80. Pick n Mix

baked-box-cheese-280453

I’m helping my friend pack up her house. I said I didn’t want to help her on the day of the actual move, because it’s too stressful, and everyone ends up arguing because they’re bone tired. It’s the same reason I gave when I didn’t want to go to Ikea with her. Everyone knows someone whose had an argument in Ikea. Someone I know had a theory that they sell you the dream and slowly draw you in. That’s why it’s so cheap. Before you realise it, you’re in a giant warehouse queue wondering if all of these boxes will fit in the car, and there’s the dread of knowing you still have to build your own furniture.

However, I am expert packer, even if I do say so myself. I’ve done it dozens of times. I know what I’m doing, so she’s left me to it, whilst she packs up her books. I’m on kitchen duty. Bubblewrap. Check. Sellotape. Check. Boxes. Check. Parcel tape. Check. Marker pen. Check. Spray kitchen cleaner. Check. Kitchen roll. Check. May as well clean as I go.

Headphones on. 80s pop. Sleeves rolled up. A bag of chocolate eclairs. A bottle on the go, well, some gin in a small bottle of Pepsi max. It’s what Scroobius Pip drinks, so we call it a ‘Pepe Pip’.

After an hour or so of mildly repetitive and strangely satisfying packing of glassware, plates and saucepans, my friend finds me. She’s carrying a few hardback notebooks. “Check these out.” she says excitedly. “These,” she says, holding up the books, “are my teenage diaries.” She hands me one.

“Oh wow!” I exclaim. “Can I open it?” Everyone knows you don’t read someone else’s diary, no matter how tempting it is or entitled or jealous you feel.

“Sure. It’s probably all bullshit anyway. Angst about why doesn’t he like me or how my life would be totally perfect if I was thin or had a nosejob or better tits. Comparing myself to other girls. That it’s so unfair that I have to have a part-time job. That kind of self-obsessed crap.”

Over the next hour, we forget we are supposed to be packing up her new life, whilst we unpick her old one. We laugh at forgotten fashions, sympathise with emotional problems that meant everything, and remember how easy and carefree everything seemed back then.

“Oh my god.” She says “This is too real. This is what I wrote when I was nineteen.

My ideal man.

  • Cannot be bald, short or fat.
  • Has to have good teeth and be very clean.
  • Must have a sister, so I’m not the first girl he’s ever met.
  • Cannot have gone to an all-boys school, because they’re all weirdos.
  • Cannot be allergic to cats or snore.
  • Has to live near to me and have his own car. (Not share his mum’s)
  • Cannot be on the dole.Must have a full-time job or be studying for a degree in something worthy, like Medicine or something with prospects like Law or Engineering. (Not a Micky Mouse degree like Media Studies)
  • Cannot smoke.
  • Cannot have a criminal record.
  • Must love children, but cannot already have any children.
  • Must have already had a girlfriend but she can’t be a psycho stalker.
  • Cannot have been married or have lived with anyone.
  • Cannot have a female flatmate that he has already had sex with.
  • Must play an instrument or be able to cook.
  • Must love his family but not be a mummy’s boy.
  • Not be racist, sexist, homophobic or posh.
  • Must play sport or be in a band but cannot be a rugby lad, football meathead or have groupies.
  • Must be generous. People who are tight with money are also stingy in bed.

I must have passed up on so many men over the years, because they didn’t match everything on that list. Why am I so picky?” she sighs, and closes the diary.

I put my arm around her shoulder and squeeze it.

“God. If my mum had read this at the time, then I would have probably left home and never spoken to her again, god rest her soul. It would have been such a betrayal. I would have been totally mortified. And now it’s just a pile of crap. Wishful thinking about how life was going to be. I had no fucking clue did I? When did we get this old?”

“We’re not that old.” I say. We’re no spring chickens, but who wants all that aggro? Anyway, we’ve had our time. You only think you’re old because you could be the new bloke at work’s mum. Remember, he didn’t even know who Noel Gallagher was!”

“True”

“Do you think kids these days keep paper diaries any more?” I ask. “You know. I reckon they do it all online now, with private blogs. Selfies and pictures of them semi-pornstar posing naked under the pretence of being hashtag body positive, you know, that clean eating bollocks. I read that there is no market for paid porn for female pornstars aged between 22 and 30, because the market is flooded with so much amateur stuff. You’re a schoolgirl then milf”

“That’s really sad.” She says. “They’re obsessed but it’s all so fucking fake.”

“Except hipsters, obvs.” I say. “I bet they go to open mike nights where people read out their own teenage diary entries, to feel deliberately awkward. They probably type their journals on old typewriters or do that bullet journalling. Ha. I’m saying it like I even know what it is.”

“I’ve no idea.” She says. “Did I tell you about that time we were clearing out my nan’s house after she died, and we found some photographs of her posing in her big pants when she was young? I reckon that’s the equivalent of sexting these days.”

“I wouldn’t be young again now, you know. Too much choice. It’s all swiping right and hooking up. Yolo. Fomo. Whatever. I reckon most of them have never even risked asking someone out face to face without being pissed, and are too scared to put in the effort into getting to know someone in case they miss out on their perfect person who is just around the corner. I bet there’s loads of men out there who have never even seen public hair or unshaved legs on a woman. God, I sound bitter. Do I sound bitter?”

