comments 17

How To Be Lucky

viewAs I drove home yesterday, with fields next to me and hills rising up behind them, I thought about how lucky I am to live where I live.

My following thought was – it’s nothing to do with luck. I did choose to live here, after all. I didn’t just wake up one day in the countryside. Did I?

Actually, in a way, I did. My husband was already living in this area and was settled with a business. I had just graduated and we were going to be married. Of course I was going to move in with him.

He lived in a rambling, Grade II listed house with large front, back and walled garden. Literally, rambling; we had a car in our garden, which we couldn’t afford to restore, but which he couldn’t bear to let go. As the garden was huge, the edges of it tended to encroach. Gradually over time, the brambles creeping in from the sides grew round the sides of the car and swallowed it up.

Outside, the house was a chocolate box cottage. Inside, I secretly hankered after furniture and carpets that weren’t either industrial grade (office rejects) or an optimistic “antique” (that type of old, dark type furniture of unknown provenance).

When I looked out of the window, I felt I was drowning in fields. Once we were watching television and there was loud mooing outside; a herd of cows had found its way out and decided that our garden was the place to hang out.

For a London girl, it was all deeply bewildering. But we were happy. We were brought together by a make do and mend philosophy. We could make an adventure of it and do anything together. When we couldn’t afford new sofas to replace the hideous chintz of the other half of the job lot that had been bought to furnish his office, I made new covers. I remember staying up late sewing while watching swimming on the Sydney Olympics live, pregnant with Lovely Daughter #2.

This is My Method Number 1 of feeling lucky. Be really happy with the person you are with, and you’ll feel lucky every day.

When my husband died in 2003, being in a rambling house and garden on my own lost its charm pretty damn quick. The house clearly needed repairs and I had no job and no money.

My friend in the next village was selling her house; another friend to whom I am immensely grateful suggested that it was more suitable for me and that I should buy it.

There was a period of about two months between my husband dying and me working out how to fill in the probate forms correctly. During this time, I had no income, as I had been employed by my husband’s company. I had a small amount of savings, but no access to the main bulk of our money until probate was cleared.

I could have asked my parents for money. My parents are good people. They are very moral people, who would not want to see me hurt or suffering.

But I always felt extremely controlled by my mother, and I chose to walk away from this when I was eighteen. I never want anyone to be in control of me again. And this experience of being too much controlled has resulted in me hating feeling beholden to anyone. Sometimes, giving imposing an obligation upon the mind of the receiver. And I am nervous of this because I don’t want to be imposed upon ever again.

So while I was clearing out the attic, knowing that I wanted to move, I found amongst my husband’s random hoardings a copy of the 1964 Pirelli calendar. I had no understanding of how much this thing might be worth, but I needed some money to feed myself and my family. So I put it on eBay and almost fell over when I got seven hundred pounds for it, which we managed to live on until I became financially liquid again.

This got me through the immediate term, but the financial situation didn’t really right itself properly for a long time after that. In my naïve, pre-bereavement plans, I had firstly assumed that nothing would ever happen to my husband. Secondly, if it did, I would go out to work. I had a good degree; so I would go and get a career, and employ an au pair to stay at home with the kids.

In the aftermath however it was clear when I looked at my children, who were so traumatised that they couldn’t even sleep alone in their own beds, that this was not going to happen. So I stayed at home and when both daughters were at school, took on some bit jobs when I could.

There was an article by Caitlin Moran in yesterday’s Saturday Times about the general assumption that poor people are stupid. This is not true, she says, because the skills needed to survive on very little money require a certain amount of

I really identified with this. It’s very true, that needing to keep your wits and your vigilence about you when you’re short of cash. There were times when we ate nothing but meals based on tins of tomatoes and tuna. Sometimes in the evenings, the three of us used to sit in one bed during the winter because it was warm and I didn’t have to have the heating on.

I was also depressed because the house was very disorganised due to me not owning any suitable furniture. It was either too big to fit properly in my new, smaller house, or downright dysfunctional. Finances did improve a bit when I started part time work. And so began my obsession with eBaying for furniture to replace that which was either industrial or vastly proportioned. Slowly, both my knowledge of the South East (driving round doing pick ups while Lovely Daughters were at school) and the flow of feng shui around my house started to improve. I started to be able to walk around whole rooms in the house without encountering either a cardboard box, the sharp edge of some unloved piece of furniture (tip – for getting rid of such objects, Freegle http://www.ilovefreegle.org/ is your friend), or frankly and embarrassingly, just piles of stuff on the floor :-(

Now that I have finally finished my task, my room looks like this:

Image

I love that I have a house where everything in it has a story and a journey behind it. A memory of travelling, fetching, the independence and self-reliance on doing it all myself. Also I hate things to be disposable. I want all things to be beautiful, and to last, and to be re-used when we have finished with them. Which would be disastrous for the economy of course. My furniture brand of choice is Habitat. See what I mean?

