Half way through the summer! And I’m not sunburnt or drowned yet. Taking stock of what else has been going on, here’s the round-up.
Delightful living conditions
In July my inner 1950s housekeeper came out again. I washed net curtains, I washed the bathmat and shower curtain, I thought about washing the hall rug. I stopped at the hall rug because I was exhausted and it would have involved using the bath and possibly trampling on it a la wine production and that it when I thought enough was enough. Having these things clean made me happy. I am happy when things are clean and tidy.
I also channelled my inner 1950s husband and did some basic DIY. Well, I say DIY, I mean using an aggressive glue. With NO MORE NAILS I glued down some tiles in the bathroom (those wee diamond-y ones in between sensible tiles) that have annoyed me since I moved in. I then went on a SPREE gluing (Microsoft is telling me that’s a word. It looks very odd without the E, but glueing also looks wrong. I can’t write “adhering” because that sounds a little too serious) things that have been flapping about.
Ultimately I dealt with small niggly things which have irked me for months but either assumed I couldn’t fix them (DAMN THE INTERNALISED PATRIARCHY) or assumed that they were something to adapt to. NO MORE.
July saw me spend a lot of time with my adopted German family (to be clear, I am not adopted. A German colleague is now a friend and her family have essentially adopted me. I have my own room there and her husband has become used to me opening the door when he comes home from work to offer him a glass of his own wine. I still feel weird about it, but he seems to have moved on).
Last month I was talking to my fiend Foobing about her birthday and mine, and what our plans were. She didn’t want a party, but did want something as last year was such a disaster (basically, her family weren’t around, so nothing happened). I decide that we should have a girls’ day out, without any children or husbands, and do something fun. This turned out o be perfect as her daughter called me about throwing a surprise party for her and they needed her out of the house for an hour.
Realistically, she would need to be out of the house for slightly longer than an hour and would need to be back for a certain time, so I organised a programme of events and pretended that the kids wanted to make dinner for her as a surprise and that was why she couldn’t be at home and why we needed to be back on time. This worked quite well to cover any slips on the home front (the youngest child refuses to keep secrets. Actually, if you tell Foobing not to mention something, she will usually blurt it out too, so that must be where he inherits it!).
The plan was to meet in town, grab a coffee and head to Kensington Palace for the Fashion Rules Restyled exhibit. It was quite small, but lovely and I found myself recalling seeing the dresses from Diana and realising how they had influenced my mother’s fashion as I grew up. Next was on to Bobbi Brown in Covent Garden for a makeup lesson, before heading to a fancy cocktail bar for drinks and then heading home.
Personally, I would hate a surprise party unless I planned it. I’m a massive control freak. Foobing would love it, but I knew she would want to look her best. Her morning was taken up at a school fair, so I had to contrive a reason for her to be looking smart, without suspecting or without us looking like fools during the day in London. We both like makeup, but would never go to a Beauty House alone, so I figured safety in numbers. A lesson is always fun and it would leave us looking smart and allowed us to not look like dusty tourists when we went to the cocktail bar. And, because we were going to a cocktail bar, we brought heels which meant she would be dressed appropriately for a party without looking especially done up.
Bobbi Brown is known for her natural beauty aesthetic and, while I knew they did lessons, it didn’t occur to me until another friend of mine, Lisbet, had been on a whim and really enjoyed it. This was perfect for Foobing who doesn’t like to not look like herself (I am quite happy to look like anybody!). I booked us both a lesson (focusing on eye makeup) and put a note about the surprise party. The artists were fabulous despite a screw up in the booking system. They had us in the chairs for an hour and made sure we knew what they were doing and how they chose colours and were just fabulous. We were both astounded by how well we both looked, yet how we looked like OURSELVES.
(I sprung for a colour correcting serum which erased my dark circles in a way I hadn’t known possible and also a purple-y eyeshadow stick which was wonderful! I love this serum and have taken to wearing it daily. It’s almost replaced eyeliner in my must-have list).
