I go on and on and on, (Mrs Doyle style, in keeping with the the Father Ted theme) about stuff cluttering up my life and causing me misery. Yes, I accept that I’m prone to hyperbole but being surrounded by shite, littering every surface and frankly devaluing the few actual nice things I possess, gets me down. In some ways, I was actually slightly less stressed (only very marginally because work was a total pain in the arse) when I was out at work, because I wasn’t surrounded by mounds of toys and clothes all day. LSB doesn’t appear to notice the debris because he goes around in a kind of daze at home, his mind distracted by binary bits and bites and some fecking Boa Constrictor, (or is it Python?) language, which I hear him muttering about occasionally. So once again, I look like some class of demented housewife, wittering on endlessly about the banal. But no, hurrah! My friend posted this article this evening which I read with a delighted relief. Like I have always said, it is neither normal, nor necessary to inhabit a space which resembles a creche. I thrust said post in his face and he conceded that I may have a point. Told you, I said.
So, this week the trauma of life continues. It’s a first world problem alright- we’ve had to move out since I want a bigger kitchen and an extra couple of bedrooms, it’s not like we’re being bombed to shit in Aleppo. But I am looking forward to the day we can all fit round the dining table without someone being brained every time we open the fridge. And since I’m a total midget a few low level cupboards wouldn’t go a miss so I can reach things without being hit on the head by a condiment. I’ve had enough of head injuries of late.
Anyway, it’s amazing how fast one becomes conditioned to doing things. I’ve always been a keen recycler. I recall being taken to play at the school where my dad was a teacher. Seeing the hall littered with Coke cans I found a bin bag and started collecting with vigour, much to the mortification of my friends. At my school I joined the ‘can-crushing’ club, where about 6 of us organised for recycling bins to be ordered and then set to crushing the cans in the greenhouse beside the biology rooms. I still remember the sweet cloying reek of the fermented juice; and the wasps in summer: I was one earnest wee child. Twenty years on, there’s a no cans policy in most schools, though I know much of the paper and cardboard in many is taken straight to the dump which is a disgraceful state of affairs altogether.
It was with great consternation then, that I noted an absence of compost bins in the new apartment. I attempted to reason with myself and let it go, but the OCD crept in. A little part of me dies inside every time a banana skin goes in the bin. So we’re just going to cart it to the dump twice a week, which thankfully is beside where we run, so no wastage of petrol there. Composting is a most worthwhile endeavour, the results of which have already been noted by my pal’s mum, who got a couple of bags from her local dump, and has seen her roses flourish as never before.
LSB has lived up to his acronym this weekend. Since it’s full steam ahead with the extension and the builders are about to ‘break through’ as they say, it’s necessitated a move to an apartment down town. It’s quite New Yorky in feel, high ceilings, big windows, minimalist furnishings…. until we arrived with all our crap. I had sought to adopt a ‘pared down living’ lifestyle for 6 months, but it’s amazing how much stuff one seems to need just to get on with daily life.
I’ve succeeded in rationing clothes, but I need a functioning kitchen. I can’t seem to settle with out knowing I have my herbs and spices to hand, and my favourite pots and pans. Since I’m also prone to burning arses of woks it’s probably safer that I use my own and leave the others in the state we found them.
Anyway, the actual move commenced on Friday, with LSB taking the day off work. Now I’d been emptying cupboards and packing glassware for a week, so emotionally I’d processed we were off. But, not so with himself, who’s been running, or coaching running, or planning f**king running routes all week, so Friday appeared to bring on a mild attack of anxiety. Thankfully this attack didn’t render him inert and he successfully organised broadband and built beds, his main priority being that the Minis’ room was cosy and inviting. This sounds kind and loving but really it’s because we can bear to listen to any more whinging. They’ve taken to our new digs insofar as they see the corner sofa and chairs as an assault course, and when they’re not vaulting over them, they’re lying like baby tigers draped along the tops. The effing bo is still firmly clenched between FJ’s teeth and a steady dribble making it’s way down the fabric. There goes the deposit.
Neighbours looked on in barely disguised horror as they witnessed our removal strategy; I think they thought a lot of knackers had arrived in. I commandeered a large trolley from the local petrol station to cart boxes from the car park, into the lift and up to our third floor flat. I’m not sure the double doors remained unscathed, and some colourful language may have been employed. There has to be some value in a ‘less is more’ style of living.