This is My How to Be Lucky Number 2: Work hard for what you have, long for and desire it, and really appreciate the beauty of it when you finally have it.

In November 2012, a vacancy came up in one of the data handling positions at work, where I had a job as an Admin Assistant. My friend said, “You could do that. You’re good with computers.”

It had crossed my mind on seeing the vacancy to apply. But I had been so weighed down with the circumstances of the past years that I expected things to be a struggle all the time. I couldn’t believe that things could be easy, that I could actually earn proper money not just a bit job. And stupidly, I doubted my ability. I needed someone else to tell me what I could do. And I am grateful to that person too. Because I applied for the job and out of thirty applicants, I got it. And I love the job, and I’m good at it.

Since December 2012, I’ve been on an actual proper salary, which is amazing. It’s enabled me to do all the things I blog about here. Although it took me a long time to let go, after years of keeping everything tight and denying that I missed anything. Admitting it was too painful. Denying myself enjoyment was a habit I fell back on automatically. It was fear of being careless in case it didn’t last. I was welded to my fear and the protective mechanisms I’d developed. It turned out to be a big problem in the relationship I was having at the time. In the end, my reactions damaged things between us too much.

So now I enjoy things. But when I am going out for a meal, or to the cinema, or the theatre, or even buy a book, I still think about the vast numbers of people in this country, in the world, who can’t do such things. I think about me, when I was one of those people. We live with a media that stays in business by selling us a lifestyle, a dream, pushes the idea that we can do whatever we want, so long as we can pay. It is not fun, or exciting, or sexy, to think about the people who can’t. As a society, we forget.

I remember what it is like to be on the outside, where there is no money, and where everything is tense and tight. But I don’t feel guilty about being on the inside now. Because this is My How To Be Lucky Method Number 3: I will appreciate all of this on behalf of the Me I left behind, the one who couldn’t do those things. I will not waste the opportunity.

17 Comments

  1. Denise, thank you for sharing your powerful story here. You had to go after the things you needed to make your life work, nothing comes to us if we just sit and wait for it. Your post resonates with me on many levels. I know what it’s like to be at the beck and call of life’s adverse circumstances and lose everything financially, more than once, including a home possession.
    When you have been on the ‘outside’ you don’t feel guilty when you are back on the ‘inside’ because you know where you came from to get there, and darn it, you worked hard to get there, so enjoy it!
    But, you never, ever forget what it was like.
    We are still not on the ‘inside’ even now, ‘tense and tight’ is the order of the day and it is a struggle ever since I lost my job and then needed to be home for my Aspie daughter. We just never know how our life can be knocked off kilter from one day to the next..my mantra, for many years, has been, ‘There by the grace of God go I….’
    BTW, your bedroom looks really (that word again!) lovely :-)

    • It’s small… but it’s mine! I gave the bigger rooms to the girls because they have so much more stuff than me.

      Sorry to hear about how things are with your job and your daughter. I really admire that you are so positive through all of it.

      I thought about you when I was writing this. I made some bad decisions after my husband died. Sometimes I feel guilty about the impact that had on my children. Also, sometimes I feel bad that maybe I could have made better parenting decisions. So I thought, although I am still too self conscious to write a poem, maybe one day my children will read this blog, if they want to, and understand why I did the things I did.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • Ahh Denise, we all feel like that at times. Lord knows I can look back and think ‘oh if only I had not done this’ or ‘I should have done that’. I think that our children are more understanding and forgiving than we give them credit for at times. I’ve come to learn this the hard way. What you went through after losing your husband must have been very, very tough, being left like that with your children and all the financial stress too and the worry about your family’s future. What is so great is that you have come through this now and look at the wonderful family life you have created!
        You give many others inspiration and the hope of a better life, and I do really admire you for that.
        As I said before, one day your children will read your writing, when the time is right…
        Have a lovely day :-)

  2. Denise – so sorry to read about your experience of losing your husband. I know what you’re saying about how you appreciate what you’ve got when you’ve been through a period of poverty though. I had that experience after I finished my first degree and was living with a boyfriend in Brighton who was basically supporting me on his low wages while I struggled to find my first real job. It certainly wasn’t for as long as your experience but I do have one very vivid memory of thinking – I haven’t got enough money to go out and buy a can of coke (about 35p at the time). So now I try and spend wisely but appreciate what I’ve got.

