Moving Tales: Part 2

In my last post about our recent house move I expressed frustration about a series of relatively minor but annoying problems that we’d had so far. The two main issues were the lack of hot water, and a mystery leak.

Shortly after posting I started pulling out wood cladding in the downstairs bathroom (part of the garage conversion) and found that the reason we had a water leak was because the pipe that took waste water from the sink and downstairs shower was not actually attached to the piping that should have routed it out of the bathroom and through to what’s left of the garage. Water was literally pouring onto the floor every time the shower or sink was used. Annoyingly, this had obviously been a problem for some time, as there were clear water marks and residue of damp that had been painted over. I called a local plumber in and had it sorted for £50, job done.

The hot water issue was slightly more complicated. Gaz and I fiddled with the boiler, we replaced fuses in mystery switches in the garage, we tried the thermostat on the wall but all to no avail. In the end I called in my regular trusty gas engineer (Telford Gas & Heating, highly recommend) to take a look assuming — hoping — it’d be something as simple as the boiler needing a service.

Unfortunately, life is never that simple. I knew that the problem was a little more complicated when, during the initial consult & having opened the airing cupboard to see the pipework to and from the hot water tank, my engineer uttered the fatal words “what on earth is that”. We were quoted circa £850 to fix the massive piping cock-ups that had been made previously, which we managed to scrape together, and the work was scheduled for this morning (9th July)

In the mean time, to keep us on our toes, the house decided to throw a little electrics issue at us. One evening after school, Izzy turned her bedroom light on and the upstairs electrics & downstairs bathroom lights went out. At first I panicked and thought the leak had reoccurred and was seeping into a light socket or something, but couldn’t find any evidence of that. Attempts to reset the RCD on the fuseboard wouldn’t work, and it’d immediately trip again. After 3 days of ignoring the issue like the nice responsible homeowners that we are, Gaz suggested it might be related to a switch in the loft that appeared to not do anything that he’d fiddled with when he was hiding some of our junk. Lo and behold, after climbing back up there and switching it off, the electrics came back on. Tada!

Anyway, back to the hot water. The gas engineer and his colleague turned up this morning and immediately started trying to make sense of the pipes while I cracked on with work. Just before 10am I emailed Gaz to tell him I was hearing a lot of perplexed “jesus, this is a mess” type noises coming from upstairs which didn’t sound great. 20 minutes later and I was called upstairs to the landing, where the floorboards had been removed to expose further pipework that I can only describe as akin to a game of Snake.

I’m not an expert on central heating installation or plumbing etc but it definitely didn’t require expert skills to see that there were Big Issues afoot. With that, on top of the work that was scheduled to be done this morning, and the reality of the state of the system, our best option (short of bumbling along with what we have for the foreseeable) is to replace the whole central heating system: pipework, hot water cylinder, radiators, possibly even the boiler at an estimated cost £5,000-£6,000. This is before we factor in the problems likely to be caused by lifting floorboards (i.e. removal of the laminate in the bedroom for access).

To say I’m furious is an understatement. That someone would knowingly misrepresent their house to get an artificially inflated sale price fully in the knowledge that we have two young children for whom hot water, reasonable plumbing and working electrics are, y’know, somewhat important; to look those kids in the eye and reel off the story of her husband’s sudden death to engender sympathy; to lie to the solicitors about “not being able to find the boiler certificate” knowing full well there isn’t one because the system was installed by an unqualified fucknugget; and, finally, leaving a “new home” card behind wishing “happy memories” when you know you’ve screwed over your buyer to the tune of several thousand pounds? Fuck, furious doesn’t even come close to how I feel.

Still, life lesson learned. Don’t be a dick and skimp to move faster (like we did), get the most in depth survey even if it costs you a small fortune in the short term. Ultimately, it may save you you a fuck ton more later on.

Lead photo by Joel Barwick.

Insta fitness and chasing tiny

(This post doesn’t have an image attached to it because the search for “thinspiration” to demonstrate what I am getting at turned up some fucking horrific images and I don’t want to contribute to that.)

