I have been thinking recently about what makes a home recently as HWSNBN and I are thinking about moving.
Our little flat is my haven. But sooner rather than later we are going to need somewhere a little bigger for my books and his magic the gathering cards (Yes, reader I married a geek) before our home begins to resemble Hoarders: the bibliophile edition.
I am dreading house hunting as I clearly remember the dawning horror as we viewed places a) we hated; and b) realised that we could barely just afford them. Our task is complicated by the fact we live in Brighton & Hove, a place so cool it rains glitter* (*LIES). Although we have both reluctantly conceded that to afford more than a shoebox we are going to have to look outside of Brighton, far outside of Brighton; I’m going to miss living here.
I wish I was one of those people who didn’t mind where they lived but I do. I grew up in a small town where there was nothing to do and nobody to see. I have done my time living with damp rot in the shape of Jon Bon Jovi’s head; or sleeping with a hat on to protect me from the wind whistling through sash windows; or endless bickering over bills. I’m going to be *gulp* thirty-one, I want to live somewhere where I am unaffected by the great Toilet Paper Rationing of 2008.
More important that physical comfort is feeling emotionally safe. Home has also been on my mind because for a variety of reasons I have chosen not to visit my family home for three months. I was twenty-one when I realised that homes, no matter how beautiful, can become cages too. I can still remember that sensation of opening the front door and waiting anxiety flooding through me as I listened for the sounds of somebody kicking off. It felt like living with a slow gas leak, and it wasn’t until I escaped travelling across continents that I realised how poisonous the atmosphere had become.
Since then it’s been really important to me that my home is a safe space. This month instead of feeling frustrated at the lack of garden, I lay on the sofa and looked around flooded by nostalgia for our home.
I remember the first night we got the keys. We were still living in my old flat which had little things like beds and chairs and working fridge. But we slept on the floor of our new flat anyway, the light seeping through the pinned up bin bags on the window to wake us with the dawn. We were so excited to set up home together.
This is the place where HWSNBN and I lived together for the first time. And although I know that home is wherever he is, the thought of losing those memories makes me sad. The thought that wherever I live next Lianne will never see it makes me feel a little sick inside.
But it’s time. We will start looking for a three bedroom house with a garden as close to Brighton as we can afford. Simple really, but the other things we are looking for are harder to define. A place flooded by light, that seeps across the floor like treacle in winter. A place where the eye is drawn outwards with inner horizons. A safe haven.
Easy, right? Wish me luck.
Any house hunting tips, let me know in the comments.
I wrote this in January, just as the cold weather started to thaw and thought I’d save it for next year. But then the unthinkable happened SNOWMAGGEDON, in March? As a true Brit I know that I can get a least a fortnight’s worth of small talk out of this. Brilliant.
Ahem. This isn’t the only reason I love snow. Snows turns me into a big kid. Yes, I know it’s inconvenient. Yes, I worry about the old people. But because we live in a country where we have proper snow, perhaps once or twice a year it is always thrilling me. Whether it is the Blitz spirit of people struggling on it public transport. Or the kids playing in the park. I love the way snow transforms the landscape immediately, folding over houses and fields like a white blanket. The familiar is rendered unfamiliar, almost uncanny by the stark whiteness. I love the way the snow catches in your eyelashes melting them into starfish shapes. I love how when the wind blows, the flurries look like vapor twisting like smoke from a genie’s bottle.
I love it all so much I have created the definitive what to do when it snows list!
2o things to do when it snows
Get up really early because the light outside your bedroom is different.
Pull back the curtains swiftly so the white light blinds you.
Check the weather. Is this a tiny flurry or are we in for blizzard time? 100 per cent chance of snow? Hell yes. (Avoid BBC weather, they lie. ‘Light sleet my arse. It’s like the Day after Tomorrow in out there!’)
Update facebook. Friends may not have windows, they need to know the precipitation levels where you are.
Turn the heating up really high, strip down to your indies and enjoy the incongruence of staring out at cold when you are boiling.
Check your food cupboards. Imagine having to survive on some dried quinoa and kidney beans. Thank god when the local corner shop is open and instead your surviving on cadburys and wotsits.
Bake. Something about the cold always sends me into nesting mode and we always have the ingredients for a victoria sponge.
