Thursday, 17 June 2021

730 things — Day 98 of 365

 Today I wanted to buy a dress.

These are the ones I specially liked.

Two on eBay

And one on Toast. 

Toast website, that is — not like jam on toast.

I've been writing this blog a long time — since 2009 — and if you are one of the people who has travelled along with me, you may be thinking, "Uh-oh. Here we go."

Because I have bought so many dresses like this. Bought them, and bought the underwear they require to allow me to drive them, bought the shoes that look right with them, bought the tights that cover my fairly shot legs sticking out from under them, bought the cardigans to go with them for the many days when they aren't warm enough — and got rid of it all; not once, several times over, plus plus.

I have an inner impetuous child — I looked back for the old posts where I wrote about her, can't find them, must have deleted them — whom I designated "Ember", and a mature and sensible self who speaks inside me with the voice of "Mrs Collins". 

It was Ember who wanted the dress — I could tell. And I mean, seriously, I have had so many. Mrs Collins — dignified and sensible though she is — almost went into meltdown, tearing her hair and wringing her hands. In the end, Mrs Collins resorted to silently petitioning God: "Please. Don't let her do this. Don't let her go round the loop again. Please God, no."

It worked. Ember started to laugh. Mrs Collins sat down trembling with relief, promising Ember to take her into Hastings for a cup of coffee and anything she wanted to eat at all. Anything. Just don't buy a dress.

These rip tides are strong in a consumer society. I almost bought a dress.

What can I chuck out today?

Well, look, how about some simple junk?

Why have I got this stuff? Because I thought it would be useful one day — a lid to put buttons or pills in to stop them rolling off the bedside thingy, some green wire to tie up cables, some of these ribbons they irritatingly stitch into cardigans to stop them falling off the hanger (and I cut them out), some chopped-up hankies from making clothes for trolls, a puncture patch in a plastic bag, some metal things (I have no idea), a teeny tiny glass jar that might be just the thing.

Like having my own dear little miniature landfill site, innit?

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

730 things — Day 97 of 365

 I've been thinking today about a poem that periodically does the rounds on the pages of my Facebook friends. This one.

There's a similar one that I knew and loved and had pinned up on the wall when my children were small. This one.

Ten years ago, when Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh turned 90, he gave an interview with Alan Titchmarsh for television. I happened to be staying in a Travelodge in York when it aired, and spent a happy evening sitting on my hotel bed watching the programme. The Duke of Edinburgh was much as always — I liked him — but one thing he said in particular stayed with me.

Titchmarsh asked him about his relationship with his son Prince Charles, probing him on the subject of reported/rumoured tensions between them.

And Prince Philip said that the human race can be divided into two kinds of people — pragmatists and romantics — and his own approach to life was essentially pragmatic while Prince Charles's was essentially that of a romantic — nothing wrong with either, but very different. I loved this observation; I think he was right.

Now, the thing about both the above poems is that they are written from the romantic perspective — and are none the worse for that. 

But I, as a 100% pragmatist with not a romantic bone in my body, want to pick them apart and add a caveat or two.

To get one thing out of the way — "Babies grow up as I've learned to my sorrow." Hmm. There are families who include babies who never grow up — family members who, for reason of temperament or infirmity, will need protection and support their whole life long. This is not a matter for rejoicing. Don't be sorry to see your children grow up and become independent and spread their wings and fly; that's what they're supposed to do. My mother, who trained in Montessori teaching methods, took as the primary Maria Montessori maxim for her own parenting: "The best gift you can give your children is independence." Amen to that. 

But then, what about all this rumination on the topic of "dusting" — ie keeping your home clean. Well, here's the thing; in my opinion it is essential. If you do not clean your home it will develop bacteria, moulds and infestations which will undermine your health and your children's. You will run the risk of asthma and infection. It is vital to clean your home if you want to avoid chronic illness for yourself and your children.

Our skin, like our gut, has a microbiome; we live in a world where bacteria and fungi in balance are essential to health. So we don't need to bleach every surface and scrub our kids until their skin is raw. A bit of dirt is okay — helpful, even. And I think that's what the poems mean; be relaxed. The child who plays in the garden will be more well than the child who plays only on the computer.

But both those verses were written in the days before the global marketplace and mass production flooded our lives with junk. They were written with the assumption that you would actually be able to see the floor and counter-tops in your home. They were not written for the days when every room would be piled high with dropped and discarded toys and clothes and used packaging and gadgets, with a tilth of crumbs and fluff and dust fringing and creeping from the bottom of it.