Despite being a late adopter to Instagram (as per usual; I only downloaded snapchat this week) it is easily my favourite social network for procrastination. As well as engaging with the people I follow multiple times a day, I also frequently make use of their ‘discover’ feed and randomly like/comment on other people’s photos. It’s actually a good way to find new people with similar interests (which I guess is the whole point).

Unfortunately, because I use Instagram as a half-hearted fitness log, and as such follow other fitness folk, my insta discovery feed is absolutely rammed with weight loss posts and “transformations”: picture after picture after picture of women — always women — before their “magical transformation” and after. The before pictures usually feature someone obese or significantly overweight, and the after can be anything up to and including skeletal women (that quite possibly have an eating disorder).

Sometimes the women are even the same person & it’s hilarious how bad some of the fakes are, but that’s another post for another day…

And people LOVE it. They lap it up. Thousands of likes and comments applauding the desire to shrink, to be smaller, to better fit into society’s normal. “Thinspiration!” they cry. Lots of supportive comments, but as is the norm on the Internet, a whole fuckton of fat shaming too.

Why? Why do we — women — strive to take up less space in a world that tries so hard to keep us small and meek and fearful? And I don’t mean the act of weight loss in itself: I am happy to support anyone that wants to lose weight if they so desire, whatever their motivation for doing so. I have obviously pursued my own weight loss goals to better fit the way I feel most comfortable and confident… but chasing “tiny” just for the sake of being tiny?

In a world that has us fighting to exist on an equal footing for pay, for health care, and in some countries for access to basic human rights; in a world that is led by men who brag openly about sexual assault so that we know our place? Deliberately shrinking ourselves seems so counter-productive.

Where are my insta-fitness shots of growth: growing muscles? Growing more confident? Growing competence in a discipline that pleases you? Growing more secure, or growing capacity for fitness? Growing the distance you run or the friends you make through a mutual enjoyment of a sport?

Fuck, grow your plate of cookies for all I care – just demand more. Be MORE. Not less. Never less.

What a day.

Gaz is away til late tonight so I have 3 options:

  • Catch up on some more work, which I need to do.
  • Catch up on some housework, which I should do.
  • Have a bath and go to bed with a bottle of wine and a book, which I want to do.

Unfortunately after today the odds are looking likely on #1.

In the unlikely event that you’ve not already heard, today we – the UK – voted to leave the European Union. In my humble opinion this is a terrible idea for the country, for the economy and for people as a whole and so I voted to remain. However, little did I know – until this morning – it would also be terrible for me: thanks to the pound crashing to a 31 year low, a lot of the online services I rely on to do business (everything from hosting to Github, my accounts package, etc) have skyrocketed in price.

Unless the pound recovers quickly, it will become financially infeasible for me to continue using some of these services: I’m now faced with the prospect of moving half of my websites to UK based servers. (They’re not abroad because of an “indian call centre” money saving thing, sometimes it is better for a site to be hosted in the same location as its target audience.)

This means that in a month where my work output is already low because of my assault and ill health I may have to spend hours working on admin and migrations rather than ‘real’ work and projects which are already overdue.

Suffice to say I’m a bit pissed off about this whole bloody mess.

In defence of selfies

I was flicking through a thread on mumsnet last week — procrastination in action — about people who take lots of selfies. The consensus of opinion was that people who take a lot of selfies are vain, insecure and lacking self-esteem. Mumsnet’s AIBU, apparently the last bastion of social etiquette and good manners, thinks that people who post a lot of selfies should get a hobby.

Maybe a hobby like criticising people on Mumsnet…

trolololol

I disagree, of course. I don’t think people with low self esteem post selfies for validation. Quite the opposite, I think often people with truly low self esteem tend not to post pictures of themselves at all for fear of judgement and comments, essentially cutting themselves out of their own history.

Of course there’s exceptions to the rule, in which case do we really need to be telling people who feel so badly about themselves that they’re a piece of shit and should stop posting on the Internet? That they need to do something more productive, or more worthwhile?

Who are these strangers to judge whether or not these selfie-addicts deserve to exist in their little safe space?

