Apologies for the absence of blogging this week. Life is going through one of its manic phases and when that happens, blogging slides to the bottom of the pile. This week would have been fairly manic, what with a keynote address to prepare and give at a research conference (one of those fairly big-deal moments) and a sermon to prepare for Sunday, but there’s something else going on that compounds the chaos.

Well, two things actually. The first is a very good thing – I’m going on a trip to Texas on Monday for just over a week. It’s a Matryoshka Haus thing and I’m very much looking forward to new places, catching up with Texan (and London) friends and, most of all, a weather forecast that looks like a decided improvement upon London’s current definition of ‘summer’. The other thing is less good – I’m moving house. Again. For the second time in 10 months.

It is actually a good thing – I get an even nicer flat, slightly closer to the church and in glamorous Bloomsbury (and just around the corner from Rupert Everett). But it’s a house move, and they’re chaotic regardless of how far you’re travelling. When it’s less than ten months since you unpacked your belongings, it’s rather gruelling.

So this week I’ve bid a fond farewell to my two Norwegian flatmates and welcomed into the flat one of my students, who’s taking on the flat after we go. I’ve been to Wembley to sort out all the boxes and furniture that a lovely friend has been storing for me. (Bonus of the move: I get all my books back.) I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time fantasising about a piece of DIY renovation work I want to do on one of my bookcases (there’ll be paint and fancy paper I think) and I have spent an inordinate amount of time getting stuff into boxes – and trying to locate further boxes, as my supply dwindles.

Lise & Øystein as they depart. Plus, a tiny part of my large box pile.

The aim is to get virtually everything packed by the end of today. (And get my sermon into decent shape, and my children’s bit for the morning service – what a day to be doing the leading/preaching double.) Then I can have something of a rest in Texas, or rather, a change of scenery. Trips with Shannon and the Matryoshka Haus crew are rarely restful.

So blogging will almost certainly be fairly light for a little while – although I’m confident I’ll return with an absolute wealth of blog fodder and, quite possibly, be very close to launching All very exciting!

Overcoming a hoarding mentality

Perhaps the was the vast pile of stuff I realised I’d accumulated when I moved flats last year should have indicated something to me, but no. It wasn’t until my sister criticised me via Twitter in the autumn that I had an inkling that I might possibly be something of a hoarder. [I had discovered the letter sent to me informing me of the prizes I won at my school speech day the summer after my A-levels. Apparently ‘people’ just don’t keep ‘those things’…]

Obviously, I insisted she was wrong. I only keep the important things. Doesn’t everyone keep important correspondence, photos, diaries and travel journals? What about tickets to plays, programmes, random notes and cinema ticket stubs? [She continually brings up the fact that when we moved house in 2004, I discovered cinema tickets going back to 1996. I, on the other hand, was impressed to find one that revealed that I’d been watching Romeo + Juliet the day our neighbour gave birth to their third child.]

However, a couple of weeks ago I noticed a tissue on my bedside table. I moved to throw it in the bin and paused, realising I knew exactly when, where and who had given me it. I hesitated and left it there for sentimental reasons. When you discover you’re hoarding tissues, something has become an issue! [This is loosely true. I have now thrown that tissue away, but the thought process was there, which is terrifying.]

A tissue is one thing. Two archive boxes full of five years’ worth of academic work is quite another. I’d planned, while in Belfast, to locate my A-level RS notes and see if there was anything that might be worth keeping for my current theology degree. Of couse, those notes were right at the bottom of the box and by the time I’d got there I’d reached the conclusion that if I hadn’t needed any of it for 13 years, it probably wasn’t worth keeping. Once I’d rescued the RS notes, I figured I’d move on to my box of undergraduate notes. All I kept was marked essays and my dissertation notes – it was incredibly cathartic and produced a massive pile of recycling:

Along the way, I discovered a few things:

  • I’d actually gone to the effort of creating A1 size revision notes for my European History course. 
  • My multi-coloured revision timetable pointed towards a misspent study leave. 
  • Over the years, I have learnt a lot of stuff that I simply have no recollection of. My only essay to receive a 1st was on the Congo – honestly, I had no idea we’d ever covered the Congo in my degree! (On reflection, I suspect I wrote it the same year I read the Poisonwood Bible.) 
  • Essay comments were a major source of amusement. One lecturer remarked (on an essay that was slightly below par) that I had the makings of a good writer, if only I could learn not to waffle – not entirely sure if that lesson’s been learnt yet. Another began their comment with the statement: “You have clearly read Augustine’s City of God thoroughly…” – I can guarantee that this was almost certainly not the case!
  • The most interesting things were the bits of paper found amongst the files and the files themselves. I discovered the ‘Prefect Code of Conduct’ I’d had to sign before I could accept my Prefect badge and various bits of graffiti – most telling of all, the ornately designed ‘HELP!’ just inside the cover of my Philosophy & Ethics file.
  • I apparently go for men who have nearly identical handwriting. Spooky.

