The days of January are flying by. We're almost one twelfth of the way through 2018 already. I've had little time to stand still and contemplate my navel. It's been a busy month.
Following the death of my mother and the Christmas season, I have been on an upward spiral of activity. There is so much paperwork to do announcing my mother's death, or the transfer of utility or financial accounts over to me, or the application for the necessary probate. Telephone calls, emails, letters, bills and forms have suffocated me on a daily basis. In addition to that, I have been clearing out a lifetime's collection of clothes, documents, ornaments and other possessions from my mother's retirement flat. You would imagine a one-bedroom, one-living room flat would be a piece of cake to empty. Not a bit! Because of the compactness of it, every available space has been filled with what once used to be in a four-bedroom house. I have already filled something like twelve bin bags of clothes, bedding and ornaments to give to charity and that's just from the bedroom!
Kay came to help me last weekend. Sifting through every shelf or drawer or cupboard has brought gasps of amazement from both of us. One old battered suitcase tied up with a bit of string revealed many birth or death certificates dating back to 1865. There were
Victorian death announcements rimmed in black with carved out weeping angels. Photographs of my grandfather in a huge crowd of colleagues (male only) circa 1920 taken at the bank where he worked. A letter written by my mother to my grandmother on the day I was born. Such a treasure trove of things. Too many to list here.
Every thing is assigned to one of three piles........... to keep, to give to charity or to throw away. I have tried to limit what we keep, as my house cannot take much more. My daughter has already said she would like some bits of furniture for the day she eventually moves into her own house, so I have to find room temporarily for those items in our garage or cellar. Obviously precious things, heirlooms or sentimental things are kept but where to put them in my house? So I spend mornings at my mother's flat sifting and then afternoons back at my house, trying to shoe-horn them into a space here. The charity pile is enormous. The twelve bin bags in the bedroom are soon to be joined by even more when we start tackling the lounge and kitchen next week.
I feel guilty that I am disposing of more than I am keeping. I can feel my mother whispering at the back of my head as I assign yet something else to the charity or rubbish pile. "Sorry, mum" I say to the empty room around me. "I just can't possibly take this." It was beginning to bug me quite a bit the other day. When I drove back onto my forecourt and lugged several bags of "keep" stuff out of the car, I looked across to the front door. There lay a six-inch long white feather on the mat. There is a theory that when a loved one dies, the sign of a feather is a message from them, reassuring you. I have written about it before here. My logical side tells me it is a load of hokum. There's a perfectly good explanation - a white pigeon or magpie probably flew over the house and jettisoned a feather as it did so. My weaker side likes to think it was mum saying "Don't worry, I perfectly understand. You cannot keep everything."
Today is a special anniversary of major proportions. We moved into this house 30 years ago. That's almost half my lifetime spent in the same house in the same street in the same part of London. I really cannot believe three decades have passed since we moved in.
In 1987, Greg and I decided to up-size our home. We were at that time living in a two-bedroom apartment (well actually a maisonette for those who know what one is) just a few streets away from where I live now. We wanted more room. The second bedroom was filling up with all sorts of stuff you don't know where to put and we we wanted even more room. We also wanted to start a family. We were both in good jobs and could afford the extra mortgage, so we went for it.
We looked around and found this crazy modern house on six levels. I've written about it before here. From the outside it looks as if it is on 3 levels, but because the front of the house is higher than the back of the house and the staircase winds its way though the middle, there are six half-levels with mostly just one room on each level. We fell in love with it. It needed a lot doing to it, as the previous resident was an elderly lady with dementia who had a penchant for throwing cups of coffee at the walls or soiling her bedroom carpet. The live-in carer obviously didn't think much of housework and the grime all over the kitchen tiles was so thick, you needed a chisel to remove it. But this did not put us off and it meant we could get it at a reasonable price, albeit with a 16% interest mortgage. (It makes me laugh at talk of young people not being able to get on the housing ladder nowadays with mortgages as low as 0.5%. They don't know the half of it.)
The view from the windows was amazing, considering we were in the heart of London, and we were young and full of ideas how to turn it from its Cinderella state into the Princess of Town Houses. It had what we called the "oooh" factor, as it was an unusual layout and shape. (Now it has more of an "aaaargh" factor as my aging knees negotiate all those stairs, particularly if I climb to the top of the house, only too late to realise that what I needed to bring up is still 5 flights below! Carrying the vacuum cleaner around is no joke either.)
We made an offer and waited six long months to move in, as buying and selling was made more complicated by others in the chain. In that time of waiting, we experienced the great storm of 1987, when many trees in the area were blown out of the ground, including some in the street where we planned to move to. Fortunately our house managed to stand upright all through that. After all, we didn't want to add bricklaying to the long list of renovations we planned to do ourselves.
