Facing the Future

It’s been something of a whirlwind few weeks. Actually, it’s been something of a whirlwind year!

July 2nd was the anniversary of Naomi and I meeting. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole year, and hard to believe that it’s only been a year. So much has happened, some of which I’ve blogged about, and we both feel that in many ways it has accelerated our relationship by testing it in nearly every conceivable way.

More tests loom: in August, we will be moving house. Not only will this be the first time we’ve lived together, we’re also moving over 100 miles (or 135, depending whether or not you can fly) to a place where neither of us knows anyone yet. The process of finding ourselves somewhere to live has felt little short of miraculous. Only a few days after I had posted a desperate plea for ideas as we were struggling to find anywhere suitable in East Sussex, we received an email responding to our similar plea on Gumtree. The sender had a cottage in East Sussex, and she was moving for work. The bathroom was on the ground floor and she would be very happy for a cat and even a dog to live with us there. Were we interested in renting it? Continue reading

What Are We Going to Do?

I slept well last night, surprisingly enough. In 2008 I struggled to sleep, wondering what was happening across the pond and whether I’d wake up in a world where the most powerful person on the planet was a man who approved of the death penalty but not contraception, opposes abortion but supports embryonic stem cell research, doesn’t believe my marriage will be valid before God, and thinks autism is caused by vaccines. A world of inconsistency, illogical reasoning, ignorance to facts and the imposition of beliefs on others. Thankfully, the morning brought a different result. My sleepless night had been for naught.

Last year I went to sleep on the night of the UK general election cautiously optimistic that I would wake to negotiations between the left-leaning parties with a view to forming a coalition government. I actually woke up to discover almost the opposite. A frighteningly high number of people had voted for a party with openly racist policies. A majority of this country had voted for a party which not only admits to but prides itself on prioritising economic value above all else, including the inherent value of human life. It would be irrational (and we know how I feel about irrationality!) to suggest that the result might have been different had I kept an anxious vigil. At least I was well-rested when I had to face the horrible truth.

Over the last year the consequences of that decision by this country, my country, Britain, a country and a people with whom I have had a very complicated relationship most of my life, have become starkly clear. I was still working in the NHS when the 2015 election results were published, and the mood in the hospital was grim. We could all see the writing on the wall: funding cuts, not just to the NHS but to the social care institutions that kept people out of hospital, benefit cuts to the already-struggling families trying to overcome generations of class discrimination and income inequality, an indefinite period in which we would be “all in this together” in much the same way that all animals are equal on Manor Farm. I was in shock. I really had thought that we had started to wake up to the fact that you can’t make decisions about people’s lives based on purely economic measures. I was wrong.

Yesterday I went to sleep believing that despite the fear-mongering, the inaccurate “facts”, the enthusiastic dividing of camps and the alarming rhetoric, the knowledge that we have more in common would win out. I thought about how much of the food in supermarkets comes from Spain, France and Portugal, and how EU export laws have made lower food prices possible. I’m in favour of buying locally, and personally I try to avoid produce that’s crossed oceans to reach my basket, but not everyone has the luxury of being able to afford that choice. Without the EU, food is going to cost more.

I fell asleep after an evening during which I read over the introductory chapter of my friend’s book, about feminism in Germany since the 1970s. She’s German, but she’s lived in this country for years and worked not only in academia but also in activism, striving for peace, unity and a fairer system which treats everyone with respect. She is just one of dozens of Europeans I know who live in the UK, work here, pay income tax and VAT and council tax and contribute to the British economy just as much as if they had been born here. They didn’t get to vote yesterday, but it is not an exaggeration to say that the vote they were excluded from was crucial to the structure of the lives. Britain leaves the EU and they may have to leave Britain.

You know the punchline already: I woke up and the fear had won. That vile serpent Niggle Farridge is all over the news, brandishing his passport and crowing about independence. I wonder what his German wife feels about that? The £350,000,000 that supposedly was being sucked into Brussels out of the desperate fingers of the NHS has evaporated into the puff of hot air it always was and I want to run into the street screaming “WE TOLD YOU IT WAS A LIE!” but I can’t bring myself to get dressed and face the day. Maybe if I stay inside, in my bedroom, with my blissfully-unaware cat purring happily on my lap, I can avoid having to fully accept what has happened.

