28 Apr 2013

Clutter (pt 2)

I have a mild form of clutter paralysis. It's like the opposite of hoarding, and something I believe will soon be recognised as the mental disorder obsessive-compulsive spartanism.

Having too much stuff around me stifles my ability to function, so I'm forever assessing what we need then recycling the things we don't. This can make visitors nervous sometimes. They fear they may find themselves either placed in a cupboard or put in my take to charity shop pile. I say 'mild' because I've read of people who suffer this far more intensely than me who constantly give away stuff they actually use or wear on a regular basis, whereas I only get rid of things that are actually redundant. (Although there have been a few fairly big exceptions to this over the years including a wardrobe which we could have done with 3 months after giving it away as we moved to another rental property and an external hard drive, which in my defence edged slowly towards the bin in the garage over a 6 month period. (I was giving it a chance you know? It didn't even try).

Spartanism extends to my digital activities too. My desktop looks like this:

If I'm working on something and save a few files on the desktop for convenience I MUST file or delete them before logging off, or deal with them FIRST THING the following day. Otherwise I feel like this:

Reports indicate that people will compulsively discard items like clothes, books and even expensive electronics and furniture in an effort to free themselves from what they consider to be clutter. It seems that people who compulsively throw objects out — the opposite of hoarding — are overwhelmed by possessions. Fewer belongings makes them feel more in control of their life and surroundings. (WiseGeek)

I totally relate to this. The more manic my life becomes, the less likely I am to ask the kids nicely to come back and pick up their nerf bullets / hello kitty trump cards / hand drawn tributes to our dead hamster Omnon / other assorted kiddie crap that is strewn around every room they've played in so far today, and will instead pick up a bin bag and yell 'I'm tidying up now!!.....'

The off switch to this behaviour can be triggered in various ways:

• Go on holiday (stay somewhere else for a few days and the neat rules don't seem to apply)
• Decorate (If the house is tipped up with brushes and rolls of wall paper, finishing THAT job overwrites any mental fixation with neatness)
• Have visitors / house guests over (ditto above- focus on people, not clutter)
• Move house (rather extreme I know, but it does have the same effect. And we have moved house quite a lot recently so it's been helpful therapy)

As long as one of the above happens fairly regularly it will prevent our home from looking like this:

So if you aren't doing anything today, please come round for coffee.

21 Apr 2013

Winning and Losing

Me and kids are in car at leisure centre after swimming lessons. K is arriving at Severn Tunnel Junction in 4 minutes time and I can't quite remember how to get there. It's only a few miles away but I've been there only once before and it was dark and raining and we got lost because the sat nav (delivered in the voice of Homer Simpson) had a glitch and kept trying to make us drive over a railway line.

Me: No! Homer's dead. Charger's not here... Argh. (Addressing kids) Remember that time we picked Daddy up from the train station and it was dark and Homer took us the wrong way- does anyone remember where that was?
J: Kind of... Wasn't it near where Rowan used to live?
Me: No idea. I never went to Rowan's house.
E: Use Waze
Me: Waves?
E: Waze- on your phone. (He takes it off me and launches app). Ah look, you've not used this much. You're a Baby Wazer.
Me: Am I?
E: Yep! You know I'm a Bronze Wazer.
Me: How come?
E: I just keep it on all the time when we go places. Like when we went up to Scotland. And Scarborough. And when we went away in the caravan. Ha- I'm beating you!
Me: You used Waze as a passenger?
E: Yeah- so it recorded all the miles I travelled. That's how I got all the way up to bronze. And you're still a tiny BABY wazer... 
Me: But... You weren't driving.
E: But I'm BRONZE!

13 Apr 2013


A few years ago I went on a 'Go Ape' day in the Lake District with a bunch of mates and staff from the Childrens' Centre along the road that I LIVED at when the kids were young. 

It promised to be a fun team bonding experience to unite volunteers, staff and parents alike. It was April and sunny. Transport there and back was being provided. The entire day was to be spent outdoors, hiding and seeking with different coloured flags, canoeing in the nearby river and saving each other from swamp monsters with ropes, hula hoops and planks of wood. 

