Category: Blog (page 1 of 25)

Why do spiders seem to prefer old houses?

For the last year now, I have been living in a house in the country. I haven’t been living here alone. I’m not referring to my fellow humans. I’m not even referring to the four-legged furry creature who seems to want to hang around with us, especially when she’s hungry. I’m not even talking about the rabbits, mice, shrews and squirrels we see in the garden. Nor am I referring to the odd duck or pheasant. I’m talking about creatures with more than four legs, mainly, those with eight legs. The spiders.

The furry thing lives here and is rubbish at spider pest control

I have never before lived somewhere so beset by spiders. They are everywhere. There isn’t just the odd one in each room. There are tens of them in each room. There are big ones, and little ones, but mostly big ones. And they weave their homes all over the ceiling, the beams, between pieces of furniture, and sometimes against things that get moved quite often such as the box of cat food or a can of deodorant in the bathroom. They work quickly. If you stand still for long enough, they will weave their home using you as a post. These spiders are mostly big. There aren’t many tiny scurrying ones. They are mostly the sort that have legs that go up before they go down.

One of our many house guests

My weird thought is: do these creatures naturally like old houses? Or is it because the house is in the countryside? Is it the presence of beams that attracts them – natural building blocks for their webs? Or do they, on some level, just enjoy making an old house appear spooky? It is an old house, a 17th-century farmhouse I believe, so it needs to look spooky. It comes with the image.

I’ve lived in old houses before though, in towns and in the country. I’ve also lived in modern houses. But this is definitely the most spidery house I’ve ever lived in.

The beautiful knitting of spiders

I don’t mind the spiders. Is it strange that they don’t scare me, not even remotely? If I had a phobia, I could not live here. My equivalent would be living in a house with balloons on the walls in every room. I couldn’t live in that house. So I understand why someone with a phobia of spiders would struggle to live here.

I could not live in this house

Every so often, I go around with my trusty hand-held dyson or a feather duster to ‘de-cobweb’ the house. However, I really don’t enjoy this. I read Chalotte’s Webb as a child and I still feel as if I am destroying homes and hours of work, as well as destroying objects of beauty. Not only that, the spiders help keep the fly population at bay here and we are as beset with flies as we are with spiders having lots of cattle and water buffalo nearby. So by my destroying the cobwebs just in order to make the house look ‘tidy’ and ‘clean’ I am destroying the delicate balance of its natural eco-system and causing myself to be more annoyed by flies? I only do it for appearances sake and to stop the children moaning about the creepy crawlies. I don’t mind the floaty, spooky netting that hangs above me as I sleep. I like it. But, I do it anyway. I don’t move the spiders themselves. I guess they just keep building new homes after I’ve left with my dyson.

Examples of dinner, saved for later

Perhaps our next house should be a new build and I wouldn’t then have the guilt. I’m not sure I can do that though. I am too much in love with old houses, spooky or not. I think I want to live with my eight-legged friends. They keep me company.

Why I like mornings

This morning I woke up early, annoyingly at 5am. I hadn’t fallen asleep until midnight so I wasn’t hugely happy to be awake and bright so early. At 5.20am I decided to give up on sleep, my brain was too busy. So, for the two hours since, I have been sitting on my own working solidly on my MA thesis. It is now 7.43am as I write this.  I have probably done my most productive work of the day. That’s not to say, I won’t do any more work. I will. I have lots of ‘paid’ work to do too today. But I won’t have that level of awakeness, concentration and neuron firing again today and that length of time without distraction and disturbance (even Facebook and Twitter are quiet).

Why am I a morning person and not a night person? This is my weird thought. Why can’t I write creative and interesting stuff at 10pm? Why is 6am better for me? And is my productivity really better at 6am?

In my mind, it feels rather dull to be a morning person. Night people have more fun: they go clubbing until 3am. They do things they regret. They drink shots. They are witty and shiny at midnight. I am not. I’m grumpy and drowsy at midnight, usually wrapped in a blanket, sipping milk and eating Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

Even if I am less exciting than those night owls, perhaps I am better off. As Benjamin Franklin famously declared: “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Is this really true?