I hate change. I hate uncertainty. Even if I strongly believed that remaining in the EU was a bad idea, I would have found a Leave vote difficult to deal with. The fear and anxiety is magnified a thousand-fold by the fact that the uncertain changes that we are facing are a consequence of thousands, millions, of people making a choice based on inaccurate figures, simplistic divisions and xenophobic prophesying. Not everyone who wants to leave the EU is motivated by racism, but a frighteningly high number of them are. There’s no way to parse “Britain first” that doesn’t imply that everyone else, all those Others, come last. The UK must “take care of its own”, an alarming concept for anyone who identifies with any group that hasn’t always been embraced as part of the family: people with mental health problems, people with disabilities, people of colour, queer people, poor people… anyone, in short, who is too different from those glorious patterns of Britishness, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and our dear friend Niggle. A Turkish-Swiss American, an adopted Scot who turned his back on the Labour party, and single-issue rich boy with a German wife, German ancestry and a spectacular ability to spin reality into a tissue of deceit.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what is going to happen and I don’t know how we can cope. Things are going to get worse, and I don’t know if they can get better. How have we reached this point, where people genuinely believe that arbitrary lines on a map have more bearing on people’s worth than anything else?

I’ve never been proud to be English. For a start, that would be a betrayal of my Scottish heritage which has shaped my identity a dozen ways. I think “English” and I see drunk football thugs throwing bottles, skinheads hurling abuse and talking about racial purity, red-coated aristocrats galloping across fields to slaughter animals for sport. But I did used to be proud to be British. I grew up in the north of England, where immigration is a decades-old tradition which has enriched the culture, boosted the economy and broadened the minds of generations. My best friends, the three women who were designated my bridesmaids long before I knew the name of the bride, are all the children of immigrants. I speak three European languages, understand a smattering of three more, have lived in and visited a dozen countries and can’t think of a single area of my life which hasn’t been improved by people making use of the freedom of movement. Now that is in jeopardy.

This is a rambling post and I don’t really know how to end it, because this is only the start. No one knows what is going to happen next, but I predict it won’t be a sudden upswing in the welfare and prospects of the British people. Whoever they are. It won’t be a better-funded NHS, lower unemployment, cheaper food, fewer terrorist threats. I’m scared.

The Trials and Tribulations of Moving with Wheels

So we’re pretty much up to date around here: Naomi’s got a place on a doctorate, we’re moving in together for the first time, and we’re moving aaalllll the way south. Great!

brighton-pavilion
Sadly not currently available to rent

Except not quite so straight forward as that, of course. I’ve been incredibly fortunate when looking for places to live in the past. I took the first place I saw (twice!) in Birmingham, and then did have a bit of trouble finding somewhere in Cambridge until my school-friend popped up and said, “Hey! Fancy living in our spare bedroom and paying a frankly ridiculously low rent and we’ll feed your cat on the numerous occasions you’re away and not complain too much about the smelly litter tray?”. Turns out this isn’t because I’m an expert flat-hunter. It’s because until now, I have been incredibly uncomplicated to house. One room, running water, a roof, electricity and heating, I was good to go. Not any more! Continue reading

A Magnificent Return

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Well, it’s been a fair old while, hasn’t it? For a while I thought I’d just stopped blogging entirely, but lately I’ve been having a few thoughts about blog posts I want to write – or more accurately, blog posts I wanted to read except that they don’t exist yet. Life has been taking interesting twists and turns, causing me to learn and grow in ways that might be useful, or at least entertaining, to other people. Continue reading

Boing, boing, boing, bouncing around the country!

Greetings from… Cambridge, again! A lot has happened since my last post. First, the family who I had been nannying for all year decided to fire me for reasons I continue to think were unfair and baseless (I won’t go into details, but I felt very hurt and betrayed about it for quite a long time). Then the nanny share fell through, as the first family decided to send their child to nursery instead and the second family, after initially wanting to continue without a share, eventually backtracked and found a childminder.

I carried on looking for nannying work but I also started looking at other jobs, mainly along the lines of being a family support worker. I hadn’t known this kind of job existed! Essentially it combines what I most loved about midwifery (working in the community to support families) with a lot of the skills I’ve gained through nannying, and also uses my law degree a little bit and essentially sounds like my ideal job.

