing review in The Sunday Times, so I was very pleased to find it. I really hope it’s the start of a series, because it felt like a story that had further to go and I found it absolutely engrossing. The premise isn’t that unusual – local lord goes away leaving untried daughter to rule for him – but the setting is pre-Norman England so the historical elements are really interesting.

And some others.

Finally, as I said to Mr W, I’ve struck audiobook gold with A Dance to the Music of Time, narrated by Simon Vance. It’s been years since I read the quartet, but I’m finding it pleasantly familiar. I may swap back and forth between print and audio for the rest, although it’s a great accompaniment to the business miles and means no risk of accidentally hearing any news on the radio. I find Simon Vance’s dry tone is perfect for Nick Jenkins. But ugh. Widmerpool.

In which I set new rules for Christmas

I’m reading a lot of crap about Christmas. It’s all so much: food, expense, hassle, travel, stress. Why are people doing this to themselves? As someone who veers from making some effort to none, I can tell you that there aren’t any rules. At no point do the Christmas Police come round and tell you off if you can’t be arsed to send cards this year and don’t bother with mince pies.

Also, if you don’t visit people, they get over it. If they don’t get over it, they aren’t the sort of people you should bother visiting, so really, it’s a win-win.

So here are my new rules, to help those who appear to be struggling:

  1. You don’t have to send Christmas cards. You don’t need an excuse, just don’t do it. Barely anyone will notice and they’ll promptly forget. You just saved yourself £20 on postage, get a couple of bottles of wine instead.
  2. You don’t have to make anything. If you can afford it and if it saves you time, buy it. Anyone who ‘really prefers the homemade version’ should either learn to make it themselves or shut the fuck up with their passive-aggressive neediness.
  3. You don’t have to go anywhere/see anyone/ do anything if you don’t want to. See above re ‘getting over it’.
  4. You don’t have to have a tree. Of course you don’t. Or, you can have a tree in every room. Whatever. No one counts. Except people with obsessive compulsive tendencies and if you don’t have trees, they’ll probably count something else, so it doesn’t matter.
  5. There is no compulsory Christmas food. None. Supermarkets and magazines want to make us think that a day can’t be special without tree-shaped nachos for dips and bowls of gold coated truffles on every flat surface. This is total bollocks. Think about your favourite food. Great! Is that what you’re eating on Christmas Day? If yes, awesome. If not, what the hell happened?
  6. What to wear for the Christmas party. Much like ‘how to get a bikini body – put a bikini on your body’, the answer to what you should wear for a party is whatever the hell you like. Ok, if the dress code is likely to be strictly enforced you’ll need to give it a passing nod. Or, skip the do entirely (this is something else that is perfectly acceptable). Otherwise, wear whatever will allow you to enjoy the evening without feeling underdressed, overdressed, too fat, too thin, or too uncomfortable on heels that are 2 inches higher than you usually wear. The shops are full of lace and faux fur and pleather and metallic mid length pleated skirts. Unless you genuinely like any of that stuff and expect to wear it on at least three more occasions, fuck it.

Am I being massively hypocritical and saying all this, while privately going full on Kirsty whatserface and knitting my own tree? Not really.

I have:

  • Ordered a 6ft tree
  • Baked a Christmas cake for my sister
  • Decided to bake cookies for colleagues instead of giving out Christmas cards
  • Written some of my cards (last year I didn’t do any)
  • Already made a trial batch of mince pies, with home made mincemeat. I’m not sure I can be arsed to make any more, though.
  • Dodged both office Christmas parties

I will be:

  • Spending Christmas Day on my own, having politely weaseled out of the family get together by saying ‘Are you fucking mad, I’m not doing that?’
  • Not bothering with Christmas lunch. I might make roast butternut squash soup, though. Or just a cheese, apple and crisp sandwich, with a good cup of tea, and a couple of Jaffa Cakes for dessert. That’s one of my favourite meals.
  • Going for a Boxing Day walk. Unless I’m hideously ill, as I usually am.

Because it’s all about balance. There’s a lot of Christmas. It is much. The way round that is you just choose the elements you want and sod the rest.

On money

Not that I’ve ever had any, because one of the few skills I have is allowing it to trickle through my fingers like sand. For a few years there I did manage to watch my expenditure and acquire savings. But then, with my own connivance, the to-be-ex-husband got the lot, and it’s been simply too disheartening (not to mention impossible seeming) to start again. Anyway, I have no willpower and although I’m sure the future will happen at some point in the, er, future, right now there’s Blackwells, Hobbs, Jigsaw et al competing for my willing attention.

