giorge thomas

LECA 

(lek-ah) LECA is short for Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate and is growing medium which allows you to grow plants without any soil whatsoever.

I gave birth in October. Okay. Didn’t. My doctor cut me opened and pulled my (unwilling) baby from my uterus in what turned out to be a rather complicated incident. I’ll spare you the details. Any hoo, the reason I mention it is because, while pregnant, I had the fears. Fellow mothers will know what I’m talking about. Those long months before baby is born when all you do is think about all the ways you could potentially harm your child. Every single item in your house is viewed as a potential death trap. And if not a death trap, a hazard. 

For me it was my plants. 

In particular, fungus gnats. 

I imagined the minuscule flying nuisances circling my home, looking for a moist (uh, that word) location in which to lay their eggs and deciding upon my poor baby’s nasal passage. Was mortified by the thought. Fungus gnats annoying enough as it is, but when adding the safety of my baby’s nose, they became down right dangerous. 

Tried all the tricks to rid home of these annoying little bastards. Spraying. Letting plants dry out. Sticky paper. Ant dust. Trouble is, once you have a certain number of plants in your home, you can never really get on top of the gnat cycle. All I really seemed to be doing is moving the problem from one pot to another. An actual life-cycle in my very own home. 

And then I realised. If I get rid of soil, I get rid of the problem!

Which is when I turned to LECA.

Hoya Mathilde growing in LECA

All the cool kids were using it. Youtube and Instagram are full of these small little balls. Seemingly overnight they appeared in everyone’s pots, yet no one was talking about what the fuck they were. 

YouTube plant queen Kaylee Ellen had already converted. During her eighty-sixth ‘Repot with Me’ video, LECA balls could be seen in all of her pots.

I wondered. Pleaded. What. The. Fuck. Are. These?

Desperation mode. Had soil suddenly become passé? Had the plant community, determined to continually upping the anti ($400 for a Deliciosa Albo, anyone?), finally come up with a method of housing plants which doesn’t involve (dirt) cheap soil?

I mean, we should have seen it coming. Perlite. Sphagnum moss. Charcoal. Coconut husks… Plant mediums have been evolving for a while now. An ever-evolving cocktail which, as time goes by, includes less and less, well… soil.

And now — now! — we have a substrate which doesn’t contain any soil at all. Unless, of course, you consider clay to be soil. Which it kind of is. You know, dry soil.

I thought everyone was mad. Looking into it, I discovered that LECA is basically a semi hydro system.

I understand hydro. I grew up in Murray Bridge. Loads of drug crops in Murray Bridge back when I was a kid. Nearly every second house had a secret hydro room. Crammed full of marijuana crops and a complicated piping system to feed them. 

But semi hydro? What does semi-hydro mean?

Well, basically, LECA is used with a water reservoir instead of complicated pumps and pipes required to keep the water moving. LECA sits in water, yes, but the water is allowed to be drawn up by the plant and LECA balls.

Bit of an art to it. Leaving plants in water all the time? Not good. Resulted in root rot. Almost lost a Stomranthe Trio Star because of that. Is only just recovering. Hence the term reservoir, I guess. 

And it’s not just water and balls. You need to add all the nutrients that soil normally gives your plants. Which seems a weird, around-about-way of doing things. Why just not stick them in soil?

Because of the PESTS! Soil either brings those pesky pests or gives them a suitable home. My house was being overrun with fungus gnats. I’d just get the problem under control, and then they’d come back a few weeks later. Why? They love soil. Lay their eggs in there. And they’re tiny. Takes you a while to notice they’ve taken hold. The more soil you have in your home, the more chance you have of an infestation. 

I’ve been using LECA for a while now. I dunno, a few months at least, and despite losing a number of plants through trial and error (different plants adjust differently to LECA, it’s a balancing act which has taken me a while to get right), I’m pretty sure I’m better off. 

Firstly, I feel the house is cleaner. I mean, think of it. Dirt lying around in pots dotted around your house? Is not the best thought, really. So psychologically, I feel better about the vast number of plants I have in my house.

Secondly — no pests. No pests! Fungus gnats and any other soil-dwelling bastards are gone. Brilliant! No chance of anything trying to fly up my son’s (moist) nose.

