Friday, November 30, 2012

Moving and shaking

Well, it's nearly the end of November* and I couldn't let a fifth (nearly sixth) month pass without a blog post... actually, I could, but I didn't want to, as Joella first put nicotine-stained fingers to red-wine-stained keyboard ten years ago this month, and I felt the occasion should be marked.

And it's not that there hasn't been stuff going on, quite the reverse. If I had to sum up the last six months in less than, say, 140 characters, it would be something along the lines of TOO MUCH STUFF ALREADY. NOW LEAVE ME ALONE.

In the early days of the blogosphere, I used to write pithy and/or incoherent and/or cryptic posts even when things were kind of weird. We have Facebook and Twitter for that these days, and in many ways I think they do a better job. But (as I've said before, and I'm not the only one) something that could have stood a paragraph or two, a bit of reflection or expansion, become a little self-contained note about life in the 21st century, can, when condensed to a tweet or a status update, just disappear into the stream that flows past us all, all the time.

So I regret my blogular silence, not least because this exercise has always been as much for my own benefit as anyone else's. These months have not been easy, but they have been significant. I would like to get back to blogging, it's a medium I'm fond of. Writing is still one of the things I like doing best of all. It's early for a New Year's Resolution, but I have a good experience to build on: this year's was to refuse to visit the Daily Mail website, however chain-yanking the link-bait, and I have kept the faith. So in 2013, which I fully expect will not be an easy year either, I resolve to blog at least once a week.

A tweet or two from each week since I last blogged... for the sake of the record: 

  • Project Interim Hair Colour is moving into phase 2: goodbye Dirty Blonde, hello Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlights.
  • Shit is relative, as Freud almost said.
  • Pint of Isis Pale Ale in between a Hinksey swim and spaghetti carbonara (v). Happy end to a weekend of heated long distance debate.
  • We argue while boarding the 35. M: 'you just wanted to say "hegemony" on the bus, didn't you?'. Me: 'yeah, a bit'.
  • Drinking spicy Turkish turnip juice in East London.
  • We had the Cohousing Conversation About Meat. Nobody died.
  • The horses in the field next to our temporary Lancs home trot over every time we walk down our long drive. Horses are GREAT. I'd forgotten.
  • History of the toilet programme on BBC4 right now making this sociologist-plumber very happy.
  • So that was odd, but mostly in a good way. Like us, I guess. Yay. And an extra yay for the Saudi women. In black, at the back, but here.
  • Home alone with an End of an Era hangover. Nothing in the house but plums and Parmesan heels. Time for a bath with Georgette Heyer.
  • If the Spice Girls are the 'originators of girl power' I want a fucking refund. Off to bed.
  • Coffee at Restore after pre-Cambodia jabs at East Oxford Health Centre. Hurty arm. Quite a stressy month, all told.
  • On our way To The North.
  • Woke up, thought what's that noise, it's like living on a building site. Oh. But VIEW!
  • Like Guinness in Ireland, Singha only tastes right in Thailand. BKK airport just about counts, specially on 'WTF is the time?' time.
  • It appears I am now a "Crazy Goat".
  • I just dropped a litre of Tanqueray in the middle of Abu Dhabi airport. The staff were amazing. The man who got gin on his ankles, less so.
  • Oppressed by boxes in multiple different ways. Oppressed by lack of internet in the Glorious Eco Home. But feeling resilient, mostly.
  • I feel like a pendulum swinging between 'unstoppable force' and 'immovable object'. Both have their merits, but it's not very zen.
  • Finding some calm at the end of a hectic not-over-yet week with a Lune-inspired playlist... Rivery #Spotify
  • Discovered today that we live about three miles (maybe four via bike down towpath) from this:
  • Going off-grid* for a few days.  *leaving town with only one internet-enabled device
  • Thanks to my lovely boyfriend for support through one of the hardest weeks of my life. And for eating THREE meals with gherkins in today XX
  • #justthewomen - I despair.
  • Feeling a little mutinous. And possibly a little carnivorous. Could be ominous. Could be fun.
  • THREE MONTHS since we placed a BT landline order and they still won't give us a date. Well, they've given us many dates, but no landline.
  • "Because of you, I doubted my own sanity." Go Carrie! Stick it to the man. #homeland
  • Our old table in its new home: fish pie & champagne in the Common House with some of our lovely cohousing neighbours
  • Day 87 in the house with no landline. Putting finishing touches to my 1700-word letter of complaint to BT.
  • Hot Ribena and hot Vimto at the Crook O'Lune
  • After 11 years cohabiting, we are merging our book collections. Our Bodies Ourselves now lives next to Mathematical Puzzlements.
What all that means is...