Given a choice between complimenting a serial-selfier and taking another kick at their apparently already low confidence levels, should we be defaulting to the kick in the teeth option? If a selfie is taken to seek validation – to justify existing in this world – is giving validation or giving hate more harmful?

Of course the selfie-hate is not a Mumsnet-only thing. It’s a fairly common opinion that people should not like themselves enough to share that with the world. Know your place, selfie takers!

Selfies document progress and milestones, holidays, hairstyles and fashion trends, culture and identity. Selfies are proof that we exist in our own lives: for others, for ourselves, and for potential future generations. They create communities between likeminded and lookalikes, allowing us to experience a truly multicoloured, multiflavoured, multicultural world that would otherwise be out of reach for many.

I take selfies. Good selfies, bad selfies. Duck-face selfies, new hair selfies, suns-out-guns-out selfies. Selfies with the kids and without. Selfies with friends, selfies in the mirror. Selfies on holiday and at home.

all-the-selfies

I finally have a record of my path in life and nobody can take that away from me, Mumsnet or otherwise.

Depressing money crap

I’ve just come off the phone to my current mortgage provider. I rang up to see how much I’d likely be able to borrow if I wanted to purchase a larger house using equity in this house as a deposit.

I was hoping that because of my regular overpayments to my mortgage as part of my ‘mortgage free in 5 years‘ thing, and my reasonable income for a working mother of 2 with my experience level, that I might be able to secure at least enough to upgrade from my tiny 2 bed to a medium sized 3 bed.

Unfortunately, because I am now fully self-employed, any income I’ve received over the past few years in full time employment no longer count. Because I spent much of the past 2 years in full time employment with only self employment on the side, my official SE income for 2014-15 for example is just £1700 (despite overall income being much, much higher).

So, as it turns out, despite my reasonable financial status, repeat steady business and an average income more than enough to sustain my house & kids etc, I don’t even qualify for my existing mortgage deal let alone a new one.

I understand why affordability checks are in place on mortgages: to prevent people getting in over their head and ending up bankrupt and the bank losing money. But it makes absolutely no sense to me that they can’t look at the bigger picture in terms of income and net worth. Because I blew all my savings on a website I can’t even put together a bigger deposit.

Time to kick my mortgage free thing into gear and get back on the money-saving track, I guess.

Be a little patient

We’re on day 3 of the new year and I’m yet to write any of my typical end of year posts for 2015: what I did for christmas, my review of the previous year, my goals for the next.

It’s not that there’s nothing to say. I mean, 2015 saw me complete the remortgage on the house, return to self-employment and move the man I love in with me. If that wasn’t awesome enough, for some bizarre reason that man asked me to marry him and I said yes. And — on a slightly less life-changing level — I lost weight, had my first foreign holiday (and went topless on the beach), got lost in Oxford, got myself a giant bunny and saw my dad for the first time in a couple of years. Amongst other things.

A busy year all in, and plenty to write about, but instead I’m sat here feeling restless and agitated. Instead of focusing on all the massive AWESOME cool stuff that I did / achieved / went through in 2015 I remember the times I skipped a mornings work to lay in bed because my head was telling my silly things or spent 3 hours on twitter because it’s the closest I’d get to adult company and the isolation was setting in. I think of the income I didn’t get because I was too busy doing favours – saying yes when I should have said no. Or just generally procrastinating.

I think about the times I shouted at my kids because they were doing ordinary kid stuff because outside pressure and the PMS and life was making it difficult to relax. I think about the wine and takeaway curries I consumed when I should have been working out and eating homemade food. I think of the failed budgets, the overspending, the constantly fluctuating savings. Most of all I spend a lot of time wondering when I’ll feel normal again.

But what is normal? When you’ve spent the vast majority of your life in situations where you’ve had to build walls and exercise control over the minutiae because it’s the only thing you’re allowed control over; when your relationships are based on defending your emotional health rather than cultivating it; when you’ve spent so long living with oppression that freedom scares the fuck out of you… none of what you “know” is normal. There’s no going back to normal, because there was no normal to begin with.