Wrap up warm. You want to be so roasting you have to unbutton yourself. The key is layers, layers, layers. Plus tucking your trousers in your socks to avoid the old snow in the wellies dilemma.
Snow angel time. Press your body evenly into the snow otherwise you’ll get a bum angel. Nobody wants a bum angel.
Make something out of snow. Think outside the box on the one, kids. Anybody can build a snowman but can they build an anatomically correct snowman, a snowcat or an igloo (my project of choice).
Leave tracks. Choose your spot wisely. You’re looking for a patch of untouched virgin snow. Take a step. Ease into it. Then another. What animal left these tracks?
Start a snowball fight. Particularly with a group of kids who are not your match in size or intellect or HWSNBN… BURN! Rules? There are no rules…
Take lots of pictures so you can annoy your friends later with pictures of your snowy antics.
Make a snowmade slushie: get snow and add sugar syrup and food colouring. Avoid the yellow snow though…
Drive in the snow after dark (if its safe.) The snow falling against a background of black looks like the opening credits of Star Wars.
Finally when you are so cold you barely feel your extremities go back inside. Feel the thaw as your fingers start to regain sensation.
Make hot chocolate like your gran used to make it.
Create a blanket nest and grab an appropriately themed old kids book. My favourites the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe or the Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Don’t make me choose!
Stare out at the snow.
Sadly, I’ve buggered my back. So my snowday consists of lying on the floor staring out at the sky. If your snowday is better than mine let me live vicariously through you in the comments.
This year, I’m not feeling Christmasy at all. I have no money. An essay due in the second week of January. But mostly I am heartsick and missing Lianne.
Lianne loved Christmas. She always gave elaborate presents, dressed up in festive jumpers or reindeer horns, and was the always the last woman standing after the drunken debauchery on Xmas eve. Now she is gone, but never forgotten, I needed something anything to get me in the Christmassy mood. So with her old advent calendar He Who Shall Not Be Named and I are taking it in turns to treat each other to some presents. Although there are one or two mini presents, in the most part we’ve focused on advent activities to get us in the Christmas spirit. Here’s what we doing if you want to play along at home:
1. Nom some chocolate coins
2. Write a list to Father Christmas. Have you been naughty or nice?
3. Eat a satsuma to help alleviate scurvy gained from living off sherry and mince pies over the holidays.
4. Put up a ribbon sash for Christmas cards. Detangle cat from ribbon sash.
5 .Make a wreath. Pinterest as ever is your homegirl, for any tutorials.
6. Look at old photos of Christmases past and reminisce. (This one made me sob a lot. But in a healthy cathartic way. HWSNBN: *comes into room, clocks me crying* are you OK. Me: Y-YYYes. Fiinne)
7. Make gingerbread men. Devour gingerbread men headfirst. Feel guilty for cannabilistic intentions
8. Write Christmas cards
9. Decorate the tree
10. Buy a Christmas jumper. (Yes, I am not crafty enough to knit on. Don’t judge me!)
11. Make hot chocolate, snuggle up and watch your favourite Christmas. Think Elf vs Home Alone. Muppet Christmas Carol vs It’s a Wonderful World. Miracle on 34th street vs Die Hard. http://www.empireonline.com/features/30-best-christmas-movies/p30
13. Clean out your wardrobe and bookshelves and donate to a charity to prepare for all the presents.
14. Make mince pies
15. Wrap up Christmas presses
16. Listen to your favourite Christmas music. Are you a cheeseaholic or a christmas hipster?
17. Hang mistletoe in your house and kiss under it
18. Go iceskating
19. Wrap up warm and walk around the neighbourhood voting on the best/tackiest Christmas lights
20. Drink mulled cider. Like you need an excuse.
21. Watch the burning of the clocks. This is a Brighton-centric thing. Nowhere else makes giant paper mache clocks and throws them in the sea to celebrate the longest night.
22. Go to a carol service. I love in the Bleak Midwinter
23. Put on jammies and snuggle up in bed. Not long to go now…
24. Drink lots while clad in sequins. Because this year I’m doing Christmas, Joan Collins style
Any advent activities planned? Let me know in the comments.
