I got new rules

As I’ve scarcely been out of jeans since March and yet, miraculously, can still do work, I decided it’s a one way trip out of business casual.

Secondly, one of the smaller points that snagged in my mind when I was reading up on the whole INTJ business is attitude to clothing and colours. Plain clothes, neutral colours, maybe lots of black. For years, and I do mean years, I’ve felt that I should put more colour in my wardrobe. I get told that red suits me and turquoise suits me, and I buy those colours and I feel really uncomfortable and I don’t wear them. Mostly, what I actually like to wear is black, grey, khaki, white, navy and maybe a couple of other shades of blue. That is it. Then it all goes together and you don’t have to think about it.

Consequently, I’m not so much overhauling my wardrobe as having a good, old clearout with very little intention of replacing much. All my tailored trousers are gone, anything that needs ironing is gone, anything that requires me to wear tights is gone. Enough with the dressing up and the costume.

I’m also ditching heels. I loved wearing them, but now, I just can’t be bothered. Flats can be just as uncomfortable but trainers seem to be sticking around as a style, so I’m in.

Making the decision to give up on all this is liberating and feels like a load that I didn’t know I was carrying has been taken away. I’ve had a lot of fun with clothes but as a woman, particularly, you have to spend such a lot of time thinking about your appearance: look smart, look capable, look attractive and a bit sexy but not too sexy, look young (of course), look thin, look feminine but not too feminine in case you’re not taken seriously, look effortless…  But by the power of Greyskull, surely one of the benefits of being middle aged is I get to opt out of all that shit?

If I’m not going to buy much, I can buy better. To replace all the above, I want a pair of Hiut jeans, a new black tailored jacket (been looking for a year, can’t find the right one) and some black trainers (I’d really like white, but that’s not practical and I can’t make myself buy them.) I didn’t do fast fashion anyway, but I can up it a level more. And if I really have to go back into an office, I’m prepared to compromise and throw a jacket on.

 

The important things in life

Which are, of course, biscuits, cats, tea and books. Hitherto, biscuits probably wouldn’t have made it onto my list, but now that I’m working from home, I’m finding the 10.30am chocolate digestive is a key element to a successful working day. Plus, I’ve realised that the 80p per day I was chucking into a vending machine for one Cadbury’s Snack! bar was a total rip off, when you get can get 2 packets of choc digestives for £2.

Cats

Belle remains my good cat and desk kitten. She has allocated desk space, demarcated by a folded blanket, and usually curls up there or on the window ledge. She only very occasionally interrupts a video call, but I presume that just helps someone win their current game of Video Call Bingo, so I don’t discourage her.

Charlie, on the other hand, although He Is a Good Kitten Really, has been wreaking havoc among the local young rabbit population. I saved one small bunny from his claws last week, and put it in the field over the road. It had hopped away when I went back to check later, so I hope that means it’s off for a long and happy life and was not the poor unfortunate that Charlie was snacking on a day later. I cleared up a lot of rabbit pieces from outside my back door this weekend and it was disgusting.

Tea

Another side benefit of working from home, is that I’m less dehydrated. If only to get a break from my screen, I switch some of my calls to phone only, which means I can wander downstairs and make a cup of tea. There hasn’t been room on the desk for a pot of tea, but that might be the solution for mid-afternoons now that I’ve reorganised a bit.  Anyway, lots more tea in my future, I hope, as I cling desperately to the idea of working from home for the long term and bat away the anxiety provoked by the thought of having to leave the house on a regular basis. And, breathe.

Books

I’ve done a very poor job of tracking what I’m reading this year, but I’ve got the TBR shelf down to a single layer. My bookcases are all full, though, and I don’t have any room for the rapidly expanding number of Greek textbooks. There is one more wall where a half height bookcase could fit, but it’s an awkward width so will need to be made to measure. The list of ‘things to be done when people can come to the house and do them’ is gradually extending.

In more exciting book news, the Backlisted podcast is back, and they kicked off with Excellent Women by Barbara Pym so I shall re-read that over the next couple of days. I’ve still got some Reachers on the way from Blackwell’s and now I have another order building as books I’ve been waiting for start to hit paperback, and as I realise I don’t still have copies of books I used to own or thought I owned:

  • Earthsea trilogy – Ursula K Leguin. But now I remember I went looking for this in February and decided the lovely hardback was too unwieldy. What I really want are the 70s Puffin copies I first read from the school library.
  • Herodotus Histories – how do I not have this? How do I have Travels with Herodotus but not actually Herodotus? Where did it go?
  • Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym. Backlisted referenced it and I can visualise the cover but I can’t find it. So annoying.
  • A Thousand Ships – Natalie Haynes. Obvs.
  • Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell.
  • On Chapel Sands – Laura Cumming.
  • A Wreath for the Enemy – Emily Frankau (out of print)
  • The Mabinogi – Matthew Francis. Which includes the story of Blodeuedd, the woman made of flowers, which is of course the story used in The Owl Service by Alan Garner. So then I could re-read that again as well.