At the start of July, I went down to Cambridge with my friend Nicola to help her get her electric wheelchair serviced, and she invited a few friends to dinner while we were there. One was a woman called Naomi, who Nicola had mentioned she thought I would get along well with. Continue reading

Another New Direction

I really wanted to be a midwife. As soon as I stumbled across the idea, I knew it ticked all the boxes for what I wanted to achieve and what skills I had. My plan was to complete my degree, and either work a few years as a midwife or go straight into a health visiting course.

The problem is that I am not good at hospitals. The NHS, at least from the perspective of someone who works on the ground as it were, is run as a tight ship with strict hierarchy, lots of policies and guidelines, and shifts that seem specially designed to make it almost impossible to live a normal life. Perhaps some people thrive in an environment like that. In fact I know they do – I met dozens of them on placement; women (mostly women, although some men) who breeze through a thirteen hour shift giving endless amounts of energy and care and achieving more than would seem possible without ever complaining, and then coming back in 10 hours later to do it all again.

This sort of silliness does not go down well in hospitals
This sort of silliness does not go down well in hospitals

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Where I’ve Been

Goodness, it’s been two and a half months since I last posted! I hadn’t quite realised it had been such a long time.

What have I been doing? Well, I had a four-week placement on a nursing ward which was very interesting and, as it was just a pass/fail grade, just what I needed to ease me back into the swing of things after a fairly difficult month. It felt like that placement would be the make or break for me, and thankfully it turned out to be a positive experience. I’ll admit, I had been looking at job adverts, but I’ve made it through and now I’m over half way through the degree!

I also had a birthday, which I celebrated in a fairly low-key way. My mum came to stay, and we had a birthday tea with the boys I nanny before tackling the fabric I bought at Christmas to make into a duvet cover. It’s only about a quarter done, and is still sitting in my mending basket waiting to be machine-sewed together, but we got all the cutting and measuring out of the way.

February had a lot of assignment deadlines, so I spent most of my time working on those. For some reason, despite my immense love for my office nook I find it easier to work either in my armchair or at the kitchen table. I suspect it could be due to lack of lighting in the nook (because of the sloped ceiling, it’s the darkest place in the flat) but I haven’t found the right office chair yet either, which doesn’t help. Never mind, the main thing is that the work gets done.

I’m now in my final week of my labour placement, and have caught a few more babies. I’m rather worryingly behind in terms of numbers; preferably I’d have caught ten in the first year, and fifteen in each of second and third years, and at the moment my total sits at nine. It’s not for lack of trying! But for whatever reason, a lot of the women I’ve cared for have wound up going to theatre either for the baby’s birth, or because of a retained placenta. I’ll get there eventually, but my lack of progress has become a slightly panicked standing joke.

Outside my degree? Well, to be honest I haven’t been doing a whole lot! Between placement, assignments and looking after the boys, I haven’t got much time left. I have started going to a weekly house group made up of people around my age, from various different churches. We have dinner together, have a short liturgy of some kind, and then sit around and chat or play board games. Fair warning: I take Camel Up very seriously.

Upcoming excitement: I’m going on a cruise next month! An unanticipated cheque from a family member and a serendipitous congruence of dates means I’ll be fulfilling a long-term dream just after Easter, visiting the Canary Islands and Morocco on a luxury boat. I had to reluctantly admit that visiting Marrakech probably wasn’t feasible this time – it’s on my bucket list, but the day excursion to the city involved so much travel time that I’d not really be able to make the most of the trip, so I’m staying in the port city instead. Still, Morocco! I have wanted to go to Morocco for years. Time to brush up my French and frantically learn some more Arabic.

Paigecat is doing well, and greatly enjoying her cardboard-box-and-Christmas-blanket bed in front of the radiator. She’ll be staying with my dad and Gill while I’m on the cruise, and I’m not sure how I’ll cope being away from her for the longest period of time so far! She’s met dad’s dog Tunny, and they have reached a cautious agreement that she will not scratch his nose if he doesn’t loom over her and wag his tail frantically. That’s better than I was expecting, to be honest.