It would be a whole day off from motherhood- playing with other grown ups instead. And best of all- it was FREE.

The day unfolded as promised and for the most part was a bonding experience- aside from a brief altercation between 2 teams when some treasure (a selection of small beach balls) was stolen from one canoe by an opposing team. Words were exchanged, paddles were splashed on purpose and a few of us ended up caught in the cross fire and joined in the splashing more than anyone- just because we were wet and reckoned everyone else should be. However, it ended well with us all singing Wonderwall very loudly and badly and laughing a lot.

The bestest bonding bit wasn't screeching singing Wonderwall until our throats were sore though. Nor was it escaping quicksand using only lateral thinking and some green hula hoops odefeating a swamp monster with six planks of wood and a length of rope. 

The most adventurous bonding bit was the Pamper Pole: a 25' telegraph pole with handles all the way up, a small platform at the top and a trapeze suspended 8' away, tantilisingly close but hopelessly out of reach unless you STOOD on the platform and jumped out towards it. The team had to take it in turns to scale the pole, stand on the platform at the top, then jump into mid air towards the trapeze and hang there for a few seconds before being lowered safely to the ground by the rest of the team, who had solemnly sworn to prevent death by plummeting

Cool. Bring it on. Heights don't really bother me. I love white knuckle stuff as long as it DOESN'T involve spinning, which the Pamper Pole so far had shown no signs of. We watched with excitement as others took their turns. We held the rope for the climbers on our watch. We cheered when team mates reached the top and jumped. In unison we lowered the victor back to earth and high fived them on touch down. We commiserated the ones who climbed back down, muttering 'I just CAN'T do it...' and then it was my turn! 

I climbed into a safety harness, got secured into it by our instructor and approached the Pamper Pole. It was just like any telegraph pole in any street in the country. I wondered if they got them from the same supplier? I began my ascent, feeling at once the pull on the safety harness as my team mates tensioned the overhead rope to support me. I climbed quickly and easily, feeling like a squirrel. I thought how novel it was to not see the world from a 5'6'' perspective. I marvelled at how quickly everything falls away and how privileged squirrels are being able to do this without bulky ropes and chains. Rung by rung I climbed, not even out of breath, impressed at how much height can be achieved in such a short time and how tiny... the people... on the ground... had suddenly become... 

I was half way up.

I kept on climbing but slowed my pace, suddenly missing my 5'6'' view of everything. Look up- not down. That's it, the Pole is still right there in front of you. Embrace the Pole. It is your friend. One rung at a time. Then embrace. Next rung. And embrace. Now the next rung. And embrace. Now the next rung. And... I seem to have run out of Pole. 

There's only sky up here and NOTHING to hold onto! Now that I've reached it, the platform that looked so solid and reliable and perfectly adequate to accommodate a pair of feet has shrunk to the size of an A4 piece of paper. I'm not sure how to manoeuvre myself into a position where I can actually stand up on it. Not without my friend, the Pole.

My team yell encouraging things from the ground and I'm constantly aware of the tension in my harness. I KNOW I won't fall to the ground and die painfully. But from a position of leaning horizontally over the platform, hugging it into my chest, I'm not sure how to progress to standing on top of it and not be hugging anything. I have been sitting and standing for many years now, but right at this moment 25' up in the air I can't seem to remember how to do the bit in the middle. 

Maybe I'm not that fond of heights after all? The parting words of my mother play back in my head when I left her babysitting that morning, 'Just remember Jennifer- Be Careful. You have 3 children at home!' 

I compromised. I maneuvered awkwardly into a sitting position and sat on the platform instead. I desperately wanted to stand on it but the instructions on how to do this were missing from my brain. After a minute or two of sitting I pushed off and  l a u n c h e d  myself in the direction of the trapeze. I touched it, the team lowered me back to earth and cheered when I landed, and then it was all over and the next climber, already harnessed in, began to climb the Pole.

