I am perilousl­­­­y close to smugness as, yes, I can now reel off the 199 capital cities I decided to learn for June’s challenge. 

Not only do I now know the capitals but, after about two weeks of not being able to retain the names of about a third of the capital cities, I realised that attempting to establish a photographic memory was futile.  I then started to be a bit more creative with my connections.  For example, Palau, being an island in the midst of the Pacific must surely be muddy, thus the capital is Negerulmud.  Similarly, I could not get Podgorica in my head as being the capital of Montenegro.  In the end, I got it with “-gro” as being key and I did grasp that the capital was then PodGORica.  Tenuous at best, but it worked.

I am ludicrously pleased with myself and have been informing people of the capital of countries they mention.  I suspect this could be considered annoying.  Bring on the quizzes and obscure capital questions … while I can still remember them, rather than just remember that I used to know them.

At the beginning of June, I convinced myself I would never be able to retain the countries and corresponding capitals, let alone spell them.  Around about week two/three, it suddenly clicked into place and I have enjoyed the learning process, despite it being a straightforward, uncomplicated memory challenge.

DSC05651For July, I want to deal with another kind of photographic memory, as I plan to sort through a massive box of my photos.  I have photos in various places but, as this box is so big, I want to be fairly realistic and just aim to sort through that.  That will mean sorting them into categories, most likely: throw; put in an album; frame; keep in packets.  I am not going to aim to do the framing, album-making, etc, by the end of July, just get them ready. 

In an ideal world, this will lead to the rest of my photos being organised at a later date and some DSC05650albums/pictures created.  Unfortunately, I predict bouts of melancholy about the passing of time, how slim/young/carefree etc I used to be.  However, a bonus would be to get rid of the enormous box they’re in to make some room in the far-too-full cupboard (I may even be shamed into addressing the accessibility issues with the cupboard) in which it currently occupies almost half the spare floor space.   



{01/12/2012}   Evenings without a TV

I have a TV but don’t that often watch it for something specific, other than on for the news in the mornings, but staying with my friend in London at the moment there is no TV.  Well, there was one but now it’s all fancy digital, it doesn’t work!  So I’ve spent the last two weeks without any TV.  I didn’t have a TV of my own for years and it doesn’t bother me not having a TV, not least because they take over a living room and any likelihood of conversation.  These two weeks have been fine, but I realise that I haven’t seen or heard any news.  I don’t often read a paper or look at online news but I do listen to the morning TV news and I like it.  But as for the evenings, it’s quite refreshing being TV-less.

When I’ve been home, we’ve sat and chatted, taken longer over dinner and sat at the table to eat, we’ve read and/or emailed and there’s been no TV noise.  Nice.  But I do annoy myself that every now and then I think how nice it would be to sit in front of the telly like a zombie and watch mindless drivel.  Sometimes escapism in the form of rubbish telly is just what you fancy.  Ideally with, in my case, a lap tray and dinner.

I can stay up far too late sometimes absorbed in rubbish TV and it’s very unsatisfying.  I rarely switch on the TV to watch something specific, though I was obsessed with the first series of Homeland (almost completely lost interest in series two, and indeed have missed the last three episodes) and quite enjoyed the telly being turned on for 9pm on a Sunday night.

I know there are some people who watch hours and hours of TV.  I don’t get it because I think so much of it isn’t properly absorbed, it just seems like a way of killing time and I spend far too much time complaining I don’t have enough time to then waste hours staring numbly at a screen.  I went through a few phases of playing Scrabble of an evening, which sounds strangely middle class c1985.  It felt almost like a luxury to be doing an activity like that of an evening.  The more I think about it, the more I think how easy and wasteful it can be to watch TV for the sake of sitting down and convincing yourself you’re actually doing something, when in reality the odds are high you’re watching drivel, often interspersed with dreadful adverts which are both noisy and intrusive.

Also, with the advent of digital TV stations and 24-hour TV, there needs to be more repeats and cheaply made programmes (don’t start me off on reality TV … again!) to keep the stations going .  But, really, I wish I could turn a TV on and find choices of decent, well-made programmes, then I wouldn’t mind so much turning the TV on in the evening and watching a few programmes just for the sake of watching a bit of television.

