Tag: Stafford

Are you chaotic inside or outside?

This is a weird thought I’ve had over lunch. I’ve just read this book and it was brilliant. I recommend it to anyone who loves people watching and snooping around other people’s houses or places of work. It offers a fascinating insight into how much of ourselves can be seen through our ‘stuff’ and how we display or arrange the stuff in our lives.

My most recent book

One of the insights it offers is about how the way we arrange our stuff in our working environment may indicate how we feel insides our minds. I want to explore this idea. My Year 4 teacher (2nd year juniors in old money), Mrs Nichols used to say oh so frequently to class 2N the following: ‘An untidy desk means an untidy mind’. At my junior school, in the late 1970s, we had flip top desks with ink wells.

An example of an inkwell desk with storage and a flip-top lid

We kept our books and belongings in our desks. Every week Mrs Nichols conducted a desk inspection. I believe it was on a Friday. And during every desk inspection she repeated the same phrase: ‘An untidy desk means an untidy mind.’ This was one of her many mantras. Hearing this used to make me cringe in my seat. My desk was always untidy. I envied those well-behaved intelligent children with tidy desks. I hated them. How did they do it? I never really knew. I aspired to be like them. I never was like them. Subsequently, after failing desk inspection every week, in that way that children think teachers speak the word of truth, I grew up believing I had an untidy mind and that that was ‘a bad thing’. I resigned myself to being inferior to the army of tidy people.

Leasowes Junior School – can you spot me?

However, Sam Gosling in Snoop argues that this ‘untidy belongings equals untidy mind’ belief might not necessarily be the case, at least when it comes to working environment. It argues that an untidy desk might actually be the sign of a tidy mind and visa versa. A busy mind needs order, and a ordered mind can deal with  chaos.

Having said that, and I like his theory, I don’t entirely agree with it. I’m basing this on a scientific study of one person: me. At the age of 46 I know enough about myself to know that I do have a chaotic mind. It isn’t going to change. It is and always has been chaotic. It is what it is. But then I thought about my working environment. When I had a full-time job, a job which entailed huge piles of paper everywhere (piles of proofs, revisers, ozalids etc) and huge piles of books everywhere (that’s what publishers make), you might expect my desk to have been very messy. It wasn’t. Or at least, it got messy each day but at the end of the day, I would straighten all the piles up, wash my mug, and create a desk space for the next day. So although I am quite messy in many respects, I like to put things in order. There is a limit to how much mess I can deal with. Perhaps Mrs Nichol’s weekly desk inspections rubbed off on me. She encouraged me to at least give a semblance of tidy at the end of the day.

Now I work from home and my desk is the sofa. It is a little messy, but not excessively so. I need to be surrounded by books and sketch pads. But it is not hugely messy and I do straighten the piles up now and then. So perhaps my chaotic brain can cope with a little chaos but not a lot.

I have another desk now, it is my art studio in Wolverhampton. This is a place where I am expected to be messy. Yet, even here, at the end of each day, I find myself straightening the piles and tidying it up.

This is not the end of the day.

I have never considered myself as a tidy person in terms of my environment. The house is full of piles of books, odd socks, X-box games and the like in random places around the place. The mantelpiece is a mixture of cats in hats, which is hardly tidy and pleasing to the eye. But in my work environment, perhaps, although I allow mess to develop during the day, I need a sense of order (or at least a sense of order to me) to help calm my chaotic brain which is known to spill out with ideas and thoughts (like today – this is my second ‘weird thought’ of the day). If it gets too messy, I get jittery. On that note, I ought to tidy up my piles now.

Cats with hats are not tidy

So, Mrs Nichols, you were three quarters right. I do have a messy mind and mostly I do have a messy desk, but I have aspirations for a tidy desk and it is always tidy at the end of the day, at least it is now.

 

You can’t easily revisit houses from your past

This is a weird thought I had last week while driving from Wellesbourne in Warwickshire to Cheltenham. On this drive, I passed the exit to Worcester. I wanted to stop. But I couldn’t. I had to carry on. I always feel a pang of nostalgia when I pass Worcester as it was the home of all of my grandparents and for many years a place I used to visit either for the day on a Sunday about once a fortnight or sometimes for a week during the school holiday. As a child, it felt like my second home. As a family, we were often whizzing down the motorway between Stafford and Worcester and back again.

