I was HORRENDOUSLY messy as a teenager. It would drive my Mum to distraction. I could never understand it, ‘it’s FINE!’ I’d say. ‘I’ll do it in a minute!’ rolling my eyes as mountains of mess gathered around me. ‘Jeez, Mum,’ I’d think, ‘just shut the door on the mess, it’s not a big problem – deal with it in the morning.’
Now, of course, Karma has come back to bite me on my big old ass, as the young people would say. As my children enter the dark, empty-crisp-packet strewn, tunnels of adolescence, I find my rage levels have risen accordingly.
I’ve been really looking forward to this Easter holiday. The end of term was a nightmare and I was on my knees, longing for long, sunny, stress-free days with plenty of time to update my blog and finish my god-damned book.
Well it didn’t work out like that. There are a number of reasons for this but all the stress and rage got me thinking about why I get so angry and also what helps calm the anger.
I’ve decided it’s all about control. I never used to be like this; I now realise it’s because I didn’t need control in my life – that’s what grown-ups were for! They were the ones who dealt with problems, who brought order to my existence, and if anything went wrong I could just get hold of a grown up.
Now I’m 50 I have to accept I’m the grown-up. Also, being a grown-up sucks big time because it turns out things happen over which you have no control and NOBODY knows the right answer. There is no bloody right answer. (I am aware I am arriving very late at this particular party)
I have learned the illusion of control is what helps you get through the day. It’s how all humans get through the day. Life is chaotic and random, and it is only by imposing an illusory sense of order that we can cope. I’m not talking about any kind of big philosophical idea here, I am talking about having a fully stocked loo roll cupboard.
The more I thought about this the more sense it made as to why I instantly explode into spitting rage when I find a crumpled pile of towels on the bathroom floor for the third time within an hour. It’s because those neatly hung towels are the only defence I have against the terrifying chaos of the universe.
The last two or three weeks have been trying. I am conscious they are very much first world problems, but trying nonetheless.
Ah the children. I adore them, of course, and part of me loves that they are becoming funny, thoughtful, interesting adults; Jesus Christ though, it’s also like suddenly being forced to take on strange lodgers who help themselves to your food and wipe their ketchupped faces with clean TEA TOWELS for God’s sake.
Let’s start with Daughter. It turns out she’s short sighted. Now I am very short sighted (-7 prescription) and it has caused all sorts of terrible problems, the least of which is my inability to walk across a room safely without glasses. Severe myopia can cause detached retinas (as in my case), and you can be more at risk of macular degeneration and glaucoma.
These are all things I don’t want Daughter to have. I was therefore delighted to discover that nowadays there are these amazing contact lenses that slow down the severity of myopia so hopefully stopping my daughter at a -3 level rather than going on to sight as bad as mine.
OK so it costs a fortune, but what price sight? etc etc.
The trouble is my Daughter HATES putting them in. I’m not allowed to help her (according to the optician) but apparently I DO have to sit right outside the bathroom door for security when she puts them in.
She knows they are going to go in eventually. I know they are going to go in eventually. However, I have to endure the most horrendous, guilt inducing monologue before this can happen.
‘I can’t DO this, mummy! It won’t go in! My eyes are all red now. This isn’t working. I’m HOLDING it close to my eye. I don’t want to wear lenses. Can’t I have today as my rest day? I’ll just wear glasses. You’re short-sighted and you’re OK. OW! It HURRRTTSSS!’ Pause for dramatic sobbing. A moment of silence. ‘I can’t DO THIS! Now I’ve broken one. And the other one. You’ll have to give me two more. This is stupid. I HATE LENSES. Why do I have to wear lenses? Why are you making me wear them? Why doesn’t Brother have to wear them? OOWWWWW!! I’ve broken another one.’
I cannot express how I hate hearing his every morning. I can feel my shoulders rising with stress as I write it. I feel guilty, worried, cross as it’s going to cost us thousands over the years, then guilty for being cross. Eventually I cave in. ‘OK, Darling, give it a rest for now and come and sit with me and you can try again later when you’re a bit more calm.’
She bounces out of the bathroom and lolls about on the bed listening to Harry Potter on Audible. After about 20 minutes I pluck up enough courage to try again. ‘Right, that’s nearly half an hour now – why not have another go?’
She looks at me, eyes wide and puzzled. ‘Have another go at what?’
‘Oh I’ve got them in already,’ she says. ‘The popped in really quickly in the end.’
Meanwhile, Son is revising for exams. He is not happy. Every day I ask him to revise and his response is, ‘I don’t want to revise. I want to play Fortnite.’ A simple, bold statement but one that is difficult to argue with without getting very cross and shouty.