As for my return to life with a telly, I may intend to fully appreciate the quietness of the evenings, maybe enjoy some music and chatting and, well, just appreciate that there is life without TV, but I know with certainty it will be on at some point every day!

I am now in possession of three armchairs and a love seat (a two-seater, but a bit more snug than a conventional two-seater).  Prior to that, in my living room I had a comfy armchair (the kind every visitor gravitated toward), an uncomfy but lovely chaise longue, a black  vinyl chair that was more comfortable than it looked and a massive beanbag.  I feel much less student now I have a living room full of armchairs (the chaise long is now in my bedroom, the black vinyl seat and the beanbag are with Chris in his flat), but, unfortunately, I went for style (my two “new” armchairs and the love seat) in the form of original 1930s chairs, complete with original springs and upholstery.  This equates to questionable comfort, but more of that later.

My point really is to question how many chairs you need in your home.  Fortunately, I have a fairly large living room, though it does not look more like a sitting room in terms of floor space allocation, ie it’s full of armchairs!  The reason I started looking for another armchair was that I had the one comfy chair and I was fed up with one or more people coming over and stealing my lovely comfy chair. Lying in the beanbag was great but once you got it in the right position, it was surprisingly easy to fall asleep in.  This made it a non-sociable seat, plus it was hard to get out of.  The chaise longue is a triumph of loveliness over comfort and took up a lot of space to seat one person.  It also wasn’t know for its comfort.  The vinyl chair was ok, particularly with the benefit of the foot rest, but it was never a curl up kind of chair.  So I decided I needed an additional comfortable chair or sofa.

I looked in charity furniture shops and failed to find anything even slightly inspiring.  I then, dangerously, took to eBay and selected the search tool of being in a certain vicinity of my postcode.  The first armchair I found happened to be two armchairs and a love seat.  They looked so nice and I loved the style.  So, yes, I went to see them and ended up buying them.  They do look lovely and, as they’d been covered probably most of their life, the upholstery isn’t as grubby as I feared.  The issue is just the comfort for only one of them is ok to sit on!  The springs are massive and of trampoline-bounce proportions.  Also, they are like sitting on a water bed.  So you either kind of sloosh around on them or you sit on them a tad too vigorously (they are quite low) and end up being jet propelled back out of them and back to standing.  I’m not exaggerating anywhere near as much as you’d expect.

However, despite my lounge being somewhat overrun by armchairs, I am hoping to have exactly four guests round so we can all sit in our armchairs.  There is something surprisingly grown up about having a proper set of armchairs.  I no longer feel so temporary, having make-do chairs.

The only problem is I fear people will sit on them, bounce to standing and end up sitting on the floor.  I should have chosen my armchairs for their comfort rather than their style.  But, that said, I am very much now the proud owner of some matching furniture, for the first time in my life!  How utterly grown up am I?!

Having lived in more than 20 rented flats/houses, I have recently found myself taking a more serious peak at buying options and what I could get for the little money I could hope to get a mortgage for.  I am now thinking about all the pros and cons of home ownership versus renting.  I am more in favour of renting than I ever have been but I have just found a flat for sale that I actually really like and being as it’s in Folkestone, it’s sort of affordable.

However, one of the great things about renting is that you don’t need to set aside a what-if fund for emergency plumbing, repairs, etc.  This, I believe, is how I have afforded to go on holidays and travels fairly often.  It also means I don’t have to be the one responsible for letting in builders, boiler people, decorators etc, as the maintenance of the property is the responsibility of the owner.  This is a huge plus, particularly as I’m self-employed and to wait in for such people would require an unpaid day off work.

On the other hand, if you have your own property, letting in builders is great if it means you’re doing decorating or making changes to your home that you have chosen to have.  But I go back to the expense thing and that’s why I usually rent places that I don’t feel a pressing need to freshen up or change!  But I do like the idea of doing out your home exactly how you want it.  So long as you do actually get on and make the changes rather than, as I’m prone to do, faffing and dithering.

Also, a huge bug bear of mine is carpets.  I hate old, grubby and/or stained carpets.  My current flat at least has good quality, neutral-coloured carpets but there are stains all over them and I hate that.  I don’t wear shoes anywhere I live and I have tables and mats for drinks.  In other words, I make a real effort to minimise stains on carpets.  I have no idea what or how all the stains on my carpets came from but they bother me immensely.  I want brand new, plush carpets, the quality, design and colour of my choosing.

