Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Just a common or garden crisis

When I had my major meltdown, I thought it was a product of the way my life had gone, the place I found myself, the frustrated ambitions and pent-up resentments I had harboured for years. I thought it was a totally and utterly unique mid-life, individual and peculiar to me.

Now, I hear on Radio London that scientists have decided that the most typical time for a mid-life crisis -the ultimate nadir in one's life-course - comes at the age of 44. And how old was I when I finally expressed my angst-ridden rage? How old was I when I reached the very lowest point of my adult life?


My very personal descent was after all just a scientifically predictable statistic. Somehow I find that rather disappointing.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Can you credit it?

Everyone's panicking about falling share prices and the fate of the economy this week.

I don't pretend to understand economics. I really can't see how something as ephemeral as the (lack of) 'confidence' of bods on the stockmarket floor can have an impact on the price of veg at Tescos. But I do understand that the greed of US and UK financial companies in dishing out massive amounts of credit and the gullibility, avarice and consumerism of borrowers, has landed us up in a big mess.

You don't need to be a clairvoyant to have seen this coming. Where I live, I'm surrounded by low-income families driving around in BMWs with personalised number plates, sporting 'designer' clothes, trolling off on holidays to Florida, building hot tubs in their gardens and out purchasing the latest HD tv as if it's a life necessity.

It's almost endemic. Last month a friend of mine told me of a lady who comes to clean for her. This lady has 4 children, she cleans for a few hours a week and has a husband on disability benefit. She told my friend how she was having to 'cut back' on Christmas presents for the kids this year and was only spending £100 per child. That's cutting back??

I'm pretty sure that our household income is higher than hers, but there's no way I'd think of spending £100 on each child. I can only think she used the credit card.

I know it sounds a little precious and pompous, but this level of materialism really bothers me. Don't these people realise that they have to pay the money back eventually? Don't they realise that showering their kids with expensive items at Christmas doesn't make them happier, better, more rounded children, but just future victims of shallow consumerism? It's just all wrong.

It's not just low-income families who get in this mess either. On Radio 4 I heard an ex-journalist for the Times describing how his credit borrowing spiralled to such an extent that he ended up without his wife and kids, without his home, out on the streets and without a job.

The sad truth of all this though is that it's not only the borrowers who end up suffering in the long run. Now we are all paying for it.

But in a peverse way, I welcome the 'credit squeeze'. It's about time someone pointed out that you shouldn't buy what you can't afford. Simple as that. (um..except for a house of course!).

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Best laid plans

I got a couple of glossies in my Christmas stocking one of which was Psychologies. As a freebie for the festive season, a little pink journal came with the mag. I'm supposed to use it for goal setting: writing down my weekly/monthly targets and achievements. Though I appreciate the thought, needless to say it's already gathering dust on my bedside table.

I'm not a great one for resolutions, plans or lists. My mother makes daily lists and holds regular 'planning' sessions, which usually involve me having to commit to things I don't want to do or making arrangements way before I'm ready to even think about them. Maybe as a result, I tend to rebel against this level of organisation, preferring to 'live on the fly', make impulsive decisions and strive as hard as I can, not to be too organised.

However, the mid-life meltdown two years ago did see me turning to self-coaching techniques and I went through a phase of target-setting and list writing, during which I acheived some personal results.

Going through a basket of papers the other day, I found a list I had written last January whilst in the first flush of this super-efficient pro-active me. In it I had written down all of things we hoped to achieve that year; things we needed to do to the house, decisions we needed to make as a family, places we wanted to go and actions we needed to take. One year on, I realise, we have hardly got anywhere: the radiators haven't been repainted - though the eggshell paint has been bought, we still haven't put the futon and random stuff on eBay to sell, our doorbell still doesn't work, our porch is still separated from next-door's by a horrid bit of plastic and, more importantly, our house is still bursting at the seams, crammed with stuff we had in Abu Dhabi which we keep tucked away in the belief or vain hope that one day we will finally move to a larger property - or at least make our own large enough to accommodate everything.

This last issue - whether to move or improve - has had us in an impasse for about three years now. Every January I resolve to decide one way or another whether we put all our efforts into moving or whether we pour some money into the house to make it a nicer and roomier place to live. We can never decide and another year goes by without us doing anything at all. But this year I really do want to decide.

The main problem is that my son's room is TINY - and I mean TINY. There's just room for a bed and that's it. He's 10 now and I can't imagine him even fitting in lengthways at 15. Also, we live on a main road and the traffic disturbs my husband who is used to living in the country. On the upside we have a fantastic garden. But come the winter and we're confined indoors we all begin to feel cramped and claustrophobic.

Houses round here are expensive and the choice is pathetic. We have scanned the papers and internet regularly but have never found one we like which we could afford which isn't in a flight path, by a motorway, miles away from schools and work and which has a garden bigger than a dishcloth.

At the end of last year, we had more or less decided to stay put until I finished my PhD, after which, we hope we would have more money. In the meantime we could do up the house and the kid's rooms. But the other day, I realised that by the time I finish, Chloe will be 15 and we'd only have a few more years with her at home before she leaves us. So now we're swinging the other way again. My latest scheme is to find an affordable house, similar but slightly larger than our own, with a decent garden which will not cost much more than ours.

But who knows how long that will last. I feel something major will have to happen to make us take a decision - like winning the lottery or inheriting a fortune, having the road diverted from the front, seeing the perfect house in the perfect location at the perfect price or having a decent architect just happen to drop by, appraise our house and draw up wonderful plans. Otherwise, another year is going to go by and we'll have done nothing.