Thirdly — it looks nicer. It just does. Soil just doesn’t look good, does it? No.

So, I guess, in summary, I can recommend LECA. Cleaner, less pests. Water is far easier. You can also leave your plants for longer in-between ‘watering.’

You just can’t think of it too much. Because when you realise you’re growing your house plants in non-dirt, it kind of screws with your mind. Sounds a bit like Emperor’s New Clothes, you know?

And if all of this is too much for you, know this — LECA has already been surpassed by a different substrate. Lechuza Pon. I’ve currently have an order from Lechuza coming my way, so I’ll let you know how I go.

Who knows, we might reach a point in the not-too-distant future when we don’t even need any substrate for our plants. Or water. Oh, wait. We already have those. Fake plants, they’re called.

Turning my fiddle leaf fig into a tree!

So here’s a little video for you on creating branches on my fiddle leaf fig…

 

I didn’t know a syngonium was a syngonium. They were just these odd mottled plants my mum had. She’d cut them at the stalks and put them in a vase, and there they’d live forever more.

So when I looked for greenery to compliment my new home, I took cuttings from my mothers plant and stuck them in old wine bottles, hoping that I would, perhaps, get a good few months out of them before having to replace with new cuttings.

 

Not so. These plants seemed indestructible. Not only did they survive in their water homes, but they flourished, unfurling new leaves and growing in a curved vine which made my home look like an interior design masterpiece.

And then I got into plants. I got a fiddle leaf fig because I fancied a tree in my home. Waiting for this little guy to grow, I bought more and more plants to fill the void before becoming a bone fide plant nutter, turning to Instagram for inspiration. For someone who doesn’t enjoy the art of the selfie, plant photos are my jam.

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Which is when I discovered that these nameless plants which I have neglected since welcoming them into my home are the fancy of all plantgrammers.

‘Syngonium, syngonium, syngonium. Look st my syngonium!’ Ah ha! Not only do these plants have a name, but they are famous! And I have several…

So I decided, in my wisdom, that I would plant one of my rooted beauties into soil where it would no doubt flourish so I could join the masses on Instagram by sharing the delights of this fabled plants.

Alas, the fucker died. Died! I mean, all I did  was give this plant what it naturally desires – earth – and the bastard had the audacity to go and die on me! What an ungrateful bastard.

And yet, despite my previous contentment of having these plants in water for a number of years, I now desire above everything else (apart from acquiring a Hoya Mathilde, that is) to have a syngonium survive a potted life.

Is this too much to ask?

Probably.

 

I could, of course, just go and buy one which is already established in soil, but that feels a little defeatist if you ask me. And I’m not about all of that. I mean, I’m the chick who persevered with African Violets for TWENTY years before finding success – I’m just hoping I don’t have to wait another twenty for my syngonium.

So, if you’ve been following me on Instagram, you will have noticed a change to my content.

A dramatic change.

Yes, that’s right, I’ve gone plant crazy.

Not quite sure what has happened. Actually, I am. It’s the obsessive gene. The addictive gene. I’ve got it.

There’s no grey with me. There’s love, and there’s hate. And when I love something, I love it hard.

Super hard.

When we got our new house a couple of years ago, I was suddenly presented with a beautiful, light space where I knew plants would thrive. Finally, I had a home I was proud of, not embarrassed of, and spaces in which I could swing more than one cat. Which turned out to be fortunate, given, at the time, I had two of them.

(Sadly, Penelope didn’t last the year in her new home, but her older sister, Martini, is still going strong and is looking forward to her 20th birthday this July).

So I wanted things to be pretty. I’m not great at interior design — I’m not my sister — but I like things to feel homely and have a pleasant feel about them. I’m somewhat eclectic in my design, I guess, or, if I want to be truthful, I’m making do with hand-me-down and old furniture, including a couch which threatens to stab Mr Thomas with a wayward spring every time he sits down on it.

Our front room has a wall of windows looking west and is filled with the most incredible light for all of the day. I knew it would be the perfect place for a Ficus Lyrata and loved the look of these tree-like specimens ever since I saw one in Carol’s apartment on The Real Housewives of New York.