Best of all, the RS notes that may be useful were located in a ring binder that is typical of a teenage girl’s stationery c.1998 – surely all of us experienced the joy that was file collage? This was actually the only one of my folders to get this attention (though I believe at the time I had a matching notebook and pencil case), so at least I had some concept of time management aged 16…

Yes, basically all my 16 year old self cared about was Friends and Brad Pitt. 
I don’t think that was necessarily a bad thing.

This great purge now leaves me with virtually nothing left in my parents’ under-the-stairs cupboard. Literally, all that’s there now is: a small box of teenage memories; a larger box of primary school stuff [I chucked some of it last night, but didn’t have time to sort it totally]; a wicker basket of ‘sentimentally significant or culturally interesting’ toys; and a box of children’s books. I mean that’s practically nothing, right? 

Not so disgruntled

A week ago, I shared my disgruntlement with Blogger’s recent changes and shared my ambition to get a little more professional in my web presence and convert (at some point in the near future) to WordPress. The following day I received a text from my WordPress teacher asking: “Time for” and attaching a hyperlink to a page listing the various variations on that theme that were available domain names. (Which pretty much amounted to anything – we Liz Clutterbucks are a select bunch!)

By the end of the week, was mine (it currently just redirects to this blog) and plans were afoot for exciting developments. I’m very lucky to be blessed with techy, webby friends who are very generous in their time and abilities, so I’m going to have a lot of assistance in the process. It’s all very exciting, but leaves me with a lot of questions, that you may be able to help me with…
  • What form should the site take? Do I still want the blog to be its main focus, or will it be one component of a larger entity? 
  • Which of the gazillion WordPress themes should I use? 
  • Do I add other aspects of my life to it? [There’s already been a request for sermons. I don’t have a huge back catalogue of them currently, but it’s something I could build upon.] 
  • How do people like to read blogs? Do people dislike ‘Read More’ hyperlinks as much as I do? 
  • What sites do I like and can I get inspiration for my own site from them? 
  • What sites do other people like? 
Fun times. The research phase is now underway, so any suggestions would be gratefully received! In the mean time, I will sporadically burst into spontaneous geeky giggling…

You did what?!

When people find out that I’ve recently been on holiday, their response to the “I went to France with some friends” bit is usually along the lines of “Oh, how lovely!”. When I add that we went to work on a house they look confused and ask “You did what?!”.

I presume it’s particularly surprising as I don’t really look like the type to work on a building site for fun. Plus, those that know me well (especially my family) seem to find it utterly unbelievable that I could actually be useful in such a context. So, for their benefit and yours, and because I’ve been playing with some other peoples’ photos, here’s a photographic representation of the functions I can fulfil…

1. Leader of team warm-up. The pilates classes may have ended, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still practice the art of control – it’s exceptionally useful when stretching rarely used muscles in peculiar ways.

Note that initially the men were totally oblivious to my antics. 
They were busy with wood.

Now, I appreciate that it doesn’t look like any one else in the team is joining me, but I insist that at least one other person was stretching – they’re just obscured by the chap in the red jacket. Honest.

2. Holder of rope. Manouvering ridge beams into place would be impossible without my strength…

…ok, so this is the only one I assisted with and the others went up fine. But I can dream, surely?

3. Drinker of tea. This is a very important job on a building site.

I’m also rather adept at transporting tea to difficult locations – like the top of scaffolding rigs [proud moment: climbing up a pole with a mug in one hand] and the roof. In fact, it was thanks to tea delivery that I finally made it on to the roof itself. Also, in case you’d ever wondered what makes builders’ tea ‘builders’, it’s because of all the added ingredients. No, not sugar and extra tannine – dirt.

Thing is, by the time it arrives you’re so desperate for it that you really don’t care.

