This column first appeared in the Western Mail in March 2021
As I write, it’s twenty degrees in Cardiff, the clocks have sprung forward, and the evenings are lighter for longer. Granted, by the time you read this, it will most likely be raining old ladies and sticks again (my favourite Welsh idiom that. Works in both languages. Makes as much sense as cats and dogs, anyway). But you get the gist.
Spring is in the air. The crocuses are out, and magnolia trees are in bloom. Discarded fruit cider cans in Cardiff Bay are eliciting tuts from early morning runners. The heady scent of skunk smoke hangs pungent in the air of an early evening (in Grangetown, anyway. Anyone reading in North Cardiff, welcome to your guided tour of the REAL Cardiff. You are welcome).
A whole year has passed since we entered the first lockdown. And, reader, I am staring down the brutal realisation that I STILL haven’t sorted out my attic (not a euphemism). I gave myself ONE PANDEMIC JOB. And, quite frankly, if I didn’t manage it during a year when we were forced by law to remain at home, it’s likely never to happen. I have visions of my poor lad being forced to plough through the mountains of junk up there when I’ve popped my clogs. My poor, grieving son becoming more and more bemused as he realises his mother – a stickler for tidiness in all other areas of the house – had this whole secret life hidden beyond the hatch on the landing.
A place with no order, no system, just a dumping ground for things I firmly believed might come in handy one day when I put them up there.
A baby food steamer and puree maker? Handy for fad diets!
A ridiculously chi-chi hat embellished with the quill of a peacock feather (worn to a wedding on realising my then boyfriend’s ex-wife would be at the said wedding)? Some occasions simply require a massive eff off hat, right! Plus, you could have an eye out with it, so it doubles up as a weapon.
A Lady Gaga tour programme? A cultural memento of great import!
A pile of dresses I stubbornly refuse to believe I will never fit into again? It’s essential to have goals, no?
“What the hell is a Record of Achievement?” he will wonder, running his fingers over the burgundy pleather cover. Anyone that went to secondary school in the nineties will remember how they convinced us we’d never get a job without one. I mean, I’m almost 40 and have worked for myself for the best part of a decade, but YOU NEVER KNOW.
This vision of my son having to sift through a lifetime’s worth of accrued random junk upsets me. Yet, clearly not enough as the attic remains very much un-sorted. And now it’s Spring again, that season when we’re encouraged to sort out the old to make space for the new. And I still can’t face it. I think it’s because I’m a secret hoarder and hate having to make snap decisions about things. It’s much easier to dump it somewhere where it’s hidden from view. A job that should take a few days would inevitably take weeks while I prevaricate over whether I’ll ever hang that Lichtenstein print again. Quite frankly, life is way, way too short.
Thinking about organising a pile of random things into “stay” and “go” piles has got me thinking about the elements of a year of pandemic living that I’d like to hang onto and the things I’ll be hella grateful to see the back of. I much prefer making mental lists to actual physical sorting out, mainly because you can do it in the shower, and there’s no risk of spiders landing on your face while you make them.
So, the things that can go?
Shaking hands with people, for starters. It’s madness that the handshake has managed to survive as a socially acceptable method of greeting for so long, if you ask me. If I never have my tiny lady hands pumped vigorously by a sweaty, crunchy man palm ever again, it will be too soon.
Relying on the car as a primary form of transport can also do one. A year of discovering the joy of cycle wheels and my human legs for getting from A to B means I rarely drive anymore, and I’d like to keep it that way.
Queues can go in the bin too. Ok, they’re not new. And they’re good places to make precisely this type of mental list. But, still. No more waiting in endless snake-like lines, please, for the love of Beelzebub.
What about the things that can stay?
That list is much, much longer. And that, I figure, is a good thing. There are lots of new habits formed through sheer necessity that I’d very much like to keep long after this is all over.
Shopping locally. Being able to get up at 8 am and be at my desk by 8:30 am. Post-work Friday afternoon walks with The Teenage Boy. Online events (much more accessible, plus see above on using the car). Walking catch-ups with friends (much more rewarding than over a sit-down coffee). More time to cook proper dinners. Talking openly and honestly about mental health with the people that matter to me. Being able to redesign my working day to make the most of the available daylight.
I realise some of these things represent enormous privileges in themselves, which leads me to my final thing that can stay – an ongoing sense of gratitude for things I have taken for granted for my entire life leading up to this pandemic. I want to hold onto that. Having caught the dreaded ‘VID and endured a long and frustrating recovery, I want to remember how lucky I am to have emerged on the other side when so many did not.
Even being able to fret about the state of the attic is a gift, I tell myself, wincing. As is waking up at 2am convinced the sheer weight of it is going to cause my bedroom ceiling to collapse on my slumbering face if I don’t do something about it soon. A GIFT, I TELL YOU.