Alas, back then, the good old Fiddle Leaf Fig wasn’t as popular as it is today, so were still pretty pricey. Given a tree-sized Ficus cost around $800, it was a no-go for me at the time, and Mr Thomas sated my desires by buying me a little lad for me to nurture.

So I had this fiddle leaf, and that was kind of it, really. But then, because I have this wonderfully rustic dining table, I wanted to dress it up with fresh flowers. Well, fresh flowers are expensive, especially if you’re buying them every week. So, instead, I purchased an orchid. I figured these guys would last a lot longer than cut flowers, and I’ll have a month of colour before having to buy a new plant.

Somehow, though, I managed to not kill the orchid. I watched some Youtube videos, and gained a few insights on how to look after these guys. At the end of the season, I cut off the bare flower stems of the orchid, and left it in the front room. I didn’t think much of it, until, several months later, I noticed a new flower stem peeking through.

What? Had I really managed to get an orchid a flower with no trouble at all?

Ah, yes!

Suddenly, I was awash with plant confidence. I needed more.

See, when I was a kid, I loved plants. I’ve always loved plants. Growing up, I made myself a little garden on the side of the house, using plants I’d steal from Mum’s garden beds. I’d have to be clever about things so she wouldn’t notice so I learnt how to seperate roots and plants and propagate to bump up my garden and not ruin hers.

That’s always been my relationship with plants. Up until recently, I would hardly buy any plants. I would take cuttings from friends and family, give propagation a go and wait and see what the results would be.

And I’ve realised, this whole plant thing is all about my innate need to nurture. I take things, I feed them, I make them grow, and I love watching them flourish.

As someone who suffers terribly from anxiety, I can’t describe the calmness that plants bring me. Just looking at them makes me happy.

Which is probably why I have amassed such a collection of indoor plants. Not to a Summer Rayne Oaks level. I think Mr Thomas would divorce me if I introduced 500 plants to our house, together with a chicken. But, you know, plants are now a thing for me.

And I was thinking — well, I love writing, and I love plants. So why not write about plants?

So I’m starting a new segment here on giorgethomas.com — Giorge Love Plants.

Not a fan of plants? I’m so sorry. But, with all my obsessions, I need to see this through.

I look forward to sharing this journey with you, as well as sharing all my wonderful plants!

KOOL-AID: things that go bump in the night

The last instalment of Kool-Aid…

It was last night. I can’t tell you what time, as I didn’t pause to check my phone. The sound so large, so near, it woke me from my sleep.

It was a car. Obviously a car, though the sound wasn’t that of a normal driving scenario. Too ragged, too, too… something. I leapt out of bed, to the window. Drew back the curtains. Normally sleep with them open. I like to watch the sway of the brambles by the moonlight. Helps me get to sleep. Yet it has been too cold of late.

There was nothing in my view but a stream of light, reflecting on the patch of ice on the road.

And then I saw it. And heard it. A car, engine revving as it sped past my view. A squelching of brakes indicated a sudden stop somewhere down the road. The slow turning of wheels. And then the stream of light. Widening as the sound of the engine grew. The car moved past my window at high speed. Out of view. A pause. A turn. Speeding past again.

On and on this went. On and on. Back and forth, back and forth.

Had not seen the car before. It wasn’t a new vehicle. Cripes, don’t ask me what type. As we have already established, am hopeless when it comes to cars. Looked like kind of thing James Bond would drive. Not Daniel Craig. Sean Connery.

Wasn’t really thinking anything as this was all going on. Was too peculiar for thought. Is strange, though; didn’t feel fear. I felt pained if anything.

And then came this bizarre realisation: as the car passed again it hit the patch of ice at speed. Time slowed. Enough that as the back tyres of the car slid sideways, I had a kind of psychic foresight, I suppose, that this is exactly what the drier of the vehicle had been hoping to do all along. Slip on the ice. Crash.

And so it happened. The car spun rapidly; a complete 360 degree turn, facing the way it had come. Yet it continued to slide, and soon was out of sight.

