When it comes to getting things done Phyllida Barnes finds a good dose of moral support from a friend can work wonders.
Everybody who has ever worked for themselves from home, gone freelance, been an actor and had extended ‘resting’ periods, stayed at home with a baby or children, or been unemployed knows the feeling. The feeling that involves looking out of the window mid-morning from a fast-cooling house at driving rain, a low grey sky, turning leaves and knowing, just knowing, that you are the only human being alive stuck at home alone without any earning potential that day. This feeling usually crops up at the beginning of autumn proper when damp slipperiness has settled seriously on your garden path and the local park and you know that soon the clocks will go back and your day will end at 5pm.
Once or twice a lifetime you can justify slipping back into bed with a hot water bottle, reading every piece of paper lying on the bedroom floor and on the bedroom table and then turning on the telly to watch Escape to the Country or Housewives from the Orange Country (mistake intended) or whatever hateful programme is on that day. Everyone I know with paying jobs will be green with envy at this idea, but then I am jealous of their certain pay cheques and holiday pay and especially their pension, and in any case, more often than not, it is not justifiable and you have to achieve quite a few things during that horrible grey day in order to stave off depression, boredom, bankruptcy and heart disease.
I had just such a day a few weeks ago. I sat with my head in my hands staring at the computer and could not get a word out of my brain and onto the screen. I stood in our bed and breakfast room and couldn’t strip the bed ready for the next longed-for paying guests. I slithered towards the chicken shed and slithered straight back inside again, unable to pick up the shit from the floor of the shed. I sat down near the baskets of mending and ironing in the sitting room and stared at them.
Then I remembered one of the somethings I really needed to do that day when at home, which was to order replacement European Health Insurance cards for me and my three children. Forty minutes later, having barked answers crossly at the automated phone thingy and also having told the machine to f-off (“I do not recognise that answer; please could you repeat?”) I had only managed to secure two, one for me and one for the child who is still under 19. The others are students and would only apply for their new EHI cards themselves if faced with a firing squad. I was actually sobbing with frustration and despair when I had a light bulb moment (or an idea as it used to be called) – I would Phone a Friend!
I Phoned that Friend! We both agreed we were desperately depressed – and then we Made a Plan! We would achieve one more essential yet tedious thing in our own houses and then she would come up to my house with her ironing. I know I know I know, that does not sound exciting or uplifting, but it really was. She turned up with ironing and board and a jar of the chutney she had made for a Christmas present.
We laughed, we went for a very damp walk, we got cheap therapy from each other, we laughed some more, I made her a pudding (using an eight-minute recipe) for an event she couldn’t face baking for that night, and then we did our ironing. Again we laughed and eventually we parted, and afterwards I achieved another five of the very boring things I needed to achieve before being allowed out of the house.
It felt as though we were skiving but actually all we were doing was what freelancers and part-time workers and mums and grannies should do much more of – spend quality and productive time with each other. We need each other, on a very basic level.
Women have always spent time together, talking and laughing and getting advice. Having a getting-it-off-your-chest whinge really does put everything into perspective. My friend phoned me the next day to say thanks for such a funny day and how she had felt so much better, but I had to stop her going on about it – she had helped me more than I had helped her, in my opinion. We hope to do it again soon. I call it ’21st century quilting’ and can’t recommend it highly enough.