Next up we headed to Christopher’s Grill (where I had been previously for a hen party and a ridiculous Tinder date – on different evenings, obviously) where we popped into our fancy heels and ordered some fancy cocktails. What Foobing didn’t know was that I had arranged for a dessert plate, so she was speechless when they brought out a platter of dessert with “happy birthday Foobing” surrounded in table fireworks and the whole bar sang happy birthday to her.
On the train on the way back to her house she admitted that she wished she had planned a party for her birthday, which made me squee a little inside. There were a few little hiccups between the train station and her house (the kids weren’t ready, we accidentally saw a guest, some guests didn’t understand the concept of a surprise party etc etc), but we made it, she was totally shocked, everyone was delighted and, even better, Germany won the football that night.
It was such a lovely day. Selfishly, I got so much joy out of making a fuss of my friend and making her feel special. Also, I can’t lie, I loved being part of a subterfuge.
Staying with the Germans, this month I was also sponsor to their eldest child. Wikipedia helpfully defines Confirmation as “one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. It is the second of three initiation rites for Catholics, the other two being Baptism and First Holy Communion. According to Catholic doctrine, in the sacrament of Confirmation, the faithful are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and are strengthened in their Christian life.”
Growing up in Belfast, I made my confirmation at age ten, and it was the big academic aim after the Eleven Plus. The two oldest classes (Primary Seven) at our school and another school joined together in our uniforms (we were a dashing brown and orange, they were red and black, I think) and the local Bishop confirmed us.
The point of confirmation is to essentially take over the reigns of your faith from your parents. You are now a fully paid up member of the Church and have renounced the devil for yourself and welcome the Holy Spirit. You also select a sponsor, who will bring you to receive the sacrament, present you to the Bishop for anointing and later help you fulfil your baptismal promises faithfully under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Your sponsor obviously has to be Catholic and you do need to know them.
I was honoured to be asked to be Treeza’s sponsor and slightly wary of such responsibility. Ultimately though, it’s a position like godmother, but where the child chooses you and you just keep an eye on them. I am possibly not the best person to speak to about crises of faith. Me and the Church have some issues. I don’t especially like its approach to women, to gay people or to the people Jesus would have stood up for, but on the whole, I appreciate that it is doing the best it can. It should be doing a lot better, but as with anything involving so many men in fancy outfits, change progresses at a glacial pace. That being said, I do have a faith and I am a modern woman in the world, so I’m possibly a good person to come to and discuss issues with. I might not have all the answers, but I can find some blogs that could shine a light.
The Germans did confirmation in a slightly different way from how I did it decades ago. For a start, the children were all at least fourteen. And, to be honest, I think that’s better. I remember a very awkward class discussion with the local priest as part of our preparation class and we got stuck on the Gates of Heaven. Our teacher was mortified that we kept focusing on St Peter and the fact they would be pearly while the priest did his best to steer us away and into more secure waters, but we just couldn’t explain what we meant. I think ten is possibly too young to take on your full faith, but it doesn’t make a huge difference in the scale of things, so never mind.
The other difference was that the children, being German, don’t wear school uniform, so were kitted out in fancy clothes. I sound so old saying this, but they were adorable. The boys were in suits, the girls were in smart dresses. They were well turned out and appropriate. The Bishop had come over from Paderborn and was very eminent. My German family and another German family had dinner with him the night before and I established that all Bishops are cut from the same cloth. It was reassuring.
My job was to accompany Treeza, sit with her at church (second row. The photographer took way too many pictures with me in the background. Thank God (really) I wasn’t slumping or scratching or yawning in any of them!), stand with her at the anointing. The anointing has been described as the “meat” of the confirmation. This is where you stand at the front of the church, with the hand of your sponsor on your shoulder and the Bishop makes the sign of the cross on the forehead with the oil of chrism, has a bit of a chat with you about the Holy Spirit and you receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit Wisdom (understanding, knowledge, courage, counsel, Love and fear of the Lord. Although that last one strikes me as a bit much, now I think about it).