Ah well. Sitting is OK. It's not as good as standing, but it's more exciting than climbing halfway up then climbing halfway back down again.

I thought I was OK with heights until I was way much further from the ground than normal. It turns out, I don't really like heights at all. 

This is true of many other things I'm sure. How many beliefs do we have about ourselves and each other that have never been tested by way of contrast to see if they are accurate? I may think I'm pretty laid back or reasonable, but unless I'm faced with someone who is controlling or unreasonable (or BOTH), and manage to retain these qualities, how do I know

Seriously- just how easy is it to show generosity to a greedy person? 

Or to meet sarcasm with courtesy? 

How about being reeeaaallly mega reasonable to someone who so isn't?

Not that I know any such people at all in real life or anything. (Whoah no- I'm only supposing). 

I bet responding with courtesy in the face of its absence is just like trying to stand up on a teeny weeny wobbly platform a mile into the air when you are not a squirrel. 

And being reasonable to those who lack it is probably doable, but not something that is natural or easy. And a safety harness (in some cases provided by a solicitor) would be advisable.

2 Apr 2013

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's pixels

It all began so innocently. 

Download HayDay from the app store Ethan said. 

It's free he said

I'm playing it and we can trade stuff! he said.

With so much going for it and half an hour before he went to bed I downloaded it, launched it and began to play.

The premise, similar to most sim games around now, is simple: 
1. Start with almost nothing (A small overgrown farm)
2. Get introduced to the gameplay by an ally who coaches you in the basic strategies of the game (in this case a scarecrow)
3. Get given responsibility (6 small squares of fertile land and a chicken coup) 
4. Receive frequent small rewards which increase your power very quickly but in incrementally tiny ways
5. Da-Dah! There's an evening of your life gone and Ethan should have been in bed an hour ago.

Oh. Dear. Me. This game is evil. It is sneakily designed to suck hours and hours of your life away. Forget Facebook / Twitter / Blogging. They have nothing on this. Spare time? That's a thing of the past. Event management? Screw that for a career- you are a FARMER now.

The responsibilities are just staggering. I'm not sure I'm emotionally ready for them. These chickens are dependant on me. They need me to feed them and collect eggs from them regularly or they may starve or become egg-bound and die.

And then I level up and get a cow field and the stakes are even higher. I'm a dairy farmer now as well (I've only been at this 10 minutes and harket me!) The cows are a bit needy as well though. They also require feeding. And milking. But then I am rewarded with milk as well as eggs, and the customers and coins pile in even faster so I level up and acquire a dairy. Now I can make cream and cheese and sell that as well as the milk and the eggs, so I get even more orders and more coins. 

Without hardly trying I level up again and get a bakery. Now I can produce loafs and corn bread and sell them as well as the eggs and milk and cream and cheese and the customers still keep calling. 

Each hen lays an egg 20 minutes after feeding: guaranteed. 

The cows are ready for milking an hour after feeding: guaranteed. 

And each time I sow seed on a tiny square of fertile soil, the land produces twice what was planted. I don't need to buy anything anymore. I'm living the good life and am totally self sufficient. God bless you mother nature!

The game makers have an additional strategy that comes into play about now.

6. Networking. 
We can visit each others farms. It's totally interactive. Trade and commerce be alive and well in these here parts. I've already been to Ethan's farm cause he showed me how to befriend people in the first place. His farm's a lot like mine, but he's arranged his dairy and his silo differently. He's also placed his fertile land in big long strips (I've done squares) but that's great. He's organising his space. Maybe that will spill over into real life one day and his room will become a bit tidier? He's really making his farm his own. Its sweet actually...

Another one of my friends is no one I know in real life but a computer generated regular customer of mine who owns a neighbouring farm. He is on level 50 (I'm on level 4). Maybe I should go and visit his farm? He's been over to me loads of times already, so it only seems neighbourly. 

