Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The One Minute Rule

I’ve been very busy lately. So much so that my house is reaching ‘bomb site’ status. While on my travels to the Edinburgh Festival I read a reader tip in a magazine (can’t remember which one, it was a ten hour bus journey with bonus roadside breakdown. Much reading was done!) about the one minute rule. The rule is simple – if a task takes no longer than one minute to complete you have to do it there and then. Hours to tidy my house I do not have, frustration at the state of it I have in abundance. When you are stressed all you need is order. If I could bring order out of chaos in a series on one minute slots then it would be worth a go. I decided to try the rule out as soon as I got home.

My first opportunity to test the rule came when I arrived back on Sunday evening from a long trip from Aberdeen a.k.a the time you least want to do anything, ever. Like most other sad geeks my bedside table resembles a returns trolley in a public library, piled up to overflowing and often with books I have failed to return to said library and am racking up a fine larger than the RRP on. After dumping my bag and collapsing on the bed into a travel induced comma I saw the pile of books and remembered my rule. It would take less than one minute to put them on the right bookshelf. I dragged myself up, sorted them onto the right shelves (I have a system of course, as all good geeks should) and felt very pleased with myself indeed.

The one minute rule also helps with gross tasks that inevitably get left for much longer than is safe or hygienic, like wiping out the bottom of the fridge or bin duty. It’s amazing what you can get done in under a minute. My bathroom shelves have been tidied. The washing is miraculously out of my suitcase, a job that would normally take days, if not weeks, being the slovenly beast that I am. All this and I haven’t had to dedicate any real time to tidying or cleaning at all.

Once the obvious one minute tasks have been done you graduate to the heady heights of cupboard sorting and filing. Oh yes. Exciting times indeed. The only spanner in the works I can foresee is that some tasks, sadly, take more than one minute. It’s possible I may become a Guinness World Record speed mopper but realistically with the state of my under stair cupboard it takes at least a minute to wrestle the hoover from the grips of the ironing board let alone actually do any hoovering. One minute tasks also lead on to other one minute tasks and you have to be extremely strong willed/lazy to resist continuing what you have started. Happily I fall into the latter category with ease.

Still I commend the one minute rule to you for the streamlining of your life and the greater dedication of you time to things you actually want to do. That’s got to be good.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Back to Aberdeen

Going back to a place from your past is always a little strange as I discovered this weekend when I went back up to Aberdeen. I lived there for nearly four years having intended to go up for less than one. That’s what meeting a man will do for you. You have been warned! It was interesting to see what has changed or, more surprisingly, what hasn’t!  In one of my favourite cafés I was served by the same man that used to serve me years ago and one of the toilets is still out of order!

Places have memories built into them.  Seats that hosted a nervous you on a first date, views you watched as you talked with friends thinking about the future that you are now in. And sad memories too - places you received bad news, where you were sad, not yourself or just a little lost. After having lunch with some friends I found myself alone in the city and so I walked a while taking in the places I used to see daily and that I now hadn’t seen for years. I wanted to leave Aberdeen for a long time before I did. I’m not sure I ever wanted to be there at all. This is no real reflection on the place, it is just how I felt. Only now can I see the things I gained there - a wonderful husband, a handful of faithful friends, a tougher version of myself that has done me well since I left. As I walked around I felt as if I were seeing it all underwater. Sounds were distant, the sights well remembered but different somehow. I wondered if I was the difference.

I did feel sad, just as I did when I lived there, but I also felt refreshed. I saw the place with different eyes. Like when you look under the bed and realise it isn’t a monster at all, just a rolled up blanket casting shadows. I walked along the beach and enjoyed the place, the sunshine (granted this is rare for Aberdeen!) and the company of friends. There are many reasons why I am happier living where I am - proximity to family, more sunshine, being back on my home turf - but I also realised while I was in Aberdeen that it’s also about who I am now compared to who I was then.  I realise what a bad time really feels like and how to identify a good one. I’m more grateful, I suppose. Perhaps stronger, too.  It felt good to enjoy the place. The way I wish I had enjoyed it when I was there. And it felt wonderful to see the most important person I met there, my long suffering husband, wandering up ahead of me along the beach and even better, at the end of our trip, to get back to our little house in the place that now very much feels like home.

Monday, 15 August 2011

The house that Nicola built

This weekend I went off to visit a friend who has bought a beautiful house in Cornwall. It’s been everything she has wanted for a very long time so it was lovely to see her walking around her very own land planning where the chickens and the sheep are going to live. It got me thinking about the idea of building a life, which seems to be something that people of my age do a lot of and get very anxious about when it doesn’t seem to be going quite right. It’s the age where many huge decisions are made like who you will spend your life with, the job you will do, if you will have children and when, where you will set up home and live.