(On a side note, when I started hanging out with the GOM, my friends were all ‘Be careful!’ Of what, exactly, I wondered? Heartbreak? Been there, done that, survived. Financial disaster? See above. The worst threat at the moment appears to be kitten-napping.)

This kind of precariousness is fine when I only have to worry about me and the cats all ultimately living off cat-food and huddling together for warmth. At least two of us would be happy, and I’d still have great shoes. However, it doesn’t quite cut it in a joint household with joint expenditure. Unfortunately, money management bores the living crap out of me. It’s all numbers and detail and restriction, and I can’t help my mind sliding away and thinking about more interesting things.

Consequently, we have agreed that I’ll outsource the lot to the GOM, who is simultaneously shocked at finding himself in the position of being the grown up and almost driven to weeping by my genuinely baffled ‘It’s only 50 quid’ attitude. I’m not quite sure of the details (and, let’s face it, I don’t actually give a toss), but there’s some correlation between spending less on a cell phone package, and spending more time in Italy. An attempt was also made to explain compound interest to me, but my eyes glaze over by the time you get to ‘comp…’

I know this isn’t very 21st century independent woman of me. I don’t give a toss about that either. It’s not a gendered thing, it’s a being very lazy thing. If I can hand over the appropriate amount of money each month and never think about the electricity bill again, I regard it as a huge win. It makes my life better. Oddly, I’m quite happy to keep the Blackwells account; but then, that is a sign of money well spent and not pissed away on practicalities.

 

On getting stuff done

This pay month (I get paid on the 21st) has already turned into the month of being mega-broke, due to an unfortunate coincidence of necessary expenses. None of which are shoes. I’m taking a few big hits, some expected (car tax, cat flap being fitted, wine delivery), some not (oil delivery) and then I decided that since I was going to be skint anyway, why not deal with all the annoying outstanding chores and their associated expenses too?

So that’s what I’m doing, and it feels pretty positive. I’ve had items on my personal ‘to do’ list for days, weeks and months. After a while, I tend to stop noticing them or their effect in any specific way, but gradually they cluster together and start mobbing me.  So I’m suddenly aware that a bunch of stuff needs dropping off at and collecting from the dry-cleaners, because my wardrobe has reached a near-critical status; my iPhone has gone past the point where the smashed screen is usable; I ran out of firewood immediately before the last cold spell but just didn’t get around to ordering a load. The cats need worming, I’ve got two bookclub books to obtain, my fridge is empty (and needs cleaning) and let’s not even talk about the bodywork required on the car because I scraped it along a wall getting into my new parking space near the office. Oh yeah, and my lingerie drawer is a tragedy of tired lace.

Ok, so I’ll probably hold off on those last two items, but the rest? Done, in progress or in plan for the weekend, and as usual with the tasks that I put off dealing with, none of them were remotely time consuming to tackle. I even moved the firewood that was delivered yesterday and stacked it in the woodshed before it had chance to become another undone task on the list (not to mention soaked through in the rain).

Why does procrastination make small chores assume giant proportions? Even while I know something will only take 10 minutes, I still let my mind tell me otherwise. Then the time I spend in the loop of  ‘I ought to have done that’ is way more than if I’d just gotten on with it in the first place. I’ll definitely be broke, but given my ability to let money drip through my fingers without knowing where it’s gone, that’s more usual than not. At least this month I’ll have nothing on my to do list to show for it!

Heat

This cottage is the first place I’ve ever lived in where I face the delightful prospect of being warm enough in winter. Unless you too have spent most of your life shivering, sitting as near as possible to any available sources of heat and taking extra showers because they are the only way to thaw the ice that has settled around your bones, then you don’t know how good that thought is.

(My sympathies have definitely been with everyone in the US who had their power and heat knocked out. Such misery.)

I’ve come to realise that my body is poor at generating its own heat. The circulation in my hands and feet is rubbish, and they regularly turn blue with cold, as though I’m a refugee from a 19th century novel. Consequently, I hate those people who say, as they wander round a 60 degree house in a t-shirt, ‘Oh, just put another sweater on.’ I could try that, of course. I could also try another pair of socks, a blanket and some gloves, make a hot drink to warm my hands on, but about 30 years’ experience tells me there’s No. Fucking. Point.

But now I have been introduced to the World of the Rayburn, and I don’t know that there’s any turning back. It is on its lowest setting and chucking out heat in a way I’ve never experienced from the paltry storage heaters and radiators that have chilled my life to date. Not only the kitchen, but the bathroom and spare bedroom (which will be my study) and which sit above the kitchen, are so warm they almost glow, and the Rayburn also heats the radiator in my bedroom and provides plentiful hot water. Even better, I can cook in it, and if I ever turn the temperature up, on it.  A couple of times so far I’ve put a stew or a chilli in the oven in the morning, and come home to find it slow cooked to perfection.