Benjamin working at 6am with his cat for company.

I’m generally pretty healthy so perhaps that part is true. I’m still waiting on the wealth and wisdom, as I sit here at 7.53am writing this. I’ll let you know when I get my final mark for my MA if the wisdom part is forthcoming. As for wealth? I don’t think that will come in a hurry and it certainly won’t come just because I like mornings and it isn’t likely to come this morning.

According to the Internet, serious scientists have actually studied ‘larks’ vs ‘owls’ to see who ends up heather, wealthier, and wiser. The conclusion seems to be either owls have bigger cars and more posh clothes (boo!) or it makes no difference.

However, my conclusion is that it actually isn’t worth spending time thinking about or worrying about it. After all, worrying isn’t productive and that isn’t going to bring wisdom or wealth. I should just go with the flow. If I am more creative at 7am, then it be so. If I do ever feel like having a flourish at 10pm, then why not? The important thing is that things get done, it doesn’t really matter when they get done. And if wealth and happiness come my way, yay, even better. And anyway, I like to do outrageous things and drink shots at midnight when the mood takes me. I will still be up at 6am the next day though.

Why I like courtesy cars

Last Friday, my car had a service. While it was being serviced, I was loaned a courtesy car. Driving back home in this car I pondered why I like getting courtesy cars so much. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. But I really, really like getting courtesy cars. (I had better add at this point that this was only the second time I had ever had a courtesy car and that the first time was only a month or so ago.) However, on both occasions, I have felt extremely happy. And here is the list of why:

  • Getting a courtesy car feels like getting a new car. I haven’t had many cars in my life, so this feeling is quite alien to me. I like it. I like it a lot.
  • It feels as if you are finally being treated like an adult. They wouldn’t loan a car to a child, after all, would they?
  • The car will invariably be newer than mine. Yes, this was true of both cars I have been lent. Both had those screen things that tell you what song is playing on the radio or where to go, or whether you are about to hit someone or something. I love those screens. I don’t have one.
  • The car will most definitely be cleaner than mine. That isn’t too difficult. And I mean, inside, rather than outside (although outside applies too). Who doesn’t love a clean interior?
  • The car will give me a sense of confidence. After the initial nerves have dissipated, yes, I feel more grown-up and confident in a courtesy car than I do in my own car.
  • The car makes me feel noticed. I think this is just an illusion. But somehow I feel that people notice me in a courtesy car and notice me with jealousy.
  • It feels as if I am committing a crime if I drive anywhere for pleasure in a courtesy car. I feel as if I should only be allowed to go home and back to the garage, so going somewhere else on the way is very, very naughty. I do rather love this feeling. If I stop off at M&S Simply Food for a quick sausage bap I feel as if I am bunking off school if I am in a courtesy car. I’m not sure what this is all about. But doing something off piste in a courtesy car feels very dangerous and rebellious. I love that!
  • It’s fun to confuse the neighbours with a different car. Who doesn’t love doing that?
  • Having a borrowed car, albeit a better one, makes me miss my old car. When I return to the car I am familiar with, I feel a sort of love for it that I had perhaps lost. Maybe we should try this with our lovers too? We could regularly borrow a newer, cleaner, shinier model so that when we will return to the familiar we will return with renewed vigour. I’m not sure this is the best idea I’ve ever had.

My car survived its service on Friday and I had to return the car but a few hours after I had driven it gleefully off the garage forecourt. It cost me £200 for the pleasure. Actually, no, it cost me £203.50 (that’s £3.50p for the sausage bap and coffee at M&S Simply Food).

They make very good sausage baps.

 

 

Why books are like romantic encounters

This is a weird thought I had on the way to Wolverhampton today.

I am currently reading this book. I can’t put it down. It is easy, quick, fun, moving, light and fast.

My book – 100 pages to go.

Every spare minute, I pick it up and a read a few pages. I read it while walking. I read it at the traffic lights. I read it on the toilet. When I have finished it, I will miss it. I am currently addicted to it. But ask me in a months time whether I miss it? I will probably say no. I might even say ‘what book?’ Why? Because I will have moved onto something else.

