Monday, 22 September 2008

Purple Swans

The spare room is now complete and resplendent in its new colour scheme of violet white. It only took a couple of days - mostly because I cheated and only attempted to change the colour of the walls and nothing else. So the "amethyst" carpet remains, as does the lilac ceiling, the mauvish wood-work and radiator, and the lavender curtains.

The walls were painted with a roller and brush I found in the garage, and the bed dragged to the middle of the room and covered with a fusty old dust cover I found next to the roller and brush.

Proud of my thriftiness, I decided to treat the bed to some new linen, and was delighted to find a complete set - duvet cover, fitted sheet and pillow cases - on offer in M&S for under £50. Hurrah! So with paint, polythene dust covers to protect the carpet, new bedding and a new tidy rail so our guests don't have to persist in arranging their clothes all over the carpet, the makeover budget only just broke the £100 mark.

Mission Declutter has made a positive start. Life already feels simpler and more ordered. At last, the laundry room having been cleared out a few weeks ago, after hubby revealed the computer kit that was languishing next to the washing machine was no longer needed, I now have a proper routine for washing and ironing - without risking my neck everytime I go into the utility room for fear of tripping over cables and bits of server. It makes it a whole lot easier to be able to load the washing machine from the front instead of having to crane round and shove clothes in from the side because there's too much junk in the way. No wonder I've got a bad back!

I've managed to find a home for the mountain of books that were balanced precariously next to my bed. So now getting into bed no longer involves stubbing my toes on a long-forgotten volume by Trinny and Susannah; and when I get out of bed I no longer have to place my feet an uncomfortable distance away and then arch my back dangerously upwards in order to allow my shoulders to catch up with my feet and bring myself to a vertical position.

Mission Declutter is certainly proving both physically and mentally freeing. I can think far more clearly about things when I don't have to look at an untidy mound of stuff in front of me everywhere I go. And chores speed up, so I'm not spending such a long time doing the things that need to be done to keep domestic life ticking over. This means I can get on with the things I really like doing - like blogging, or researching my talk to the Swindon Philosophical Society, or having my Mum down for a visit.

The spare room project represents a purple patch of domestic order and calm. Meanwhile those little swan legs are paddling hard below the surface.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Unlocking Mission Declutter

Rather than finding the key to the filing cabinet this time I discovered that shifting the old filing cabinet was the key to unlock Mission Declutter. The brown and beige 2 drawer filing cabinet, which we'd bought on a budget 15 years ago, when we first joined the property ladder and needed somewhere to dump the aforementioned bumf that various financial institutions would send us, had to be shifted in order to make room for the large bookcase out of the spare bedroom. The bookcase out of the spare bedroom needs to be shifted so that I can redecorate the room.

So like one of those puzzles that you have to slide tiles around in order to create the picture, pieces of furniture needs to be shifted around between permanent and temporary homes and back again.

The redecorating of our spare room is long overdue. When we first moved in we were so bored by the perpetual beige and brown of the previous residents' decor that we decided to go radical. So one evening, over a bottle or two of red wine, we devised our colour schemes. The spare room became a riot of purple and orange, and I’m sure that guests of ours over the years have been rudely jolted into their Sunday morning hangovers by the violent clash taking place on the walls surrounding their bed.

The joke, if ever it was one, is wearing a bit thin now, and once again we are beckoned towards the safe haven of “neutrals”.

I used to be a project manager and I know about things like critical paths, milestones, plans, objectives and costs. I also know about risk management and contingencies, resource planning and implementation. It gives me a huge degree of satisfaction to plot the sequence of tasks that must be undertaken to ensure that nothing blocks the critical path and that all risks are averted.

Of course, in my relatively modest project called Mission Declutter, the risk management amounts to taking down the curtains before I start painting, and the contingency planning hinges upon the number of coats of neutral paint I’m going to need to cover the dark vileness that currently adorns the walls.

But now the filing cabinet has been moved the only thing that blocks my progress is lugging the great bookcase down the stairs. I have done my resource planning – having cleverly worked out that I require hubby’s assistance for this task, and sensibly acknowledged that I’ll have to wait ‘til the weekend, ‘til after he’s played golf on Saturday morning, before that milestone can be reached.

And with that I’m off to take down the curtains.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Wake up - it's September!

Always at this time of year I feel a huge amount of motivation to start new projects, and turn over new leaves.

This year is no exception as I've embarked on MISSION DECLUTTER, to get the house organised and do a bit of decorating, so I can feel life running smoothly.

Whenever there's a lot of stuff lying around I find it increasingly difficult to move, and think. Stepping over stuff all the time is extremely distracting, and fighting the huge pile of books, files and papers strewn around my desk makes it literally impossible to see the wood for the trees.

My first task has been to clear out our old filing cabinet - a grotty old metal one from Office World - which has been groaning under the weight of expired insurance documents, financial information and old tax returns for far too long.