Against my better judgement, I went camping this weekend. I am not the ‘outdoorsy’ type. I am more the sit on a sofa reading type. Which isn’t very snappy. It’s not that I have anything against the outdoors; it’s fine in small doses. But it does lack the things I live for like libraries and cake or even better cake in libraries. Luckily HWSNBN was in charge of packing minor items like wellies, anoraks, sleeping blanket and the tent. While I spent two hours happily mentally debating which books I would take camping with me. Priorities, I have them.
We went camping with the curry night crew which in a month or two will be sadly depleted as one couple are moving to Jersey, the other to Australia. Before setting off I took a look at the weather forecast for the weekend. In my head I have relabelled this camping trip as ten reasons why you are immigrating. Namely rain, drizzle and downpour. But actually it was the hottest camping trip I’ve ever been on which bought it’s own host of problems namely: sunburn, mosquito bites, and being unable to lie in after 8am.
Despite all my bitching I do actually enjoy camping. It always reminds me of being a kid again, when you would beg your mum and dad to let you camp in your background with your friends. Stay up really, really late until 11.30 talking. Then realise camping is cold and uncomfortable and sneak inside. Except when you camp, there is no escape indoors just a long freezing night on cold ground. Just me then? But seriously I do actually enjoy the buzz of sleeping seperated from the outdoors by a thin plastic sheet. The lack of light in the evenings mean that some people (translation: me) are forced to put down their book and talk to other people. For the length of the camping trip, outside distractions fade away. The triumph/struggle of cooking your own food from scratch: 1 hour twenty minutes later I have made pasta using a bunsen burner and sheer ingenuity. Obviously I am a culinary genius.
But all of these don’t compare to the main reason I go camping those blissful two hours after you arrive home: mud splattered, wet and exhausted. And wander around marvelling at everyday things you take for granted like flushing toilets, lights, kettles that boil after a minute and not twenty and soft, clean, dry comfortable beds. Then you forget but for those first two hours everything is new and wonderful.
In the past we’ve had some memorable camping trips, but here are my camping highlights:
The Potty Incident
Although one of my first time camping was to Glastonbury festival twice, yes at 2 and 3 years old I was v cool. My first memory of camping is of playing with my big sister hearing the rain pattering off the tent canvas. Until the peace was broken by my dad f-ing and blinding. My little sister had deliberately emptied her full potty over the sleeping bags. Even now she still has a reputation as the one that peed in the tent.
Friend of the blog H has as much natural affinity for camping as I do. He once turned up for a camping trip with a football and a cricket bat and had to borrow a tent off a friend, which he put up in the dark. When he first got into the tent, he fell asleep staring up the stars: a nice little ‘design feature’ he thought. In the morning he emerged ranting away, the tent leaked, the design feature was crap! Only then did he realise he’d left the square of fabric he needed to cover the top of the tent off. Heh.
Fireman Sam envy
One of HWSNBN best friends and ex flatmate has a rather unique ‘sense of style’: think clashing 80’s acid brights. One year at Buddhafield he turned up with a pair of bright yellow waterproof Fireman’s trousers he had found by the side of the road. We mocked him mercilessly singing the Fireman Sam theme song. That was before the rain. By day four, when we practically had to push out the car out of the mud, we coveted those Fireman Sam trousers. We coveted them so badly.
A girls weekend dressing up like fairies with my besties was just what the Dr ordered. It turned into Episode of Girls Gone Wild but with more glitter. First we leched at St Johns Ambulance man, a couple of tents over. Not realising because of how the wind carried he could hear every single word. Then we got very drunk and danced like Kate Bush to the warbly disco harp music. As it began to get cold Ros ditched us claiming we were ‘cramping my style’ so Debs and I stumbled back through the dark wood to our campsite. ‘I’ll go and get her in a minute’ I promised as we slumped into the tent. Then out of the darkness came the sound of a parrot cawing ‘Hello’ a sound imitated and echoed by the others campers. Ros had arrived home.
I was 18. It was my first year attending Reading with all my Uni friends. This was going to be the best festival ever. The boys at the next campsite over had bought a Fisher Price tape recorder and only one tape. David Hasselhoff’s greatest hits. At first it was amusing and ironic, yeah. By day three I wanted to kill them all. A situation not helped by my tent mate noisy getting off with one of them at three in the morning to the backdrop of Hasselhoff’s lecherous crooning. Ears burning!