My weird thought runs thus: books are like lovers. How you feel about the book you are reading mirrors how you might have felt about various lovers in your life.

This book, Never Greener, a rather good book (I recommend it), is by Ruth Jones (of Gavin and Stacey fame). She’s very talented. It isn’t meant to be literary. And as a result, it isn’t. So to me it is like an intense romantic encounter with someone who doesn’t have a huge amount of depth hiding below the attractive exterior. It’s message is clear – the grass isn’t greener. That’s it. I bet many of you reading this have had lovers that mirror this book: short, sweet, addictive but mono-layered. The relationship I’m talking about, short though it is, is all based on fancy. You fancy the pants off this person. They make you smile, tingle and long for more at the start and this tingle might actually last until near the end. But there isn’t a huge amount under the surface. The relationship ends as quickly as it started, once you realise you need more, especially if you race through it. You feel initially quite sad at the end. But then, you realise, it wouldn’t have lasted anyway.

I am also listening to this in my car. Now this book is a slow burner compared to Never Greener. It isn’t funny, light and fast. It is complicated, dense and intense. It wasn’t immediately lovable. I fancied it at first, but it took a while for it to grow on me, due to its complexity. Now, I feel a real, deep love as well as a fancy. It is a love that grows. It is the love that builds on that initial fancy. Ian McEwan is like your soul mate.

This book had me hooked, eventually.

Then, there is everything in between and further away. There are the sorts of books (lovers) you know you should read because they have a lot to offer but they just don’t do it for you (Ulysses by James Joyce). There are the dull and boring ones you are forced to read to please others (A Man for All Seasons) that you give away as soon as you can. There are those you buy on a whim at train stations, last the journey, and then are gone. Those are the one-night stands of the literary world.

A lover that is hard work.

So books are like lovers. I admit I haven’t had that many in my time but I read a lot so what I know about different types I have learnt in books. Ironic? Maybe.

How come I don’t remember some of my drive to Wolverhampton?

This is a weird thought I had at the traffic lights this morning as I contemplated my journey to Wolverhampton. I had just driven quite a way down the Stafford Road, through about six roundabouts, managed to survive without accident or  trauma, yet I suddenly realised that I had no conscious memory of that part of the journey.

Why didn’t I remember it and why didn’t I crash the car? This wasn’t the first time I’d had forgotten part of a journey.

I’ve just learnt that it is a ‘thing’. The ‘thing’ is called Highway Hypnosis.

I have no memory of this lovely road

The idea of Highway Hypnosis was first introduced in 1921, google tells me, and it was then called ‘road hypnotism’. So its not a new thing. And it is a thing that lots of people do. It only seems worrying because we associate control with complete consciousness. It’s the same distrust we might have of those clever cars that have cruise control and all the random automatic features that can go wrong. But actually, we are just as much in control and able to observe when we are under hypnosis as we are when we feel fully conscious and remembering every move. If anything, perhaps we are safer under hypnosis. There are no nerves, no hesitation, no feelings of anger, no bad reactions. There is a lot of mystery around the hypnotic state but only because we don’t fully understand the power of it.

I have experienced being under hypnosis and it is a very powerful tool for influencing the mind. So if my hypnotic mind is a safer driver than my fully conscious mind then I will embrace those moments when I don’t remember the journey. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

 

 

Why do I like to sleep all curled up?

This is a weird thought I had at 6.52am as my alarm went off. I was lying, completely curled up, foetal, hugging a pillow and wrapped up in a cocoon of duvet and blanket. Why is it that I feel most comfortable like that when other people sleep straight?

Curled up is comfort for me.

Google, as always, is my friend in these queries of mine. Apparently, google tells me that in one experiment, 41% of people claimed they sleep like me, and within that percentage, the women outnumber the men 2:1. So I’m not alone, sleeping like I am. This particular website also had something to say about my personality for my preference for curled rather than straight sleep: hard shell, soft centre, shy at first. A worrier. Hmmm. Maybe. The idea is that if this person sleeps as they would have done in the womb, they are returning to a place of security and safety.

The website I found on this topic is interesting because it offers personality traits for all sleeping positions, so here is a summary.

