Oct 06, 2022
10 mins read
Pic credit: Kristina Flour, Unsplash
Hello I’m back. Why haven’t I written for so long? Well, partly a fear of not actually being able to come up with something interesting enough to share (performance anxiety) and partly because of my new money-saving lifestyle, which since June, has been a lot more time-consuming than I imagined..
You see, I’ve launched myself into the world of housesitting and that has taken some getting used to, travelling from house-to-house with a blue Samsung carry case and a table lamp in tow (more on that later). I’m starting to see some dividends financially, but as fast as there’s a few more quid in the bank, the quicker another bill/debt appears. Yesterday a subscription refund of £6, today a dental bill for £226. It’s like a giant game of Whack-a-Mole. Remember that? In case you don’t, it’s an arcade/fairground game where a stuffed toy or sock pops up through one of the gaps in a holey board and you have to whack it with a mallet to win – but as fast as you try to thwack it, it drops down only to appear through another hole. A bit like trying to plug leaks in a sieve that’s pretending to be a bucket.
I’m not sure why all the debts I ever owed are being called in now. It’s probably spurred on by the cost of living crisis and everyone getting jittery that the country is about to plunge into dystopian days of dark nights in cold homes, huddled around log burners and burning copies of A Christmas Carol to the tune of “Movin' on Up.” But maybe fate is also challenging me to finally triumph in a major personal quest. Anyone who’s known me a long time will know it’s my life’s struggle to sort the finances out and this situation wasn’t helped by leaving uni with a student debt, working in London on low wages in my twenties and thirties and falling foul of the ‘buy now, pay later’ cheap credit myth of the Nineties and Noughties. (I still maintain the Jimmy Choos were worth it).
Looking back, I realise I never caught up and didn’t learn healthy spending habits. How I wish now that I could have traded the cocktails for Council Tax (sort of). I went on to get some good media jobs but even then, they never paid the sort of salary a normal person actually needed to have a half-decent life in London, to be able to afford the tube commute or going-out prices. Ok, I could have stayed in 24/7, but when you’re young-ish you take advantage of all you can in the Capital, otherwise why are you living there? By 2010 I was married, in my late 30’s and moving out of London to the South West, like so many do, and yes, it was cheaper, but so were wages - and in any case, I was a bit burnt out from London life and suffering from the loss of not being able to have a family. So I embraced the world of the self-employed Events Organiser, partly because I thought if I wasn’t going to earn much I thought I might as well do it on my own time and partly because working for myself meant that I could choose what I showed up to. If I felt wobbly one day, I didn’t have to go into an office and risk blubbing in the conference room.*
The Self-Employed Experiment didn’t work out so well during Coronavirus though, when my events business was seriously restricted. Not only could I not put on any meaningful events during that time, last Winter I was overambitious in arranging a Christmas market which worked for most people trading there but not for my bank balance - I’m still making up the money. This, combined with a demand for a huge chunk of dosh from the freeholders of the one asset I own, a studio flat in London, is putting me under such a lot of pressure.
So there it is – the confession, the reason why I am in debt, writing this blog, working 24/7 and housesitting – because while I have just rented out my studio flat in London to ensure that someone else pays my mortgage and bills, I can’t afford to rent my own place in Wiltshire at the moment. I’m working two (part-time) jobs which I enjoy, but they just don’t pay enough. I’m writing to showcase my skills and to share my story - believe me, it’s cathartic. I realise that partly got myself into this, but partly I’ve been prey to the twists of financial history. (I’m not stopping the cappuccinos though, so please feel free to still give them).
But I’ll tell you something unexpected that’s come from it. And that’s the wholesomeness I feel from housesitting, from being trusted by home and pet owners to let me live in their houses and look after their furry friends while they’re away. It’s a privilege to live in someone else’s space and caretake their lives for a while. And it’s thrown up some very interesting insights about how we all live…
Things I’ve learnt through housesitting so far.
1. There are people out there who truly believe in community. Although there’s obviously a cost-saving to me petsitting and it’s far nicer for the animals to have a human slave at their command, the people who ask me to sit have a world view that means they’re willing to take a chance on someone and help them out. They are all incredibly kind to me and I am very grateful.
