Blackout

Turning on to my road last night, I began to feel a little uneasy. After the first street-light, all the others were dark – as if extinguished by Dumbledore’s putter-outter, or immediately preceding an attack by Dementors. In my head, I began composing a rant to Camden Council regarding their inability to keep our streets safe, until I reached sight of the end of the road (and my flat) and saw a small digger, a lot of men in hard-hats, and a small cluster of concerned people outside the now dark pub.

Frederick Street had suffered a massive power cut some hours previously, knocking out probably 30 or 40 homes and businesses. It was 6.30pm, I’d just walked all the way home from South Kensington (5 miles), and had a full-on evening of tasks planned – this was not helpful. My flatmates were found in darkness brightened by a couple of nightlights (one was buried under her duvet in an attempt to stay warm), but they had a dinner date, so at least had hot food forthcoming.

My plans for the evening seemed truly scuppered. Eating cottage pie; frosting two different sets of cupcakes; blogging; photo-editing; and watching a movie all required electricity. But, thankfully, our vicar’s wife came to my rescue! A kitchen was handed over, along with a load of icing paraphenalia and some willing (if over enthusiastic) children. Cups of tea were made and crime dramas watched. To paraphrase Phoebe Buffay’s fabulous Blackout song:

“Frederick Street has no power, and the milk is getting sour.
But for me it is not scary, because I’m hanging in the Rectory.”
Not going to lie, I was quite proud of that tweet. If you don’t appreciate the Friends reference, watch this

I returned home a few hours later, delighted to see that the street lights were shining brightly again. However, it turned out ours was the only building still dark – because no one had been in to speak to the electricians. Men in hard-hats faffed around for a couple of hours, eventually restoring power at 1am – for which we were exceedingly grateful. Who knows what caused it, or how long there’ll be a massive hole outside our front door, but at least we can see…

As is the way with such situations, I learnt some valuable lessons:

  • Hoarding candles and nightlight holders is actually a good thing – you never know when you might suddenly need two dozen candles.
  • Bathrooms can look rather pretty/romantic when lit with candlelight. 
  • There is an excellent argument against all those who think it’s acceptable to put used matches back into the matchbox – you can’t spot them when in a blackout, which is highly annoying. 
  • Watching crime dramas about serial killers who turn the power off immediately before they attack is not terribly reassuring TV viewing immediately before heading back to a home suffering from a power cut. (I have the vicar to thank for that one. But otherwise, Whitechapel on ITV1 is a good watch.) 
  • It’s good to have friends who live nearby.

The wisdom of moving (Don’t do it unless it’s essential)

I hate moving house. Is there anyone who actually enjoys it?
From the morning after I finished work (three weeks ago nearly, doesn’t time fly…) my days were spent organising stuff, packing stuff, worrying about stuff, packing some more stuff and worrying some more. I thought I was a packing pro, but I’m starting to reconsider this idea. However, I do have some pearls of wisdom to share:

  • Accompanying your packing with some mindless entertainment is extremely helpful. I got through series 3 and 5 of Gilmore Girls (in case you’re perturbed by the absence of series 4, it’s only because I watched it at my BAP in April) and it was like having a crowd of friends round to help. I know, I’m a loser. 

  • Packing is really something you can only do yourself, friends aren’t actually a lot of help. Sounds cruel, but when it’s your possessions, you need to organise them and if you’re unpacking the boxes, you need to know what’s packed where. Oh, and you need to have a system – I’m all about the system and labelling. Labelling is massively important! I tend to go for very specific labels, like ‘Paperback Fiction A-D’ or ‘Desk Stuff – including files & notebooks’, which really, really helps when you come to unpack the boxes, especially if they’ve lain in storage for a few years.

  • A key landmark is when you realise that there is more stuff inside boxes than outside boxes. However, there will always be a ton of stuff at the end that doesn’t seem to fit into any of the boxes you have left. It’s at this point that assorted Bags for Life will become incredibly useful. 
  • Friends may not help with the packing element of moving, but they’re essential for the taking furniture apart bit. 