It’s such a shame that now when you put in a big book order, they’re delivered in dribs and drabs. I want one box with all of them in one go, so that I get the full excitement of lots of new books at once. Really I want them all in a sort of packing case, hand wrapped in brown paper and string as well, but that’s probably a bit too Charing Cross Road for these benighted times. Bloody progress.

In which I get to stay in the house

All the time! Without even having to make excuses for it!

Here we go, the second weekend of lockdown, although it’s more like my fourth because I had a week off and was pretty much self-isolating out of choice before Coronavirus really kicked in.  I mean, I’d got the new Hilary Mantel (wonderful conclusion to the trilogy, but I miss Thomas Cromwell now), and I was enjoying sleeping in a bit and having leisurely coffees, and watching trashy movies. I nipped into town a couple of times, and I did get out for a day of walking, Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay, when I saw what was coming.

I didn’t expect to be going back to work in the office, so I’d tidied up my study, added a biscuit jar and hung a couple of pictures. And it’s been great. I love working from home. I love the extra half hour I get to sleep in, and the extra time I get to ease into my day. I’m at my desk by 8am and barring a couple of really busy days, I close the laptop down by 5pm at the latest. Work is busier and more stressful at the moment, and it really helps me that I’m at home, where it’s quiet and there’s a cat on the desk.

I know that some people are having a hard time, and I refuse to feel guilty that I’m not. Given that I’ve spent my entire working life adjusting to environments that aren’t great for me, I’m getting the most out of this short period when my work set up does suit me.  My boss already knows it’s going to be difficult to get me back in the office full time and I’ve already said if I have to do it, I’ll need a phased return to readjust to the fucking noise. That is a way more stressful prospect, so I’m not thinking about it.

It seems entirely possible that this can be a really positive time. I’m trying to build on some of the good habits I started during my week off, and add to them:

  1. Serious reduction in social media – I’m still checking Instagram but mostly staying away from Twitter and FB.
  2. Weaning myself off the news – I really don’t need a death by death coronavirus count and most articles have an inherently negative spin that seems designed to contribute to panic. If an article is titled ‘How to survive self-isolation’ it suggests that the whole thing is an ordeal. What is with that? Where are the pieces on ‘Hey, it’s really not that bad when you get used to it’ and ‘How to make the most of alone time’? I guess they just don’t foster enough hysteria.
  3. Both of these mean less time on my phone. A few times I’ve even forgotten where it is, so I definitely want that trend to continue.
  4. No commuting did mean more time to cook proper meals, until I started running out of proper meal ingredients. I’m getting a grocery delivery today that should cover me for the next two weeks, but I couldn’t get everything so I might have to venture to a store.
  5. I started yoga again, not particularly successfully but I did a few workouts.
  6. My GCSE has been cancelled but I’m still studying Greek. I wasn’t learning to pass the exam, I just like to collect grades so I get the occasional sense of achievement. I don’t think there’s going to be a good solution for private candidates, but if I end up sitting GCSE and A-level at the same time next year, it’s not the end of the world. So I made flash cards to help me really learn the vocabulary and I have all the verbs written out and up on the wall in my study, and my tutor just sent me past papers to do.
  7. It seems like more theatres, and opera houses and galleries and whatever are getting online every day. I haven’t explored any of that yet, but what if I did sit up in bed watching the Met Opera live one Saturday night?
  8. Being more thoughtful about what I cook, so that I’m making the most of the ingredients I have. Plus, they have to cover lunches as well. I don’t think is a bad thing at all.
  9. Calling people. For years, I’ve been texting, like everyone else, but just this last couple of weeks I’ve started getting and making calls again. I may even actually write some letters.
  10. More reading time, of course. Blackwell’s sent me a three for two before they closed, and I ordered some books from a local bookstore.

Does all this channeling my inner Pollyanna mean everything is fine and dandy? No. I’m worried about my parents, one in a locked down care home and one in self-isolation for 12 weeks because of his age. I’m worried about my sister, because she and her husband are self-employed business owners and they’ve had to close. As of now, they can’t seem even to get one of the business loans the government promised, and their insurance company is threatening not to pay out.

I’m worried and a bit scared about being ill when I’m on my own, but that’s just how it is.  Of course my main concern would be the cats, but I have plenty of cat food being delivered so as long as I can crawl downstairs to get them food and water, we’ll be ok. This is out of my control, so I’ll just deal with it if it happens.

But I’m making plans for after all this is over, too. I definitely want a bigger fridge-freezer, even if it has to go into the garage because I can’t reconfigure the kitchen. I’ll be keeping my cupboards just that bit better stocked and going all out on fancy storage jars and boxes because you can’t stack half-used bags sensibly.

If I think bigger, then if I don’t have to commute, I don’t necessarily need a car. And if I don’t need a car, that’s about £500 a month saved. And that, my friends, is part time PhD money right there. With some left to throw into a pension scheme.

So, I guess I’m one of the few people who doesn’t want life to go back to normal. Which is just as well, because I think there’ll be a new normal and it could look very different. You can’t cross the same river twice.