It was a whole day of festivities and Holy Spirit and watching young people find their place in the world. I was honoured to take part.
July is when I celebrate my birthday. This year I decided that I would have some people over and have a gathering. This I did.
On the back of that, and given how much fun it was and how well these unconnected people got on, I decided to make a reason for it to happen again – albeit with a little less fuss. While I’m already in a book club with some lovely people, I’ve had the same conversation a number of times where people have an aversion to book groups. People don’t want to read a book they didn’t choose, the pressure of reading a book to a deadline, to have to make time once a month to meet, to analyse a book in a way they haven’t since school or university, or being afraid of looking stupid in front of other people and so they don’t join a book group.
All my friends read. They all like books. They all like me. So I figured I would turn it on it’s head. We’ll have a book group where you talk about a book, any book, that you liked and say why. Everyone else can ask questions and take recommendations. You don’t have to come to every meeting. That’s it. No one judges your choice, no one cares why you like it.
We had the first one last week and there was a small turnout. We were three. It was lovely. We talked about our books, and then we talked about a million other things. We each went away with recommendations for books or authors. It was fun.
I did pizza and rice krispie buns, crisps and yoghurt. And wine, obviously. My fuss levels were at about 40%. I’m going to try and bring that down for the next one.
Confident in the kitchen
For my birthday gathering I made a few things from scratch. Not a lot, granted, but I did two pastry numbers which went down well: a pastry-pesto-tomato-mozzarella situation (shout-out to my friend Furry for the soggy bottom advice) and a pastry-lemon-curd-pistachio set up.
On the meal front, I have adventured with Quorn in a bolognaise (I’m not convinced, to be honest, it’s a bit spongey) and some left over salmon (baked in a parcel with frozen lemon and lime slices) into a chilli noodle dish. Nothing very fancy, but tasty!
Also, I tarted up some Rice Krispie buns with a medley of seeds and peanut butter and they were so delicious my boss ate double helpings. This is a man who declines cake on a frequent basis.
So the good news is that I found a man and eloped.
Oh, wait, no. That didn’t happen. Probably best I know someone for longer than a month though, so that’s okay.
What I did do was spend a lot of time watching couples and talking about things with wives. Again, I’ve spent a lot of time with Germans this month, so a lot of the information I picked up was European, but it’s probably still quite relevant.
At Foobing’s party I watched a host of middle aged couples (who, on reflection, possibly wouldn’t thank me for describing them as middle aged, so perhaps I’ve got that wrong) drinking and chatting and dancing. I watched couples who are very demonstrative and some who aren’t. But they all shared smiles across the room and sought each other out. They were pleased to see each other. They backed each other up in conversations, even if they didn’t agree. They’re all here in London because one of them got a job and they up sticks (I feel that upsticked, the possible past tense, is wrong here) and moved to stay together. They learnt how to compromise but maintain their identities. They found their tribe in a new country and were stronger as a couple.
I also had a very fun conversation with a friend outside in the garden under the stars drinking prosecco. She’s been married a long time, lived abroad, done it all and she introduced me to someone I had a few dates with. We had a proper drunk-girls-in-the-bathroom conversation. There should be more of those in life. To be honest, I didn’t talk to much. Milla talked a lot. She told me that modern love is so complicated now and they the boundaries are so fluid. That it’s so hard to know who likes you and how much they like you and how real something is, because it seems that everything is so casual nowadays. That you can smooch someone today, but tomorrow they’ll smooch someone else. That smooching has less value today. That sex has less value today. That being upfront about what you want is not encouraged and being cool and relaxed about everything is seen as the norm, even if that’s not how you really feel.
I mean, yes. The world is a lot more CHILL about things. Sex and The City showed us that. There wasn’t public outcry at women dating and having casual relationships. That’s a great thing, but I did understand Milla’s point. That you can really like someone and think they like you without having a whole big conversation about it and then find that you were more invested than they were. That today establishing What This Is and Who We Are To Each Other early on is seen as bunny-boiler-y and a bit like you have marriage planned on the third date. That it’s off-putting.
