Posted in Personal life

How to Get to the Bottom of the Ironing Basket

Ironing Board as a Bookshelf - Powder Coat it!
Image by ninahale via Flickr

The ironing board is on the landing.  This may seem an odd place to keep it, but it’s solving a long-standing problem: the apparently bottomless ironing basket.

It’s not that I dislike ironing: in the right frame of mind, it’s very soothing.  Research shows that repetitive tasks provide similar benefits to meditation.  Knitting and jogging also qualify.  But lately the view from my utility room of a dreary, browning, post-snow garden has deterred me from taking up my post at the ironing board.  And the distinctive aroma of over-wintering guinea pig, which decamped to the adjacent worktop during the cold snap, is a further disincentive.

As I hovered in the utility room the day before spring term began, trying to summon up the energy to tackle a week’s worth of school uniforms, an inspiration flashed into my head.  For this I must thank the author Susan Hill. At Tetbury’s Yellow-Lighted Bookshop’s wonderful Book Festival last summer, she talked about her latest book Howard’s End is on the Landing which describes the year she spent rereading books stashed around her house.

Like her, I have many books on my landing, which my husband recently redecorated.  I took the opportunity to reorganise the bookshelves, showing the contents off to best advantage.  Now at the top are decades of diaries, the earliest dating from when I was 8.  Below are displayed precious and obscure books from my childhood (anyone else remember Torchy the Battery Boy?), through to the bittersweet teenage comforters such as Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.  Next come the dog-eared favourites from my university days.  Well, some are less dog-eared than others: one day I really will read all four volumes of Richardson’s Clarissa, bought at vast expense in a wild moment of undergraduate optimism.  Then there’s the vast collection of hobby-related guides acquired in my leisure-rich child-free days.  These haven’t seen much action since I acquired a child, whose own bedroom is now bursting at the seams with books.

I never tire of looking at my bookshelves.  The display on the landing will be a lovely backdrop to my ironing. The location offers other conveniences: a thick, warm Indian rug under foot; the adjoining bathroom where I can easily top up the iron’s water chamber; nearby wardrobes for immediately hanging up the ironed clothes (far better than turning the kitchen into a holding bay).  I’m convinced that on the landing, I’ll make great headway through the ironing basket – at least as long as I can ignore the comfy rocking chair in the corner, an ideal place to curl up with a book.

But for now I’m determined that this refreshing change of scene will restore momentum to the task in hand.  What’s more, I’m thinking of applying the same principle to other stalled proceedings.  So once I’ve finished typing this, I’m off to do my tax return in the bath.  Must press on….

(This post originally appeared in The Tetbury Advertiser, February 2011)

Posted in Personal life

It’s So Last Century

My sister-in-law Janet’s famed theory (“The best way to get something done is to do something else”) strikes again today as I take my car to the garage for repairs.

My objective: to cure the car of making an odd scraping sound that suggests the exhaust might be about to fall off. While the mechanics try to diagnose the cause, I’m restricted to a range within walking distance of the garage. So I hit Chipping Sodbury High Street with nothing to do but keep an eye on my phone for an update on my car’s welfare.

My achievement: one new skirt, one new waistcoat, one new jacket, one new blouse, plus a bill for £68 (so a bit of a bargain, then). This is, of course, excluding the garage costs.

A frequent target for comedians as the ultimate in rural backwaters, Chipping Sodbury High Street is actually quite a pretty place, with an old-fashioned marketplace centre and a range of shops untouched by the global brands that dominate most other high streets. Until I ran out of cats, my most frequent missions to Sodbury were for the sake of the veterinary surgery. Until the wonderful Mr Riley retired a few years ago, he seemed to spend almost as much time with my menagerie as I did. He particularly looked forward to appointments with Floyd, whom he pronounced “the most amiable cat I’ve ever met”. Even when taking an animal on a one-way trip to the vet, I always enjoyed the fact that Mr Riley’s surgery was situated in Horse Street.

Our house now being a feline-free zone, I spend today’s visit meandering down the High Street. I check out the charity shops, as you do, before wandering into a clothes shop that I’d never been into before. Having previously written it off as a shop for old ladies, I soon find myself enthusiastically trying on half the shop. At one point another customer asks my permission to try on a dress. I am carrying so many clothes that she thinks I must work there. I leave with a surprisingly full carrier bag, trying not to consider the possibility that the chief reason I nowlike this shop is that I’ve evolved into an old lady.

My car, incidentally, does not get fixed. The required part will not arrive until Monday. So my sole achievement this morning is to revitalise my wardrobe.

This comes not a moment before time. Recently I rearranged my clothes. Usually I oscillate between hanging them in order of colour and pairing them up in outfits, in between the odd bout of chaos. I flirted with the idea of putting them in order by date of purchase, until I realised that a shocking proportion of items were bought before the turn of the millenium. Never mind them being “so last year” – “so last century” was nearer the mark. Carbon-dating would not go amiss.

But one thing’s for sure: Janet’s theory is proven beyond all doubt.

