27 June 2011

Sundays are certainly not for cleaning

On Sundays in particular, I always seem to end up with mountains of washing. There's washing cascading down the ironing board, dirty socks rolled under the radiator, and piles of T-Shirts behind the door. I was sprawled on the sofa at 11:00am last Sunday, averting my gaze from Liam's dirty jeans (which had been left halfway up the cat's scratching post) all set to watch catch-ups of Glee and repeats of Britain's Got Talent with my mug of tea - nice and cosy in my pyjamas.

Just one more cup of tea, and I'll get going. I plumped the pillow behind my head and narrowed my eyes to focus on the dancing dogs on television running circles around a woman dressed in a gaudy sparkly shirt. The audience roared with laughter. I tried my best to ignore the fluff that was scattered about the carpet, and the piles of  washing I could spy wedged behind the bedroom door. But I couldn't help but notice the specks of dust resting on the top of the glass television stand. The little clean-freak in me, suddenly found a voice.
"Right, cat." I spoke aloud to Bess who was looking quizzically at me as I stood up off the sofa, stretching. "I'd best get going."

For a tiny flat, there was a lot to do.

  1. White machine wash
  2. Wash up dishes
  3. Change bedsheets
  4. Hoover carpets
  5. Hang washing out to dry
  6. Shake rugs over balcony
  7. Water plants
  8. Dark machine wash
  9. Dust
For a holy day of rest, I figured that'd be enough, for now at least. Still in my pyjamas, I set to it, sourcing all the runaway white socks, and thinking of the long, hot shower which awaited me once I was done.
The washing machine was on, humming loudly, making all the teaspoons clatter about, as if they were dancing in the sink. In no time at all, I was quite enjoying ripping the sheets off the bed, and using the pillowcases as a duster on the bedstead.

In the middle of our tiny living room is my rag rug. I'd fallen in love with it after spotting it in a farm shop on the rural trip to Yorkshire that Liam had taken me on for our anniversary. It wasn't expensive and looked as if it had been made with love.  The rags were of every colour under the sun, all tied up in knots. I just had to have it. With my new found cleaning enthusiasm, I wrapped up the rug and lugged it through the front door and out onto the open corridor of our block of flats.

It was a windy afternoon, and a gust caught my hair as I stepped outside. The wind chimes rattled against the bricks on the side of the flat and my climbing jasmine plant flew into a frenzy. Taking the corners of the heavy rug, I flopped it over the side of the railings, and picking up some bamboo sticks lying against the drainpipe, I began to beat a couple of months worth of dust over the courtyard below (gingerly hoping none of my neighbours walked past). I could hear the radio blaring out from the kitchen, playing Fleetwood Mac, and I absent mindedly began to beat in time to Go Your Own Way. My recently potted herbs had been blown almost horizontal in the strong winds, and I paused my beating for a moment to bend down and ruffle them back the right way.

And then it happened.

I heard the trees below in the courtyard, their leaves starting a crescendo of shhhhhhhing. The flowerpots clattered over, spinning and sifting soil over my balcony. I squinted my eyes as the wind blew right threw my thin Primark pyjamas, before slamming my front door shut, almost defiantly, with an almighty BANG.

I stood on my balcony with the bamboo stick still in my hand, and stared at the front door wide-eyed, every bit of me willing it to open again. I looked around at all the little herb pots and cursed myself for having so many pots, and not thinking to hide a spare key in one of them.

I guessed it was about 2:30pm. Liam was due home at 7:00pm. I imagined keeping myself occupied with pot plants on my balcony for five hours until he returned with keys. Horrifying. I could probably get away with wandering into town in my pyjamas, perhaps browse around the shops for a bit... But with no shoes on? No. That would definitely look suspicious. I hopped from one foot to the other for a moment, thinking about what to do.

Then I noticed that the top section of the bathroom window was ever so slightly ajar. Our bathroom and kitchen windows are fitted with old mottled glass and framed with metal. The section at the top which opens out onto our open corridor leaves a reasonable sized gap... perhaps just big enough for my head to fit through.
I stood on my tiptoes and pulled out the window as far as it would go. Placing my bare left foot precariously on the metal railings (avoiding the four floored drop below me) I jumped up, placing my right foot on the window sill and held on for grim life.
I didn't pause to think too much about what I might look like to my neighbour in the flat opposite, I just hoped he recognised it was me doing acrobatics in my pyjamas, and not someone strange looking to breaking in.