He is also suffering a nasty bout of eczema which has blown up over his eyelid and is nasty and sore and he keeps scratching it, making my whole body twitch with the mother horror shudder – if you know what I mean. I’ve taken him to the doctor, we’ve got the cream but every time I have to apply it – and I mean EVERY TIME – he has the screaming heeby jeebies and I have to actually pin him down with all my body weight (he may be taller than me but he’ll never be heavier – ha!) to apply the damn stuff.
We had the builders in.
My beloved, darling Rob has spent every weekend and holiday since last July building a kitchen from scratch. The fact that he has done this despite suffering chronic depression and anxiety shows just how amazing he is. I have promised him that one day I will write a blog called ‘We built this kitchen on Agomelatine‘ It’s an anti-depressant drug which has very few side effects and has helped Rob’s focus and concentration. The brilliant thing about it is it has no withdrawal symptoms so he can come off them at any time.
Here is the beautiful kitchen he made.
I think it’s brilliant, and I will fight anyone who says differently.
While we have to live where I work we rent out the place as a holiday let and we have a family of 6 hoping to have a lovely break here in May.
This didn’t give us much time to transfer the old kitchen into a lovely new bedroom for Daughter, as well as overhauling a manky old bathroom.
Rob was also on his knees and needed a break so unusually we decided to get builders in.
This is all very emotional as pretty much all of the building work we have done in the past Rob did with his lovely old dad, who we lost to Aplastic Anaemia just over a year ago. It made his loss all the more powerful for Rob when he didn’t have his Dad to turn to when he had a question about brick work or sorting out the plumbing.
We got hold of a builder who had done a great job on a cupboard we had fitted a few years ago. He came and looked at the job. ‘No problem! Couple of weeks. Sorted.’
Great! We thought. Let’s do this! Rob was more cautious – he pointed out that it was an old house and problems were bound to crop up. The builder was confident but suggested we see how it went and agreed the quote was flexible.
Rob spent the weekend outlining every job we wanted to get done. He put it on a list and also sketched a diagram detailing where plug sockets etc went. We sent it to Bob the Builder (not his real name).
All fine. quote agreed. Work begins.
Three days later Bob gets in touch. He’s underestimated the amount of work needed. The quote needs to go up. Fine, we say. We understand.
The job jumps from two weeks to three.
Rob and I find beautiful mosaic tiles for the bathroom. He and I visit Bob on site with a sample of the mosaic tile. ‘Is this OK, Bob?’ I ask. ‘I don’t know anything about tiling so thought I’d better check with you before we order them.
‘They’re fine! No problem!’ says Bob.
While there Rob asks if we can adjust the list to include the movement of three radiators. We knock off building a cupboard so we hope that will even it out. The tiles arrive.
Bob sends a very long text saying the addition of moving the radiators has thrown him out and the quote is now wrong. He asks us to send us a new list including everything so he can update the quote. He threatens to down tools and leave the job as he ‘can’t deal with this uncertainty.’
Fine, we say. We send over the new list. He comes back with a new quote. The job will now take six weeks and the quote has TRIPLED. For three radiators. He says it’s because the tiles will be complicated. The tiles he said would be fine.
At the end of the fifth week Bob asks me to send over cash for materials he’d bought that day. At all stages in the job I have paid for the labour and materials within HOURS of him asking – thousands of pounds worth. Due to another issue, which I will come to in a moment, I didn’t reply to his text for two hours.
He then sent a page long text saying he has told his worker to pack up all their tools as he is concerned I am going to ‘withhold payment’. (A hundred pound bill for materials – why would I have withhold this having already paid thousands for his labour!?)
Eventually I calm him down. This is the third time he has threatened to down tools and leave the job. The stress of this is nightmarish and really not good for Rob. The builder sends another text complaining ‘I don’t know whether I’m coming or going, you keep throwing extra jobs at me and then asking me to do things we haven’t agreed.’
This is when I get really infuriated as the only things was added was the moving of three radiators (which seem to be costing us thousands extra) and every job I’m mentioning is on the list. Skirting boards on the list. Bob doesn’t remember seeing it. Boxing in of all pipes – Bob didn’t see that on the list.
So here we are six weeks later. The bathroom is half tiled. Bob has disappeared off to another job. We’ve had to ask his mate to do some extra days to get it finished. Despite paying all that money Rob is now having to do the boxing in, all the painting and decorating, and fitting the doors.
All of which were on the list which was finalised and agreed by Bob. AND PAID FOR.
Grrrrr It makes me so cross and I know. I know. I am being naive in thinking that a job like this is easy. But if a list is agreed for a certain price they should do what’s on the list? I am aware I am going on a lot about this list, but it was the only sure, solid thing I had in a disordered word.
At the end of January my brother and I started planning our two-family summer holiday together. Its the one time of the year where the kids can hang with their cousins and I get to catch up with my lovely brother.