The Log (asleep on the side, with arms by the sides): this person is a social butterfly. Everyone loves this person.

The Yearner (as above, but arms stretched out in front): this person is apparently open-minded yet cynical. They are more complicated than I am, or The Log for that matter.

The Soldier (asleep on the back, arms by the side): as expected, these people are regimented, logical and organized with a high moral code. Yep, this is not me.

Freefaller (on stomach, arms under pillow): a social soul again, but these people are unable to cope with criticism.  They’d better avoid twitter then.

Starfish (no explanation needed): good friends with good ears are starfish. Everyone needs a Starfish in their life.

Star gazing starfish

Stargazer (imagine looking up to the stars, but asleep): happy-go-lucky friendly types prefer to snooze in this position.

Pillow Hugger (any position but always hugging a pillow, hugging is big on this person’s list of priorities): nurturing, loving and caring. Everyone needs a bosom for a pillow.

The Thinker (fetal but with hand on chin): these people swing between extremes, apparently, and think a lot (of course), even while asleep. Now I’m trying to remember where I put my hand when I’m asleep. Is this me? It sounds an intellectual way to be.

Actually, perhaps I am a combination of many of the above, as we all might be. We are all different, after all. I’m tired now, I might curl up under my desk for a snooze now: hand on chin, pillow hugged, looking to the stars.

 

Motorways are like veins

This is a weird thought I had while driving over the M6 the other day. I now live near the M6. I can just about hear it on a good day, with the wind going in the right direction. I have to cross the M6 a lot. Every time I cross it, I look down at it and wonder where the people on it, at that particular time, are going. The other day, as I was crossing it, I thought how similar the M6 is to a vein in the body, the cars are blood cells and the people are bits and pieces within blood cells (I’m sure there are things in blood cells but I didn’t do biology beyond the age of 14).

Can you spot the M54?

Also, just like blood cells don’t live in veins, nobody lives on the motorway either. We are all transient travellers. We are always just passing by. There is no permanence on a motorway. It can be a very sad and lonely place. We might glimpse other people as we pass them, but we will most likely never see that person ever again. So like blood cells our cars are always travelling (despite the odd blockage of course). We don’t stop. We don’t stay. We just keep going, from one part of the body to another.

The main artery in the body

If motorways are like veins and the UK is the human body, that would make Birmingham the stomach, Manchester the heart and poor old London, the bowels.

Why don’t animals snog?

This is the weird thought that my boys and I had on the drive on the way home from school just now. I can’t recall how we got onto the subject of kissing, and then snogging, but we did. As we drove away from the lovely town of Newport (where not a huge amount of kissing takes place, except sometimes under the Waitrose tunnel between sixth formers at the local grammar schools) I put a question to my three boys: why do we kiss?

Their initial reaction was ‘eugghhhhhh’. But my question was serious. Why do humans like to snog, French kiss, play tonsil tennis, smooch, pet heavily and canoodle when cats, ferrets, horses and slugs don’t pucker up? Why? Why? What’s the point of it?

The boys soon got over their disgust at the thought of kissing and gave the question some serious intellectual thought.

Toby, the youngest, broke the silence eventually with: ‘Ohh, wait a minute, remember the Sea Life Centre!’ We asked him to elaborate, trying not to giggle at what might be coming next, imagining smooching squids. Toby explained that on a recent visit to the Sea Life Centre he had witnessed a Dog Fish tied in a knot (I’m not sure why that is relevant) whilst kissing another Dog Fish which wasn’t tied in a knot. I have no idea what this meant, whether Dog Fish snog, or what the Dog Fish were actually engaged in doing (perhaps a base beyond kissing). But the rest of the car’s occupants, myself included, simply had to give in to mirth.