Meanwhile, the sitting room, which benefits slightly less from the Rayburn, has a fireplace in which a log fire is now burning away merrily. And, as back up, there’s alway the central heating, which I have yet to bother with. Fair enough, it hasn’t been that cold yet, but the cottage is so consistently warm that the external temperature doesn’t have much effect. There’ a lot to be said for stone walls that are a foot thick.

I went to the village bonfire on Saturday night, an altogether different, more fiercely elemental scale of roaring and blazing and heat. It filled the sky with sparks and the scent of wood smoke. The villagers showed up in force (I’ve never seen so many flat caps and Barbour jackets in one place), willingly buying mulled wine and hot dogs and waiting for the fireworks. But I think, really, everyone was grateful for the fire.

NaBloPoMo

It’s suprising, and quite heartening, to me how little time without internet access it took to break me of my web habits. Well, that and the fact that Facebook broke Facebook with their stupid new settings. However, not all habits are bad ones, and I feel I’ve been a lazy member of the blogging world lately, barely posting, rarely reading or commenting. This is a shame for me, because I miss out.

With that in mind I thought I’d do NaBloPoMo for November,  but with a bit of a twist. I’m not going to commit to writing every day, for a perfectly mundane reason that I shall save for another day (Ha! Gather ye subjects where ye may!), but I am going to commit to some sort of daily blogging activity. I know y’all write some good stuff, and it’s time I paid attention again.

There I was, smugly congratulating myself on my Good Intentions while on the bus this morning, only to realise that I’d fallen at the first hurdle by missing a day. Sigh. I knew perfectly well it was 1 November yesterday; I knew perfectly well I wanted to *commit bloggery every day for a month. And yet, those two pieces of information failed to connect in my head in any meaningful way at all.

Truly is the path to good intentions paved with something or other that gets in the way.

*If I ever start another blog I am totally calling it ‘Committing Bloggery’.

Things I am crap at #2

Being competitive; and also, not being competitive. Yes, I know that appears to make precisely no sense, but trust me on this one.

Attempt to challenge me to any sort of physical or sporting endeavour and receive a questioning look in response. It’s well known that I don’t like exercise, have no coordination, won’t cycle up hills, have yet to meet an exercise-generated endorphin, and so on. In this arena, I can’t win, and therefore, I don’t compete. Much as school tried to teach me that it’s the taking part that counts, I’ve always known that to be absolute bollocks. Taking part is no fun at all unless you can win. I can see how coming in second might be just about acceptable if it were possible to brush it off with a casual ‘I wasn’t really trying’; but I either win, or I don’t care. I’ve never yet found any middle ground. Does it come as a surprise that I have never voluntarily played a team game?

And then there’s intellectual competition, which is mostly against oneself. This is what made me take GCSE Italian in a year, and A-level in a year some several years later. This is what pushed me to do my MA in Classical Studies and is what will not let the idea of an MPhil, and ultimately, a PhD, fade away. Dangle the mental equivalent of a half-marathon in front of me and I’m completely up for it and straight to ordering the kit: textbooks, articles, dictionaries, whatever it takes. The OU is perfect for me because it makes studying a solitary endeavour.

And thus to crosswords, another area of self-testing. Except now, I get my crosswords via the iPhone app, which is amazing because it has The Independent, The Guardian, and the Manchester Evening News every day, all via a very nice interface and for the bargain price of $9.99. The Times is not participating, presumably because Rupert Murdoch is batshit and hasn’t figured out this crazy new online world yet. So, every morning on the train I download that day’s crosswords, and I usually knock off the Indy Quick in about 5 minutes. I know this because the app times me; and then, because I signed up for it, it also puts my time on the leader board. Where I am regularly coming in around fourth or fifth. I don’t know who is in the positions between me and #1. I do know the initials of the person at #1, because, obviously, that’s the competition, because, obviously, I either win or I don’t.

It’s a fucking crossword. Sometimes I’m tired on the train, sometimes I’m not firing on all cylinders, sometimes I’m distracted by work. Why do I care that #1 completes in roughly 3 minutes what takes me 5? I just do. I don’t have to beat him/her every time, just once. After that it won’t matter. Still, I can feel that pull, that sitting up and paying attention feeling, that focus to be brought to bear. I know how this is going: either, I’ll do that damn crossword every day for as long as it takes until I get lucky and have the fastest time. Or, I’ll get entirely distracted for long enough that the compulsion will have worn off. What won’t happen is that I’ll give up.

I can’t decide if this is a character flaw or not.