It seems to be very much a first-world problem to be bemoaning the amount of stuff we accumulate. People speak of Marie Kondo in deferential tones; there’s hardly been a women’s magazine without a feature on how to ‘declutter your life’ and in doing so find health, wealth and happiness. As I have previously mentioned, friends of mine have bought her book and successfully parted with a third of their belongings and claim to be feeling the better for it. So I buy the book, but feck me, I’m bored. And frustrated. Poor wee Marie Kondo; I mean why were social services never involved? This is a young girl, a middle child obviously short of attention, who shunned socialising entirely to spend hours upon hours, sorting out the contents of drawers and cupboards. I mean would her parents never just have taken her to the park, arranged a play date or at the very least have sat her down in front of the telly with a packet of Tayto or a Happy Meal? (or seaweed crisps and smiley sushi or whatever constitutes a kids’ treat in Japan). There has to be some form of OCD or anxiety disorder there. At one point she is ‘almost in tears’ when she discovers a slimy residue, not only on the bottom of her shower gel but also on the base of the wire rack on which it sat. This is referred to as the ‘disgusting slime episode.’ God, that must have been horrific. My heart goes out to her.
I mean, I accept, I should hoover my house more frequently. Maybe even reacquaint myself with a mop. And I need to re-evaluate my relationship with some dresses, which, for the sake of decency should never see the light of day again. But as for apologising to my house for the clip of it, or feeling sorry for the socks that I’ve had the temerity to pair together, in a ball, well I draw the line at this point. I reckon there are enough people in this world to whom I may owe an apology, without having to start with my undergarments.
I had the good fortune to tune into Radio 4 last week and catch a snippet of John Le Carré’s biography. In it he mentioned his inspiration for the character Tessa Quayle in ‘The Constant Gardener’. This was a feisty French woman who overcame an abusive childhood and addiction to be the saviour of countless refugee and displaced children in places as diverse as Cambodia and the Congo, before her untimely death in Kosovo in the nineties. She also sounded like pure craic. As I listened, in awe at her courage and indomitable spirit, I thought, why have I never heard of this person before? And then, why the fuck are we all worshipping at the alter of Marie-bloody-Kondo, who is famous for her organisational skills and innovative folding technique? Was she standing in the French embassy in Phnom Penn, facing down officials while corralling orphans onto a plane to safety? What are we thinking?
But back up a minute, this is the world we live in. It is a consumerist society and we’re all guilty of getting our kicks from popping into the House of Fraser and doing a gleeful jig when we see the Ted Baker stuff is on sale. But since reading the ‘Joy of Tidying’ and ‘Stuffocation’ by James Wallman, I’ve definitely been a bit more circumspect with my shopping habits. I’ve bought less and I’ve given away more. A start-up toddler group has benefitted from a large pile of toys which were annoying the like clean out of me. My friends have inundated the charity shops in South Belfast with bags of clothes and books, and they’re never done firing cheques off to Oxfam and Unicef. It’s okay to take advice on how to live better and more comfortably, and these days that means reducing what we have. And if it takes reading what a certain, slightly sanctimonious lady suggests to propel us into action, then so be it.
Now why in the name of all that is good would a mother nick name her youngest child Father Jack, after a repellent character in a farcical Irish Comedy, and even call her it in public? Well, there are some uncanny resemblances. Father Jack, in the programme, can be ghastly. Snap. This one is an obstreperous article, even if unprovoked. You just never know when a wee leg might poke out and give you a kick, just in passing.
She is particularly partial to a bottle of milk, which she called her ‘bo’. God, how we the that word. ‘MY BO’ she’ll holler, and we’ll all prance around in a frenzy to find it, just to make her shut up. She has affected a walk, with said bottle, which makes her look like a drunk, staggering around, taking a swig and giving off. The early hours are her favourite time to torment, waking us up at any time from 5am, growling MIIIILK in our face, until someone (usually LSB) blunders down the stairs to the fridge. We kept losing bottles a while ago; turns out the little s**t was hiding them in infrequently used cupboards, so we would find bottles of yellow rancid awfulness. This was of course, during the height of summer. I’m not convinced that was a coincidence. She’s fairly sharp, for a 3 year old.
Another aspect of her Jackishness, is the hair. She screams if one dares to brandish a brush, only being cowed into submission by a granny, or maybe an aunt. Thus hair sticks perpetually at a rakish angle, as demonstrated in some of the expensive nursery photos we’ve stupidly purchased. Mornings are a treat, to be sure. After a night on the ‘bo’ she’ll present herself delightedly, with the hair plastered to one side of her face, sticky with congealed milk. It’s lovely.