On 12 January 1988 we moved in and were in heaven. Our plans were to do up the house quickly and move on, making a profit. We started on the kitchen, chiseling out all that grime and putting a new one in all by ourselves. But life got in the way. Both our jobs were quite demanding and we had little time to devote to the renovation. By the time, we could, I found I was pregnant and moving on got put on the shelf. As Kay grew up, it made sense for us to stay put. She was an only child. I'd had her when I was forty and we didn't want to risk a brother or sister for her, as I was quite a museum piece for having had a child at forty in the first place. Nowadays that is not so unusual, but then it was. "Elderly Primagravida" I think they called me, which did not sound in the slightest bit flattering. The communal gardens that belonged to the settlement of town houses was ideal because Kay could play with other neighbouring children, so had friends on tap: far better than if we moved to a conventional property where she would be all alone in her own back garden. So we stayed. And stayed. And stayed.
Then, of course, the whole saga of Greg and his alcoholism blew up in our faces when he retired in 2004. From then on, we clung on by our fingernails to some semblance of normality while the whole boat rocked precariously towards his death in 2010. Since then (and it's getting on for 8 years), I have rattled around in this big house finding comfort from its familiarity, the kindness of long-standing neighbours and every pavement in the surrounding streets. I have watched old houses in the area being demolished, new developments being built and umpteen other changes, but have never felt the desire to move away. Although we are in a quiet (almost village-like) part of London, we are but fifteen minutes by train from Central London in one direction and fifteen minutes by car in the opposite direction to the borders of the Kent countryside. I have the best of both worlds. Why would I want to move?
But thirty years has crept up on me. That's half my life. THAT is definitely scary. Even scarier is the fact that the renovations are still not complete. At the very least I have two bathrooms to modernise, as they are still stuck in a 1960s time warp. Maybe this year is the year to get those renovations finished.
I recently read an article somewhere that one cause of stress can be to have emails clogging up your inbox. Now whilst I cannot honestly say I lay awake at night horrified by visions of endless emails, it is a fact that I do have a lot of emails clogging up my inbox. They are all opened, but I have just let them build up over the years and never got around to deleting them. Like I said, they've been around for "years".
Some go back to 2010. They were emails sent or received around the time of Greg's death, so I was loathe to delete them for sentimental reasons. From then on the emails have mounted up, be it from friends, relatives, companies I've ordered things from, companies I haven't ordered things from, or spam. I reckon they must run into thousands. I've never quite felt like spending an hour or twenty-four going through them individually to see what ought to be kept or what I could delete. To be fair, I neither had the time nor had I lost the will to live.
Over the weekend I had a quite a few hours to kill while I avoided Kay, who has taken up residence in either the lounge or the kitchen on a whim as she revises for a big exam on Tuesday to become a Member of the Royal College of Physicians and get the initials MRCP after her name. Trying to give her peace and quiet to revise meant I had to hunker down somewhere else in the house and not make noise. So I escaped to the study for a whole weekend and sat in front of the laptop. Having killed an hour or two on blogs, facebook, BBC news, the weather, Rightmove (what's my house worth?), ebay (what can I sell?) and a few other websites I frequent, I then got bored. Then I remembered that article and it got me thinking, so I decided to make a start. All part of my "new year and new me" project.
I've already deleted anything further back than 2013. I've kept a few out of sentimentality or necessity or usefulness for the future, but I've deleted thousands already. I've also deleted the TRASH folder too, so they are gone, never to return. Tomorrow I'll start on 2013 and, who knows, I might just have a mere handful of recent ones left in my inbox by the end of the week. I persuaded myself that in all those years I have never gone back to look at those past emails, so what's the point of keeping them? Answers on a postcard (or email perhaps).
Well, it's a new year, a new number to get used to when writing the date or a cheque. 2018. It seems like only yesterday we were welcoming in a new millennium. Where have the last eighteen years gone?
Normally I feel all discombobulated at the beginning of a new year. I compare the passing of a year to climbing a mountain. In January, we start at the foothills where the vegetation is lush and slowly make the ascent into February, March, April and so on. By December, after a lot of hard effort, we finally get to the snowy peak and regard the world from on high. But come New Year's Eve, we fall off the cliff edge, falling falling falling..........until we reach the ground, there at the foothills once more to start the arduous climb into January.
I felt like that again yesterday. But there is a difference this year. Not only am I in the foothills again, but instead of the same familiar path I have trodden for the last few years, there is a fork and another path to take. A path up a completely different mountain. For the last four years I have dedicated my time to caring for my mother and put my own life on hold. For the last 6 months it has been a daily preoccupation, so much so that I was really living my mother's life and not mine. I would have not wanted it any other way, but now she is no longer here, I must make a new life for me. Follow new pursuits, make new friends, maybe even travel and explore new things.
With that in mind, I spent new year down in Brighton with my two closest friends. We sat by a roaring fire while the rain lashed down outside. We ate too much, drank too much and chatted well into the wee small hours of New Year. It was just what I needed. Even my friend's cat agreed it was the best place to be.
And so I start January with optimism that this will be a better year. A year to reinvent myself and explore. Who knows where this will lead me? A Happy New Year to you all.