Materially it would be easy for me to conclude that I’m not building much of a life at all. I don’t own a house, nor am I likely to any time soon. I’m not on any kind of career ladder. I spent last week compiling a list of VIPs to be invited to the service to install our new Vicar and I’m unlikely to even get a seat at the service let alone an honourable mention! I suppose being married gives me something to ‘tick of the list’ but I’d be rather more tempted to just rip up the list altogether. But what I hope I am doing is digging the foundations for the future in who I am as a person and the kind of life I want to look back on when I’m old and grey.

All this house building reminds me of the parable Jesus told of the man who built his house on the rock and the man who built it on the sand.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

There are lots of things that are shifting sand to build on (seeking to be on that VIP list for one!) and I don’t want the house that is my life to fall with a great crash. I want to stand firm when the storms come and come they will - I know that much is guaranteed.

My friend’s house is very beautiful and will become more beautiful over the years as they tend their garden, revive their pond and make the land productive again. Although my house building isn’t quite so visible I hope that it will be just as real and just as fruitful for me. That I will reach the place I look forward to in the end, a wise old lady in a rocking chair with peace in my heart, a twinkle in my eye and plenty of stories to tell.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


The world has gone a little bit crazy, hasn’t it? While the riots were kicking off in London last night I was in a church in the city centre of Oxford. The church sits in the middle of two major roads into central Oxford and it was rush hour. Horns were tooting, heels clattering on the pavement as people rushed to catch trains and buses while I sat in that dimly lit, ancient church building with an elderly church warden reading prayers together written over 500 years ago.

It might seem strange to some people, pointless even, but being there surrounded by silence, even for just a few moments, righted something in me. Anyone who knows me can confirm that I’m not usually one for silence. I’m what you might call a chatter box and am prone to having an opinion on everything. We value our opinions very highly these days, don’t we? As if nothing more worthy has ever been said before. We hammer our opinions home in tweets, updates and dare I say it – blogs! We don’t seem to believe we can be wrong about anything.

That’s why I find saying thousand year old words comforting. The church, and the many people in them down the ages, have said the same words and it feels like keeping vigil with them in the hope of better things to come. Those words unite two strangers on a Monday evening in a church that was still there when donkeys were going past instead of buses.

The other thing that silence does very successfully is to steady the inner compass. When the haze comes down, and you have no idea which way to go, you have to wait for the needle on your compass to stop to tell you which way is north. Most of the time my compass is spinning like north doesn’t exist as I run from place to place, reacting constantly to all the noise and busy-ness around me. Silence keeps me calm long enough to at least have a chance at finding the right way.

It would be dismissive to say it solves everything but I think that finding those places, those words, that have stood through a thousand years of war, famine and heartache can give us comfort in turbulent times. And I’ve found that silence in my own heart and mind can give new direction when going forwards seems like a very hard thing to do.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Post-holiday punishment

It is a fact universally acknowledged that when you go on holiday and enjoy yourself the world has to punish you, something to do with re-balancing your life enjoyment quota I think. This comes in many forms. One of the most common manifestations this punishment takes is the ‘email mountain’. Fearsome, and often numbering in the thousands, the email mountain is not easy to subdue. Because I have several jobs I have several email mountains but because I work from home I can tackle the email mountain in my pjs and eating a jammy dodger. Ha! Take that world!

The next fearsome mountain is the ‘diary mountain’. Before holidays life does not exist post holiday so it is natural to agree to all kinds of things without checking ones diary. The diary barely exists in the run up to a holiday, so much so that I didn’t even plan my return journey from the airport, it just didn’t exist until the day I was due to fly back (sob). The diary mountain really bites when realise that you not only have to go back to work (how unreasonable) but you have also booked yourself up from now until kingdom come with things you would never normally agree to but cheerfully signed up to in your blissed out pre-holiday state. Meetings feature highly. It’s all very painful. And of course you are also contending with the ‘clothes washing mountain’, don’t we all know that one well…..

The third mountain I have encountered, and perhaps the most terrible of all as it was unexpected, was the ‘cardboard mountain’. Most normal humans are unlikely to encounter this one. You may meet it in the guise of the ‘rubbish mountain’ – i.e. the bin man can’t walk two feet to collect your bin while you’re away so you are inundated with black sacks for a week – mine was at the shop where, in true holiday punishment style, no one took out the cardboard recycling for two weeks. Think death by cardboard boxes.

But alas, I fight boldly on and have given the universe a big ol’ signal as to my future holidaying intentions by booking a Christmas trip to Rome. I should think I’ll have emerged from the cardboard mountain by then….