Those poems were to give the neurotically clean housewife permission to relax. They don't mean, "Let your house get filthy and cluttered; it doesn't matter."

The way to tread the middle path is what we nowadays call minimalism or simplicity, but was in the 1950s and 60s the norm. Each child had a bed to sleep in (ideally) and collection of toys that could easily go away in a box. Each person had an outfit to wear, one in the wash and one in the wardrobe ready. There was crockery and cutlery enough to have one for each person and a couple of spares for guests. On the mantel shelf there would be a few treasured ornaments — mementoes from special holidays etc. There'd be a fireside rug, important utensils like basic gardening equipment, a broom and bucket with rags, a saucepan and frying pan and roasting dish, a grill pan and fish slice, a wooden spoon and a vegetable knife — that kind of thing. A table and chairs for dining and homework and sewing. Just the basic necessities to allow the normal activities of everyday life to be carried out.

After meals, the used pots and pans and crockery would be washed up by the people who had used them, and put away ready for next time. In the morning, the bed would be shaken tidy (much easier now we have duvets not sheets and blankets) to leave the room neat for night time. Clothes would be worn a few times, washed, line dried, folded and put away. Ironing? Up to you. I don't.

With all this in place, the poems make sense. But in order to make sense, there is what my friend Pat used to call a "lurking but". Yes, ignore the housecleaning to rock the baby. Yes, leave the housecleaning in favour of writing a novel or painting a masterpiece or piecing a quilt. But, bear in mind that choice is made practical by owning only a few things. Keeping clutter at bay is the key to making it possible. You can afford to be romantic if you've been pragmatic first. 

Maintaining the level of simplicity that sets you free to write novels and paint pictures and chill out together is achieved by unremitting low-key vigilance. First you have to chuck out twice as much as you bring home; then when you've reached a happy balance of clarity and peace, easily maintained, you just chuck out one thing for every thing you bring home. It saves a lot of money too — if you have to ditch a sweater for every new one you purchase, and you like the sweaters you already have, you're less inclined to buy another. 

This in turn makes life less anxious and more chilled out. I remember a Carmelite nun telling me their community had a constant battle to maintain holy poverty because they lived so simply they kept inadvertently accumulating wealth. That's a problem most of us would be happy to live with, no?

So the two things I'm sending on their way today are a very nice sweater and a really pretty silk scarf. 

I liked them both. I just had too many things. There were others I preferred, and I kept those. It's nice to like everything you own, but you don't have to own everything you like.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

730 things — Day 96 of 365

 We moved to the house where we now live at the end of 2009. 

It doesn't have an enormous garden, and at the front there is just a little patch of garden — even so, we knew we wanted to plant trees, as many as we could fit in, for the birds and bees, for fruit for us to eat, for the future of the Earth because trees are the guardians of hope and health — and just because we love trees.

The summer my husband Bernard died, I was living with him in his cottage on the edge of Flatropers Wood at Beckley. It was a very hot summer, the sun blazing down; but in that lane on the edge of woodland, and with a great oak tree in the garden, the air always held moisture and a breath of coolness. When I went into the town in Rye or Hastings, the heat bounced off all the hard surfaces of buildings and metalled roads unbearably.

I specially wanted a greengage tree here, and we put one in the front garden, just within the wall beside the pavement (US = sidewalk).

My room now is at the front of the house. When I sit on my bed and look out of the window, this is what I see.

It's worth planting a tree.

I hope the trees will be cherished and protected in our garden for ever and ever, but the house could do with shaking a few manufactured objects loose from its hair.

Today, leaving my life are a camping mattress and a stainless steel thermal water bottle.

I've had various modes of sleeping in the years we've been living here — on the floor, in beds, in the attic, in the hut Komorebi — and acquired a variety of related items. Most have been released into the wild, of which this excellent and blissfully comfy camping mattress is the last to go (apart from the sleeping platform and futon I actually sleep on these days).

The water bottle — my sense of caution and desire to be prepared has a very deep tap root indeed. Why did I buy two water bottles when I only need one?

I have no idea. Away goes the spare.

Monday, 14 June 2021

730 things — Day 95 of 365

What a lovely woman and what a brilliant video!

Love it!

My mother loved things, loved her home, loved ornaments and ashtrays and occasional tables and vases of flowers, and further vases of fake flowers that hung around in bags and bunches, circulated in and out of display. When I was a child, every day she went through the house and made the beds, vacuumed the floors, dusted the surfaces, cleaned the bathrooms.

Every mealtime one of us children would be detailed off to lay the table — with placemats, damask napkins in silver rings, water glasses, silver cutlery, a jug of water . . . After each meal, two people had to clean up the crockery etc, one to wash and the other to dry.

