posted on: Friday, 28 August 2015

When my husband and I were first together, I moved in to his one bedroomed flat. The whole place was so little that I could pace the entire length of it in a handful of steps. I loved it. It was my first chance to play house; fresh out of university, I used to arrange furniture and plant bedding plants in the garden and generally pretend I was a homemaker. With an ironic smile. In those days, we shopped for food together, planned meals and managed the budget, eating out only occasionally. We had friends round for elaborate dinner parties and used hand-me-down china and borrowed chairs. This pre-dated Ikea, after all. Then, as our careers changed and we could take on more, we predictably traded up. When we married we bought a Victorian town house and so it went on; I've written about it more fully here.

As time went on we set about accumulating more and more stuff, until after two children and over ten years together we bought what was meant to be our dream 'forever' house. An old farmhouse that became the love of our lives and the bane of our lives. I've written about it many times, for example here. At time of writing, that house is in the middle of major building work. Last year there was a nine month stretch which generated more issues than I thought possible. Old houses have secrets. Oil leaks and delays, boring tanks and pipes, not much to get excited about. Now - this stage - we assured ourselves we were i) in the home stretch and ii) doing the fun part. Last year was all about utilities and services; this year it's about knocking walls down and actually realising the dream that my husband has been cultivating, with an architect, for years. It definitely his baby. I am the stylist, which is why I haunt Pinterest like a lost ghost, looking for the perfect kitchen that captures both function and charm.

But we can't live there right now, even though I tried to create a makeshift kitchen and strictly speaking, it is possible to bypass the worst of the building site. As the house used to be two houses, we have two staircases, so there is an 'up and over' option. It makes for a high step count. I ask myself daily whether we should have just knocked it down and started again. It would have been easier and cheaper. Old houses have secrets. I couldn't bear to do it.

With a smattering of First World problems; we are camping out somewhere else, furtively returning to the house each day to check progress and collect an ever-growing pile of things that we 'need'. In actual fact I am staggered by how much we supposedly need and how many items we are now schlepping across town. All of that stuff that we were so encumbered by - I am one of the millions who have bought 'The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up' - is missing. The message in that book is that (in a nutshell) you should not keep anything that does not make your heart sing. Well, my ten year son's old rugby boots don't make my heart sing, but they are necessary. I am not sure the magic of tidying up fully extends to family life. Especially the kind of established family life we live. We are years in, well past the days of plastic crockery and cutlery, now into the teenage maelstrom of personalised phone chargers (who stole mine?), hockey sticks and padded bras. Why do they make bras that are so padded?! Seriously, these things could stand up on their own. I digress...

In those heady days of our early coupledom, we needed very little. Now, we need a whole lot more. I find this somewhat depressing; I have become the woman who yearns for simplicity. I see young newly weds and want to whisper in their ear: 'stop buying stuff; travel instead!' There is no doubt that holidays have brought us more joy than stuff, any day. Even after having children.

And so what to conclude? I need to declutter my house before we move back into it. We have evolved in to a high maintenance family and I am not sure I am proud of that. Modern life bites again! Less is more. And is it the dream house? The forever house? Not sure. When you have seen a house this undressed, it changes your relationship with it. It tests whether it's really love, or just infatuation! That house; it's no cheap thrill. It's a long term deep commitment that is presently costing us lots of time, money and stress. But one day...one day...it will all be done!

Summer's lease...

posted on: Thursday, 27 August 2015

I see people around town; mothers from school whom I haven't set eyes on since we broke up and they say they've had 'the most amazing summer.' My mind whirls back, trying to place the most amazing summer I have had. I struggle. Summers have been pretty good on occasion, but rarely do I use a word like 'amazing' to describe an entire season. I respond; 'it's been a funny old summer.' That's as close to the truth as I can get. Emergency dental surgery, one holiday laced with noro-virus, house move upon house move, more close-quartered family time than we know what to do with. Various logistical challenges. An impending sense of anxiety as September looms with my new life direction - a Masters degree. Not enough writing. A teenager and a ten year old. And did I mention the house moves?!

We left for Jersey in July, returned to a summer rental in a waterside village. We then moved home to our beleaguered house for a few nights whilst my husband criss-crossed the globe to do a three day trip to Hawaii (yea, really). We swiftly realised our house was indeed uninhabitable. There's nothing like lying in bed and imagining an abyss of dark, damp rubble beneath you (spider-infested). We went to Portugal to escape, to the place where we often spend our summer holidays, for nearly three weeks. 

Now I type this, we are 'home' but sitting in another rental, this time in another outlying village, not waterside but inland. There is still a week before school starts, not that I am counting. I think it's been the longest hiatus in my blogging career that has spanned over five years. Absence makes the heart grow stronger? Or indeed my small legion of readers might have simply given up and gone home.

So Portugal was an interesting experiment. Having been so many times before, we were forced to look at it with new eyes and try different activities to keep us entertained.  My daughter took a friend for some of it and my Mum joined us too. The weather was characteristically lovely and hot; unlike England which has been shrouded in rain and cloud all summer. A major topic of conversation amongst all inhabitants. 

I injured my wrist sea kayaking. I read 'The Narrow Road to the Deep North'. I felt awe at the power of words. My biggest daily decision was which bikini to wear. My husband and I endlessly discussed tiles and wall colours (white) for the house that is not yet built. My hair went crazy-blonde. We got the train to Lisbon and spent a day or two. We missed the puppy (who remains very confused due to multiple changes of location). We had deep family discussions about all sorts of random matters. We dissected what makes the perfect holiday. We reminisced and laughed and ate lots of grilled fish. We fought about the usual stuff; unreasonable demands and snappy moments. I considered again how parents who home-school must come from a  different planet to me. We bonded. We fell out. We laughed about it after.

And so here I am. It's nearly the end of August, the evenings are drawing in and a whole new chapter is about to start.

I've missed you. Hello.