4. Destroyer of walls. (Ok, just the one wall.) It took three of us a little under an hour to remove the wattle & daub-ness from an interior wall with the aid of hammers and a crow-bar – I took the crow-bar in order to vent some frustration. It got messy…

…Very messy:

It also turns out that when you destroy a wattle & daub wall, it seeks out ways in which to get its revenge upon its attackers. An hour after we’d finished the job, I was up a scaffold, handing out tea and generally being useful, when I felt my nose running. Given as I was in messy clothes, I did the hugely unlady-like thing of wiping it on my sleeve. I looked down and to my horror discovered a streak of brown. Hesitantly, I touched my nose and found more of it, in fact, the more I wiped, the more it appeared. I was mortified and begged someone to find me a tissue. For another two hours, every time I blew my nose, more brown gunk appeared. The wall was having the last laugh – I may have smashed it to smithereens, but it ensured that by inhaling its dust, I wouldn’t forget it for a while.

5. Holder of wood. Self-explanatory:

6. Occasionally ostracised to the naughty corner:

I was busy chiselling, that’s all… 

7. Sitter upon scaffolding.

Sitter upon the scaffoldSometimes, it’s easier to stay on the scaffold even though nothing’s happening. 

See, I’m exceptionally useful! If you think you could be useful too, what are you up to between August 4th-11th? Would you like to chisel mortar or scamper across a roof? A return visit to Chateau Duffy is being made, but places are limited!

How to be a woman

You may remember that in the autumn I went on a bit of a feminist rant. Having never used the label, my new life as an ordinand in a church which is still divided over women in leadership, it’s now a word and state of mind I have to inhabit. [That post has also become a major issue of contention between a male friend and I – in fact, we had an argument about it while in Paris. I will take this opportunity to apologise for unintentionally labelling him a misogynist. He is not. He’s just a bit of a patronising git sometimes…]

Prior to returning to the French building site, I’d had a bit of a chat with a friend from last year’s trip who had shared some of my ill-feeling about such behaviour. [At this point I feel I’m having a can open – worms everywhere moment with that aforementioned male friend… Ooops.] We got onto the subject of girl power and feminism, which ended with her own mantra for life as a woman:
“Live and let live and don’t get breast implants”
The conversation also included an enthusiastic recommendation of a book that had been languishing on my wishlist for quite some time – Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman.

Serendipitously, it was on offer at WH Smith the following morning, so I snapped it up as ideal holiday reading. It was begun with glee on the Eurostar to Paris and was immediately engrossing. As described on its back cover, it’s part memoir, part rant and that’s a combination which was always going to go down well with me. In the back of the car en route to the Limousin, it amused me so much that passages had to be read aloud to the female friend I was sharing the back seat with – but in hushed tones, not wanting the men in the front to hear. After all, how would they respond to this explanation of how to work out if you’re a feminist:
“Put your hand in your pants.

(a) Do you have a vagina and
(b) Do you want to be in charge of it?
If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist!”

Holiday perfection, right there.

The following day, another friend arrived bearing a copy and we rejoiced at how much we were learning and how ridiculous parts of it were. I was able to question whether she had been shocked/mystified by some of Moran’s revelations – was I the only woman not to have named parts of her anatomy? [No.] Did she agree with the plentiful use of the C word? [No. And I have written about my views on the subject here.] Had she ever gone commando? [No.] The women gathered and discussed feminism in serious and non-serious measures. A Texan builder picked up a copy, read a chapter, and had his eyes opened considerably.

Most amusingly of all, the book helped me overcome some of my more prudish tendencies. As I mentioned when extolling the virtues of Ackroyd’s London Under, we spent an evening alternating between it and Moran’s book – the latter providing some light relief from deaths via cess pits. I read aloud most of a chapter relating to underwear – which culminated in an excellent passage about the trials and tribulations of bra wearing (a subject that’s very close to my heart…). Moran has a manifesto against society’s passion for tiny pants which includes the following hilarious anecdote, which couldn’t really be left out:
“I was on a crowded tube with a friend of mine, who gradually grew paler and quieter until she finally leaned forward, and admitted that her knickers were so skimpy, her front bottom had eaten them entirely. ‘I’m currently wearing them on my clit – like a little hat,’ she said.”

I wasn’t sure I could read it out loud. I’m a trainee vicar. There were near-strangers in the room. Heck, there was a man in the room! But I took a deep breath and read on as if I said such things on a daily basis. [Interestingly, when any of us happened to get to the other C word, we always referred to it as ‘the C word’. Our sensibilities were not to be undone to that extent.]

I don’t agree with everything Moran writes, but it is written in such a way that you understand why she’s done, said and thought what she has. The chapter on her abortion was painful reading – but it is an admirable thing to have written about it in the first place. It isn’t a feminist manifesto in The Female Enuch sense, but it is a logical, coherent (and hilarious) text that illustrates just how ridiculous society’s attitude towards women – and women’s attitude to themselves – can be.