Everything was orderly. This was the 1950s and 1960s so we didn't have much stuff anyway. My toys were kept under my bed in two halves of a box (the lid and the base) the size you buy a pair or boots in. And I had a small children's chair on which sat my two rag dolls, my stuffed fox and my koala. End.

We grow up and things change. I (almost) never eat at a table. Just now I went downstairs to get something to eat because it's time for my evening meal. I got a tin of fish, but the seagull was watching through the window and I didn't want to make him jealous. So I took it and got a teaspoon and ate it at the kitchen counter, straight out of the tin, with my back to him.

Then I got a piece of cheesecake — I bought it in a rash and mad act of defiance even though I know damn well it'll start my veins screaming. I say that's why God gave us paracetamol. I put the last of the raspberries on it because they're on the edge of going mouldy, tipped some cream over it and ate that. Then I wished I had a cup of tea but couldn't be bothered to make it and wandered back upstairs. 

Later I'll augment this fare with a kale shake. I've eaten all the actual chopped kale, but I still have some kale sprouts — meant to be very good for you, I expect they'll do. I have a bit of coconut and rice milk but not much, and some rather unsatisfactory frozen summer berries (too many seeds, they get in my teeth). I can put in a dollop of roasted almond butter, and there's a tiny end of ginger knocking about in the fridge — that can go in. I'll add some of the strawberry coconut yogurt — very low carb, marvellously good for you — and I have a tin of coconut milk, I can use some of that and freeze the rest in an ice cube tray for later. All that and a slice of lemon, whizz it up in the machine; done! What more could you want? Don't answer that.

I do have a linen napkin as it happens. I use it as a heatproof mat. I have no silver cutlery; just stainless steel, with knives from junk shops and forks in a nice scoopy shape a bit like a spork which makes it easier to eat stews and curries. We have glasses, but often as not I drink water straight out of my stainless steel thermal water bottle. Why not?

And as for minimalism, I do it because I hate housework and I like peace. I dust when I think about it, usually with my hanky, and I clean the floor when I notice the rollags of fluff or the splots of dropped soup.

Also, giving things away is fun. It's pretty much like buying things. You get to choose and select, and pack them up, and they'll make someone happy somewhere.

Leaving my house today is a bottle of Four Thieves Oil. 

You know about this stuff? It's said that at some point centuries ago during one of various plagues, some men were arrested for robbing the dead. Their lives were spared in exchange for their aromatic oil recipe that let them steal from corpses without falling ill. That's why it's called Thieves Oil and it smells glorious and is supposed to protect you from plagues. As you'll have noticed, we've been having one — so I got in extra Thieves Oil. More than I meant to, I had a ludicrous amount, so I gave a bottle away.

The other thing to go was a rucksack — one of those handy lightweight ones that folds up marvellously into its own pocket.

Why get rid of this if it's so useful? Well, I was seduced by its obvious handiness into failing to notice that I always get in a muddle with rucksacks. All those flailing straps and zips like an octopus trying to get away, and trying to get the zip undone and the groceries in before the automated voice on the self-checkout starts shouting at me to take my goods. Honestly? I find a tote bag easier. What's more, I travel on the bus, and then I have to choose between having a rucksack of groceries on my back which means I can't sit properly in the seat, or I have to take it off — which in turn means, when it's time for the bus to stop, managing struggling the rucksack back on while standing up in a crowded moving vehicle and hanging onto the poles so I don't fall over so I'm at the door when the bus stops so the driver doesn't pull away before I've got off. What can you do about the driver and the bus? Nothing. What can you do about the rucksack? Get rid of it. Ha! Gone.

Sunday, 13 June 2021

730 things — Day 94 of 365

There's an oft-quoted minimalist saying, "If you need to buy more stuff to organise your stuff, maybe you have too much stuff." 

Good point.

However, everyone (surely even a one-bag minimalist) uses a certain number of made objects in the course of the average day; and, since most of us lead a settled rather than nomadic lifestyle, we need somewhere to put it in sensible categories and locations. Enter the storage unit.

In my own room, I have three types of unwieldy things to store — clothes/bedding, toys for story-telling, and pills. The toys have a shelf-and-a-bit to sit on. The clothes and bedding are herded up into packing cubes. The pills I had stashed in an assortment of plastic boxes, but they were crammed in and jumbled together, which put me off taking them. I recently got some boxes from the Really Useful range which store the pills neatly and effectively, allows me to get at them and see what they are, which results in my actually taking them more regularly — which is a good thing because they are improving my health.