The M5

The M5

Then, things changed, as they do. Times passed. And it got to the point when I had no reason to visit Worcester again. I think I have been there twice since it used to be a second home to me. Last week I passed it by with no reason to stop.

My weird thought came shortly after passing the junction for Worcester: how unfair it is that I can’t just drive into Worcester and visit the houses that my grandparents’ lived in (either side) and ask to look around. All I have is my memories of those two houses. I can’t go back. We can’t revisit houses we once lived in or spent time in as a relative. At least, not easily and without suspicion from the current owners. To me, that is so unfair. We are free to go almost anywhere in the country, but not into other people’s houses.

I often dream about my grandparents’ houses. My mum’s parents lived in a lovely 1920s bungalow which was elevated up from the road on a road of similar houses. My memories of that house are very vivid. I remember the smell, the furniture, the colours of the walls, the carpets. I remember the games I used to play in my head whilst there. I remember reading the Reader’s Digest, playing in the garden, stroking the random cat that used to visit (the cat that didn’t have a tail), playing in the bath with the bits of soup they refused to throw away and washing conkers in the bath. But I can’t go back and revisit those rooms and relive those memories and remember more.

Thanks to the Internet I've found a photograph of my maternal grandparent's house

Thanks to the Internet I’ve found a photograph of my maternal grandparent’s house

My memories of the house of my dad’s parents are also very vivid: again, the smell, the colours, the furnishings. I remember the donkey at the bottom of the garden, the cold meats and fruit cake for Sunday tea, the boxes of smarties Uncle David used to give us, the apples stored the front room, the old cars in the garage and the snapping of the coal fire. But I can’t revisit the house and remember those things afresh.

I think this is the house next door to my parental grandparent's house

I think this is the house next door to my parental grandparent’s house

Equally, I can’t revisit the houses I have lived with as a child or an adult: in Stafford, Exeter, Japan, Oxford and Charlbury. I wish I could. I dream of those houses too. They now belong to other people.

We lived in the left-hand cottage

We lived in the left-hand cottage – behind the tree

If I were the Prime Minister, I’d make it law that you have to let previous occupants (or their relatives) visit your house on request (perhaps at a time mutually convenient to both parties).  Would you vote for me?

Doesn’t everyone have a favourite motorway services?

A while ago, I wrote about my collection of roundabouts. I have roundabouts that I am fond of. I even have a favourite roundabout. I also have a favourite motorway service station (and a number of runners up). So my weird thought is: doesn’t everyone?

My favourite motorway station is Michael Wood services in Gloucestershire. I’ve just been told, by someone more aware of his surroundings than me, that Michael Wood services is actually  Michaelwood services and that Michael Wood isn’t a person, Michaelwood is a place. This has shattered my twenty-five-year-long image of my favourite services being named by some local celebrity chap called Michael. I’m not the only one who was under this illusion. Gyles Brandreth also posed this question.

The best university in the world

The best university in the world

There are a just two Michael Woods who it could have been named after (even though it isn’t): Michael Wood historian and Michael Wood Professor of Arts, Languages and Cultures at Manchester University. Sadly, though, it isn’t named after either of them. And also, even more sadly, they are one and the same person. There is only one Michael Wood. And he has no connection with Gloucestershire at all.

I wonder how often he gets asked about his motorway station?

I wonder how often he gets asked about his motorway station?

These services mark the half-way point between Stafford and Exeter on the M5 and so was a frequent stopping place for me when I was at university. I am therefore very fond of the place. My dad used to treat me to a cup of coffee and a jam doughnut there on our way to and from Exeter.

Time for a coffee?

Time for a coffee?

However, reviewers on trip advisor do not share my love for this west-country service stop:

‘I’m sorry for being negative but there is little to tempt the weary traveller here at Michaelwood services.’

‘We stopped at this services before reaching Exeter and wished we had carried on. The place is a mess.’

‘Oh dear the place looks shabby and run down.’

I haven’t been there for a while so perhaps standards have slipped. But until I do, it remains my favourite.