Any outdoor adventures, tell me your best in the comments
So, a couple of wedding guests have now asked me if I’ve got any tips on places they can visit before or after the wedding to make a long weekend. I lived in Farnham for thirteen years. I’ve been to Birdworld world (tip number 1) more times than I can count. If there is any vaguely entertaining thing to do in the surrounding area, I’ve done it. I’ve tried to feature a range of indoor and outdoor activities for all weathers and for all budgets (the last tip is free).
NB, might be worth checking all the websites to see if these places are open over the Bank Holiday as I am too lazy to do this for you, sorry.
1. If you like birds (and fish too), visit Birdworld
When I was a child no holiday weekend was complete without a trip to Birdworld and it’s sister site and my personal favourite Underwater world. Birdworld is on the outskirts of Farnham and plays host to Penguin beach (watch the penguins swoop underwater), owls just like in Harry Potter, parrots, and scary ostriches. If you have kids or if like me you just like petting strange animals def pay a visit to the Jenny Wren petting farm inside Birdworld to touch goats, rabbits and even a tiny horse!
2. If you like retro entertainment, visit the Hollycombe Working Steam Museum
3. If you like swinging from trees, visit Alice Holt Forest
If you’re an adventurist than the Alice Holt Forest is for you. Not only does it host Go Ape where for medium-sized fee you can dangle from the trees miles off the ground. There are also bikes for hire, wildlife walks of varying intensity and plenty of kid friendly adventure playgrounds.
4. If you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice (and if you’re not, why are you coming to my wedding?), visit Jane Austen’s House
Chawton was where Jane Austen spent the last 13 years of her life. The house has been perfectly perserved in its (tiny) historic beauty. I loved seeing her writing desk by the window where she would hide her writing beneath letters if guests arrived and know that here she wrote Persuasion and revised the great Pride and Prejudice. If you want tea and cake or something more substantial visit the lovely Cassandras Cup across the road, they even do gluten-free food.
5. If you’re a scientist visit Gilbert White’s House
Gilbert White is an amazing 18th century naturalist and his house is full of manuscripts and intricate drawings of his observations. But when I think of visits to his house only one word comes to mind: tortoises!
6. If you’re a history buff visit Farnham Castle
Overlooking the town is the distinctive red brick of Farnham Castle. Built in 1138 AD by Henry de Bois, William the Conquerors grandson the castle has been continuously occupied for 900 years. It’s surrounded by 320-acre park, with great views over Farnham which we spent our teenage years getting drunk in and rolling down the hill. Fun times.
7. If you like beer, visit the Hogs Back Brewery
The Hogs Back Brewery brews yummy real ales and offers tours of the brewery as well as a small shop stocked full of beer and beer related goods.
8. If you only go to one place on this list make it Waverley Abbey
Waverley Abbey is where HWSNBN proposed knowing that is my favourite place. The Abbey is actually the ruins of a Cistercian Abbey torn down by Henry VII and one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been to. From the Abbey you can walk alongside the water meadows to Mother Ludlam’s cave which is full of bats. Most of all, it’s free. So there are no excuses. Go. Go now!
Farnhamites current and former, have I missed your favourite place? Tell me in the comments.
Over the last year, I’ve worked really hard to try to be happier. At the best of times, it’s easy to feel out of control of your own life. To place your locus of control, (the extent to which you believe your direct your destiny) externally; viewing yourself as a puppet of cruel fates. Or to blame other people for the emotions they incite within you.
Yes, sometimes life sucks. Tragedy falls out of the sky and there is nothing you can do to evade it. However, what we can control is how we react, how we process events and how we recover. From examining my life I know that focussing on simple things – like getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising, and spending time with those I love (for me the single most influential contribution towards my mood) – makes a big difference to my overall resilience. But what larger changes could I take to make my life happier?
The idea of scheduling fun seems paradoxical. By definition fun is a spontaneous pleasure, why do you need to build in time to have some fun?
So much of our lives are already scheduled. I work 9-5. I have to sleep eight hours a night otherwise I become the grouch muppet from hell. I need to make time to see my family, He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN), friends and me time. With all these commitments, if I don’t schedule something it will not happen.