2. But where have all the tea towels gone? Did I miss the memo? I think it’s potentially an environmental/Covid thing these days to not have a patterned piece of fabric lying around to wipe on all surfaces. But when you’re housesitting and just cleaned up a cat litter tray you could really do with a piece of cotton printed with the cottages of Stratford-on-Avon to wipe your (washed) hands on.
3. If you live close to people in a less affluent area you can hear everything, every child’s cry, every episode of Emmerdale, every Friday night take-away. It’s comforting or grating, depending on how much sleep you’ve had and at least you know who to call if a fuse blows. If you live close to people in an outwardly affluent area, eg a Cotswolds’ cottage, you never hear anyone else, except when they get into their Triumph MGs. This is probably because you’re 75% likely to be next door to a second home. Although at least if you’re plunged into darkness in one of those, there’s bound to be a NEOM candle and some long matches in a corked bottle to hand.
4. A room with overhead lighting only and a constantly miaowing cat are the ideal interrogation conditions. I bring my own table lamp with me now, so my resolve doesn’t crack if M15 break in. But I crack under cross-examination by cats.
5. It’s comforting to sleep in your own bedding, unless your host has given you their best finely-laundered Egyptian cotton sheets and turned down the corners. In which case, my TK Maxx summer duvet and cover stays well and truly in the car.
6. The trick to stylish homes is not to have anything out on the surfaces. One house I stayed at even puts the toaster away in the cupboard on a tray. Initially it was a bit of a conundrum because, as the title of this blog implies, I love toast.
7. Everyone needs a clothes rail, otherwise you feel like you are living in a permanent jumble sale. Another thing I bring with me, as I don’t expect my hosts to have to declutter their wardrobes for me. I don’t know why, but it makes you feel like an equal member of society to be able to take your trousers off a hanger in the morning. This is the antithesis to how I thought when I was a student, when the floor was my wardrobe.
8. Expensive-looking finishes, like wooden or marble worktops are a lot of work. I’m never going to be the next Mrs Hinch.
9. People really do love their pets and their pets love them. Animals have got a lot of room in their hearts for kind owners. Or actually any human that gives them food, walks and cuddles and has a pocket full of treats.
10. Slim, attractive people’s houses have cupboards stuffed full of snacks. It defies logic.
Some people have gnomes in their gardens in a non-ironic way
Until next time.
If you’re looking for someone to look after your pets get in touch, I promise I won’t tell anyone you sometimes don’t recycle.
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This is Fifty
My first ever blog post featured an ad for an over 50’s meet-up with an image of what the designer thought the over 50s looked like. You might remember it:
Well this is my friend Jane (below) who found that ad and who is over 50. Mother of one living in London with her own flat in Queens Park, a wardrobe full of fashionable retro wear and a successful career in teaching. She still enjoys raving (albeit straight) and still has all her own teeth.
This is Fifty
*Adrian Chiles actually said something I agree with
While I’m on the self-employed thing, I think there’s a massive correlation between choosing to work this way and managing mental health. Just after I’d written this, I noticed that Adrian Chiles (who I’m usually not a fan of, mainly because I was once trapped underground with him for 20 minutes, but that’s a tale for another time) wrote in The Guardian about his ADHD diagnosis. He wrote how it hasn’t impacted his working life because of the way he chooses to work, because “as a freelance writer and broadcaster, my mental health doesn’t much matter (in a good way) to whomsoever engages my services. If they like what I write or broadcast, then I’m in. I suppose it’s the same with many trades; a plumber, electrician, footballer or rock star might be tormented by their condition but if they deliver, they deliver.” Now I don’t think I am ADHD but I definitely suffer and have suffered from mental health challenges, like with bouts of low or sensitive moods and painful periods in my life - like to one I mentioned above - where being ‘on’ for work has just seemed like such a challenge. Looking back, what I needed at those times was some space to come and go and manage my workload in my own time, while receiving the safety net of a regular wage. But instead I left and threw myself into quite an insecure way of working, which is impacting me now. In fact, Chiles goes on to say that Shelford [an ADHD spokesman] “points out how hard it can be getting employed in the corporate world, in places where you are often employed rather than contracted, in organisations with, ironically, human resources departments”.
Probably a topic for another blog..
And finally…Debt Update
I talked quite a lot about my debt this time and what I’m doing about trying to tackle it so I probably don’t need to say much more this time apart from let’s hope this time next year I’m telling you a different story.
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Thank you for reading!