The stuff dreams aren’t made of

Much has been written about consumer culture and how we have an incessant need to buy new things.  But what about the things we can’t get rid of?

My family and I are in the lengthy process of moving house, and in amongst the stress and strain of it all there has been the revealing, entertaining, and quite often depressing discovery of useless belongings that for some reason or other have survived multiple spring cleans and two house-moves in ten years.  Enough matchboxes to cover our dining room table, single earrings whose partners will never be found, huge jars of corks, mounds of yellowed lace…  Why have we held on to all of this?

In some cases, the answer is fairly simple.  Certain objects can hold an impressive amount of emotional attachment, and there are some things, such as a favourite stuffed toy, that have too many years of positive association to be thrown away.  I came across a black sack full of such toys, and while some went straight to charity shops without a second glance, there were some characters that, in some unexplainable way, symbolise my childhood.  And then there have been other things that hold equal sentimental value: family albums that date back to the late 1800s, the rather grubby christening gown that has been worn for generations, books that we will probably never read again but were given to us by someone memorable, instruments we no longer play but can’t let go of…  These things, I feel, we are justified in keeping.

However, there are some things that just defy common sense and reasoning.  I often joke that my family’s motto is ‘You never know…’, but this is turning more and more into a reality.  Shall we bin this manky collection of keys that haven’t seen the light of day in over fifty years?  ‘No.  You never know, they might be useful one day’.  Shall we get rid of this chair that’s falling to pieces and probably has a family of mice living in it?  ‘No.  You never know, it could be fixed and used again’.  And so on.  I know there’s a lot to be said for the make-do-and-mend mentality, but I really do think that at some point a line must be drawn and an object be rendered useless.

If conclusion can be drawn from this, it is that we have too much stuff.  Admittedly this is partly due to the continuous buying of new things, but an inherent stubbornness to part with objects that have little or no sentimental/monetary/useful value is also to blame.  I’m not saying that we should use something for a year and then throw it away; that’s just wasteful.  But I do feel that there is much to be gained from streamlining our possessions.  More space, less clutter, better organisation, more time to do the things we want to do rather than the things we have to do (such as tidying up messy rooms over-filled with stuff).  I dream of living in a house where not every surface holds a jumble of newspapers, post, dog biscuits and tea cups, and where we don’t need three cellars and a huge attic space to hold the overflow of hideous and chipped furniture.

No, John Lennon, I can’t imagine a world with no possessions, but I sure as hell can imagine one with less crap than we have at the moment.


Confessions of a carbaholic

It is a fact of life that some of the things we enjoy the most are the ones that do us most harm.  Drinking, smoking, falling in love, recreational drug use, driving too fast…  Hedonistic pleasure is what makes life a little bit better and a little more dangerous.  And I would say the same could be said for eating carbohydrates.

I’ll admit it, I am a full-on carb addict.  Nothing makes me feel better than a large slice of cake or a thick peanut butter sandwich.  And I know I’m not the only one.  Which is why I think it’s so unfair that carbohydrates are Enemy Number One when it comes to weight loss and maintaining one’s figure.  Where else can you find that chewy and soft texture?  It sure as hell doesn’t come in the shape of a Ryvita or a handful of dried cranberries.

Earlier on this year I gave up bread for about three months, and it was much harder than I thought it would be.  Firstly, sandwiches and toast are a staple part of any student’s diet, so I had to completely re-think what the average day would bring in terms of food.  Secondly, my normal hangover cure involves a large quarter-pounder meal and three hours on the sofa.  A bowl of Special K and a banana just didn’t have the same restorative effect.  Thirdly, once you start looking, bread is everywhere.  Lunches bought from Pret or similar had to be salads or soup, but even salads have bloody croutons in them and the soup comes with a roll.  When you haven’t had bread for several weeks and willpower is low, that roll, as stale and shiny as it may be, starts to look mighty tempting.  There are some moments in life where only a bacon sandwich will provide the answer.

This bread-free phase of my life came to an end when I went on a ski trip to France.  One cannot be in France and not eat bread.  It’s against the law.  I had also found myself substituting bread for cake, which kind of defeated the whole purpose of the exercise.  Also, cereal is much more expensive than bread, so my new breakfast plan was making an unwelcome dent in my student loan.  However, despite my bread-ban-induced depression, I did find that I had more energy during the day.  Maybe two slices of granary toast with a heavy layer of jam wasn’t the best way to wake up.  It’s commonly acknowledged that too much wheat in your diet can make you sluggish, bloated and heavy, and bread certainly sits in your stomach like concrete for a good while before releasing its energy.  So there I was, bright eyed and bushy tailed, much better in terms of physical health due to quitting my bread habit.

I have tried twice since to give up bread in the same way, and both times have failed emphatically.  I want to have back that feeling of alertness and the ability to go through the day without wanting a nap, but it seems like the urge to have a mouthful of doughy yumminess is too strong.  Perhaps I partially counteract my carb addiction with a healthy amount of exercise, but I can still feel myself beginning to put on what one might call a ‘winter layer’.  Matters aren’t helped by working in a restaurant where the only thing available to eat without paying for it is, you guessed it, bread.  A huge basket of it, home-made and hot from the oven.  Irresistible stuff.  I could also blame living at home on my inability to kick the carbs.  For my father, no lunch is complete without a bit of bread and cheese.  My mother is as bad as I am.  And my brother can eat all he likes and never put on weight – damn that male metabolism.  So, short of padlocking the bread bin and having meals by myself, the only solution to this is sheer willpower, and I’ll admit that I don’t have excess reserves of the stuff.  Maybe I’ll be better once I live on my own and am in charge of the food shopping.

But for now…  Hi, my name’s Charlotte and I’m a bread addict.

Fantasy vs reality

I few weeks ago I wrote about the fact that most guys I’ve encountered, and am probably likely to encounter, are somewhat deficient in the maturity stakes.  Whilst this may continue to be true, I can’t help but feel that part of this is due to the abundance of ‘real men’ shown on our television screens.

What normal guy can compete with the likes of Don Draper (Mad Men), Raylan Givens (Justified) or Stefan and Damon Salvatore (Vampire Diaries)?  They all have money or power or amazing good looks or the ability to protect you, or any combination of the above.  What’s not to love?  With men like this plastered all over prime-time TV, the average real-life male can only ever come in below par.

For those of you unfamiliar with Justified, let me explain.  At first glance, this may seem like a run-of-the-mill good guys vs bad guys show set in redneck country where at least three people die in each episode.  However, type Timothy Olyphant into Google and you’ll see where the attraction lies.  Here’s a fine gun-slingin’, perp-shootin’, cowboy hat-wearin’ specimen of a man, made all the more attractive by his soft southern accent and his ability to save a damsel in distress with nothing more than a piece of rope and a razor blade.  Sorry men of the real world, you don’t really stand a chance.

Don’t worry, I’m completely aware that these men are fictional characters, and I’m equally aware that for every fifty bad apples there might be one good egg.  Having become accustomed to these non-existent wonder-men from television, perhaps it’s time to be more realistic in our expectations of what the opposite sex are capable of.  It’s unfair on any boyfriend/husband/date/sex friend for us to expect them to instantly be some kind of alpha male, a la Don Draper, and perhaps we’d all be much happier if we accepted that, at the end of the day, we’re all just human.


P.S. After last month’s blog post, I was accused by more than one person of being a man hater.  I would like to state that this is far from the truth.  Nor am I an extreme feminist, as some people seem to think.  I merely seek to articulate and try to explain what I know many women feel or think, and perhaps give the occasional guy who reads this a small insight into the female psyche.