An example of how scheduling fun works in my life is my love of writing. I find it enriching to spend my time making up imaginary world’s populated by characters with whom I get to torture (all writers are sadists, I’m looking at you George R R Martin). But if I don’t commit to that from 19.00 every evening I will sit at my computer until I have written 1,000 words, no matter what (if I have a headache/it’s sunny outside/or all I really want to do is watch Jersey Shore, damn you Snooki and your addictive antics!) a month can lapse without me writing a word. Us fancy writer types like to call this the Butt in the Chair method.
There is another example of schedule some fun in action. Dearest reader, let me induct you into the archaic rituals of Curry Night.
I was not there at the beginning but the principal of Curry Night has remained broadly the same. Every Thursday a group of friends meet at each others houses to celebrate the (almost) end to the week with a takeaway and copious cans of beer.
When I started dating HWSNBN I became initiated into the ranks of the Curry Night faithful. The first Curry Night I attended: there were cocktails, chinese food, party games and more girls than boys. What fun, thought I! It wasn’t until I attended the next Curry Night that I realised I had been tricked. There was only curry (my least favourite food), beer (bleurgh), no party games instead an episode of a strange TV show called Space Ghost (which was sort of amusing (until we watched it again, and again, and again…), I was the only girl and I knew nothing about Windows operating systems.
Despite this less than auspicious start, for the last seven years I’ve become a semi regular attendee of Curry Night. Ruling out brainwashing, (maybe the enervating discussions of Windows operating systems had a sinister undertone?) there can only be one answer. Curry Night is the brilliant example of scheduling some fun in action. It’s changed slightly over the years. There’s less Space Ghost and more talk of the Budget. In honour of the Dude sometimes beer is replaced with white Russians. Cheapskates like myself eat beforehand or bring their own grub while the faithful stick to their weekly diet of madras. Cats, dogs, and babies have entered the equation. Sometimes Curry Night is so packed people eat on the floor, sometimes it’s just a couple of hardcore members. But at its core Curry Night hasn’t changed from its abiding principle: a weekly commitment to meet up with friends.
Date night: the return
When HWSNBN and I started dating, he was studying at University in Brighton and I was working back near my parents home in Surrey. Even though we saw each other every weekend, in the first flush of love that wasn’t enough. So every Wednesday we would take the hour and half journey to visit each other. I’d take the train down, or he would drive up. Our Wednesday date night became the highlight of my week.
We didn’t do anything elaborate (he was a student and I had a crippling book addiction so we were always strapped for cash :)). But I really valued the time we spent together doing silly little things like cooking for each other, going for walks or watching crappy films. After we moved in together two years later we still kept our date night tradition, moving it to Tuesday nights.
However, in recent months date night has begun to lapse. I injured my foot and our date night default activity, walking on the downs and the beach (free, outdoorsy and good for you) was off the menu. Although me and HWSNBN saw each other every day, and drove to and from work together something was missing. We didn’t have each others attention, there was no (ugh, how I hate this word) quality time.
Then we started the weekly pilgrimages to Pevensey to visit the one ring of power. After our visits to the jewellers, and to avoid the rush hour traffic, we’ve do something else afterwards. Whether it was skim stones on the beach, or guard our chips from the feral seagulls, or clambering all over the ruins of Pevensey castle, it was great to spend time together.
So, we’re bringing back date night.
I’ve also been thinking about how to extend the schedule some fun resolution into other areas of my life. I see my Mum regularly. It’s partly because HWSNBN parent’s and my parent’s handily live in the same town now. But I think it’s mainly because before we say goodbye my Mum always asks when am I going to see her next. Before I leave we always put at least one date, sometimes many dates in the diary. Even with my abysmal habit of double-booking people, (sorry mum), having a date in the diary means that I get to see my family regularly. I have the best friends in the world. But as time goes on and people get busier sometimes months can sometimes pass before I see really good friends who live in the same city as me. So what I’m going to try to do when I meet up with people, is coordinate diaries and schedule a date for next time. Because, for me, spending time with the people I love, better than any book – and I do not say that lightly!
So any tips about how you schedule some fun, or do you prefer to be more spontaneous?