We talked about boundaries and how you have to define them for yourself and be both courageous and vulnerable in defining them and informing people of them. It made me think a lot.
This month I had people in my house TWICE. That’s pretty good, I reckon.
Also, this month I finally bit the bullet and downloaded Windows Ten. Now, I am a huge technophobe. This is somewhat hilarious given that I manage our company website, but essentially I don’t understand the basics of technology (I can do them, I just don’t UNDERSTAND them. I do not think in a logical way, so logic is like a foreign language to me). I am afeared. I depend on my phone and my laptop for so much, plus they were a financial investment, so I am a nervous wreck if something goes wrong, or if something has the potential to go wrong with them.
Windows Ten felt like a huge mistake waiting to happen. For months, every time I turned on my laptop, an aggressive and authoritative window would appear threatening me with Windows Ten, warning me I only had so long before it would just download itself. The threats turned to wheedling and I trusted that even less. Then came the deadline for 19 July – then no more free Windows Ten (this is nonsense, but fair enough).
Having buried my head in the sand for some time, I started actually doing some research about it. The download should be straightforward; if you hate it, you can roll it back to Windows Seven; it shouldn’t lose or ruin any of your work. Some things would be different. Some programmes would be gone. The Start button would be there. It was designed for tablets and touchscreens.
A lot of shoulds. A fair few reviews from people who HATED it and listed problems I couldn’t comprehend, which made me even more reluctant.
Finally, I sat down and thought, okay, you have no dad and no boyfriend to sort this out for you. You have to do this yourself. You’re a grown woman. Do it already.
My sister, who is adventurous in many things, just downloaded it and got on with her life. I decided I should make a back up of All My Important Things. My laptop is not fancy. It has music, photos and Word documents on it. I figured it would all fit on a few CDs.
It would not.
I figured if I bought a stack of 10 gig flash drives, I could stick everything on those.
Yeah, no. I have more photos than that. Working out how to spread everything across CDs and flash drives was more trouble than it was worth, especially when I realised there is no handy labelling mechanism on those flashdrives.
So I dug out my old hard-drive that a friend removed from my last laptop and gave me with some kind of external hard drive …machine. And then I just copied and pasted my computer profile over.
Now, I am aware that this is not actually how to back things up. But I don’t know how else to do it. And the main focus was to sort out Windows Ten. Frustratingly, the helpful dialogue box was telling me that it would take MORE THAN A DAY to paste over my photos, music and Word documents.
Long story short, it didn’t, the download went fine, nothing was lost and now everything is fine. Okay, my laptop no longer automatically works out whether to play sound through the speakers or headphones and my research has told me it is something to do with DRIVERS (? What?), but for the meantime, I will just fiddle about with a box and sort it out.
Healthy Mind & Body
Earlier this year I had some (a lot of) dental work, including an inlay-onlay (it’s like a crown, but it isn’t. More explanation I do not have) and I was never able to floss on one side because it was so tight. I also had a sneaking suspicion that it was coming loose. Rather than let it go for a long time (years, probably!), I went back and sorted it out. My dentist, who is a delight, had it sorted in under ten minutes, gently rebuked me for not talking to her about it sooner because it’s always good to talk to her about concerns and send me on my way without a bill. Win!
On the back of that success, I made a medical appointment with my GP to speak about a foot thing.
IF YOU HATE FEET, SKIP AHEAD. NO OFFENSE TAKEN, FEET ARE GROSS.
I have been very very very lucky with my feet for decades. I’ve not yet (::touches wood::) had an ingrown toenail or a bunion or a corn (I’m not even sure what they are). I’ve never had to have any thing shorn off, or frozen or any of that.