1. On 19 August we left our Interim Bungalow for the long journey north. It was good to us, was the Interim Bungalow, and I very much enjoyed living next door to ex-housemate S, her Young Man, Tungsten and Particle for the best part of a year, but if I had my time again I'd do it differently. We'd have stayed there for a few months, through the winter, and then made a clean break and rented a house in Lancaster till the Passivhaus was ready. That way I'd have done the shift to remote working, got to know a new city, said the big goodbyes to Oxford, all while the days were lengthening and while the shops were in walking distance. Instead we did a halfway thing, and sublet a couple of rooms off another cohousing couple who had rented a big house (so big it was immediately nicknamed the Massivhaus) near the site as their own interim base. The idea was we'd live there some of the time and in the Interim Bungalow some of the time. But that didn't work out... it was never a space we felt at home in, and it was never a space we even felt that warm in. It was a long way from town, up a hill, right next to the M6. A good setting for a novel, but not a good start to our life in Lancaster. We liked the horses in the field next door. We liked the view over the hills as we walked to the bus stop. We liked the wild garlic and the bluebells in the spring. But really, when we were there, we always wanted to be in Oxford, where we could eat what we wanted and watch TV in our pants if we wanted. These things happen, and it seemed like a good idea at the time, but ... it made the leaving harder. 

2. When we arrived, we were the first people to move in. On the upside, it was a celebratory weekend -- both before we left, when we had a lovely Isis-and-curry night on the Friday, and a big Flowing Well meal on the Saturday with the ex-housemate S massive plus C, who drove a van down from Lancaster to pick us and our stuff up -- and when we arrived, when there were loads of people waiting to welcome us and help us unload the van. We hadn't been in our house, or any of the houses, before we took possession of the keys, and the whole thing was both surreal and overwhelming. I think only four properties were released that week, and we were the only ones who were moving any distance, so everyone else moved in gradually, while we got the big bang. And it was pretty weird. A brand new house has no coat hooks, no towel rails, no lampshades, no clues as to how you should occupy its space. This one also had an awful lot of new things to get our heads round -- MVHR, district heating, an induction hob, a water-efficient bathroom -- plus a whole bunch of stuff that simply wasn't finished or in place yet... no communal indoor or outdoor space, no laundry room, no car pool, no phones or internet, a postcode so new that for delivery purposes, we just didn't exist. Where do we do our washing? How do I do my job? Where's the post box? How do I go shopping? What the hell am I doing here? 

3. Less than a week later, I flew to Cambodia for NGO X's annual Global IT Summit. As a non-IT person, I felt it was a significant invitation and not one I should turn down -- indeed it was one of the best such events I've ever attended, it has given my work new energy and was a great place to forge and renew the relationships without which my job is almost impossible. And there were good reasons for it being in Cambodia -- it's the first NGO X 'model office', where staff of multiple affiliates share resources and services and deliver a shared programme [oversimplification, but that's a whole other post], and part of the remit of the summit was to evaluate the approach taken. Professionally, it was a great trip. Personally, it was tough, I was pretty wiped out emotionally by the move, and also trying to come to terms with the fact that my good friend W, who I met in my first year at Cambridge, was dying of cancer. There's nothing you can do, but that's almost the worst part. One night we were all on our way to a traditional dance production put on by an NGO which cares for orphans... I know, I know, we really do this stuff. I was feeling a little disconnected and was looking out the window of the minibus, and I saw a guy lying in the road, head caved in, blood everywhere, just been killed by a motorbike. I was a long, long way from home and I didn't even know what home was. I had a bad night with too much minibar Scotch, called M and sobbed for 20 minutes at £X per minute (couldn't Skype, plenty of internet in Phnom Penh, but none in Lancashire), woke up next morning with puffy eyes and an 'oh shit' feeling. There was a bright side... NGO X is stuffed full of people who turn out to be way more than colleagues, if you find yourself in a situation where that's what you need, and I had some properly bolstering conversations over the next 24 hours. I am still feeling the warmth. 

