Sunday, 18 November 2018
Saturday, 17 November 2018
If I needed more persuasion, I was totally in after reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things.
I have also found a way to continue with miniature-making, but this is a separate story.
Something for solitary evenings
Sunday, 11 November 2018
There is a beauty parlour and a bicycle shop, neither of interest to me.
The best walk is along the river to Grantchester where you can have tea in The Orchard.
Friday, 9 November 2018
My new best friend
Wednesday, 7 November 2018
In one of my all-time favourite books, Three Men in a Boat, there is a wonderful passage about packing. When the three friends realise that they impossibly can bring everything they have piled on the floor, they decide to select not what they could do with, but only what they couldn't do without. It's remarkable how many things in your household you can do with that aren't things you can't do without.
Take an avocado slicer. I bought it at a time in my life when I was buying all kinds of kitchen utensils, after I had rebuilt my kitchen in Stockholm and had plenty of drawers and hooks. We like avocado, and unlike many other “good-to-have” items, I have used it a lot. You can live without an avocado slicer, but since I had one I brought it with me, and I am using it frequently.
I have always been against one-purpose gadgets, but once you have them, some come handy. I once bought a very clever measuring spoon for coffee that was also a clip to seal the bag. It was never used other than as a measuring spoon, but now I finally use it the way it was conceived.
I haven't brought the oyster knife because I don't anticipate eating oysters on my own. I haven't brought lobster forks, nor herring forks – none of the numerous objects that I use maybe once a year because they are there, but that are not essential. I haven't brought a can opener because I don't eat canned food.
I did bring my cheeseboard and cheese knives, more for sentimental reasons than anything else. Even if I have guests, I can serve cheese on a plain wooden board with an ordinary knife.
I brought one of the many fruit bowls and two mixing/salad bowls, one large and one small. Since I don't have an oven, I didn't bring any baking trays or pans.
I brought my spiraliser because I use it all the time. You can live without a spiraliser, but vegetables taste so much better when spiralised.
I didn't bring the asparagus pot. We only got it recently, after many, many years of me thinking, as I do: Why would anyone need a pot just to cook asparagus? But it turned out very practical. However, I don't think I will cook asparagus in the nearest future. Or if I will, I can cook in an ordinary pot.
On my first list of things to buy were: orange juicer, kitchen drawer organiser, kitchen towel holder, laundry basket and rubbish bin. Of these, I have only purchased a juicer because I really, really need my freshly pressed juice in the morning. It turned out that you can live with your kitchen drawers disorganised, put your kitchen towel on the counter, keep laundry in a canvas bag and use a large flower pot to hold bin liners. Maybe if I had been planning to stay here for longer, I would have invested in a bin. But buying stuff when I am massively getting rid of stuff feels silly.
There is no place in my kitchen for a garbage bin. It doesn't fit under the sink. I have it in a corner between the washing machine and the fridge. When I use either, I have to move the bin to the middle of the kitchen. My mind goes to Marina Tzvetayeva, who famously kept her garbage bin the middle of her living room cum study in Paris. She was not disturbed. I am.
So far, I have only entertained two guests, one at a time, and we had tea for which we needed two teacups, two small plates, two teaspoons and two knives. Every day, I contemplate the plates in my cupboard asking myself: Why do I need a set of six of everything? Well, because it is a set, and I haven't even brought the teapot, the numerous bowls, platters and sauce boats. How often do you use a sauce boat? The one day a year you may need a sauce boat, can you use something else?
I brought a spare duvet, pillows, bedsheets and towels. Just in case. I do have a sofa bed after all. But otherwise, how many bedsheets and towels do you need?
Clothes: I gave away several bags of clothes to charity. Going through my wardrobe, I kept asking myself: will I wear this in the coming year? How many outfits do I really need? My new walk-in wardrobe is small. Just one rack and bare wooden shelves. Some years ago I started wearing scarves and now have a dozen and a half. They marked a new phase of my life, so I kept them. They fill a whole large “Really Useful Box”. Ironically, I have recently bought several pairs of shoes, also as a new phase of my life. Why would anyone need so many shoes? Two pairs is quite enough. And so on.