I used to rent furnished flats but I got fed up with skanky furniture so I now have my own mis-matched furniture.  However, to move into a bought property would mean I’d most likely have to buy a cooker (five or six rings, yes, please), white goods and, something I’ve always wanted, a separate stand-up shower.  It’s been a long time since I’ve rented somewhere with a stand up shower.  I am so over bath showers!

I used an online mortgage checker thing on a £150,000 mortgage at a rate of 5% interest over 25 years.  People always tell me how much money I’m throwing away by renting.  But over the 25 year loan period, I would have paid £113,000 in interest.  Ouch.  Plus all the insurance, moving costs, any service charges, repairs, kitchen appliances … it’s certainly not a drastically cheaper option, plus the monthly repayments on that would be £877, which is way more than I pay in rent.  Another ouch.  I always had in mind that I’m ok about renting as long as I can afford to rent somewhere nicer than I could afford to buy.  Up to now, that’s about right and I have lived in some really cool places, from a three-storey house situated right on the beach to a two-storey flat with a wall of window and a swimming pool right outside my door.

Plus, maybe the biggest repellent is the thought of being a lot more tied to where you live.  I do hate moving so much but I do like living in different areas and changing my environment.  I think it’s outrageous you can’t spend at least a couple of nights test-living in your potential home purchase.  Some of the flats I’ve moved into seemed nice on viewings but on moving in I discovered all kinds of issues.  So moved out again after six months or a year.  However, as I have endured DJs living both above and below (fortunately not at the same time!), I am adamant that I would try to ascertain the hobbies or job of people living in the same building or block.  I don’t think I’m quite ready for a detached house, that seems far too grown up, though a garden would be lovely.

I have no definitive conclusions to draw, there are pros and cons to both, but somebody pointed out that if I don’t have a mortgage by the age of 40, as most mortgages are on a 25-year payment plan, I will find it more difficult to get one.  This bothers me.  But at least I have a few years to get my head around the idea and it would be really nice to move somewhere and not wonder when the next move will be!


{21/06/2012}   Pictures on walls

I have a wall of pictures (not all mine).  Looking at them while thinking what to write today, I am contemplating what pictures we put up on our walls, if indeed any.  The random wall has 12 pictures, all skewiff, and all very different.  I think they reflect my personality (and Chris’s, whose idea it was and whose pictures are also adorning the wall) in that they are random but all have a story.

Maybe not my favourite picture but I have an artists’ proof by Graham Clarke, an artist I have met a few times.  I won an art competition he ran when I was young, colouring in an outline of a cat.  The picture I won, entitled “Woof”, depicting a kind of Gulliver’s Travels scene, is dedicated to me on the back.  I am not known for my painting skills so it is with particular pride and surprise that I proudly display that picture.  Another is of a favourite place in Folkestone, bought long before I ever contemplated living there.  I have a photo of a similar part of the harbour, one of the last places I ever went to with both parents, taken shortly before my dad died.  Others match my interest in colour, more places, the odd one I just saw somewhere, liked and bought, and one I got in a “miscellaneous” box from an auction buy, which I’m convinced is worth a small fortune.  I’m hoping it’ll be my Only Fools and Horses grand finale!

I have a lot of photos on my walls too, clipped together to form a kind of curtain of photos.  I am well aware that having lots of photos of yourself on the wall is a bit vein, but there are quite a lot of me up there, though almost all of them are with friends.  They too are somewhat messy and random.  I am fairly optimistic I have a photo of all my friends on there, though there are a few people who are good at avoiding cameras … but there are ways!

I like books and pictures in people’s houses, they do say a lot about the person whose house you’re in.  I really like it when people come out with an unexpected or unusual story behind a picture.  Does everyone have pictures on walls, or at least propped up in some way?  Whenever I move house, pictures are pretty much the final thing I sort; once they’re up, your work is done and your new place is officially your home.  I’m also not destined to be a minimalist and having blank walls would be altogether too much for my “stuff” self to cope with!

I have recently got a fair few pictures framed, though realised why I probably hadn’t got them done before, it’s expensive, usually costing more for bespoke frames than the actual picture itself.  But now I guess I am revealing a little more about my interests and personality by displaying more on my walls as I slowly get more pictures framed and displayed.