4. And thank whoever for that, because it turns out I never needed it more. Flew back into Manchester, accidentally smashing two litres of gin in two continents en route, and arrived home to find still no landline, still no internet, still no washing machine, but lots of jetlag. We had our first Oxford visitor the morning I came home, wild-swimming H, a fellow native Lancastrian, on her way back from visiting her parents. That was the sanest moment of my week... the next day I naively / optimistically climbed the hill to the Massivhaus with my laptop (to use the broadband) and a suitcase full of laundry (to use the washing machine) to find ourselves ... I don't really know how to put this diplomatically, not very welcome. Kind of fair enough, as we were no longer paying rent, though we had paid half-occupancy rent for nine months of one-fifth occupancy, so I had anticipated a bit of leeway. It was made very clear that our room full of boxes was also no longer welcome, despite explicit previous assurances to the contrary. There is obviously a parallel narrative here, but hey, that's for someone else to blog about. Let's just say that from my perspective it was the last thing I needed. We made alternative arrangements as soon as we could -- we rented some temporary office space in town, and eventually started shelling out stupid money for mobile broadband, which does just good enough a job to allow you to function, while being just flaky enough to keep you on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Don't believe the EE hype, people. You have to reboot at least three times a day, and they block Skype while lying about it. 1998 ADSL never looked so good. 

5. So there we are, struggling to 'work from home', with BT acting like a new build development three miles from Lancaster is equivalent to establishing a new nation state on a Pacific coral reef when it comes to giving us landlines and broadband. It's still going on, over three months later, but I do now get regular phone calls from Alison in the High Level Complaints team. You take your pleasures where you can. Especially when your mother, who has been as fit as a butcher's dog and as strong as an ox for your ENTIRE LIFE, apart from that time she had to go to hospital after your sister was born, and that other time they took her toenail off, and that other other time when she was in hospital for a week having a hysterectomy and we ate out of tins and off paper bags to save on washing up, but that was like 1979 and she hasn't been ill since then, especially when she tells you that she's not feeling well but she doesn't want to worry you because you've got enough on your plate. Which you have, but then you get the call on your mobile, which starts 'isn't your landline working yet?' and no, no it's not, but it does ring and ring and ring, and that's what she did first, losing some minutes of breath that she doesn't have, because what she's ringing to tell you is that she can't breathe and the ambulance is on its way. 

6. So then my most excellent and indefatigable mother, who was surely going to outlive us all, and was planning to do my wallpapering and walk some Lake District hills with me, among other things, is in hospital for three weeks, and leaves (after experiencing some brutality but also much humanity) with a diagnosis of terminal adenocarcinoma. Having googled 'pleural effusion' (which is what sent her into hospital) I knew that was a strong possibility, but when you're waiting for that kind of diagnosis, you live in a Schroedinger place -- until they say that's what it is, it isn't anything. She was in hospital in Blackpool -- maybe 45 minutes by car, but we don't have one, and we didn't have access to one... so we we went by bus, or by train to Lytham and then with my dad in his car. I spent a lot of time at the parental home during those weeks -- it seemed important to keep up standards, and to make sure everyone was eating properly. Not saying we managed it, they were dark weeks. And in the middle of them, in fact while were were on the bus from Blackpool back to Lancaster, we got a call to say that (despite re-negotiated agreements around boxes and having already taken half of them away) we needed to come and get the rest of them, like, now. In a couple of years, when all is calm, I might get over that request being made at that time, parallel narrative, yadda yadda, but I don't have a lot of spare empathy right now, so fuck it. We complied -- well, technically, M complied, with the strength of the furious, while I moved boxes round to make space for more boxes, while swigging whisky and crying. And it meant we could draw a line under something. 

7. But it left a bad taste, and so did the food wars, which coincidentally -- or maybe not -- largely consisted of us (representing omnivorous diversity) arguing with one of them (representing hardline veganism) about our competing interpretations of the Food Policy. Those are hours of my life I'll never get back. In the end, the whole group hammered out a starting position, which in parts still felt way too extreme for me (if you want to eat a fish finger in the Common House on one of the days it is permitted, you have to cook it elsewhere [fair enough] but also bring your own plate and knife and fork to eat it with and take them home afterwards to wash up [completely mental]), but does at least allow for the existence of cheese and wine. In theory anyway -- in practice the initial food ordering seemed to take a look at everything in a hardline vegan kitchen and buy 25kg of it. We will not run out of pearl barley or soya milk for decades. There are some people who are ignoring all this and getting on with producing delightful food from stuff they've bought at Sainsbury's, but somehow, because I was so bruised by the process, I can't. But I'm not so sure I like communal meals anyway. They make me feel a bit panicky and weird. Safer to stay home and eat exactly what I want, at least at the moment. Which might include liver and pork pies: I've realised I am SO NOT A VEGAN that I'm probably a meat eater, though I haven't actually done a very good job of eating meat yet.  