Now, I am slightly less lucky. Not to get into too many gross details, but I have two… situations which are not responding to over-the-counter treatments (tea tree oil, Bazuka (both red and black lids) or, the hilariously named, Wartie which failed entirely to “freeze” anything) and have started to become painful. All the instructions and NHS websites say to visit your GP if they don’t work. And so I did. And she, God love her, had to touch my feet, which I made sure were scrupulously clean and nice looking. She did not faint or look horrified.
TO BE FAIR, my feet are not horribly scary. I deal with their hairy Hobbit-yness on the regular and am a big fan of the foot mask, but these small growths aren’t going away. And OH FEET ARE GRIM.
Now I am waiting for an appointment with a podiatrist. Hurrah for the NHS
Art and culture
July was a bit lean on culture, but I did take myself off to the ballet again to see Cinderella at the Coliseum performed by the Australian National Ballet. It was a delight. An absolute delight. The story was crazy (the father isn’t dead, but a drunk possibly abducted by socialists, she never actually wears the shoes, the fairy godmother is…a bit weird and there was a bit about the solar system etc etc) but a total delight. So much so that I have already booked my tickets for The Nutcracker and Gisele for Christmas and the new year.
I also went up to Oxford to see friends of mine (Albion Basement) perform their comedy gig. It was, as predicted, very funny. The pub also sang happy birthday to me, as it was my birthday.
Off the back of the pension fiasco last month, I looked into some finance blogs. I have a list to work though and, while they are a little dry, I am taking notes. I deliberately went looking for LADY FINANCE with the idea that I would find them less off-putting, but it turns out that I am substantially turned off by “here’s how to save for more shoes” blogs. Ideally, what I’d like is a nice lady to explain to me the financial pages of the newspapers and how they relate to me. I’m finding my way around and pleasantly pleased to find that I’m not a complete dunce.
I mean, I have a pension, I have a current account and a separate ISA, I pay off my credit card bill every month, I don’t have any debts (excluding my Student Loan, which I will have forever at this rate) and I have a basic understanding of how the markets work. I don’t exactly understand how the Bank of England works, or what a Bear market is, but I’ll get there.
This was a failure. I had migraines because I failed to take care of myself. I didn’t drink enough water, eat enough protein or get even nearly enough sleep. I was stressed and didn’t do enough to relax. I did not exercise enough either.
People keep asking me how the hunt for a new job is coming along. Well, I’m not hunting. I haven’t been hunting for a long time. I realised lately that I’m actually happy with my job. My boss and I get on really well at the moment – we work as a team and we understand each other. My projects are good and going well. My working environment is fun and I have colleagues I consider friends. I don’t want to change any of that right now.
No, I don’t want to be doing this forever, but I met another friend (a man) who has been in the same job for the same amount of time as I have and no one gives him any grief about it. I wonder how much of my grief comes from living in London, where everyone changes every few years (this chap lives in Scotland) and the competitive fluid nature of work is the norm, or whether it’s a male-female thing. I feel like I should change jobs, because people remark that I’ve been there so long, but my man friend just owned the statement. He didn’t look abashed or qualify it with “but my role has changed over the years” as I do.
I don’t have the answer, but I am curious.
Whenever I go somewhere or do something or meet someone, I will collect the ticket stubs and receipts and leaflets and store them in a shoebox. Eventually they will make their way into a scrapbook. This month, I filled a scrapbook with six months of, well, essentially trash, but it’s a project I have wanted to do since before I moved to my new flat.
So, there’s that.
Another thing I collect is quotes. Quotes from people I know, books I read, tv shows I love. You name it. I have collected them for years. I used to write them in notebooks, but they get scrappy and inevitably I can’t read my own handwriting. Plus, I use different blue pens and I had an inefficient system.
Most lunchtimes I read things online and, for the last few years, I have kept a huge Word document with pasted quotes. This month, I collated and edited them together into one 250 page document. An online company called Blurb offers a self-publishing service and I had ideas of having my quotes published by the end of the month. This didn’t happen, but I did manage to take a look at work it out. I plan to have it finished in August.