I wasn’t dressed for the cold, but it didn’t matter. Raced to the front door, feet bare, waiting to hear the inevitable screeching of metal as the car hit many of the targets in its path. Yet all I heard was a small, insignificant thump.

I raced outside, the cold stinging my feet as they slapped against the icy ground. The car was resting up ahead in a duvet by the side of the road.

The howling came before I reached the vehicle. Horrible, anguished sobs. I opened the door of he car. Landlord was slumped over the steering wheel, crying hysterically. In between the cries he asked himself over and over: why? Why? Why?

I said his name. Quietly. Did not wish to alarm him. He looked at me with strange, glassy eyes. Straightened in his seat. He extended an arm towards me, like he was a show-girl at a car expo. ‘And here she is! Come to rescue me!’

Very, very drunk.

Yesterday, it appears, was the anniversary of Mrs Landlord’s death.

I could hardly move him.

The incoherent mumbling. The change between laughing and crying, exuberance and sadness: getting Landlord from the car to the gatehouse was one of the most emotionally taxing experiences of my life. Have not really witnessed raw pain like that before.

I hand’t a clue what to do with him once we got inside. Could only think to get him warm. To get myself warm, too. My feet were numb. I got Landlord to the couch, where he slumped forward, his chin resting on his chest in apparent sleep.

I lit the fire, quickly, because I am quite the expert at it by now. I knew this would not be enough to keep Landlord warm, and so collected a blanket from my room. I covered him, and took off his shoes. I arranged the cushions so his head wasn’t at such an awkward angle.

As I turned to head to bed I felt his hand grasp at my leg. I looked back to him. Landlord was awake, his eyes searching.

‘Stay,’ he said.

He clutched at my leg, tight behind my knee. The force made me lose my balance, and I felt into him.

Suddenly, Landlord’s arms were everywhere. All over me, smoothing my arms, my legs, my back. Tracing my collar bone.

‘Stay with me.’

He nuzzled at my neck with warm, whisky breaths.

‘Stay with me.’

Light kisses began. He peppered my skin so lightly, goose pimples erupted, trailing down my spine.

I gave in for a moment. I did. I let his kisses circle my jaw from my ear to my chin. I pretended for a moment we were two normal people. That one of us was not drunk and confused, the other cold and bitter. I returned, if just for a moment, to that girl by the Thames, entwined with a handsome, healthy man. I let Landlord’s kisses reach my bottom lip which he gently plucked at with his own.

And then reality.

A man in pain. A man in mourning. Intoxicated. A man who had only just tried to recreate the accident which had his his wife after taking her from her lover. Her lover, who had also been mine.

‘Stay with me.’

Alarm bells sounded in my head. My body stiffened. Extricating myself from Landlord, I stood up.

‘Stay with me.’

I took a breath, starting down at my sad and lonely neighbour.

‘No.’

 

That can’t be it? You’re right. There’s more to the Kool-Aid story. Stay tuned to giorgethomas.com to learn how you can read the rest.

KOOL-AID: i saw him on the tv

Where do I start with this? And where do I start without giving self away? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

It was such an innocuous morning. The fire was going. The kitchen warm. Landlord and I were sitting together. He with his breakfast, me with my coffee. The TV, as per normal, was on. It is normally just background noise for me. I might give extra attention when talk turns to the weather, to see if we are going to be met with snow, perhaps even the elusive white Christmas. But nothing much else. It’s all talking to b-grade celebrities who appeared on a season of I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here and now have a makeup line or fitness video, or news stories on some politician who has fucked up in some way. I tune it out. I find it far more entertaining to look out the window. The view is still intoxicating for me. Wonder if it is the same for Landlord, even after all the years he’s been living here.

So was staring out the window this morning, sipping away at my coffee, when I heard his voice.

His voice.

I froze. Momentarily, I thought he was in the room with us. But he wouldn’t be sounding so jovial, would he?

Slowly, I turned to the TV. There he was. Older, still handsome, but with a harshness somehow. Smiling brightly at the camera in that way we’re all taught to do. Happy, happy, happy, because the church makes us sooo happy.

This wasn’t something which had been filmed in America. He’s here. As in, in the UK, here. He’s in the UK, appearing on morning television.

