Posted in Personal life

A Study in Tidiness

Entrance to my study
Before: enter at your peril – and yes, that IS a spinning wheel in the corner

I don’t know what it is about this time of year, but in the last week or so I’ve been hurtling about the house in a frenzy, clearing out cupboards, rationalising bookshelves, streamlining wardrobes. My home is looking as much like a showhouse as a Victorian cottage is ever likely to be.

On Wednesday, I spent about three hours sorting out my nine-year-old daughter’s bookshelves, alphabetizing the novels by author and sorting the non-fiction into classifications, as if her bedroom was a library.  (You can call me Dewey.)

Today, I’ve spent best part of the afternoon clearing up my study – no mean feat by anybody’s standards, as you can see by the “before” photos here.

My untidy desk

Though hard work at the time, it’s definitely worth the effort. I’ve long been a believer in the basic principles of Feng Shui (well, the lazy person’s version, that is – I don’t go in for all that purist business of deflecting poison arrows and hanging octagonal mirrors). It’s common sense that if you  surround yourself with order rather than chaos, you will feel calmer and more in control of your life.

I’ve also always been fond of rearranging furniture and am constantly in pursuit of the perfect layout. A little bit too fond: I recently googled it to see whether it is a clinically labelled condition. (I didn’t find one – yet.)

Messy corner of my study
Rookie mistake here: that’s a chair, not a bookshelf

I wonder whether my current urge for order stems partly from the new neighbours who are renovating the formerly derelict house adjacent to mine.  They have transformed the place. Its shiny glowing newness puts my house to shabby shame. My previous next door neighbour was a recluse with a profound antipathy to DIY. He had a broken window at the back of the house that another elderly neighbour swore had not been repaired since the Second World War. He elevated procrastination to an art form. And he set a very low bar for any aspirations we might have had to keep up with the Joneses.

That’s more like it: books on shelves- oh, and in a laundry basket. Oops.

But the new neighbour’s renovations had been going on for some months before my latest round of compulsive tidying took hold. So maybe it was more a natural  reaction to Christmas and a coping mechanism for absorbing the influx of Christmas presents into an already overflowing household.

There again, the imminence of my birthday (5 days to go and counting) may be a trigger. Do I need to prove to myself that I must make a difference to my environment before I get another year older?

But there’s another annual occurrence that I suspect is the trump card: the arrival of a certain green printed letter on my doormat. No, it’s not an early birthday card from the Wizard of Oz, nor a John Lewis credit card statement. It’s a reminder from the HMRC that self-assessment tax returns are due by the end of this month.  And I really hate filling in my tax return.

This is no tidying bug – it’s tax evasion, Jim, but not as we know it.

Tidy study
Now all I need to get in order is my tax return.
Posted in Family, Personal life

The Multi-Tasking Mummy

Plate spinning , Brisbane, Australia
Plate spinning – it’s what I do every day of the week (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years ago, when I was working at a girls’ boarding school, I was asked at least once a year to give a careers talk to the pupils, because I was one of the few members of staff whose career had included extensive time away from a school environment.

Amongst other things, I’d been a journalist and a PR consultant. This experience meant I could speak with authority about the value of “transferable skills”, as the jargon put it.These are skills that would be of as much use in one job as another – number management, working with people, planning, and so on, as opposed to the ability to manufacture a Ford Escort car, say, which would only be of any use to an employee of the Ford Motor Company.

Before my talk, to be given under the watchful eye of the careers teacher, I made sure to do my homework. I put together an impressive collection of evidence of my previous careers to use as visual aids. Slamming down on the desk a big exhibition catalogue that I’d once edited would be very useful for waking up any girls who had nodded off.

I also took along a very interesting press cutting that I’d spotted in a national daily. This article predictied that by the time the current generation of schoolchildren had grown up, the notion of a “job for life” or even a career for life would be outmoded. Instead, the average worker of the future would be likely to do an estimated 17 jobs during his or her career. It would also become the norm to do more than one job at a time, with at least one of these being pursued from the home rather than in a separate workplace.