I don't take such a mind-boggling number of supplements as you might imagine looking at that photo — they're cheaper in larger quantities, so the ones I take a lot need several little boxes to absorb one bag/bottle.

My clothes and bed linen are all packed into packing cubes (Amazon Basics, or Bago).

A drawback to that is all the packing cubes look the same, so you have to remember which things are in which bag, to save hunting through all of them every time I want a clean t-shirt.

I have my bedlinen (because I don't need to access it quickly or randomly) at the bottom of the stack on the bottom shelf. Stacked on and with it are my coats, the warmest and largest underneath the lightweight ones that double as cardigans.

On the upper shelf, trousers and sweaters are underneath, nightclothes, underwear and tees along the top.

My stationery and documents and sewing things are in the plastic drawers.

I always put things back in the same place, so habit takes me to look where something will indeed be.

I do not love the box (re-used food packaging) my wash things are in. Ideally I'd like a white plastic caddy, but I haven't yet found one of the perfect dimensions. I know exactly what I want, I just haven't come across it. In the meantime, what I have serves perfectly well; there's no point in buying something that's still not ideal.

In the days when I wore skirts, I used to hang things up in outfits. I find my present system makes better use of the storage space in my room. Everything fits in nicely and I can see what I have.

I bought the packing cubes and pill storage and stationery drawers, but it isn't the case that I have too much stuff because I bought storage to categorise and keep my things — it just keeps the space I need to a minimum by storing everything effectively. 

Storing things rationally also allows me to see what I have easily, which then makes me more inclined to monitor/review what I keep, and thus avoid accumulation and unintended duplicate/repeated purchases. And it keeps everything clean, and easy to move if necessary.

How do you store your belongings?

Today, I am moving on some storage I did not keep (Freegled it); two sets of hanging shelves. 

In the days when I wore skirts, so had everything hanging on the rail, it was handy to have some hanging shelves alongside for shoes and sweaters etc. What I do now maximises the space better, though.

Saturday, 12 June 2021

730 things — Day 93 of 365

If you run a tight ship with regard to your possessions, and choose to go through life taking only a few things with you, it is certain that sometimes you'll wish you still had that coat, feel annoyed with yourself for moving on that umbrella, buy a casserole dish identical to the one you gave away. 

Is this a problem? I'm not at all sure it is, for two reasons.

Firstly, you never know which of the many items you (probably) buy are going to be the keepers. You haven't got a crystal ball (I imagine) and have no idea which ones will become the favourite travelling companions and which will be merely "meh" or an embarrassment.

In my opinion, it's better to regret getting rid of a few things than be sure you don't at the price of curating a stuff mountain for ever.

Secondly, I've tried to re-imagine the sums of money I part with as rental rather than purchasing, and that lifts away my sense of failure and inadequacy at wanting again what I got rid of before. 

Back in the 1980s, it was normal to rent a television, and that's what our family did. I felt somewhat ambivalent about telly when my children were young, and we had stretches of time without one and then periods when we had one again. But there was no guilt attached to getting rid of the telly and re-acquiring one — because it was rented. I didn't think, "Damn! I wish we still had that telly!" I just phoned the rental company and asked them to bring a new one.

Every now and then (very rarely) I will pay full price for an expensive item, and those are usually things I feel sure I will want to keep for years (and even then I still get it wrong sometimes). Mostly I buy second-hand on eBay or wait for a half-price sale. That way, even if I get rid of the thing, wish I still had it and buy it again, all I'm doing is buying it half-price twice — so paying the full price once. 

But, say I buy a jacket on eBay for £24, wear it half a dozen times and decide it's not really for me and pass it on, well, that's £4 an outing for that jacket. I'd pay more than £4 for a return bus fare into town, and I got to try out the jacket, and it'll make some money for the charity shop. And if, six months later still, I wish I still had that jacket and look out for one similar, and pay £27.99 to buy one again, well, so what? Both of them together will only have cost me £51.99, which is a lot cheaper than a jacket in a high street shop. And I will have kept the informal economy circulating, helped people working from home selling on eBay, helped a charity, kept two jackets out of landfill, and not cluttered up my wardrobe unnecessarily. I don't think one needs to feel guilty.

Here are two things I got rid of and then bought again, this year:

A sun hat. This was a good hat, and it fitted me well, but the lines of stitching around the crown always irritated me. I have no idea why. Put it down to my autistic tendencies. It was as annoying as getting wrinkles in the sticky-backed plastic when I'm making an address label. Irksome. So I got rid of it.