{17/06/2012}   Chores

                I have spent my “quiet Sunday” largely doing chores.  I got up at about 6.45 this morning and since then, with breaks for breakfast and lunch, I have tidied, vacuumed, washed bathroom floors, cleaned, done three washes, shopped for food and car stuff, changed a light bulb in my car (not the simple job you’d expect), had lots of cups of tea, not one of which I’ve drunk while it was hot, yet still I have a long list of things to do.  Next on my list is the very messy job of transferring elderflower cordial into bottles and making a birthday tiramisu.  At least the tiramisu-making will allow me a few sponge finger treats!

                I don’t like doing chores on days off, I’d rather sneak the odd one in here and there so you almost don’t notice you’re spending time doing them.  Having got up early this morning, I did feel incredibly smug to have done so much before normal people would be out of bed though.  I work well in the morning, there was even a little part of me that quite enjoyed it.

However, I feel like I do far too many chores.  I have a notebook for To Do lists that is filling fast.  Why is there always so much to do?  I amaze myself that I get anything done as I have inherited lazy genes from somewhere down my family line – or maybe I am first generation lazy?

Now that I am sitting to write this, I fear my productivity levels have slumped along with my enthusiasm.  Right now, as reward for all my hard labour and for braving a big supermarket at Sunday lunch time, a hot mug of tea would go down a treat and perhaps a little snooze.

I often think about how privileged my generation and those younger than me are, we have so much equipment and technology to help us.  Yet still we have loads to do.  I suppose I could have a cleaner, do online shopping, take clothes to a laundrette … ah, yes, there is a way out.  But actually, I think I like some aspects of chores because there is usually a joyous sense of achievement at completing tasks or ticking off things to do on a list.  Plus, if I didn’t have such things to do I imagine I would be even more lazy than I am now, perish the thought.

I often think I would like to spend a month or so living like a Victorian.  I might just have managed three washes, a lengthy mangle session and hanging clothes out on the line in the time I’ve done all I have done today.  It shocks me that things I take for granted, like vacuum cleaners, washing machines, electric ovens, fridges, dish washers, kettles, etc didn’t used to exist, not to mention cars and an abundance of shops and groceries, all open on Sundays.  I am flagging big time now, I might manage the tiramisu then possibly a little nap!

               On 10th June 2011, I was moving home.  I am still in that flat, unusually without plans to move for the foreseeable future (well, maybe December!!!).  In the past 18 years I have had 20 different addresses and moved much more than that.  I have never owned a house, indeed can’t imagine wanting to stay somewhere long enough to make the moving fees worthwhile!

               This time last year it was very warm and I had a rotten cold and sore throat.  Two men with one van (very large van, for I have a distressing amount of stuff for one who moves so often!) helped me load up in London and here in Folkestone two friends helped out.  I wasn’t feeling at all good, I felt bad about how much stuff I had and how many boxes or bags had broken while being lugged up the three flights of stairs to this flat and, despite it being a big flat, once everything was unloaded I couldn’t see how or where everything could possibly fit.

One year on and I am still dreading the thought of ever moving out and having to spend a morning or afternoon traipsing up and down the three flights of steps.  I also have more furniture (one of the men with van suggested unhelpfully that if renting furnished accommodation made much more sense – been there, done that and I got fed up with having people’s cast off furniture, hence my mismatched but largely beloved furniture!).

Sometimes I think about buying a place of my own and it seems like a lovely idea.  I have visions of redecorating, new bathroom, new kitchen and, something I’ve always wanted, new carpets.  But then I think how lazy I am and how unlikely it would be for me to galvanise myself into a decorating frenzy.  Plus these things cost a small fortune.  I suppose the key for me would be to decorate before moving in, biting the bullet and paying someone else to do it!  But then I think about where I’d want to live for at least a few years.  Nowhere.  I love London, I love being by the sea.  It can never work.  So a compromise would perhaps be where I’ve lived twice before, Rotherhithe, right by the river.  Ah, yes, how to fund that!!!

However, over the years and with every move, I am getting a clear idea of rooms I’d want, etc.  One day, I may refer back to this.  Things I like and would want in a future home I buy:

Bedrooms: three bedrooms (two as bedrooms, one as a proper study, complete with snooze area and lined with book cases and shelves; a library study rather than a bedroom perhaps).