So Father Jack she is, and Father Jack she’ll stay, until she behaves herself. And relinquishes that effing ‘bo’.
The moral of the bumped head story, is that it is fine to every so often, sit on your arse. Instead of running round like a demented hen, leaping to the every whim of our over-indulged youngsters, it’s ok to stick on the TV, feed them some crisps and flake out on the sofa. Boredom is a life skill, I read in a French parenting manual, and so indeed is frustration. And when the next one is due to start school, I’ll be down there, insisting that I’ve done my summer entertaining and that she’s in on the first of September with all the rest. Perhaps if I do that there’s less chance of me ending up in the A&E.
This month there is a Harvest Moon and with it has come a certain type of chaos. September has so far, not been trauma free. Work has commenced onour house, so builders arrive at 8am, with jack hammers. Delicate Wee Flower has left her pre-school and is headed for P1, where the school in its infinite wisdom decided to leave her until one of the last, so she didn’t start until the 13th of the month. Dear God. So while others have been getting rid and exhaling after entertaining their off-spring for an ENTIRE SUMMER, it has still been play-date central here, picnics, farm visits, library trips, swimming and feck knows what else. I’m knackered. Anyway, in she went, grand, no issues, other than coming home a bit more tired so I bear the brunt of ensuing cheekiness etc. Father Ted has regressed to getting up in the night and coming in taking my side so I’ve been ousted, wandering to the guest room with my special Ikea pillow under my arm, like a wandering minstrel.
On Thursday, the nursery mums thought it might be nice to get all the kids together, familiar faces in this transitional phase. After lunch in a well known fast food outlet, one kind soul volunteered her house for tea, biscuits and back garden frolics in this late September sun. It was all most convivial until I rushed out to the car to get sun cream and sunglasses before we all fried the corneas off ourselves and WHAM; straight into a bastard faux lamppost out the front. I actually bounced off, hearing the clatter before I registered the blow. The reverberations shook my soul.
It’s tricky when you do yourself a mischief as the accompanying adult at a play date. Despite seeing stars I was really embarrassed and protested that I was, of course, absolutely fine and indeed another cup of tea would be just the ticket to make me feel better. It would have been sensible to apply an icepack immediately and lie down in a darkened room, but when your host is putting out crafts for five children under four it seems a bit precious to be lying with your feet up, requiring medical aid.
Four days on and I’m still feeling ropey, and am now convinced the whip lash has set in as I can barely incline my head to the right. My tendency to catastrophise is in full flow. I remember a friend of my dad’s who took a stroke following an incident involving a bumper car in which he struck his head. Apparently head injuries can cause strokes in otherwise healthy people; that was the salutary tale there. So I have LSH waking me in the night to make sure I’m neither dead nor in the throes of a stroke. The Harvest Moon is waning now, and good riddance to it.
Clutter. Yes, everyone’s on about it. From ‘Stuffification’ to Mari Kondo-ing your house; it’s inescapable. That’s particularly true in my house as I can’t walk 2 feet without tripping over something. I learnt that to my cost last night when I ploughed into a plastic pirate ship abandoned in the kitchen by my 3 year old. I’d dislocated a toe last week so the screams could be heard in Cork.
Today, the Friday bunch met up, as we do weekly. We’re a group of mums who either met or re-kindled friendships through baby yoga. I just heard myself there, I’m not sure we could be any more middle-class. Anyway, at today’s get-together, one pal, (an eminent Professor at a local university) asked another in all seriousness: ‘With your husband being a neat-freak, does that really make house tidying easier?’ An animated discussion ensued. Are we actually having this conversation I asked myself? Well yes we were, of course, because it was me who started it. I’ve ‘stuff‘ on the brain.
You see, I have always been untidy, one might say preternaturally untidy. My mum claims it’s in our mother-line to be ‘through-other’ since some of her forebears were incapable of keeping an organised home. I’m inclined to believe her since throwing stuff away and attaining any semblance of order is fairly much impossible for me. Upon visiting us recently and peeking into our bedroom, The Wise Old Elf sighed, shook his head and muttered darkly: ‘It’s not who lives there, but what.’ I mean, we were always pretty bad, but this recent accumulation of ‘stuff’ has blown out of all proportion since moving into our first ‘proper’ home and producing off-spring.