Then, inevitably, the summer came and I wanted a sunhat again. So I got a different on — and I tell you what, that isn't perfect either; but it'll do for now, and maybe I'll find a better one eventually. 

And then I had these brown cords, which I bought second-hand on eBay. 

They yo-yo-ed in and out of my quarantine box until it began to annoy me and I just moved them on. Then I wished I had them again, so I got a replacement pair half-price from Lands End. You have to be quick to miss a sale at Lands End; I doubt they ever sell anything half price. They must think there is something psychological to do with getting a bargain — pretend it's worth more and you've cut the price, and people will hurry to buy it. Well, I hope it works for them because their clothing is comfortable and long-lasting and well made; all things good. Apart from that cardigan that pilled so badly it wouldn't even do for the charity shop, so I donated it to our cat. He likes it.

Friday, 11 June 2021

730 things — Day 92 of 365

 One of my favourite quotations of all time is T.S. Eliot's "Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still." It's from his poem Ash Wednesday.

I work quite hard at getting this perspective firmly in place in my life — caring but not caring.

My main strategy is to see to it that my contribution to any situation is the very best I can manage, then I leave the outcome to God. I don't run after people, or try to palm things off on people, I have no sales technique, nothing like that; I just do my absolute best work and then step back and leave it up to them.

So, for example, I absolutely know that my books are really well-written, packed with truth and change lives. People all around the world get in touch with me to say lovely things like "Your books have taught me how to live." It blesses my socks off! Perhaps the one I treasure most of all was the reader — a woman on a breathtakingly low income — who had been reading my work over many years, and who contacted me when she was admitted to a hospice to die, to say she had bought all nine of my Hawk & Dove series of novels for her kindle, so she could read them one more time. Honestly, could there be anything to make a writer feel more proud and more humble than that?

But from the very outset I have refused to promote my work, or push myself forward. I care very much about the writing, but I don't care about promoting it and I won't do it. "Teach us to care but not to care. Teach us to sit still." I believe in the way of littleness and the power of hidden streams.

People in positions of status, power and influence always ignore me, count me as nothing (I am of no advantage to them), and I don't care. People who are the recipients of my work find it nourishing and sustaining, and I care about that very much. I just keep on, I don't try to be seen or heard. "Teach us to care but not to care. Teach us to sit still." Of course, you must understand, when I say I don't care, I mean as a discipline, not as a feeling. It has hurt me a lot, over the years, to be ignored and passed over and discounted, and sometimes derided, professionally and within my family (of origin, not the one I raised) and in the church. Sometimes it has felt very sore and painful, and discouraged me. I choose to not care about that as well. Running after the approval and acceptance of others is not what I'm after; my sights are simply set on doing my best and getting it right.

I tried to do this as a mother raising my family as well. As any mother will have discovered, it's an occupation like no other to keep you humble. Not only do you constantly disappoint yourself but everyone else you know thinks you're getting it wrong as well, and they don't usually hold back in letting you know. Philip Larkin speaks for a multitude. Meanwhile, God is silent. You just have to hope for the best and do your best. What else can you do?

In the same way, when I had a little cottage to let — that was my main income for a few years — I took the approach of being for my tenants, on their side. I wanted to be not only fair but also loving, as a landlady. People who live in rented houses are usually poor, as my tenants were. I wanted them to feel that someone had their back in this difficult world. I needed their rent to live on, but I set it slightly the low side of average, and kept it there, and did everything I could to make them feel it was their home, and respond swiftly and effectively to any problems. I cared about them, but I didn't care about getting the max amount out of them. When rents rose, I sat still and didn't put mine up.

By this means, I relieve myself of the pressure of competition. I don't try to elbow my way to the front, I don't try to do anyone down. I am always willing to walk away from anything that isn't working or any place where what I offer isn't valued. And I always do my best.

Do you have a life strategy/approach that works well for you, or a maxim you always bear in mind?

Today, my items to go are a pair of useless socks, and a chain. 

The socks were just a bad buy and had nothing good about them — didn't live up to expectations — and the chain, well, I don't even know how I came by it; I certainly don't want or need it. I'll add it to some other DIY bits and pieces to Freegle as a box of things when I get round to sorting out my tool box in the cupboard under the stairs.

Thursday, 10 June 2021

730 things — Day 91 of 365

 I wanted to say something about bidding on eBay.

When I sold my white Birkenstock beach sandals on eBay, I watched the bidding and saw who bought them, and I felt sad for them, because they paid more than they needed to. I noticed that the person did not have a big sale/purchase history, and I think they were not sufficiently experienced to handle the system well.