English: Screenshot from Linux software KTouch...
The essential 4th R for any career girl – after Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic comes typewRiting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I duly photocopied this article and  distributed it among the girls, just after I’d startled them by describing my first transferable skill: teaching myself to  touch-type.  They exchanged disbelieving looks at my description of my electric typewriter, which in those days passed for high-tech.

From the security of that full-time job in the school, I had no inkling that within less than 10 years I’d have a portfolio career myself – a concept that at the time had terrified me as much as it had the girls. Now, viewing the notion from the other side of the fence , I can’t believe that I survived working in just one job for so long without a crushing sense of claustrophobia.

The actress Bea Arthur
Bea Arthur, inspiration for BEA magazine

This complete about-face didn’t really strike me until I was interviewed recently by a terrific online magazine called Bea, which was set up as the antidote to the typical women’s   newstand publication. I love its strapline: “BEA… whoever you want to be”. And, do you know, I think I am now doing just that.

Click here to read their article all about, er, me….  (and lots of other great articles on a huge range of topics). And be amazed at how much I fit in to each day. I know I am. No wonder I’m always tired…

Posted in Writing

Moving On

Mary Pickford writing at a desk
Mary Pickford at her writing desk (Image via Wikipedia)

Though I’ve lived in this house for 21 years, every so often I feel an irresistible urge to rearrange the furniture. While new neighbours and their furniture vans have come and gone all around me – never more so than just now – I’m acting as if I’m still settling in.

This weekend, the acquisition of a new bookcase was the trigger. Once that was in place, I felt compelled to move the sofa to a different spot. Next an armchair, then a rug and a table – and before I knew it, I was upstairs rotating my bed 90 degrees. Realising this new layout provides a much better view on waking, I wonder why didn’t I use it before. Then I remember that I did, at least once, about ten years ago. I repositioned it during a subsequent feng shui phase when I discovered it was unfavourable not to be able to see the door from your pillow.

But no matter how much I move things about, I still never arrive at the perfect layout. It drives my husband mad. It’s bad enough when he can’t find his car keys: not being able to find his armchair is far worse.

A psychologist would have a field day with my restlessness. Is it all just displacement activity to avoid the things I know I really ought to be doing? That unfinished manuscript calls….

One thing’s for certain: I could never be one of those people who moves house every couple of years. I’d be in a constant state of exhaustion.

Fortunately, relocation is not on my agenda. Which means I’ve still got time to get the house straight before I die. In fact, that could be the title of my autobiography: “I’ll get it right before I die”. (On my gravestone will be “At last! An uninterrupted lie-in!”) That’s if I can ever decide on the best place to put my writing desk…

(This post was originally written for the Hawkesbury Parish News, November 2011)

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Always Someone Worse Off Than Me

People in a Waiting Room
Image via Wikipedia

As often happens, a routine hospital check-up kickstarts my “pull-yourself-together” mantra that there’s always someone worse off than me.  But this time the trigger is a little different.

Striding energetically to the Orthopaedic X-ray department, overtaking patients on trolleys and in wheelchairs,  I feel almost fraudulent for being there, although I’m only obeying my rheumatologist’s instructions.

Queuing at the department’s reception desk, I scan the waiting room to assess how long it will be before it’s my turn to be seen.  I do a double-take when I spot a pair of uniformed policeman in bullet-proof jackets, sitting opposite each other and trying to look inconspicuous in the far corner of the room.  Once booked in for my x-ray, I casually sidle over and take a seat a few feet away from them, gaining a front row view of whatever proceedings they are there to perform.  I’m hoping the radiographer won’t call me in any time soon.

After a few moments of pretending to read a magazine, my curiosity is rewarded.  A slender young man with a Caribbean accent, his arm in a sling, returns from the x-ray room and heads for Law Corner.

“It’s ok, it’s not broken,” he assures the policemen, as if that might have been their biggest worry.  He looks away, as if he thinks he’s dismissed them.  The younger policeman nods assent.

“Good, well, we just wanted to make sure you’re ok.  And that you don’t want to press charges against your attacker.”

“No, I hit him back and he ran off, so we’ll call it quits.  Let’s leave it there.”

But the young policeman doesn’t leave it there.