A couple of years ago, my brother, a gifted carpenter and furniture builder, created a brand new filing cabinet for us, which truly is a thing of beauty. Today it has finally been commissioned for its intended use, rather than being used as a docking station for one of hubby's computers.

As I was going through all the bumf out of the old cabinet I grew increasingly irritated by the amount of paper issued by financial institutions, often with only a single line of information on about this or that investment, more frequently with reams of information you couldn't pay me to read and inwardly digest. It became clear that, like us, thousands of good people of the world must avail themselves of "private banking", to spread their financial assets across a wide range of global funds, only to be rewarded with tons of poshly bound paper reports that tell them a) their investment has dropped in value and b) the bank will charge an admin fee of £120 for the privilege of sharing this information with its valued (?) customers. What a racket!

I also have absolutely no idea what the global investment funds represent. Are they ethical - or do they sponsor capitalist activity which is actually exploitative or detrimental to natural resources? This is a big deal for me. And I feel blinded by financial gobbledegook.

Anyhow, of course I'm not blaming the banks for putting this stuff in my decrepit filing cabinet in the first place - I guess hubby and I had a hand in doing that - but I am waking up to how easy it is to go along with someone else's investment policy or approach without really understanding or appreciating what's involved, or the impact of our actions. Posh banks with their fancy bindings appear to legitimise everything - but is our money that is inevitably trickling away actually being put to good use, or are we just lining the pockets of smarmy city boys?

Like the clutter in my house this is something I'm not happy about stepping over any longer!

Tuesday, 2 September 2008


The summer holidays are coming to an end; the kids are going stir crazy; they are desperate to get back to their friends; they are fidgety and whiney and quarrelsome.

And then in the midst of all the rationalising I'm doing about how they can't wait to get back to school I notice something slide out of my daughter's hair. She's in the bath and has requested a hair wash. She lies back in the water and I apply a good squirt of strawberry-scented shampoo. The creature slips down to the end of her hair as I comb it through - and I am mortified to realise that it is a louse!

I have learned a lot about the life-cycle of head lice over the past couple of weeks - the amount of time it has taken me to get rid of all traces of infestation in my daughter's hair. Heaven knows how long she has had the things, or where she got them from. She is not given to cooperating over having her hair brushed during the school holidays, much less having regular nit inpsections. The critters in her hair looked pretty established - and fat!! She's certainly been feeding them well.

In my search for lotions to eliminate the unwelcome guests I learned that the nits themselves are actually the tiny white eggs of the lice, that are laid in the shafts of hair close to the scalp, and "glued" on with a substance it is impossible to shift with a dry comb or brush. You need something oily, to loosen the nits' hold. At first I was determined to beat the creatures using natural products, and read on the internet about smearing the hair with mayonnaise, which kills the imposters, then combing out the remains.

Well I didn't go as far as mayonnaise. I bought a product called Wild Child from Boots, which claims to contain no nasty pesticides or chemicals that could not only damage the nits but my daughter too. I also bought a nit comb called the Nitty Gritty, which has been acclaimed by Richard and Judy (?) as being the most effective weapon against the invasion of nits. For 2 hours my daughter and I (by this time I was convinced I had things running around in my head too) sat with Wild Child plastered all over our heads and sealed in with a disposable shower cap. (I'm glad I wasn't expecting any deliveries that day.)

The nits hatch into nymphs, tiny brownish creatures with wavy legs, which can be seen congregating around the edges of the hair, over the ears and in the fringe, as well as deep in the scalp, so all areas must be gone through, literally, with a "fine tooth comb." (Is the English language truly indebted to nit-nurses for this phrase?)

The Nitty Gritty comb claims that no other lotions or chemicals are needed with it - just your regular conditioner to loosen the grip of the bugs. I have to say that this claim is very sound. After Wild Child I combed our hair through with the Nitty Gritty and managed to remove a large number of nymphs and grown up lice.

The trouble is if you don't get to all the critters at the same time the cycle repeats itself, the nymphs grow into lice then lay their nits again, so there followed many hours on consecutive days of raking through my daughter's hair, each time eliminating a good clutch of wildlife.

Nits have become my obsession. I now have the eye for them, I can spot them at a distance, and neither of my children can come anywhere near me now without me staring fixedly at their scalps and poking around in their hair.

Two weeks of itching is way too much for anyone, so in a final attempt to banish the parasites I lathered all our heads in a preparation called Full Marks - which claims to work in just 10 minutes. That's 10 minutes sitting with a sticky head, followed by another good 15 - 45 minutes' meticulous combing.

Who knows whether they're all gone? Much to my daughter's horror I have decided to instate "nit night" on a Monday just to keep the situation in check. And each day I shall be sending her to school reeking of Tea Tree, as this is apparently a good nit repellent.

All in all I have spent £35 on my nit arsenal. And I have to agree with Richard and Judy then the £10 Nitty Gritty comb is the best investment.