And I don’t know what to do with this information.

I guess I never imagined he’d come back here. He was so set in LA. Everyone from the church at his beck and call, the sunshine he always desired because where he grew up was grim and grey, and being surrounded by the celebrities he always wanted to be.

Why is he here? What does he have left here? He was always so above it all. American fame — however small — is always preferable to British fame.

No family. No friends. Does he need the money? Or does the church need him over here for good publicity? Is the church suffering?

Of course, it’s a coincidence that he’s here now. Of course it is. Has nothing to do with me. Nothing at all…

Landlord knew. He saw it on my face. He asked the question. Tried to comfort. But it all was done from a distance. He’s somewhere else today. His eyes are faraway. He’s sad, I think.

I pulled myself together pretty quickly. Landlord doesn’t need to take on any of my crap. He has enough of his own at the moment.

KOOL-AID: christmas is all around

It’s been a very Christmassy twenty-four hours, really.

Started with yesterday afternoon. Went for a walk just as was getting dark. Had planned it that way as fancied a walk through the village and don’t like doing that in daylight. The curtain twitching can be rather annoying. Feel like an alien at times. Honestly.

Just wanted something different on my walk, and quite enjoy walking past people’s homes. Always like to imagine what they’re doing. Who they are. How their lives are. People in England much more inclined to leave curtains open, even in winter, it seems. Is the central heating. So you always get a full-on show of folks sitting down in front of the telly, or sat around the kitchen table, drinking tea.

Yesterday, thought, there was the addition of Christmas trees. As the light outside darkened, trees in windows lit up like, well, Christmas trees. I could just mark out the wreaths on the door, and some folks have taken to wrapping thick red tulle around trees and gateposts. So this is Christmas. And what have you done? Cripes, do you think Yoko will come after me for copyright? I can’t afford it. Please, Yoko, please don’t come after me. She probably won’t. She’s into peace and love and all that. I remember back in the Myspace days (which were amazing! What the fuck happened to Myspace?) She was so active and if you messaged her she would tell you ‘I love you.’ Made my day.

Anyway. So it’s Christmas. But it doesn’t feel like Christmas. Why doesn’t it feel like Christmas? One word for you: cherries.

Yup. Those little red morsels are what we Australians associate with Christmas. The season happens just before and every Christmas table has a bowl of cherries. So being cherry-less does not feel Christmassy.

It’s weird when you grow up in one country and then move to another — holidays never really feel the same. Like for us Australians, Christmas means hot weather and being able to go for a walk in a t-shirt and shorts to look at the Christmas lights. Carols by Candle light are a relief more than anything else, because it’s nice being outside at night as the temperatures (only sometimes) start to cool.

I make it sound like my Christmases growing up were brilliant. They weren’t. They were shit. Properly shit. My dad would travel for work every Christmas and so Mum and I would have to go and be with him every year. Christmas isn’t the same when you’re not at home. And Christmas isn’t the same when you’re spending it in a hotel function room with twenty other families you have to pretend to like because your dad works with them. I didn’t like any of the buggers. Okay, that’s a lie, too. I liked some of them. Certainly didn’t like their kids. And that’s who I’d get lumped with; the kids. If you were the oldest of the ‘kids’ it was kind of your responsibility to look after the other ones while the parents all got ‘jovial’ at the adults table. I may not have been an adult but Mum always treated me like one so suddenly being forced to be a kid on Christmas day sucked big time.

Dad’s work would give out token gifts to the ‘kids’ and they never really thought about the age of kids. So I always got stupid plastic gifts which were not age appropriate. Because it was such a pain for Mum to take all of our presents with her, we didn’t really have a lot to open Christmas day, so it just didn’t feel like Christmas. Plus, the whole day was sooo regimented. We had to be up at a certain time. Had to be in the function room at a certain time. Had to eat the gob-shite food. Yup. Shit.

When Mum and I moved to London, there was a small improvement on Christmas. Well, a fast improvement, if truth be told. But then, it didn’t feel like it. Like the sensation of a dewy night after a hot day and that eucalyptus smell which always seemed to hang in the air at around Christmas time. The cherries, Watermelon and other such seasonal fruits which finished every year. The cold ham and cucumber sandwiches we would eat for the entire summer holidays until finally the only thing left of the ham was the bone. Pavlova. Prawns. BBQ’s. Christmas in London was traditional, and traditional freaked me the fuck out.