The gap didn't look quite as generous as it had done earlier. Twisting my head to the side I pushed my head through. The metal sides scraped across my ears, and I saw out of the corner of my eye that moss was growing along one edge. Must remove that later.
I wiggled one arm inside and clung on to the tiled wall to my left. Ah-ha! Nearly in. Just need to push my head through... But my head was jammed stuck. I lifted my left leg and hoisted it up, so my ankle was over the side of the window. Blimey. I bet this doesn't look good from the flats opposite. I tried not to think about how thin (and perhaps see-through) my pyjamas were, or how capable the fifty year-old window was at holding my weight. 

The metal was really hurting my ear now. I thought about pushing one last time; either pop my head through and risk getting my bum stuck (but then there was the two metre drop on the inside into the bath tub which I had to manoeuvre), or I could go back the way I came and re-evaluate.

I didn't fancy having to call the fire brigade out to rescue me if I got stuck halfway between my bathroom window and the open corridor in little more than flimsy pyjamas. I would re-evaluate. I had no phone and it didn't bear thinking about who might have to call emergency services.

It was a struggle dislodging my head, but as I leaped (rather elegantly I might add) off the windowsill with a whoop of relief, I noticed a man in the courtyard below, staring up at me in bewilderment.
He was around the age of thirty; tall, dark... and yes, rather handsome. He was presumably sorting out his garage, as he was surrounded by old bike parts, a toddler's tricycle, tins of paint and a large dust sheet.

"I'm locked out." I yelled down to him in explanation. "I'm not breaking in..." I added unnecessarily (but just in case).

He smiled, and I suddenly remembered I was in my pyjamas.

"I have a ladder in here if you want it...?" He offered.

"Well, I've sort of tried getting up there, but the problem was more that I couldn't fit my head
through the window..."

"I see..." He disappeared into his garage for a moment before poking his head around the side and yelling up to me. "Give me one minute, and I'll be up."

I perched on the edge of the old storage box by my front door that I use to keep my potting tools dry, and waited for him. Within a few minutes, I heard the sound of heavy footsteps getting louder as he paced it up to the fourth floor.

"I thought we might have to take the window off." He said as he came around the corner and propped up the ladder before stepping back to assess the size of the window. "Yup. As I thought..." He said, still out of breath from the four flights of steps. "I've got the screwdriver right here."

A job which might have taken me over an hour on my own, was completed in a couple of minutes. He asked me to hold up the one side, then lower the other, and I felt very important as I took the weight of the window, and pretended I knew what I was doing. Finally, Mr Tall Dark And Handsome unscrewed the upper window pane before handing it to me to place carefully on the floor.
Hopping up the steps to the ladder (trying to look demure and dignified in faded, old pyjama bottoms) I clung to the window, hoping that if I did it quickly, I wouldn't flash him - or if I did flash him, it wouldn't be for long.
Deep breath. Then I launched myself through the two foot gap, one leg after the other, landing heavily in the bath.

"You alright?" He called through the window.

My heel had caught the sideboard as I'd fallen into the bath and I'd broken a tile. Never mind. I'll try and pass that one off as wear and tear. 

"Yeah! Fine! Thanks!"  I called back, rubbing my sore foot and hoping he wouldn't peek through the window to check.

I raced through the flat, almost skipping with joy to be back where the radio was blaring, the cat was crying, and the dust settled smugly on the television. Flipping the latch, I poked my head around the door, to find he was already up the ladder fixing the window back on - no help from me needed.

In no time at all, he had his ladder tucked under one arm, his tool box in his hand, and I was thanking him profusely. My-name-is-Rory-if-you're-ever-locked-out-again lived in flat 42, the block one down from mine. He did mention that such things happen on blustery days and not to worry at all, because I hadn't inconvenienced him in the slightest. I apologised for the pyjamas and waved him goodbye.

As I stood on my balcony for a moment listening to him clatter his ladder down the stairs, I gazed across the courtyard to the flats opposite me. That bloke with the silvery swept back hair who has a fag in his dressing-gown was leaning against his front door, as always - seemingly unfazed by my Sunday spectacle. Welsh David (who flies into fits of rage at the prospect of anyone leaving their odd bits of furniture by the wheelie bins) was no doubt twitching his lace curtains in my direction. I might have had to ask one of them. I shuddered at the thought of Welsh David hoisting me over the window in my pyjamas. As I dragged my beautiful rag rug back into my flat, I'd resolved that Sundays weren't really the day for cleaning, but perhaps a good day to meet the hunkier of my neighbours. Ooh. I'd be the talk of the next Neighbourhood Watch meeting, I just knew it. Let them gossip. I quite liked that.