Posted in Personal life

How To Get Things Done

On Sunday afternoon, after months of feeble excuses, I decide to tackle what appears to be an enormous task. I undertake to tidy my dressing table. It is inches deep in the detritus of dressing and undressing: discarded jewellery, price labels and hanging tags from new clothes, odd coins and pens and business cards that have been turned out of jacket or trouser pockets. The Victorian honey-coloured pine surface is completely hidden from view.

Tidying my dressing table is not my favourite task, which is why I have ignored it for so long. In the half light of early mornings and the dimmed lamps of late nights, I never really scrutinise it, so the muddle bothers me far less than if it were on the kitchen table. The only reason I am bothering to tackle it now is that otherwise I will have no moral high ground from which to make my daughter clear up her dressing table, now competing with mine in the untidiness stakes.

I grit my teeth, put on my Ipod (that invaluable mental anaesthetic) and wonder how many podcasts it will take before I’ve completed my task. I click on my favourite, The News Quiz , and swiftly fall into the meditative, methodical rhythm of tidying.

I locate lost necklaces, reunite long parted pairs of earrings, and accumulate quite a stash of beribboned clothing tags for my cardboard recycling box. (Can I really have bought so many new clothes lately? Erm, no – it’s just an awfully long time since I last culled the discarded labels.)

I restore to centre stage a favourite antique lace mat and a colourful binca mat that my daughter cross-stitched for me last Mother’s Day under her Grandma’s artistic direction by Grandma. I rearrange the chipped but beautiful mulberry Bavarian glass dishes that once belonged to my own Grandma. With a neatness bordering on OCD, I align the numerous necklaces draped over the corners of the hinged mirror. My dressing table is starting to resemble an exotic shrine – and all before The News Quiz is half way through. Stepping back to admire the new order, I feel a sense of calm creeping osmotically from this harmonious little scene into the depths of my soul.

This tidying business really is therapeutic. I continue to feel a little glow of satisfaction every time I walk past the dressing table, even now, two days on. So why did I wait so long to do it? I really must not procrastinate like this again. Now that I can see the mirror again, perhaps I ought to write across it a note in lipstick to remind myself: The best way to get something done is to do it.

Posted in Personal life

How to Get Things Done

Tomorrow afternoon a new friend is coming to visit me at my home.  She hasn’t been to my house before.  I hope to get to know her better and to become good friends, and this will ensure that my house is cleaned and tidied before she arrives.

This is a striking example of my sister-in-law’s theory that “The best way to get something done is to do something else”.  Over the last few weeks the house has been getting progressively dustier, because we ended our contract with a domestic cleaning company when I gave up my salaried job to go  freelance.  Every day since then, there have been plenty of excuses for me to avoid doing any housework.  Apart from the daily dishwasher cycle and the regular loading and unloading of the washing machine, there has not been a lot of activity on the housework front.  But the promise of a visit from a new friend that I want to impress will guarantee action stations and a shiny, fragrant welcome.

On the same principle, I’ve always found that scheduling a garden party round about the end of June is the best way to ensure the flowerbeds are weeded, vegetable garden planted, and garden furniture sparkling clean by midsummer.

I’m always on the look-out for similar formulae to take the pain out of the more tiresome chores.  But I think I’ll draw the line at my sister-in-law’s favourite, which slipped out in an unguarded moment at a dinner party.

“The best way to clean your nails,” she prescribed brightly, “is to make pastry.”

Suddenly the apple pie she’d made for our pudding lost its appeal.
Posted in Personal life

If You Want Something Done

I thought there were two certainties when I left my job two weeks ago:

1)      I would miss the adrenalin-charged days I was used to at work
2)      I would finally have a chance to catch up on the ironing

So why am I now feeling the need to lie down in a darkened room to recover from a whirlwind of activity? Here is an outline of what I did today:

1) Got my daughter ready for school and walked her to school
2) Cooked breakfast for my husband (yes, he is spoiled)
3) Attended my first ever yoga class
4) Enjoyed a cup of tea and a chat with my next-door neighbour
5) Savoured a sociable “Lenten Lunch” at the Methodist Hall
6) Called in at the village hairdressers to check on the secondhand books that I left there last month for sale in aid of the PTA
7) Distributed flyers for next week’s PTA Pledge Auction
8) Cooked lunch for my husband, working out the carbohydrate content of the meal and advised him of the right insulin dose
9) Attended a Parents’ Drop-In Session at the Village School to discuss computer issues
10) Collected my daughter from her after-school Story Club
11) Emailed a friend with a string of ideas for a sponsorship campaign for her extremely gifted son, an Olympic hopeful who is not letting type 1 diabetes stand in the way of his ambition
12) Booked tickets for the Blondie concert at the Arboretum as a birthday treat for my brother
13) Reserved a place on a creative writing course this Sunday
14) Took my daughter to her gym club and enjoyed a chat over a cup of tea there with a friend
15) Met my sister for dinner at Frankie & Benny’s
16) Put my daughter to bed and read her two stories
17) Checked my online bank account and email inbox
18) Phoned my mum to fill her in on the day’s events

So much for missing adrenalin.  And in fact I was wrong on both counts: I still haven’t done the ironing.