Cute bunnies sharing spit

So, on returning home I decided that Google probably had the answer. And in my extensive research I have learnt a few interesting facts about kissing:

  • Apparently, 10% of the human race (and not just those who declare themselves single, too young or too old for snogging) don’t kiss. It simply isn’t in their culture.
  • Some of the scientists who study kissing (there is a word for them: philematologists) believe that we haven’t always entangled our lips together for pleasure. They say it is a learnt activity, based on how we feed and comfort our young.
  • Other scientists who study kissing (also philematologists) think that we have always kissed and that we do it to test whether prospective mates ‘taste’ right (in other words, women, apparently, subconsciously prefer the scent of men whose genes for certain immune system proteins are different from their own).
  • Some non-scientists think we have always done it just because it feels nice. Kissing releases happy hormones and is actually quite an effective stress reliever. But then why don’t cats do it? Cats get stressed too.
  • One very old, ancient belief about kissing is that it is the exchange of souls. If that is true, then I’m not sure I want some of the souls I might have inhaled in my youth – I have quite a bank of regrettable snogs.

So it seems that there isn’t one single explanation for kissing, or for why animals, by and large, don’t do it. Shame. I like the ideas of snogging spiders, canoodling caterpillars and necking gnats.

 

Buildings are beings

At the moment I am on holiday in a lovely little village called Chapel Amble in Cornwall. The holiday let is a converted Methodist Church. It’s a beautiful building which has been very tastefully updated. However, the building has a side to it that I find a little earie. It creaks.

Just like a hot car cooling on a summer’s evening, this building creaks. It creaks a lot. It creaks first thing in the morning. It creaks in the middle of the night.

The Cornish sea in February.

My conclusion? The house is alive. Does this apply to this building alone? Is it because of its past life? Does it contain ghosts? Is the wood it is partly constructed with alive? Are the trees crying? I’d like to think there is an organic element to the building. I certainly feel that it has some sort of soul.

In the meantime, I will enjoy lying in bed at night listening to its voice. It speaks to me.

Early empty nest syndrome

I haven’t had any weird thoughts for ages. I’m not sure why. That in itself, is weird. They seem to be coming less often than they used to, like moments of clarity, of which I used to have a lot. I should be writing my MA Thesis, not having weird thoughts. Procrastinating, moi?

This is a weird thought I had whilst driving to Wolverhampton (not on the toilet) this morning. I was thinking about my identity. Over the last 15 years I have spent a large part of my waking hours with small people. These are the small people I gave birth to. As a consequence, my identity, my sense of self, my ‘meness’ has morphed into their sense of ‘meness’. I have put a huge amount of my energy and my personality into them. I have given them unconditional love and attention – day and night. It is just what happens when you have small people. It is a beautiful thing.

Who is this person? Is she a weirdo?

As a consequence, they really do feel as if they are a part of me and I a part of them. It is a unique relationship. It is something I never thought would happen to me, not having ever felt one ounce of maternal desire before they came along.

Me and my three mes

Now I am at a new stage in my life when they aren’t with me all of the time. They go to school, that hasn’t changed, but they also spend long weekends and the odd school holiday at their father’s house. So there are much larger chunks of time when I am without them. Only a few months ago I could count the nights I’d spent alone on one hand. Now, that count has more than quadrupled. I feel a strange sense of loss during those times. It isn’t quite as biting as it was at first, but it is still there. But it is more than a sense of loss. There is something that has happened to my identity. I feel as if I am less of ‘me’ than I should be. Certainly, the me that existed prior to 2003 is no longer all there. I am mostly me but not completely. I think that is because when they aren’t with me, they take our shared identity that we have developed away with them. It is really very peculiar and something I haven’t come across in any of the books I have read. I feel like a faded shadow when I am alone – a paper cut out. I know this is temporary though, and a consequence of years spent with my identity tied to other people: Luke’s mum, Josh’s mum, Toby’s mum. I don’t mean to paint this in a negative light. They are my world. I wouldn’t want it any other way, but the gradual grieving process that comes along with them growing up is something I am having to deal with.

I am fascinated by this feeling. I don’t like it but it interests me. And why not? I am always learning new things about myself as I grow older. I guess that never stops. But this bizarre concave feeling is real. Does anyone else in my situation feel this? I guess it is a sort of early ’empty nest’ thing that is very normal. Having them spending prolonged periods away from the nest means that they have, sort of, flown, a little, albeit to come back soon. I just need to colour myself back in again. I am doing that, slowly.

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