Bathrooms: at least two toilets (this has become quite an unexpected requirement!), a large cast iron bath, a very large stand up shower, possibly with rain forest shower, there must be windows in bathrooms, the main bathroom to be spacious.

Kitchen: enormous, so much so that it takes a good few seconds to walk across it and there is room for a breakfast table and chairs, a six-ring gas hob with an electric and a gas oven (currently have a five-ring version and that will just about do!), a huge fridge and freezer, a double sink, lots of windows and light, lots of cupboard space.

Lounge: fairly big, lots of light.

Utility room: why are they not obligatory?  I have one now, my washing machine is in it, the cat has her dining room and toilet in there, there’s a wash basin in there … so useful.

Outside: a small grassy garden or a really long garden that has various flat levels which go down to the beach (I have my eye on some houses near here!) and/or a roof terrace with sea or river views.

Dining room: not that bothered.  Maybe just make the kitchen bigger and have that as a dining room too?!

Ah, yes, I can almost picture it.  But I really can’t think where I’d want it to be.  It’s going to work that causes the problems, ie the practicality factor.  Oh well, for now at least I shall enjoy not planning to move, especially as the horrors of my last move so often flash before me!

{16/05/2012}   The countryside

Last Thursday night I stayed with friends who live very much in the middle of nowhere in the Northumbrian countryside.  I have very mixed feelings about the countryside and, sitting on the train on the way back from Berwick-upon-Tweed station, I contemplated my thoughts on the countryside.

Where my friends live, there are acres and acres of countryside, predominantly farmland.  I sat in my lovely bedroom and looked out the open window at a field of cows and calves, bright yellow rape seed fields, hills and greenery.  There were birds singing, chickens and a partridge wandering around and lambs across the fields.  It was idyllic.  As I looked out the window of the train, not far south of Durham, there were fields of cattle, trees, greenery, lambs and sheep … you get the picture, all things country.  I love it, I find it peaceful and beautiful.  But I don’t think I want to live in the midst of it.  This kind of bugs me because why would you not want to live surrounded by an environment that makes you feel relaxed and lamb-loving-smiley?

I am aware that I am a complete coward when it comes to nature noises; you know, rustles and creaks and possible monsters outside your house.  This is just a night time and foul weather fear.  I feel unsettled and far more scared than I can rationalise.  During the day, especially when it’s sunny, I love it.  So where does this slight fear come from?  Maybe I’ve lived in cities or towns too long and I find human noise oddly comforting.  Maybe I just don’t understand the countryside, having never lived in it.

Leaving my friends’ lovely house and environs I felt a bit sad, I had thoroughly enjoyed staring at the animals, birds and greenery and listening to the birds and cow-munching sounds.  It was also lovely in the evening all sitting round the big kitchen table, three dogs included, then sitting in the log-fired warmth of their living room.  I just don’t think I’d find it easy to live there all the time (and, really, it couldn’t have been any more lovely).  However, put me in their house right by the sea with no neighbours for miles and I could live there, no problem – well, occasionally an almighty storm would unsettle me somewhat.

All this kind of surprises me, but given the choice of countryside, sea (or a large river) or buildings, it is the sea that I draw comfort and grounding from, despite finding cities exciting, fascinating and energetic and the countryside idyllic, peaceful and relaxing.  I do think that everyone has a preference between the three and I’m sure if I thought about it I could draw a vague stereotype based on which of the three you feel most comfortable surrounded by, but I won’t as I’m sure it’d be too favourable to the sea lovers!