I like buying on eBay, especially second-hand items from private sellers, because I love that it boosts what I think of as the informal economy. There are many of us who don't enjoy being cogs in anybody's machine, find it hard to fit in to mainstream society, and would rather not be employees of a corporation.

Some people do enjoy that of course — getting ready for work in the morning, dressing in the right clothes, the routine of leaving the house and returning at evening, seeing colleagues at work — it all gives them a sense of purpose and structure and belonging, and they like it. I don't. I prefer to live quietly and reclusively at home. Other people who share a similar temperament to mine have been allowed to be themselves by the advent of eBay; they can make a modest living, or supplement other income strands, by selling pre-loved things. I like that a lot.

While I am enthusiastic about supporting the informal economy, I make a massive amount of fails in my clothing purchases — I change my mind a lot and I live in a tiny room so I haven't space to keep an enormous quarantine stash; and I don't want to anyway. So I try to buy only very low-priced things in the first place. And one of the people who can contribute significantly to keeping that price low is me. Today — in case you don't already know — I'd like to explain how to do it.

Imagine you have found a coat on eBay that's just what you want, on auction at a low start price. There are no bids on it, so you put it on watch and think about it for a few days. It may be that you saw it at midnight while pottering around on the internet, and when you look again in the morning, you think, "Mon Dieu, what was I thinking? I hate it!" Don't bid on anything you've just seen in the middle of the night; you might win it. Midnight shopping is dangerous.

But after about three days, there it still is, and you decide you really want that coat. Say the starting threshold is £7.99. If you want to make sure it stays on eBay and doesn't mysteriously vanish because someone contacted the seller saying, "If you put it on Buy It Now for me at £11.99, I'll buy it" — put a bid on it. Just the starting amount, £7.99. That's all you need to keep it in the auction. 

If other people come along and bid, don't do anything about it. Let yourself be outbid, it doesn't matter. The fewer bids there are, the lower the price stays. Don't push it up. Wait for the end of the auction.

Decide how much you are prepared to pay for that coat. Perhaps you have looked at other coats and the second-hand prices for that sort of thing in that fabric vary between £18.99 and £75.00. You decide how much you are willing to pay. Perhaps you decide you will part with up to £25 and no more — if you spend more, you won't be able to afford groceries or bus fares. So have that in mind. £25.00 tops. 

But — this is important — ask yourself, "So if I put in a maximum bid of £25, and someone wins it at £26, how will I feel? Will I feel upset and disappointed, or think 'Oh, fair do, let it go'?" 

Also bear in mind that people usually put in a max bid at a round figure. If they are prepared to pay £25, that's the max bid they put in. It follows that if £25 is what you'll pay, and you put in a max bid of £25.87 (or £26.87 to be on the safe side) you are much more likely to actually win it. 

You have to decide all this carefully and thoughtfully and honestly, in advance, because everything else happens right on the end of the auction.

When the time of the auction comes, be there on eBay. You need good internet speeds to do this — if your system is slow and buffering, it won't work.

Have the coat that you want on watch, and get ready to bid on it. Don't do anything, regardless of who else is bidding. If the bidding rises and in the last couple of minutes the coat that started at £7.99 is now at £38.99, let it go. You were only willing to part with £25 for it. Let it go. But if it's still down at about £13, get ready.

A minute or so before the auction ends, enter your max bid of £26.87 — enter it, but don't submit it yet. Wait. Have it there up on the screen ready, don't click the 'submit' button yet.

Wait until 10 seconds before the end of the auction. At 9 seconds — or 7 if you have really fast internet speeds — click 'submit'.

At this point, there won't be enough time left for any other bidders to enter a new bid. The automated system will run electronically through the max bids already placed. So you might get it, you might not, but it will give you the best possible chance of winning it within the amount you are willing to pay — and if you are bidding against the unseasoned and unwary, you greatly increase your chances at getting it well within what you've allowed yourself.

If someone else has put in a max bid of, say, £32, you won't win your coat — but it won't matter, because you were only willing to pay £25 anyway, so that's fine.

So, in summary:

  • Think about the item carefully for several days. Don't make hasty or impetuous decisions.
  • Look at what similar things go for; evaluate the right price — and if loads of people are selling identical garments (same thing from same firm) on eBay, it's probably disappointing, don't buy it.
  • Decide what you are happy to pay. If you really want that thing, and there are as yet no bids on it, ensure it stays in the auction by placing the lowest possible bid.  
  • If people are already bidding, don't bid, just watch. Don't push up the price by going on bidding in advance.
  • Don't put in a round figure as your max bid, add £1.69 or £1.93 or something.
  • Enter but don't submit your true max bid a minute or so before the auction ends.
  • Submit your bid at 9 seconds before the end of the auction.