I like the idea of minimalism, but I also like to have a few trinkets of sentimental value. I certainly can do without candle holders, or a cut-out wooden cat that sits on the door frame, or an Aalto vase, or a miniature Japanese stone garden. But I brought all these items to mark my territory. I smile when I see them.
Thing theory – yes, there is one! - distinguishes between things and objects. Objects only become things when they acquire an additional symbolic meaning. Some objects I brought are just objects, while others are things.
When I move on, ten months from now, I will probably leave still more objects behind, but I will bring my things wherever my life takes me next.
Posted by Maria Nikolajeva at 19:25
Monday, 5 November 2018
I have limited experience of living on my own. The closest I ever came to it was when I had a guest professorship in Finland and commuted, spending half of the week there. I had a minimal household, but made sure I had proper meals and tidied up the flat.
From the very first day in the Gatehouse, I set up Gatehouse rules. (You may have read Ciderhouse Rules; that what I am alluding to). Here they are:
make the bed
don't eat takeaway
eat meals sitting down
don't go around in clothes you don't want to be seen in
keep private and professional apart
All sounds elementary, but these rules are necessary to keep me sane. I believe it's easy to slide down if you don't keep them. And there isn't much in my habits I need to change.
For instance, making the bed has always been imperative to me. I have always told my children that if I stop making the bed they will know that something is profoundly wrong. I believe this comes from my childhood when nobody had proper bedrooms but were sleeping in sofa beds in multi-purpose rooms. I was twenty-nine before I had a bedroom.
When I got my super-special super-expensive bed – thanks to my sons who persuaded me that, given I spend a third of my life in bed, it isn't a luxury but a necessity – I thought it deserved a pretty bedspread, and I even bought a pair of matching pillowcases that are just for show. For show, when it's just me? All the more so, believe me. I feel glad every time I enter my bedroom.
I have always eaten cooked meals, and I don't see why I should change now. When the children were small we used to get meals from McDonald’s or a Chinese takeaway every now and then as a treat, and of course we bought ready meals because it was easy, but since the children grew up, freshly cooked meals were the norm. I like cooking, but the past ten years here in Cambridge I have been away at work more than previously, and it was nice to come home to a warm meal and a set table. This is important to me: set the table properly, with a placemat, cutlery, napkin; serve the meal on a nice, warm plate; light candles; no reading, no surfing; enjoy your meal even if you are on your own. No eating at the kitchen counter, no eating sandwiches and absolutely no eating ready meals or takeaways. I love food, and I don't see why I should enjoy it less just because it is just me.
Washing up is essential. This is one of the things my evil mother taught me: when you are cooking, wash up everything as you go, don't make a mess. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a dishwasher until I came to Sweden. And in some places where I lived there wasn't any warm water.
(Some time I will write about how I worked in a communal kitchen during so called “student volunteer agricultural assistance”, read forced labour).
I was once invited to a friend's for dinner, and their kitchen was piled with filthy dishes – not just in the sink, but everywhere. I didn't enjoy the dinner very much.
Here in Gatehouse, just one morning I was in a hurry and left my breakfast crockery unwashed, and I was utterly disgusted when I came home. Then of course there is much less washing up after one person. Not just half, but significantly less. I cannot explain it. It's also significantly less garbage after one person.
I have never allowed myself to wear torn or dirty clothes at home. I don't wear my best, and I like soft trousers and loose sweatshirts. I eat breakfast in my nice, fluffy dressing gown, but then I put on decent clothes even if I am not going anywhere. I believe I buy more clothes to wear at home than formal or festive clothes.