    • It’s definitely a good thing to appreciate what you have.

      It did make me think throughout that time how society assumes that everyone has money. If you don’t, you can’t be “part of the gang”, that big shiny ideal of family life. I think part of this is marketing. But I think also there are many people who serve up these images to us who don’t realise what it’s like not to be “on the inside”.

      Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on your blog.

  3. Hi Denise, I got here from katelookinglass’s blog, since I could really relate to many of your comments over there.

    I completely agree with your story here; in the current Westernised mindset we are always encouraged to want more. More money. More fame. Love, status, success. The list goes on. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing to have ambition, but having our minds fixated so much on where we want to be, what we want to become, etc., we all tend to forget what we have right now is also very much worthy of appreciation. Loving who we are today, the people we have around us, what we have right now. Thank you so much for this reminder as I am always trying not to forget this – because this knowledge is happiness :)

    • Hi, Asuma. I love Kate’s blog. It’s so pretty and dreamy!

      I think there’s lots of pressure in the West to achieve things. More than there used to be. Of course I am used to pressure to achieve, coming from a Chinese family! But I think there is less difference than people might imagine. Of course there is lots of disillusionment in the UK because that life of achievement is not for everyone. So I suppose we get chasms in society and an unequal society tends to be less happy.

      I like that about blogging – taking the time to appreciate what I’ve done that day, and listening to other people’s discoveries too.

      Your blog is pretty good btw and looking forward to reading more.

      • Thanks for reading my blog! Blogging helps me take a step back and get a different perspective at my life, just like you said, but it’s also so rewarding when I receive comments like yours :)

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  5. Thank you so much for sharing this! I wanted to write you earlier but ended up having a very busy day with my mom, running around doing errands. Finally, I can sit down and talk with you!

    I can really relate to what you’ve went through in your life. Both being a single mom and having a tight money situation. I could actually feel your pain when you confessed that it was hard to admit to yourself how hard things actually were and the things you had to deny yourself. I think a lot of women could relate to you and what you’ve went through. I’m so proud of you for how far you’ve come in your life Denise. You have given me hope that maybe someday soon things will lighten up and the opportunity will be there for me as well.

    Thank you for not only for sharing your story but giving all of us hope too! You are amazing :-)

    Love, Peace, and Happiness,

    Laurali Star

    • I thought you must have been busy with all that reworking you have been doing on your blog.

      Thanks for the comment and encouragement. I think you are right in that we are often programmed, through life and those around us, to just cope and get on with things.

  6. You’re welcome! It’s always great to read something that resonates :-) You should be acknowledged for how far you’ve come and how much you’ve grown :-)

    Charmed,

    Laurali Star

  7. What a moving post. I love your philosophy on how to be lucky, and agree with all three approaches. I can relate greatly to what you said about working hard to appreciate what you have. An acquaintance once made a flippant comment to me about the way ‘we’ take the small things in life for granted. I told her that actually I don’t, that once you have been to the dark places I have been to, you will never take the small things for granted.

    I can see now how you have so much empathy for a lot of the things I write. I’m truly sorry you’ve had to go through such loss, but you sound like an incredible woman because of it.

    I feel lucky to have met you through cyber space :)

    • And the same goes for meeting you, that’s lucky for me too! I do feel an affinity for people who have been through difficult times but have come out as stronger people.

      I think lots of people go through loss and it changes people and helps them understand more, even though it’s always a terrible thing. As a society we don’t talk about loss much. Maybe it’s to do with as a society we are afraid to celebrate the things that are positive about ourselves.

      • I agree, but hopefully with so many bloggers telling their stories this will change over time. I also think the British (as a rule) get very squeamish talking about things that make us uncomfortable… again hopefully over time this will stop being such an obstacle.

  8. Denise: I am at my studio. Stuck. I can’t seem to paint. So I got on my phone and these two blogs of yours popped up!!! I too have been poor. I love your line about enjoy what you have now on behalf of the person you left behind. And to take every opportunity!!!! Your blogs came at a very good time. Thank you!

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