  • When you’re (still) not a driver, friends are also essential for the moving possessions from one place to another bit. I’m exceedingly grateful to the friends who helped with this bit. I’d love to say that I had lots of comedy anecdotes from my day in a van criss-crossing central London, but most of the language used by the driver was of a post-watershed quality, so it would be unwise to repeat it here. A highlight was the journey back to the hire place, when all the unloading and traipsing up stairs had been done, London was looking beautiful in the sun (after torrential rain while trying to pack the van in the morning) and driving through the city – the proper city – was quite entertaining. Travelling by van through London is to be recommended, but not when the driver is driving a van for the first time… 

  • Alcohol is essential at the end of a day moving boxes. 

  • You will always wonder why you bothered packing certain items and fill several rubbish bags with stuff you could have thrown away before moving. 

  • Unpacking books first not only gets rid of a lot of boxes, it also helps your room look lived in, even when every other surface is covered with assorted bags and boxes. [It also helps if you work out which books are going on which shelves before you start placing them so that you can ensure the shelves are at the correct height. I did not do this and I’m annoyed with myself – though not so annoyed that I’ve done something about it.]
  • Find lots of people who’ll feed you/take you out for dinner during the first week of living somewhere new. The most I’ve cooked in my new oven so far is a pizza – you don’t want to risk food disasters at such a stressful time.

So I’m moved in and (almost) everything is unpacked. There are some quirks to be sorted and a new neighbourhood to gets to grips with, plus a couple of Norwegian flatmates to make friends with. Tomorrow I start work at my new church. Life is taking a new turn… 

Dreaming of Home

If you’re the kind of person who likes to make the most of their festival going experience (creating their own personalised programme, getting up early for talks, carefully scheduling meal breaks…) I don’t recommend attending one the day after you move house. I reached this year’s Greenbelt in a state of mental & physical exhaustion usually reserved for late on the last day of the festival – not a promising beginning to one of my calendar’s highlights.

It was also slightly unnerving to be at a festival themed ‘Dreams of Home’ when I was in the middle of a transition between two homes. I’d had my first night in the new place, but knew that there were still things to be done in the old. Where was ‘home’? What makes a home?

What I came to realise was that for that weekend, it didn’t matter whether ‘home’ was Bermondsey or King’s Cross – when it comes to Greenbelt, the festival, its location and its community is home. It’s full of people I know from all over the place; it’s back in the shire; I know where the best toilets are; and generally, the site looks the same year to year. For over ten years I’ve camped with the same group of friends and we’ve concocted quite the routine for our annual pilgrimage to Cheltenham Racecourse:

  • Pre-festival tent pitching, courtesy of friends who work as volunteers. [I haven’t had to pitch a tent in aeons. This is always mentioned when time comes to strike camp & I have to work extra hard.] 
  • Friday afternoon relaxing with programmes. (By this point, organised friends will have filled in the blank programme section and planned out their entire weekend. I will have worked out the location of the beer tent.) I also love that it’s at this point a friend’s mum has her beginning of festival nap! 
  • Baking – there is always cake and we take it everywhere. This year, I was especially grateful to the fabulous Jo who made cake on my behalf when she heard that moving house prevented me from getting my baking mojo on. Her apple cake was divine and I refused all compliments.
  • Late night and early morning chilling under the gazebo (‘chilling’ often being the operative word). Got to love ridiculous conversations in the dark and a good period of outdoor PJ wearing while eating cake for breakfast. 
  • Eating together and the endless debate over which stall should be frequented when. Pie Minister pies are always a must for the first night, lest they sell out. [My parents will think I’ve reached a new Royalist low by consuming a Kate & Wills pie, but it was delish – beef, shallots, bacon & mushrooms – yum.] My personal favourite is the South Indian stall and their phenomenal vege Thali – rarely does anyone join me in this… Oh, and churros. There must always be churros.
  • Skiving Sunday morning communion in favour of a wash with hot water in the best toilets. (This may seem scandalous to die-hard Greenbelters, but it makes for a lovely Sunday morning & you can hear worship from the campsite anyway.) 