So really, the only new rule is keeping personal and professional apart. It is tempting to play an old-fashioned professor residing in college and to invite students for supervisions, but I won't. I will invite them – have already invited them – for tea, but as friends, not as students. I have previously invited them for Lucia and Midsummer parties. (Now that I think of it, this year's Midsummer party was the last one ever, but I didn't know it then).
A dinner for one
To be continued.
Sunday, 4 November 2018
The hedgehog has been displaced again. This time abruptly, unexpectedly and involuntarily. I am not going to explain the reasons because it doesn't matter for what I want to share. I want to share the experience of a sudden major change in life when almost everything you once took for granted needs to be reconsidered. But it is not a disaster, it is a slow and painful process that hopefully leads to healing. I believe many people out there have gone through something similar and will recognise themselves, and those who haven't yet maybe will at some point. If any of my survival strategies are helpful for anyone, I am not wasting my time.
How I Live Now is the title of a novel by Meg Rosoff. I often think about it as a piece of wisdom. I haven't been through the horrors that Meg's character went through, but the difference is in degree, not in nature. This is how I live now, and there is nothing I can do other than make the most of it.
If you have followed my blog for a while (and if not, you probably need to go back and read some random posts), the last few posts were about my imminent retirement and all my grand plans for post-retirement life. Now my retirement is just ten months and twenty-five days away (yes, I do cross them out, like a prisoner waiting for release), but a few plans will have to be modified.
Again, if you have followed my blog you know that I live in Cambridge, in a nice, large house with a beautiful garden. This past summer, prolonged drought notwithstanding, my garden finally started looking the way I wanted. I paid a fortune to have my ditch cleared. I was going to engage a garden architect to plan for autumn planting so that after retirement I could start gardening on a more systematic basis.
What I haven't shared here is that our dear Miranda left us last February, and soon after we were adopted by celestial twins, the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, a source of endless joy. It's terribly unfair toward Miranda, but two kittens playing are so much fun to watch.
Mid-August, I went to Sweden for the annual family crayfish party, because why not. The why not bit felt liberating. I thought: “I must do this more often. Soon I will also have time to do this more often”.
Back to how I live now. I live in a tiny flat in my college. Well, it's not that tiny. When I told my children, they thought it was a bedsitter with a pantry, but it has a bedroom, a living room and a kitchen. When I was young I would consider this flat a luxury beyond imagination. Yet moving from a very large house with a large garden to a small flat, even though it has a bedroom, a living room and a kitchen, makes a huge difference. Your brain and your body need to adjust to scale.
The flat is on the ground floor of a two-storey Victorian servant quarter, which used to belong to a pretty mansion, now hidden behind the Faculty of Education main building. I have often walked past it, always thinking: "I wonder who lives in this tiny house". Now I know. I do. These bay windows are my bedroom and my living room.
The house does not have a garden, just a very small walled yard, but then I have college gardens ten steps away. I have put some potted plants in the corner of the yard. I have weeded evil vegetation between stone tiles.
I rent this place from the college, and they had horrendous student-flat furniture in it. They wouldn't remove it so I put it into storage and brought some of my own stuff, measuring carefully what could be squeezed in. I am glad I took a broad margin because it got quite crammed, and my much-loved dressing table would not have fit in. I brought my very special, expensive ergonomic bed. I brought a chest of drawers and two nightstands, a chair and an antique bench that I don't really need, but like very much. For the living room, I brought a sofa and two armchairs, the latter hardly necessary; a coffee table and two small side tables. I kept the desk that was in the flat. I brought two standard lamps and a desk lamp and a small Tiffany lamp. I brought some pictures, after counting very carefully how many hooks there were on the walls. One hook fell off on my first attempt to hang a picture. I am not going a drill a better hole. I brought two rugs to cover the horrible, worn-out red carpet. I brought curtains to replace the horrible, worn-out red curtains, but they didn't fit, so I just got used to these lovely, cosy red curtains.
With some cushions and throws and ornaments and orchids, the flat immediately felt like home. And believe me or not, this is the first time in all my long life that I have a place of my own.
To be continued.