Spring is finally on the way, and I am so looking forward to going for evening walks in the last of the sunshine. Not long now!

Apartment Therapy’s January Cure – Weekend 1

I’m an avid reader of Apartment Therapy. It’s one of those things that people love to hate – lots of articles with dictatorial titles about how you MUST organise your home, coupled with beautiful photographs and enough genuinely helpful tips to make up for the bizarrely fervent imperatives to hang your artwork at a particular height or light candles at every meal.

The website has inspired me to do a lot of things in my flat, from reorganising all my cupboards and drawers to finally hanging my noticeboard and wall planner properly. I’d say a good 50% of the credit for how nice my home looks now has to go to AT for inspiring and pushing me to get on with things. And now it’s inspiring me to blitz through the entire place and make sure that every nook and cranny is clean, with the January Cure. Continue reading

Reorganising Everything: The Wardrobe and Chest of Drawers

I don’t own a huge number of clothes. I certainly own more than I need (mainly things which have sentimental value), although every quarter I go through everything and identify things to throw out or donate to charity. But even with the ballgowns I will almost certainly never wear again and the dress which is far too small but a happy memory of my childhood, the number of items simply doesn’t justify the level of chaos in my clothes storage.

The built-in wardrobe, complete with giraffes
The built-in wardrobe, complete with giraffes

Among the few items of furniture that were here when I moved in are a chest of five drawers of varying sizes and a built-in wardrobe with a hanging rail and a shelf. The wardrobe doesn’t just house my hanging clothes, it also contains all my shoes, suitcases, laundry-drying items, coats, scarves, spare balls of wool, the vacuum cleaner and pretty much anything else that needed a home. I need to take things in and out of there multiple times a day, preferably without risking life and limb in the process. As you can imagine it very quickly descends into chaos.

The chest of drawers is also prone to its share of chaos. Digging through to find a particular item disrupts everything and it’s so tempting and easy to just shove things back into the drawer any old how, but the result is this:

No wonder I can never find anything to wear.
No wonder I can never find anything to wear.

In theory, the drawers are organised with t-shirts and skirts in the top drawer, jumpers and running gear in the middle, and summer clothes and pyjamas in the bottom drawer. In reality, those categories of things are in the right drawer but the word “organised” doesn’t come close to describing the state they’re in. It’s not infrequent that I am convinced that a particular item must be in the washing basket, only to reach the end of the laundry process without finding it and realise that it was simply buried out of sight all along. The two small drawers contain my underwear and aren’t any better, although at least socks are easier to hunt through than scrumpled-up cardigans.

The wardrobe was the first thing to be tackled. It’s taken multiple attempts to figure out an arrangement that is functional, tidy and sustainable but I think I’ve managed it. The first step was to drastically purge what was in there: I threw out old broken pairs of shoes, moved the spare curtains into some unused space in the drawers under the bed, added more things to the charity shop bag and returned some stuff that I’d borrowed from family and no longer needed. Then it was a matter of working out how best to use the space without making essential items inaccessible.

A functional, tidy wardrobe!
A functional, tidy wardrobe!

As you can see, shoes are either in the hanging storage or, if I don’t use them much, in boxes on the shelf. Also up there are all my suitcases and travel bags, the panniers for my bike and, at the front for easy access, the radiator dryers and hanging peg thingy that I use to dry my clothes. The laundry basket is the red thing lurking at the bottom right corner; behind it are two pairs of boots that were too big to go anywhere else. The vacuum cleaner and sweeper are no longer tangled up with my ballgowns and coats and my ice skates have stopped cutting things to shreds with their blades. The carrier bag on the door is the current charity collection and is hiding my umbrellas.

kitchen

Reorganising Everything: The Kitchen

I’ve now been living in my flat for six months, which I have to admit I find quite hard to believe! I’ve finally got all the furniture I need and worked out how I use the flat, so this week I started on a big project to streamline, tidy and reorganise everything more efficiently.

The kitchen has a reasonable amount of storage space, but when I first moved in I didn’t really think through what should go where and simply shoved everything into the cupboards and drawers. It worked, but it wasn’t ideal and occasionally I would find myself under attack from things leaping off top shelves.

kitchen
How the kitchen used to look

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