I’m also increasingly aware of the fact that Greenbelt is rather like living in a small town where you know a lot of people. Living in London means that bumping into friends and acquaintances is a rare occurrence (yet happens in the most random places/times), so I feel as though Greenbelt is almost what people who live in villages experience when they go shopping. Usually punctual, at Greenbelt I can guarantee I’ll be late to practically everything, partly because I forget how long it takes to get between venues and partly because I’ll invariably bump into someone I’ve not seen for a couple of years and who’s about to move to Somalia. It also manages to cover most of the communities I exist in within the ‘real’ world – former work colleagues; what appeared to be most of the Methodist Church; London people; Twitter friends; and plenty of singing friends. When surrounded by so many familiar faces it’s difficult to feel anything but at home. 
So, even though it was mental to move house and go to a festival in the same week I’m very glad I did. Four days of ‘home’ was just what I needed right at that moment.
More #gb11 thoughts to follow, once I’ve unpacked a few more boxes…

Home is where…?

This is a question I’ve long pondered, as someone who was moved from place to place thanks to my parents’ vocations. The simple question: “where do you come from?” never had a simple answer.
Home used to be where my parents lived. Even after I’d officially ‘left home’ and headed to university, they lived in a house I’d lived in full-time for four years. But these days I object strongly to anyone who refers to my trips to Belfast (where they now live) as trips ‘home’. It is not my home. I have never lived there.
Whenever I dream about ‘home’ it’s my bedroom back in the Shire that I see – even though it hasn’t been mine for 5 years. Obviously my subconscious hasn’t quite caught-up with my geographical moves yet.

But today, as I walked around the city where I spent most of my teenage years (and one of my 20’s), I realised I couldn’t call it ‘home’ anymore. Few friends are left. Few shops are left that were there when I lived there. I don’t have the accent (though, if you ask very nicely, I could possibly do it for you). When I left this afternoon, I came home.

My family might not live here, I might not have been born here, but London’s been my home for over 2 decades. My flat is my home – it’s filled with my junk and it’s the place I retreat to when life becomes a bit much.
Is ‘home’ a word we use too casually? Do we fully understand what it means to feel ‘at home’? And, most importantly, how do we recapture the feeling of ‘home’ we once had – wherever and whenever that might have been – when its absence in our lives is so acute?

DIY disasters

I’m off work this week, so I’m taking the opportunity of getting some jobs done that have been hanging around for ages.

One of these jobs involved replacing a light fitting in my living room. I began work on it 5 weeks ago, when I took down the old one and then realised I probably needed a drill, so left it for a while.

This morning I figured I could cope without a drill and got on with fixing the bracket to the wall. That was fairly simple, as was matching up the various wires coming out of the wall. (Needless to say, I’d turned off the fuse for the lights in the flat.)

However, I was left with one wire which seemed to have no place to go, so I tried putting it where it looked like it might go…wrong idea as I then had a massive electric shock run up my left arm! Oooops.

So I’ve now officially given up on this job! It’s terribly annoying because:
(i) I’m generally ok with DIY
(ii) There’s still a hole with wires coming out of it on my living room wall
(iii) I’ll also need to replace the matching light fitting at some point
(iv) I also haven’t worked out how I’m going to fit my new (yet to be purchased) blinds

What I really need is a willing volunteer (I’d say ‘man’, but that would be sexist) who can help me out with this. I’ll even turn the electricity off at the mains whilst they get on with it and stand by handing out tools and generally being an extra pair of hands, I’ll probably bake a cake too.

Any suggestions?