Ready for winter
One of my great pleasures is my bird table. I buy premium Robin Mix bird food from Pets at Home, add dried insects, sunflower seeds and raisins to it, and each day I put a big scoop of it out for the birds, along with a couple of fat balls.
I get lots of birds visiting, as well as plenty of squirrels. One, who I recognise as a daily guest, has a very healthy appetite. I think he's probably the fattest squirrel in Essex by now. But hopefully he should survive the winter with that extra layer he's packed on in recent weeks. He has the chubbiest arms I've ever seen on a skwerl.
When my Uncle Ron was in the army in 1942 ...
... he was stationed for a time during basic training at a garrison in the north of England, quite possibly Catterick, although I couldn't say for sure.
The King and Queen were due to visit the troops before they were sent abroad, and so there was much running around like headless chickens by all and sundry to make sure everything looked perfect for Their Majesties' inspection.
Because he'd been late for drill, Uncle Ron was ordered as a punishment to paint the markings on the parade ground. So, he got some white paint from the stores, and made his way around the parade ground, re-marking the lines that were almost faded away.
As he stepped back to admire his handiwork, he kicked over the tin of paint, leaving a huge splodge of white paint, as if a giant pigeon had crapped in the middle of the parade ground.
There was no way he could clean it up, and he knew that if his Sergeant-Major saw it, he'd end up in the glasshouse and not get to meet the King. But my Uncle Ron was a bright lad, and, after a moment's panic, he had a flash of genius.
He ran back to the stores and got four planks of wood, all the same size. He set them out around the spilled paint, and spread the paint out to the edges. When the planks were removed, there was a perfect white square in the middle of the parade ground.
Fast forward 50 years. In 1992 Uncle Ron attended a regimental reunion at his old garrison. Much had changed about the place, the old tin sheds they used to sleep in had gone and the food was better but there was one thing that was exactly the same.
Right there in the middle of the parade ground, exactly where he'd spilled the paint 50 years earlier, and pristinely repainted for the reunion, was that same white square.
Everything else is just stuff.
I am lucky. I know that. I appreciate that. And what I have to say comes from the standpoint of my being one of the luckiest people on the planet.
I have a home; I have a job; I have enough money to cover my basic needs with plenty to spare to buy things I want but don't need.
I live in an affluent area. What's that maxim estate agents use? Buy the worst house in the best area. Location, location, location. So when I moved here 12 years ago, it was from a big house in a not-so-nice area into a much smaller place, but in a far better neighbourhood.
There's a little high street full of shops. When I moved here we had a butcher, a baker, a (no, not a candlestick maker) fishmonger, a hardware store, a pet shop, an Italian deli. They've all gone, replaced by places selling luxury kitchens, designer wedding dresses (we have two such places), there are fancy florists, nail bars, boutiques selling designer clothes, jewellers, beauty salons, a Botox clinic, hair salons (so many places to get my hair done!), and - most ridiculous of all - a puppy couture boutique, and three, yes three
, places to buy or hire fancy evening gowns for proms, cruises, Ascot Ladies' Day, etc. Apart from my hairdresser, I have never been in a single one of those boutiques or salons.
When I was married, and wishing I wasn't, I used to try to fix myself with various things. After I stopped drinking, I started spending. Not on a compulsive, luxury goods, level, but I would buy things that I thought would make me feel better. Clothes that didn't suit me, gadgets I'd never use, that sort of thing. They didn't work. I remained unfixed. In the end, the solution was to address the problems in my marriage and deal with them.
So, we split up, and I went from having a reasonable mortgage with two decent salaries to buying him out, which meant I had double the mortgage, but on just my salary. I was convinced I wouldn't be able to manage, that I'd lose my home. But a friend of mine gave me a piece of advice. He's probably the last person in the world I'd have expected to get financial advice from, but what he said took away the fear.
"Pay your mortgage first, because a friend will always give you a sandwich."
Yes! It was as simple as that. I knew I could never, ever in a million years have asked anyone for money, but there would always be a place set for me at the table.
As it happens, my fears were unfounded and I was able (and continue to this day) to live quite happily and comfortably on my earnings.
I deal every day in my job with people who are full of fear in this economic crisis because they're over-committed. Mortgages to the limit of their earning capacity, credit cards, car loans, personal loans, spending out of control. The cult of acquisition and the sense of entitlement has caused this. People seem to think that they must have that plasma TV, a new car, that £500 handbag and that if it goes on credit, well, it's sort of paid for, isn't it? No, it's not.
I've lived with financial worry so I know what that's like. But in buying what I need, not what I feel I am entitled to, I have become rich. Compared with many of my neighbours I live in relative poverty - an old car, an ancient TV, clothes I've worn for years, no iPod, no designer handbag. Buy that new bestseller or wait for it to appear in the charity shop or the office book exchange in a few months? Have that bitter £2.50 Starbucks from the cafeteria at work or get a free coffee from the machine on my floor? Spend £5 a day on lunch or take my own? These are all choices I have, which influence not just my financial wealth, but my spiritual and emotional richness too.
Today the wealth I have comes from peace of mind, from knowing that my bills are paid and my responsibilities are met. I have no fear that the knock on the door will be the bailiff or that the letter in the post will be a final demand.
For me a big shift came when my fiancé, George, died in November 2005. His death was a pivotal moment in my life. It made me realise that the only thing that matters in this world is love. Everything else is just stuff. Just. Stuff.