So… I guess what I’m trying to say is that 2016 is going to be about defining a new normal. Allowing myself to continue building on what I’ve done, finding out who I am and being gentle on myself when I fail. Mark Manson said, in his piece Shut Up and Be Patient (which basically feels like it was written for me at exactly the time I needed it):

There are a thousand tons of emotional and psychological cargo being hauled across the vast oceans of your unconscious. Be a little patient, fucker.

& I think I can do that. :)

Chaos

As you may have figured out from my sporadic blogging of late, I’ve been a wee bit busy. Cramming in ALL THE WORK before Christmas so that I can have a proper holiday; trying to get kids in the right place at the right time for nativities and dinners and parties and this, that and the other; car disasters (mid section of the exhaust fell off, brakes and tyres buggered); home disasters (dishwasher keeps flooding the kitchen, oven is still fucked from last Christmas, tumble dryer jams the timer… nothing like a fire risk to keep you on your toes) and all the bits in between.

I’m only blogging now because technology has chosen THIS MOMENT, where I have literally got more things to do than minutes to do it in, to have a dick fit and completely fail to work. My internet connection is sporadically dropping to the speed of dial-up and my once trusty & reliable laptop seems to have decided it’s had enough and is mysteriously ramping up RAM usage and dying on me every 4-6 hours. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m TERRIBLE at making back-ups I’d have taken a bloody hammer to it by now.

I have done very little in terms of Christmas prep, given the bare minimum of thought to my kid’s presents (basically throwing any old crap into my Amazon basket and hoping for the best) and even then not bothering to unpack it when it arrives: my hallway looks like Santa’s bloody grotto and I daren’t open any of it because if I do that I have to find somewhere to hide what’s inside. The only problem with this method of storage is that I have genuine non-Christmas deliveries somewhere (pet food amongst others) which is kinda necessary for my animals but could be in ANY of the boxes… and knowing my luck, the last one I investigate.

Oh well, it’s nearly Christmas. Ho ho ho. Now where did I put those mince pies…

Teach your children to cook

Would it be controversial of me to suggest that failing to teach your children to cook is neglecting a hugely important of parenting? That is, missing out a huge part of a range of life skills that should be imparted upon your kids.

homemade lasagne

As I lovingly prepared a homemade lasagne earlier (by which I mean threw it together to satisfy my own cravings) I caught myself yet again feeling utterly indebted to my mum and my nan (dad’s mum) for having given me both culinary skills and the encouragement to experiment, which is the root of most of my dishes.

Don’t get me wrong, my mum was no Michelin star chef. She can’t cook meat (anyone who eats beef and lamb well done might as well not bother, sorry mum), and turkey twizzlers were regularly served in our house growing up til that bastard Jamie took them away, but her spaghetti bolognese is rivalled only by my own (of course) and she makes a mean syrup sponge pud.

My nan was of the generation that hand made everything and grew a whole lot of what she cooked too. I have fond memories of my nan’s rhubarb crumble, with fresh fruit straight from the garden and proper custard made the way you’re supposed to.

While I’m not naive enough to believe everyone has the time to both grow and prepare their own food these days, I think relying on the freezer section in your local supermarket and introducing your kids to fresh stuff just once a week alongside your roast does everyone a disservice. It robs children of the opportunity to experience and help with meal prep and robs the whole family of tastes beyond miscellaneous processed yellow crap.

Cooking at home is cheaper and better for you than ready meals and takeaway, and a necessary skill as a self-sufficient adult. Teach your children to cook.

The things I’m not saying out loud

I am currently sat in bed crying into my second glass of wine. Wine that I shouldn’t be drinking because I’m the sole carer for my children tonight, as with most nights, and if they wake up in the middle of the night with some sort of medical emergency I want to be competent enough to deal with that, especially given Oliver’s recent leg trouble, and yet here I am sobbing into this glass of wine anyway.

I didn’t want to write another whiny post. I want to tell you all about my awesome birthday yesterday and the fun I’m having lifting weights or the fact that I managed to run yesterday without my foot hurting for the first time in months… but instead all I can think about is trying to relieve this load weighing me down, constantly dragging my weary body into the dirt because writing helps and I can’t afford therapy right now anyway.