22 June 2011

A little lost in London

I was walking to the tube after work, yesterday, lost in thought, and feeling a little lost in general, when a man walked past me.

'Cheer up, love. Might never happen!' He yelled, as he got right up in my face, before turning to his friend and snorting with laughter. He had a big pot belly, which was barely covered by the old faded T-shirt he was wearing. His jeans looked grimy like they needed disinfecting and his eyes were covered by a washed out red baseball cap, which he hid behind when he looked away.

I instantly felt small, miserable and insignificant. This emotion was quickly plastered over by a bout of rage.

Who did he think he was?

I didn't smile at him (which could well have proved his point), but instead, I tightened my jacket, and gripped my handbag for support and kept walking on to the tube. Truth is, his words hit me a little like a slap around the face.
Did I really look that miserable to the outside world? Okay, so this scruffy bloke who thinks he had the right to openly judge strangers just minding their own business, doesn't hardly constitute the world, but you know what I mean.

I thought back to the past couple of weeks. I hadn't been quite myself, that was true.
"Are you okay? You're not quite yourself today - a little thoughtful perhaps?" A friend at work had asked as she strolled past reception last week.

"I always know when something is up with you, you go all quiet." Said another of my work colleagues, one who rarely speaks to me.

My life had become a bit of a routine. My work days were full to the very brim of commuting, newspapers, post, trays of coffee, transferring calls, and stationery catalogues. The most exciting thing that happened each day was realising I had walked quicker than usual to the train station, meaning I could take the earlier train and didn't have to rush to get a seat. If finding a spare seat on the tube excited me, then no wonder people at work had noticed something was wrong.

But it was the person who knows me best, who was perhaps the most perceptive.

"You haven't been writing much lately, have you?" Liam had said.

I'd walked in from work and slumped onto the sofa, putting my head in my hands and letting out the biggest sigh. I was surprised he'd brought it up. He, who hates my Twitter account, and gets jealous of how I have a tendency to put my relationship with my blog followers before ours sometimes in the evenings.
Can you put your phone down, and stop checking your blog - for just one minute? He'd sigh and remind me again that we were trying to have a nice meal together.

"No, I haven't." I replied. "In fact, I haven't felt like doing many of the things that I love, recently..."

He came over to the sofa and bear-hugged me, squeezing me tight against his chest so my ears got all squashed. I love it when he does that. I like the way his voice sounds all gruff and echoey through his rib cage. He didn't jump in asking questions, he let me speak, as he always does.

I trundled through each grumpy, indifferent, frustrated emotion I'd felt over the last few weeks. Each day had felt like it needed to be 'done' just to get onto the next, to then finish that day in order to repeat the whole process again. When it suddenly clicked that the thing I looked forward to most in each day was sleeping, it was there in my living room, wrapped tight in Liam's arms, that I decided I had a problem.

"It could be that nothing much at the moment inspires me, pushes me or challenges me." I offered.

I'd gotten used to the monotony of my daily routine. I thought about how I had begun to walk faster to get to each destination, not stopping to notice things around me, how I regularly tutted at people who crossed my path, or those who walked too slow in front of me. I'd started buying into all the consumerism; the caramel macchiatos, the fancy clothes, the posh meals out. It had become ashamedly easier to slob in front of the TV after getting in from work, rather than get my watercolour paints out to create a picture, or set my mind to write a story. All very fickle. I narrowed my eyes and spoke very slowly and seriously. "I think I might have finally become a Londoner."

Liam thought this was hilarious, and whilst laughing, said very pointedly, "Well you do know what you're going to have to do about this..."

"Move to Brighton?" I asked, hopefully, teasing him slightly.

"No -" He rolled his eyes at me. "You need to put some effort in to make things change. You can look for a new job today if it's not exciting enough, you can plan to do things that will inspire you."

I didn't want to admit he was absolutely right. I had become lazy. Too comfortable in my routine to even think about having the ability to change it. I had become that miserable face on the London Underground I'd always hated. Me

As I sat down to write this post, switching my computer on and logging in to Blogger, I saw my familiar home page flash up, and a wave of excitement flew through me as post after post popped up from my favourite bloggers.
Wanting to read them all at once, I smiled as I remembered that familiar desperate need to be creative, come sneaking back to me. And I suppose I wasn't half surprised I hadn't blogged for a while, I couldn't really call myself a light in London when 'a little lost in London' might have been more appropriate.