{03/05/2012}   Neighbours

I live on the top floor of a detached Victorian converted house, my neighbour below is extremely old and seems to confine herself to one room, below my spare room, and I can hear her radio, nothing offensive at all. But that’s it for neighbour noise.
In my previous flat, the neighbour was called “shouty man” for his loud phone voice, but also you could hear his TV. But only from the living room. It was also under a flight path, though SE London not near LHR, and the morning flights would often wake me. Prior to that, I lived in a basement flat below a well-known DJ and his girlfriend. Both kept unpredictable hours. You could hear them padding about and occasionally he would play music (there is probably a hip term I should use, spinning discs or whatever!). Really loudly. I mean really,really loudly. After they moved out (having first sold a job lot of 2000 “spare” records), a quiet-seeming couple moved in. They would regularly do karaoke, largely to the likes of Celine Dion and, no kidding, Christian music. Also really loudly. Prior to that, I lived on a middle floor of a Victorian conversion. The woman above was quite old and largely drunk and eccentric. She listened to the radio above my bedroom throughout the night. It was quiet but you could hear it, annoyingly. Below was an unsuccessful DJ with occasional work who would spin discs (or whatever) at various times. Always rubbish music played very loudly. They were a couple and would sometimes complain about my foot fall. For some reason, I never complained about their music or occasional parties, which left me high on cannabis due to the large number of guests smoking pot.
Prior to that, I lived in a purpose built block of flats. I could only hear light switches, plugs going in and out of sockets and a vacuum cleaner being used above me. Prior to that, a whole Victorian house with friends, noise only from them. Before that another purpose built flat and I don’t recall noise from there, except that it was by the Thames and you could hear gulls. Before that was my first London flat. I had a pokey bedroom with no double glazing, by Tulse Hill. At all times of night and day I could hear traffic, sirens and unsavouries.
While the flat I’m in at present is fine, I do now have a list of things to avoid: away from a road, no flight path, no DJ neighbours and certainly no drummers (I have heard a budding drummer from a friend’s house, misery), no alcoholics (this also makes for noisy bottle recycling at unsociable hours as well as slightly too frequent singing and occasional smashing), no karaoke lovers, no children (sorry,but I had some above me once and children stamp about and young ones cry), no dogs (nails on floorboards and I’ve-been-abandoned barking and whining), no Celine Dion fans, no one who has weekly Christian music singing sessions, no train lines behind (you kind of get used to it but I used to live behind the entrance/exit to a tunnel and there were tooting noises at times) and, well … do you know what, I want to live in a detached house in the middle of nowhere … but then I’d get scared of every noise I’d hear, however quiet. You can’t win, eh?!

{24/03/2012}   Spring cleaning

There are times when I love cleaning. This morning was one of those unfortunately rare occasions. Last night I tidied and dusted (my rock and roll Friday night!) but couldn’t face vacuuming or cleaning. This morning I have been furiously cleaning. I am definitely a morning cleaner. The windows are open, I can hear birds singing and there is an air of freshness everywhere. I am well and truly feeling the joys of spring.

Spring is my favourite season. The days suddenly seem longer, the greens are fresh and vibrant and there is hope for … well, all kinds of things, not least a cleaner home! I did a big spring clean a few weeks ago. Room by room, most things got moved and cleaned. Windows were left open, washing dried outside and I even managed to throw a few things out. It does horrify me how quickly vacuumables reappear though. I understand more than ever that having a cleaner would be a joy. I would miss my unplanned big cleaning sessions, but not so much that I would rather not have a cleaner. I’m not planning to get one though as I have time to do it myself most weeks.

A friend had a cleaner for a while (quite a few friends have cleaners, it transpires) and as his flat looked so good after a few visits, I decided to take advantage of her cleaning knowledge so took note of the products she’d been using. I am now largely tooled up for some hard core cleaning. I had previously tried to be a bit more eco about products, but sadly they largely don’t work. Though vinegar in the sink with a sprinkle of bicarbonate of soda left to fizz before wiping away is a wonder to behold. Also, vinegar to wipe away grease is amazing. And cola down the loo gives a good clean. I’m on an eco roll here. A bit of lemon (eg what you’d throw away after squeezing) wiped over chopping boards then rinsed off is good at getting rid of a bit of garlic/onion odour. That might be it for my eco cleaning repertoire. i would feel even more virtuous about spring cleaning if my cleaning products weren’t full of things origin-unknown.

But I won’t let a few chemicals get in the way of my spring cleaning enthusiasm. This is quite out of character but I am writing this and hoping to end very soon so I can crack on with the bathroom! It’s been dusted and vacuumed but I am now lusting after the mega chemical tile cleaner that makes my tiles gleam, Viakal. I have discovered a real appreciation for glossy tiles! What fun lies ahead this morning. Largely thanks to a friend coming to stay for the weekend! See, there had to be a reason, didn’t there?!

et cetera