“Nah. You’ve not been deprived. You make sense. Someone should tell the young uns that the perfect person doesn’t exist and to enjoy what they’ve got while it lasts. It ain’t gonna be me though. No-one wants an al woman telling them not to have fun.”

Just then the doorbell rings.

“That’ll be the pizza.”

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78. Before Sunrise

“We need grapes, celery, olives, honey, crackers and three, maybe four types of cheese. A strong cheddar, something gooey, like a Brie or Camembert, a Cheshire or goats cheese and something unusual. I read they sell their own chutney here. See what they’ve got in.”

The boyfriend knows me so well. He knows I love cheese but the smell sometimes makes me nauseous. It’s a memory from the time I got food poisoning from one or a combination of shellfish and unpasteurised cheese. The whole experience made me so nervous I didn’t eat cheese for years afterwards. From eating cheese every day, to giving up dairy overnight. Thinking logically, it was probably the mussels that gave me food poisoning, rather than a few slices of cheese. Oysters are my favourite food these days and I’m back to eating cheese every day. You can get over anything with enough time and the right mindset.

I used to wonder what it would be like to run into you again. Would everything that happened between us be all water under the bridge? Would we pick up where we left off? The polite awkwardness of two people who’d seen each other at their most vulnerable but it all ending in a devastating, shattering, messy breakup? If we had met for the first time when we were older, would things have been different? Was it all bad timing?

I’d long-since forgotten about that summer until today. I’ve lived my whole life again since then. My name isn’t even the same.

To think I nearly gave up my University place to stay with you. You were the most important thing in my life and it now seems ridiculous that I would even comprehend missing such an opportunity. Even though I was absolutely sure we were forever, I couldn’t imagine three years apart. It was your mum who convinced me to go in the end. She said that if we were meant to be together then we would find a way. That if I didn’t go, I might resent you later. I did feel bitterness towards you, but not about college. I do regret though, not thanking her for being so kind to me, before she passed.

I think you must have recognised me before I noticed you. Something made me look over towards the back of the shop and there you were, holding a box. You were stood absolutely still. Frozen with fear. It was if you didn’t move, then you might be invisible. But I did see you, and although you had lowered you eyes, to avoid mine, I could see that you were more than frightened. Red-cheeked, shoulders hunched over, cowering, submissive. You were literally petrified. Terrified. Why would you be afraid of me?

I didn’t feel awkward. I didn’t hate you. How could I? I didn’t know you. For a micro-second I thought about saying hello, but it seemed pointless. “Great shop. Good to see you. Sorry about your mum.” It all seemed so wrong somehow. You looked so scared that I didn’t want to put you through that. You might not have any control over me anymore but I wasn’t going to be mean about it. I’d had plenty of your anxiety and anger dressed up in teenage bravado the first time round. You’d lived in my head for far too long, and I wasn’t going to invite you back in. I’d rather not know anything about who you are now. Just remember us as we were. We went to the same school and that’s as much as I’d ever admit out loud. What good would it do to muddy the waters now?

I walked over to the counter and placed the two boxes of cracker biscuits I’d chosen, next to the jar of olives. I said to the boyfriend,

“I’ll wait for you outside.” Then I left, without looking back.

A few minutes later, he came out of the shop, jute bag in one hand, sunglasses in the other and wandered over to the gift shop whose window I was looking into.

“Too cheesy for you? ” he asked.

“Something like that.” I replied.

77. A Novel Idea

books in black wooden book shelf
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So many people want to declutter but cannot let go of books. Any of their books. I move house fairly often and I can tell you that boxes of books are really heavy and dusty! They have to be packed, carried downstairs and loaded onto a van. Unloaded, carried upstairs then unpacked by me. Some books I owned were just not worth the bother. After one move, three boxes of books remained boxed up for over two years.

I’ve had the following conversation several times with people and the most common responses are “Nooooooo! Why would I want to do that? I could never get rid of any of my books! They mean too much to me. I might read them again. I would regret it”

  • Is there a person inside your head who judges your book collection? If you had fewer books, would they disapprove?
  • If someone took away one book a day, how long would it take you to notice?
  • Would you know which ones were missing?
  • Would you miss them?
  • For the prize of a thousand pounds/dollars, could you whittle your collection down to one bookcase or shelf of your absolute favourite books?
  • Imagine you can take only twenty books with you when you move abroad. How do you feel about leaving the other books?
  • Is it sentimentality, cost, status, perceived value, it was a gift, they are a collection?
  • If you love it and will read it again, then keep it.
  • If you don’t, then why are you holding onto it?
  • If you loaned your copy of a book to a friend, and never got it back, would you buy it again?
  • Does your ‘to read’ pile never seem to go down?
  • Will there never be the right time to read certain books you own?
  • If you knew that someone else wanted to read a book that you owned, and you probably wouldn’t get around to reading it, would you give/sell it to them?
  • Letting go doesn’t have to happen all at once. You didn’t acquire them all overnight, so the cull doesn’t have to be dramatic.
  • Books are meant to be read, not to gather dust. There is barely enough time to do everything you need to do, so don’t feel guilty about not finishing a book.

I’m not heartless. I get the struggle. I do keep some books from childhood with my name and class neatly written inside. I bought first-editions of future classics by accident that I can’t bear to part with. Pangs of memories forgotten of old train or concert tickets used as bookmarks. Those expensive signed hardbacks where I queued for two hours to get two minutes with the author.

I’m into audiobooks now, so have digital clutter to contend with, and unlike my spare room, I have a very restricted amount of storage.