“And now my colleague has something he’d like to say to you.”

He nods across the aisle expectantly.

“I have to tell you that we are here today to arrest you on suspicion of possession of cannabis,” begins the colleague, and segues smoothly into the standard legal warning so familiar from TV.

Wow, a real life “nice cop, nasty cop” routine, I think gleefully.  I don’t know whether everyone else n the room is hanging on their every word quite as shamelessly as I am, but I’m too transfixed to care.

Sling man is looking incredulous.

“Cannabis?  You mean weed?  A spliff?  Does that count as cannabis?”

PC Nasty’s expression makes it clear that yes, it very much does count as cannabis.

“But when?” says the disbelieving sling man.

I bite my lip to curb a smile.  Don’t tell me there’s a choice of occasions!

“Further evidence has come to light following your arrest and release in March this year,” asserts PC Nasty.

“No, you’re having me on!  This is a wind-up!  Someone else must have given you my name.”

“That person also gave us your correct birthday, full postal address and other personal details,” is the stern retort.

Sling man’s tense shoulders drop and he sits back.

“Oh, that will be my brother,” he asserts confidently.

“We took the person’s fingerprints, so when we get you down to the station we can take yours too and see if they match,” chips in PC Nice.

Sling man looks down at his arm as if wondering whether last night’s fight will have broken his fingerprints.  A sudden thought apparently floods him with relief.

“March, you said?  March 2010? No, it can’t have been me.  I haven’t been arrested this year.”

“Deborah Young, please,” comes an untimely voice from reception.  Reluctantly I gather my things and head off for today’s dose of radium.

But there’s still a spring in my step as twenty minutes later I stroll back to my car.  Yet again, a hospital trip has shown incontrovertibly that there’s always someone worse off than me.

Posted in Writing

The Freelance Philosopher

What do freelance philosophers think about on their day off?

The Thinker, Rodin (post-process)
Image by radiospike photography via Flickrat

Until I heard one introduced on a radio discussion programme recently, I didn’t even know there was such a thing.   Unable to hear the rest of the broadcast, I’ve been wondering ever since what the job entailed.

I picture the philosopher on the programme in full flow, his meter running, taxi-like, as he expounds.  Then, as the end credits roll, he flips up the flag to turn his yellow “for hire” light back on.  Till someone hails him for another trip, he’ll be switching off his mind.

When not in receipt of a paycheck, does his overdeveloped mind transforms from wily processor to passive receiver?  Does he sit expressionless, refusing to extrapolate philosophical theories from his experiences? Next time I meet a philosopher, I’ll be watching and taking notes.

Actually, I refuse to accept that there can be such a thing as a freelance philosopher.  Surely, if your mind is of philosophical bent, you just can’t help yourself.  It’s the same with being a writer.

Admittedly, when I ditched my full-time job in February, I did initially bill myself as a freelance writer to celebrate escaping the yoke of a salaried employee. But I quickly realised two important truths.

Firstly, freelance should not be confused with freedom.  The freelance may no longer be enslaved to a single employer, but that doesn’t make him free.  (And slavery has its advantages – security, for starters).

Secondly, a writer is a writer is a writer.  I will always write, whether or not someone is paying me a fee. All artistic or creative types should surely be entitled to describe themselves by their vocation regardless of their income.  If you write poetry, you’re a poet; if you paint pictures you’re an artist.  It’s immaterial whether the meter is running (or should that be metre, for the poet?)  Payment is desirable, of course – but lack of it won’t dry up my pen.  Selling only a single painting in his lifetime did not, I am sure, prevent Van Gogh from calling himself an artist.

It’s not as if there are specific qualifications for such occupations. It’s not like the medical profession, where you need years of training and official registration before you can use the associated title.  I for one would have to be desparate to accept treatment from a freelance doctor or itinerant dentist.

This tag “freelance” also has a certain implied sadness about it.  Like the label “single” these days, there are overtones of failure, of waiting for someone to come along and snap you up.

In the end, I felt a little sorry for my mystery freelance philosopher.  I just hope he eventually found someone willing to pay him to come to terms with his situation.