And so I sit here in bed, tired but lacking the will to try and sleep (because what’s the point trying when I know I’ll lie here tossing and turning all night anyway?) I’m googling for ideas to fix me, to stop me feeling like my life is spinning out of control and I hit upon article upon article about depression and I keep repeating to myself that I’m not depressed. It’s just hormones. It’s just stress. I’ve got a lot going on at the minute. I am busy. I just need some sleep.

But the truth is I’m not sure sleep is going to stop me from getting to work and staring at my screen for 3 hours achieving nothing because I can’t even formulate a coherant sentence to reply to a client. Sleep isn’t going to stop me being irritated by the very presence of my children because they’ve looked at me wrong, and the rage I have to surpress when they open their mouths and all I hear is whine whine whine. Are hormones really to blame for the utter loneliness and desperation I feel when I climb into bed, alone and insecure? Is it really just stress & busy-ness that makes me want to give up my job, give up my children, lock myself away and hope I fade into the background so that nobody notices I’m only just managing to keep my head above water?

I guess the truth is that I don’t want to admit that I might be depressed. I don’t want to admit that even though in my lifetime I’ve been through experiences that would make the strongest amongst you wince and I’ve carried on without a second thought, that somehow I’m being brought to my knees by imaginary thoughts and fears and I don’t even know what. I don’t want to have to admit that as each day passes it gets harder and harder to pretend that everything is OK and I don’t have a fucking clue where to go from here.

But it might be the sleep. The hormones. That I’m not exercising enough. That I’m not eating the right foods. So I’ll pour this wine back into the bottle, salty tears and all, and I’ll put down my laptop and attempt to sleep. And tomorrow I’ll take another birth control pill to manage the hormones, and vow to run a little bit more, I’ll skip the sugary chocolate and eat regularly to avoid blood sugar dips. I will keep smiling so that I don’t drive away those I need the most with my constant complaining about how shitty life is.

I’ll do everything I need to do to mask the symptoms and hide the pain. Because I just need a good night’s sleep, right?

In which I nearly have a breakdown

Things have been a little weird recently here at Chez Jem. When I posted Enter title here I was struggling more than I let on.

I was struggling to see the point of anything. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, I didn’t see the point in going to work because I was too stupid & useless to do my job properly (and my ever-increasing todo list was proof of this), I thought Gaz was going to get fed up and leave me, I questioned my role as mum to my children, I was eating virtually nothing because I felt fat and ugly, etc etc.

I have never felt as angry, paranoid, insecure and well.. just generally shitty as I did in November. Early last week, my mood sunk to an all time low. I was angrily snapping at the people I love and then using their retorts as mental justification that everything wrong in my life was all my fault.

I am usually ridiculously laid back, so it was like being a completely different person. The scary part was not so much that though, but rather I couldn’t remember who I really was. It was almost like the ‘me’ before this black cloud surrounded me had never existed at all. I am not sure if I’ve ever truly experienced depression but I’m fairly sure that *that* was as close as I’ve ever been, and it was fucking terrifying. I felt like I had lost my identity and my “self”.

I put the black mood down to not running (it’s been really pissing me off) so I thought fuck it, and blew nearly £200 on an exercise bike I couldn’t afford (yay overdraft!) Of course, sod’s law, having received and assembled said exercise bike (I’m NEVER complaining about putting together IKEA furniture ever again) I’m now pretty certain that it wasn’t actually not running that’s caused my moods at all.

Around Thursday evening last week I suddenly began to feel… normal. This followed into Friday, and Saturday, and Sunday and here I am today still feeling normal. Normal. Like me again! I never thought I’d be so grateful for being me.

What changed? The only think I can think of is that it’s because I have finally had an actual period for the first time in ages. After months of stupidly short cycles, followed by an extra long one, I think I’ve been suffering from raging PMS symptoms. That and the withdrawal from the mini pill / starting a new one (combined pill) must have caused some sort of mad hormone-cocktail mess. I should have known what the progesterone withdrawal would have done to me: I’ve been there before.