If there's anything you don't understand about what I've said here, ask me in the comments. If you didn't know this before and you try it out, come back and let me know how you get on. Good luck!

When you're all done, be kind. Leave only 5-star feedback. If any problems arise, give the seller a chance to sort things out quietly and privately; eBay sellers are very keen to safeguard their 100% 5-star rating. 

Today, what I'm moving on will be some leggings —

— and a piece of lino.

I used to wear leggings a lot back in the 1980s/90s, and they suited me. Having lost weight in this last year, I got some again, thinking I'd once more look good in them. I did, but failed to factor in that in the meantime my vascular system has got old and fragile, and my legs can no longer cope with close-fitting garments that exert pressure at the joints. My ageing body needs all the help it can get, so those leggings went off to the charity shop.

The lino was left over from when we put down flooring in our house after we moved here in 2009. It's been in the attic all that time. I paid for that flooring, so the off-cuts were my responsibility. This was one of two I moved on.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

730 things — Day 90 of 365

 Moving on to a completely different topic — I've been thinking about my 'inner editor'. That's Tony's phrase, and a very useful one.

The medical term for it is impulse control. Apparently babies don't have it, little children begin to develop it, teenagers still haven't properly got it down, and it's not properly in place until the age of twenty-five, which is why you can't get car insurance until that age in the US, so Sten Ekberg says in this very interesting video (I love his videos, really clear and informative). He says in the video what bit of the brain governs it — the amygdala I think, but I can't remember now. I like the word "amygdala", I think because it reminds me of "mandala"; it sounds as if it would be something beautiful and probably from India, like a wonderful pattern.

Anyway, the inner editor is all in place once you're twenty-five, and restrains you from doing or saying inadvisable things. However, as we grow old and the brain ages, our inner editors do start to doze off, and we regress to a tendency of doing what we feel like and saying what we think, even when that is inappropriate or inadvisable.

This morning I was thinking about a woman I know who really, seriously annoys me. Everything about her annoys me. I don't even like looking at her. She irritates the hell out of me and I can't stand her. I mean, in truth she's a perfectly nice woman, morally good and upright, a person of faith and intelligence, creative and kind — I just don't like her. I don't like her husband either. 

And it occurred to me that the impermanent companionship of the inner editor is why it's a really good idea to follow the instructions of Jesus and learn to love my neighbour. Because over time, as my inner editor nods off, the truth will out, won't it? At the moment, on the occasions when my path crosses that of this individual (who very plainly dislikes me as much as I dislike her), I am courteous and pleasant towards her. But what about in fifteen years time, if I'm still taking up space on this good Earth? I might not be as nice to her then, might I? I might just spit on the ground when I see her. And gradually (or even quite quickly) an ugly situation will develop that contributes nothing to peace on Earth. The seeds of war are here.

It seems to me that the only way out of this is to learn to actually love her — and then when my inner editor slides into oblivion, there will be no nasty impulse to control anyway so it won't matter. If when I look at her I love her, there will be nothing I need to restrain.

I do believe in the law of karma too, and that we are here to learn customised life lessons which keep coming round until we get the hang of them, and I think the only way to get someone fully and completely out of your hair is to honestly love them. Otherwise the universe keeps bringing them back and putting them under your nose and saying, "Ready yet?"

Because learning to love, and all the art and skill of it, is the thing above all we came here to do. Loving one's neighbour and loving oneself. That's what it's all about.

A tiny contribution towards loving our neighbour we make in our household, is giving away things we could quite easily sell.

So item one of my two things to dispose of today is this freezer. I can't remember if I paid for it personally or it came out of our shared kitty, but it was my initiative to give it away so I'm counting it in to my 730 things. 

It went on Freegle, to a man who had moved with this wife into a caravan. A couple of years ago they had been living in what in the UK we call a 'tied cottage' — accommodation that comes with their occupation, like a manse for a minister. The man's wife's job had a house with it, and that's where they lived, and she did her job just fine and everything was going well. He, meanwhile, had suffered a decline in health and could no longer do his own work so he retired early, but the wife's work was enough to sustain them both. Then a great employment opportunity came up for her which would allow far more influential and creative use of her skills — a chance to spread her wings; and the wife took this new job and resigned from her current one, and they were excited about the new prospect and just staying where they were to work out her notice before making the move. And then along came Covid.