In the 21st century, it would appear that people show their appreciation by buying things- it’s that simple. And they enjoy the heady thrill of making that purchase. I received tonnes of baby gifts given with the premise: ‘I know you said we shouldn’t, but, it was just so lovely’. And indeed it was, and my baby maybe wore it once before the said item was consigned to the back of a drawer and passed on.
Because that’s what I do, pass things on. I would rather show up at a new mum’s house with a freezer friendly tikka masala and a bottle of bubbly with which they can toast the new arrival’s health when they feel up to the task. A great friend in London used to send me parcels of hand-me-downs, which I loved, enabling me to feel a connection to her again, despite the miles. When I then photographed my daughters in the clothes she was thrilled and it re-inforces the bond with her child whom we’ve only met once.
Of course, I realise this depicts me as a total ingrate. Some gifts have been worn and been useful. But on the other hand, the really memorable presents have been vats of home-made chilli and vegetable soups: much appreciated when you’re too exhausted to speak, never mind exercise creativity in the kitchen. One pal bought me a 6 week session of baby-yoga classes; another arrived laden with nappies, shampoo and cotton buds. These are the memories I treasure, not the countless toys over which I trip and tidy away every evening in life.
An overwhelming tide of plastic sweeps our home; a mountain of soft toys, more Frozen paraphernalia than you could shake a stick at, despite my loud and unapologetic hatred of the movie. And that song, Dear God. If I have to endure one more advert with a precocious child warbling into a microphone I’ll scream. It seems that we’re money rich, time short, when what I really want is someone to take the messy little monsters for a couple of hours while I trot sanguinely to a pub and neck a glass of Prosecco.
When my husband and I met, I was the one looking smart, holding down a profession with a degree of responsibility. Some times I feel unrecognisable as a snot-covered mum who witters on about car-boots and NCT sales. These days, I stumble blindly between rooms, shifting mess from one place to another, occasionally kicking over a fresh pot of piss en route, (who am I trying to kid, sometimes it’s not even fresh).
So, advice to expectant mothers? Don’t bother saying ‘no presents’. Just hot-foot it to Next and M&S and return gifts in receipt of a gift card, and buy the ‘Dine-In offer’ and save yourself dreaming up tonight’s dinner. At kid’s birthdays the no-present rules again apply. Some will doubtless disregard your request, but others will concede and then you can delightfully turn up to theirs similarly empty-handed. You know your friends: they don’t want a houseful of shit either. Consider this next time a friend or colleague becomes a mum. Make her some brownies and a tagine. Trust me, she’ll thank you.
I am chronically disorganised and trying to find anything amongst the chaos of my home is a nightmare. Since nothing has a place, it can take an age to find everyday household objects. Nail scissors which have been set out of the reach of small children can vanish for weeks. Most people would have a drawer for those, right? Nope, not us. Same goes for hairbrushes. That can put strain on leaving the house in the morning. Then well-meaning relatives buy us duplicates, so we always ‘have one to hand’ but they just get fired into the toy box or back of the drawer as well. This simply means that our storage options overflow with shit and still doesn’t make it easier to locate anything. Anyway, I found a couple of websites which have helped. I have to acknowledge that actually, I can have a nice space and a tidy home, and if I get my shit together and clear up a bit, maybe even designate a place for things, then life will run more smoothly. I realize that for most people this is just an everyday occurrence, but as you may have picked on, I am neither ‘normal’ nor have an abundance of common sense.
I’ve always been a bit of a grump, even as a small child. My mother reports one of my first words as being ‘annoy’ and my granddad used to remark ‘Here she comes, full of complaints’ as I trotted home from a play-date, face like thunder. It was thus only a matter of time before someone pulled me on my perpetual crossness, and this occurred late one Saturday evening, when queuing outside a Spar on Botanic Avenue. It had been an exhausting shift in Acapulco restaurant and I was tired and forlorn. A reveller popping out of the Empire for a few cigarettes innocently asked ‘why the long face’ and was crushed by my curt response. Well, he huffed, “You’re a Sour Wee Bastard, aren’t you?” I rang my mum the next day, and naturally enough, complained about being insulted. Instead of the expected sympathetic response, she almost punctured a lung laughing. “He couldn’t have got it more right!’ she managed as the spasms subsided, and I’ve been known as SWB ever since.