Of course I could be wrong. It could be a complete coincidence that my symptoms are identical to when I came off the depo jabs years ago, but really I don’t care. As long as I don’t end up feeling like that again it’s all good.

Enter title here

Feel like I should blog to record some of the stuff that’s been going on lately but I’m struggling to formulate intelligent sentences. Fall back to list format!

  • I came home on October 22nd to find Flymo dead and Rosie missing. I can only guess but I assume something managed to get into the garden. There was no visible marks on Flymo or signs of a scuffle but if he was shocked sufficiently it could have killed him.
  • On November 4th I got home to find that Little Pig had escaped his run and is also missing.
  • My foot is only just this week starting to feel any better, so I’ve now got a month to train for this half marathon I entered
  • I finally got my passport renewed, so I might be able to complete #5. See my Dad soon too
  • I took the train to Birmingham on Wednesday 5th to meet Dominic
  • On Thursday 6th November I went to London to audition for Eggheads with Gaz and his brothers; we should find out this week if we get in
  • I’ve made the decision to stop taking on further self-employment work as of next year. Despite the extra cash being a major help with the bills, the stress it’s causing me is insane.
  • I went back to the doctors on Monday to talk about the fact that I’m still angry a lot; that it comes and goes but is still there. That when I’m not angry I’m sad, really really sad. He tried to offer me anti-depressants and CBT but I want to exhaust every other possibility first. I’m trialling a new birth control pill, I’m spending more time with my babies where possible, I’m cutting back on the things that make my mental health suffer.
  • Gaz and I have been not-dating for 6 months as of this week ♥

Despite everything — the work, the stress, the foot injury, the mortgage, the monotony of the daily grind — I am still the happiest I have ever been and I need to hold on to that. Shit will improve, things will get better. One day at a time.

The realities of being a lone parent

When I split up with Karl in May I joked to friends about the relief of no longer having to buy 5 packs of bourbon biscuits every week, not needing shares in a dairy company to buy the sheer amount of cheese he got through, etc etc. Har har, very funny. The realities of being a “lone parent” (single is clearly the wrong word in my case) extend further than that.

I’ve had to rapidly extend every frugal habit I’ve ever practised to every avenue of my life, which includes living off 4 slices of toast and a spoonful of peanut butter some nights just to make the food stretch further (and because I’m lazy).

I’ve had to actually talk to utility companies, which Karl used to do ‘for us’, and deal with the annoying levels of security each one in place. Severn Trent Water, for example, had absolutely no security in place and I was able to create and log in to an online account and change all the necessary details without any double checking on their part. PlusNet on the other hand wouldn’t speak to me or make any changes to the account, despite the username being “jemandkarl”, the payments for the Internet coming out in my name etc.

In fact, even now my Internet is still registered under Karl’s name, because when we finally managed to get through to the department we needed to speak to (after hours on hold and being passed back and forth) we were told that I couldn’t just switch the account to me without cancelling and recreating it, which would leave me without Internet for a week or more: not a workable solution for someone who requires the Internet to earn a second income.

And then there’s the monotony of the daily routine: school runs, tiredness tantrums, feeding and bathing two under 5s on my own. The constant stream of washing, cooking, tidying, reading bedtime stories and all the other mumsy shit that I have no choice but to get on with, because I can’t say “you do it tonight dear”.

No longer can I just nip out for a run because I need to clear my head, I have to schedule it around “daddy time”. No longer can I nip to the shop for evening snacks to comfort eat because I feel like crap. No longer can I go and grab some fish ‘n’ chips because I can’t be arsed to cook after a long working week.

And that reminds me? Working as a single parent. Ha. I don’t know why I bother. The second I get paid, my bank account is raided for childcare, mortgage and bills. There’s nothing like living off a single income and a series of mini life disasters to get you acquanted with your overdraft, that’s for sure. The only thing keeping me afloat at the minute is the fragments of self-employment income I bring in working a couple of evenings a week.

Of course it’s been just over 4 months now, and while that doesn’t sound like a lot written down it feels like a lifetime in terms of the scope of the changes that have happened to our lives. This lone parenting lark is bloody hard work… physically and emotionally.

Still. No regrets.