The new project evaporated as the months went by, but having stopped her old job she was ineligible for furlough payments. Her employer kindly allowed them to stay on in their tied cottage for the longest time possible before ceding it to the incoming employee.

And then there they were: no job (either of them), no income, no furlough payments, no new job to go to. He was too ill to work, and her (rather specialist) occupation was one of those made impossible by a pandemic.

The only star left shining in their firmament was that not long before it all happened they had bought a caravan for holidays. And that was now the only place left for them to live in.

For people in such situations, Freegle is like the eagle that lifts you up on its pinions. That man was so grateful to be given a freezer. He'd measured to make absolutely sure he could get it in. Summer is coming. There'll be blackberries and herbs in the hedgerows and people with marrows and apples put out for the taking. If he's shrewd he can get a lot of free food put by for the winter. 

This is the grace economy, and I love it.

The second thing I have to give away is also Covid-related — an unopened pack of mask filters for people who like to be extra careful.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

730 things — Day 89 of 365

Now I have identified the way to stabilise my wardrobe solutions by synthesising minimalist food with minimalist clothing (see yesterday's post), I am hopeful of much increased simplicity. I always end up with only a few things, but there's a lot of acquiring and disposing along the way.

Even with this addressed, though, and one clothing style selected, there's still quite a bit of trial and error. It takes me a lot of searching and a lot of mistakes to get the right things for my bendy, floppy body. I have several tops, but they are in only two makes and styles (Evans in a style they no longer make, and House of Bruar polo shirts) — and I've lost count of how many different kinds I've had and discarded, before accepting that these are the only ones I like. 

Similarly my trousers (I have four winter ones and three summer ones) are mostly the same make (Lands End). I have one pair that is not, which was passed on to me by someone else in our house. I like them, but they make me nervous because they have a regular waistband — only partially not wholly elasticated — so all the time when I'm wearing them something worries inside that they won't always fit me and then what will I do? But apart from that pair, they are all thicker or thinner incarnations of cotton jersey fabric, soft and stretchy (but for one micro-fleece pair). A lot of skirts and trousers came and went before I settled on the present selection; dear me, yes.

Likewise my shoes. Even after I honed it down to only Birkenstocks, I messed about with those for a while — because not all Birkenstocks are born equal. I have ended up with three pairs, none of which fall off or cause blisters or hurt my ankles or do any of the things that caused me to dispose of their relatives.

Just about the only clothes I own that have stuck and stayed for ever are the things our Alice knitted me — two waistcoats, two pairs of fingerless gloves, a hat and all my socks. I've bought so many other pairs of socks, but not kept them. Either they have lumps that hurt my feet, or they're too strongly elastic (and hurt my feet) or they have too grippy a rib at the top and make my ankles swell, or they shrink in the wash and are no good any more — the problems are legion. But the ones Alice has made me are just right. They fit, they are soft and have no lumpy seams; they are perfect in every way, like Mary Poppins. Same with the gloves — I wear one pair or the other every day all through the winter, sometimes indoors as well if it's very cold. Ditto the hat.

By minimalist standards I think I have a lot of clothes. The one-bag people usually just keep a change of clothing, but my hyper-mobility and autistic tendencies combine to make me so darned fussy that it's highly inadvisable for me to leave myself in a position where I have to find a replacement garment at short notice — that process is always extremely expensive, because clothes are either perfect or I develop a strong aversion to them and can't stand them, usually after I've had them a few weeks, decided they were okay, worn and washed them, and can no longer return them. So I hang on to anything that works, even though it leaves me with a greater number of garments in my wardrobe than I'd ideally like to have. I think this is an example of finding the version of minimalism that works for you, rather than a simple number-based system. I love the idea of having just two of everything — but then what do you do if something wears out and is no longer made (that's why I have so many tops, they are a unique style that no longer exists), or if it's raining and the trousers you aren't wearing and have washed are taking days to dry?

Two pairs of Birkenstocks I didn't keep are these.

The green ones were comfy but didn't go so well with the clothes I settled on. The white ones were hard and unyielding. I gave the green ones away, but I sold the white ones on eBay — to my surprise I got as much money as I paid for them. I felt guilty about that, because it seemed too much money — though I did get them from a bargain basement kind of eBay shop in the first place, not from the actual Birkenstock website, so they were substantially cheaper.

The ones I have now are a lot better. I have one black plastic pair (like these green ones and white ones I moved on), which are good for rainy weather and the winter when it's generally wetter. The other two (a brown pair and a beige pair) have the usual Birki cork footbed with a soft suede insole and suede uppers. They are perfect for my feet, and wearing them all the time makes them soft and flexible.