But what's THIS? My loyal customer's level 50 farm has acres and acres of flat green land with none of the forest or rubble or swamp land that I am plagued with. And it is stuffed full of livestock and farmer gadgetry. He has two feed mills. And two fields of cows. And three chicken coups! He has pigs and goats and horses and a dog. His dairy and bakery are surrounded by about 10 other bits of industrial machinery that I had no idea existed a minute ago. (I wonder what they do??) His barn is bigger than mine, his Silo is taller than mine and the whole farm is so pretty. There are apple trees, cherry trees and row upon row of raspberry bushes, decorative shrubs and white picket fencing. Butterflies are hovering round pots and pots of neat orange and red flowers and there's a swinging garden bench next to a fountain overlooking the jetty at the edge of the fields. It's the most beautiful farm ever...

I want butterflies. A fountain and a bench wouldn't go amiss either (if I ever get the chance to sit down). And most of all I want my land to be free of swamps and rubble and all the other junk I was left to sort out. My neighbours farm is amazing and mine is rubbish. My little farm is struggling like most other other farms in this country because of the stupid EU and...  Arghhhhh is that the time? My poor cows will be lolling around in discomfort with udders a-swollen wondering where I've gone...

I mosey on back to my tiny level 4 farm to get on with milking and egg collecting and feeding and harvesting, idly wondering why my level 50 neighbour comes over to my farm to BUY eggs when he has 3 times as many chickens as me? Maybe he's just helping me out- we stick together and help our own, we farmers. Or maybe his chickens are post-menopausal and no longer lay eggs 20 minutes after feeding? Or maybe he just comes over to gloat and is actually plotting a take-over?

I survey my kingdom and sigh as I take in the sight of the overgrown wasteland behind my farmhouse. I need more TNT and shovels... Elusive items that appear only occasionally on harvesting, or in the newspaper. Items that can be bought with gaming diamonds which can be slowly earned by the laborious task of farming... or (for the impatient / richer farmer) purchased at the App store for anything between £1.49 and £69.99. 

That IS mental, right? Paying for pixels, figments of the game makers imagination, with actual real proper pounds sterling and pence. 

I am tempted though. 

Wow. Digital materialism.

The desire for more can be a tricky thing. 

I get sucked in just as much as the next person. Although strangely not in the traditional big house / nice car / exotic holiday kind of way. 

We may wander round Ikea for an hour and a half and only actually purchase 4 mugs and a bath mat, but I will have spent a small fortune on storage solutions in my head

I buy a bit too much food (which is highly ironic given my lack of enthusiasm for cooking anything) then end up wasting more than I like to admit. 

And I want pretty pixels for my fake farm.

When the kids were little and we needed one, I also had a bit of a thing for buggies. In 8 years and 3 children we got through a Mothercare travel system, a Bertini steerable stroller, a Phil & Ted's double buggy, 2 Maclaren XTs and a cheap £35 buggy from Argos which eventually collapsed with a child still in it. I can still talk animatedly and knowledgeably about the benefits of pneumatic tyres (lined with kevlar or slime) over hard plastic wheels and argue persuasively that it's always preferable to buy a 2nd hand Maclaren than a brand new £35 buggy from anywhere. Please don't get me started though. Keith's just glad he no longer looses me in the nursery aisle in ToysRus.

Where does this restless need for better and more come from? And how to resist? Cambridge theologian Harry Williams, has a theory:

It's natural for us to always want more- more love more money, more prestige, more everything... But our wanting more in fact goes deeper than anything our earthly environment can supply, and we misunderstand if we imagine we can be appeased by what this limited world can give us. For our desire is literally insatiable, which means it belongs to the order of infinity. Our wanting more is the way in which we clumsily express our intuition that we were made for what is endless and without bounds, that is, for God. (Consumer Detox, pg 98)

Isn't it weird that time, energy and wealth are expended every day on accumulating stuff that can't ever be owned in the real world? Striving towards the big house / nice car / exotic holiday is actually just as ridiculous as spending £69.99 on HayDay gaming diamonds. 

The transferrable value for any one of them is zilch. 

They offer NOTHING beyond the realm for which they were created. 

In the short term though- the the pretty pixels are cheaper.