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:
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.