It took weeks to find somewhere nice that ticked all the boxes, was a bit luxurious, and could easily accommodate four adults and four children. At last we found somewhere that looked absolutely perfect. I’d never been to the Lake District and we were all very excited about it.
I’m going to name this place as I don’t see why I should offer them any anonymity. It was the Dormouse Cottage at the Swan Hotel in the Lake District.
It was perfect. Looked gorgeous. Close to lots of lovely walks and with plenty of room for us all. The cottage was in the grounds of the hotel so we could use the pool and gym there as well as the restaurants for days when we couldn’t be bothered to cook.
It all seemed too good to be true. ‘It’ll be booked already,’ Rob said, ‘peak school holidays (end July beginning of August) you’ve no chance.’
We were using a third party booking company. It’s the same company we rent our holiday lets with, and one advantage of paying them 30% commission is they give us a good discount when we book through them. However, as I was so nervous about this I called the hotel direct to check the cottage was free those weeks. (It was showing as available on their own website as well as the third party booking website.)
‘Yes of course it is, madam!’ said the receptionist in that slightly patronising tone which means ‘if it says it’s free on the website it is free you sad, neurotic middle-aged crone.’
Great! I thought, casting a smug, triumphant look at Rob before calling the third party people to book.
I chewed my nails nervously until they called back 10 minutes later to confirm all was fine and the booking could go ahead. Woo hoo! Both families delighted. The email confirming it came through and we were safe and sound. We couldn’t wait for our holiday.
Cut to half way through April. I get a call. The booking has been cancelled.
What? How? What? I spluttered for about five minutes. The third party booking company said the owner had called to say the cottage had been double booked.
I exclaimed that couldn’t be possible.I had checked and double-checked it was free. They suggested I called the manager of the hotel directly to find out what had happened.
What followed was the most awful, frustrating and upsetting phone call, which ended with him hanging up on me.
He said it wasn’t his fault it was the third party booking people. He insisted that the cottage had been booked by someone else in the ten minutes between me confirming it was free and the third party company booking it.
I said to him I didn’t see how that was possible. As he was blaming the company I asked him to confirm for me when he had told them about the double booking. With that evidence I could complain to the company as they hadn’t let us know for three months – by which time all the good place have gone.
That’s when he hung up.
When I went back to the company they read me the emails the manager had sent them. Firstly, in February saying he was withdrawing his cottages from their site but would honour all bookings already made. Including our one.
Then, a month later, he wrote again to confirm the withdrawal, but still maintaining he would honour all bookings. In April he sent an email saying he wasn’t honouring the bookings already made. So screw you, Middle-Aged Warrior and both your families.
So the manager LIED to me!!! It wasn’t already booked, he was just taking it away from the third party booking company and getting guests to book with him directly so he didn’t have to pay any commission. He obviously wasn’t at all concerned about the impact this would have on our families who had booked in January.
I was so upset I burst into tears, which was really embarrassing as Son had a mate over and his mum had just arrived to collect him when I greeted her bawling my eyes out. Something I never do.
The thing is with all these frustrations is that there is absolutely NOTHING I can do. No matter how hard I tried to do the right thing it all went to shit and no amount of persuading, cajoling or logic made any difference.
It was out of my control.
I couldn’t get the builder to do the job we’d paid him to do, and I couldn’t do anything to save our holiday. I can’t make my Son revise without a row, I can’t help his eczema without a full wrestling competition and I can’t help my Daughter’s sight without her making me feel constantly guilty.
So how to cope? This is where the balm comes in. I now understand why mess is a bad thing. It is an outward manifestation of the chaos of life, but at least you can do something about it.
So here is my list of things that calm me down and restore order.
Wiping a counter, emptying a laundry basket, charging a phone… These are all things I can do that will bring peace and calm to my life. Everything in its place, everything clean, charged and easy to find. A delicious sense of order which, for some reason, helps me cope with all the other crap I can’t solve.
I don’t know what it is about having things fully charged. I suspect it’s something to do with challenging mortality. But what writing this has helped me understand is why the following drive me insane in the membrane.
So to answer my son’s question, ‘Why are you so ANGRY all the time?’ that’s why. I’m not really shouting about the counter, I’m shouting because our holiday has been cancelled, and the builders have left the house unfinished. I’m shouting because it turns out I’ve not brought up the children properly because they now won’t do anything they are told. I’m shouting because I want some peace and quiet but know that my heart will break when the children grow up and leave home. I’m shouting because I’m 50 and I don’t know where the time went and I want to write a book but can’t find the time.
But then I calm down. Stay up late so I can clean the kitchen when everyone is in bed and enjoy the quiet and the tidiness of everything. Rob takes us all out for lunch and I remember how funny my children are and how nice they are. Playing loud music helps too. Oh, and wine.
I should also go and phone my mum to say sorry for all the mess I made when I still lived at home.
So what about you? What stupid little things drive you into a rage and what helps calm you down?