So yeah, it's been a "journey". Writing about it all in one go I'm amazed that I haven't fallen over. A couple of weeks ago I did spend the whole weekend in bed reading novels and ignoring the doorbell, but I have days like that at the best of times. It's also safe to say I am not sticking within the government's alcohol guidance at the moment, but when did I ever? 

And I am still struggling to keep firing on all cylinders, but it's gradually getting easier. The house is delightful, a space I loved immediately. It's been home since the day we set foot in it, despite the boxes and the fact that it was in the middle of a building site. There are about 20 homes occupied now, and we have a car club, a laundry room, guest rooms and a common house with a wood burner. And of course neighbours, many of whom I like a great deal and some of whom I already think of as my friends. The site is muddy but beautiful... we regularly walk through the woods to the Crook O'Lune and have a hot Vimto at Woodies. The cycle track over the river takes us to Caton in 15 minutes, where we can shop at the Co-op or have dinner at the Ship, or to Lancaster in 25 minutes, where I am gradually discovering new places and getting less lost. We are four miles from the sea, and have spent time exploring the delights of Hest Bank and Morecambe. Further afield, but not much, are Arnside & Silverdale, and we've also been to Ambleside, Bowness and Windermere, thanks to the splendid 555 bus. This is a beautiful part of the world, and I am glad we moved here. I just wish it hadn't been so hard. I feel like we're plants that have been uprooted and lost nearly all their topsoil in the process. Luckily our roots are tangled up together, I think without M, I would probably have just given up for a while and let everything go dark. He's been a brick. Or is it a rock. Something of both. 

My mum's still got cancer though. Not a hell of a lot I can do about that. She is having chemotherapy in the New Year but it's not about curing it, that's not going to happen**. I hope to find some midwinter space to retreat and regroup, because next year I am going to need to be a big brave girl. Watch this space. 


* now December, but I wrote most of this in November, so I'm giving it a November date. Because I can. 
** I don't want to write a cancer blog. At least not yet. But her initial diagnosis was Cancer of Unknown Primary, which has a pretty bleak prognosis. 

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah Joella, I've not read you in ages, and it's a tonic to do so again. Much love to you amongst all the chaos and change.

xx tomato - not blogging, but reading

3:26 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

Oh, tomato! How lovely to hear from you. I miss your wise words. Hope all is well with you and yours in the building that moves in the wind xxx

4:08 pm  
Blogger Jeremy Day said...

((((many hugs)))) I knew you'd been busy, but that is an epic tale of a year. Much love to you both + many best wishes to you and yours xxxxx

6:28 pm  
Blogger Neil Lawrence said...

Hey Jo

Was initially delighted to see you blogging again, but this turned to sadness when I read about the tough times you've been having. While there's not much I can say to make it feel better, I can just say you write about it so well.

Oh, and I met Jeremy the other day.

7:44 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

Thanks both - and actually it was Jeremy posting on Facebook that you'd met and that blogging was mentioned that made me think 'I really need to get back to that'. And it's strangely therapeutic, wish I'd done it sooner. Xx

9:30 pm  
Blogger Spine said...

wow. before this I only knew the half of it. hang in there and see you soon.

1:43 pm  
Anonymous jonathan said...

Joella- so happy to hear from you and so sorry to hear of the difficult times you and your family are going through. You're right though you are a Big Brave Girl and you will come through this. And can I just say fair play to M who has quite clearly been not only a rock and a stone but also a cliff and any other prominent native northcountry geological feature you care to mention and who I would like to stand a pint in a remote Lancaster alehouse in recognition of the esteem in which I hold him.

The communal passivhous sounds in equal degrees inspiring and terrifying and as someone who only this summer emerged emotionally scarred from a single weekend evening spent in a well-regarded Northumbrian youth hostel I salute your determined good humour and resilience. I'd definitely suggest a regular order of Sainsburys online fishfingers though, even if you have to haul them personally upstream via horse-drawn barge from the nearest Luneside postcode recognisable to the Queens Royal Mails. I mean we're only fucking human, know what I mean?

1:18 am  
Blogger Jo said...

@Spine - this isn't really even the whole of it. I look forward to spilling more beans. @jonathan - happy to hear from you too! A pint in a Lancaster alehouse sounds like an excellent plan, and these days even an achievable one. We do like the beer here. And be assured, we have no shortage of fish fingers, our new fridge freezer is approx twice the size of everyone else's for just this purpose. (It's still A+ on energy efficiency, obv). And yeah, only fucking human, or OFH as I shall now put on a T-shirt. Like it. X

10:35 pm  
Anonymous Bigger Vern said...

Best wishes x

12:00 am  

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