I suppose the other reason why it hans’t felt like Christmas at the moment is the lack of decorations. I mean, I could have ordered some on line but life is so in-between at the moment, I didn’t think there was any point.

But today, all of that changed.

Landlord arrived at my door this morning. Early. Had just got out the shower. Thankfully, was dressed. He didn’t come inside.

‘Get your coat on,’ he said to me.

‘Why.’

Rolled his eyes. ‘Just get your coat on.’

So, probably because have spent the last few years being told what to do, I complied. When I got outside, Wellies on, I noticed Landlord not in his usual vehicle. Was an older version of what he has. A much older version. Almost looked like an army tank. When I got in and he started the engine, I couldn’t believe how I hadn’t heard it when he arrived. The sound of it! Guess must have still been in the shower.

We drove back through the gates and only went half-way up the driveway before Landlord went off-road. We bumped along the fields with such severity a sports-bra would have been appropriate, until arriving at the crop of woods ‘west’ of the property. Landlord stopped the car and we got out. He went to the boot which was kind of open to the elements and pulled out a chainsaw.

A chainsaw.

I was all like, ‘ah, what’s going on?’

‘Christmas tree,’ he said bluntly.

Christmas tree? Fair enough then.

We trudged into the forest, our eyes searching for pine. Landlord saw a large one for his house he said he’s had his eye on all year. Too high for my little cottage with its low ceilings. I didn’t want anything too big. Would look ridiculous enough with an un-decorated tree in my house, let alone a large one. So found a small little fucker which had wonky branches — Landlord thought it not uniformed enough but I saw it as a bit of a metaphor.

Landlord got cutting. All very masculine, chain saws. Bicep-rippling kind of exercise. It looked pretty easy, mind. The trunks aren’t exactly thick. Landlord gave me a glove and together we dragged the trees (me the little one; he the big one) to the car. We lifted them with easy onto the back, one on top of the other. Would have put them side-by-side but there were several cardboard boxes in the way.

Which turned out to be Christmas decorations. Landlord drove us back to the gatehouse and without a word, we just set about decorating my tree. I made a cuppa for us both as Landlord popped the tree into the basin. I didn’t understand the whole process as have never, ever had a real tree in my life. Have had many a scented candle which tried to replicate the smell of a real-life Christmas tree but nothing, honestly, can compare.

I decorated rather sparingly as remembered we still had Landlord’s tree to do in the main house. But he was all like, no, is fine, we used to have three Christmas trees when I was a child, so I don’t need that many.

Three?

Yes, as it turns out. One in the entrance hall, which reached as high as the top of the stairs. Apparently you’d have to go up onto the balcony to put the star on it. The other would be in the drawing room, the third in the dining room. A shit load of work, when you think about it. But, ah, no. They had help for that kind of thing.

When we finished my tree Landlord asked me coyly if I wanted to help him with his. But of course! Because, to be frank, was thoroughly enjoying myself. Landlord’s ornaments are proper antiques and fascinating. Beautiful, traditional designs all seemingly hand-painted.

So it was in the car and up to the main house. Took us ages to debate where to put the tree. Decided on the drawing room because of the large windows there. It would be nice lit up at night. Pity no one one see it.

Landlord decided to make eggnog. Have never had eggnog before. Too eggy I always thought. Turns out, if you put enough alcohol in it, you can’t taste the eggyness. Also make you drunk. Very, very drunk.

Ended up with tinsel around my neck singing Christmas carols. You have to understand — wasn’t even lunch yet. Whether the eggnog made the say more entertaining or not, is hard to say. Did kind of end in a sad note when Landlord took out the Christmas stockings as he bent over the decoration box. He was just kind of crouched there, stockings in hand, frozen. Finally he looked at me and said, ‘ah, there’s not really much of a point, I think…’

I wondered why he had two. And then I realised. One of them belonged to his wife.

I had to think fast. Hard to do when you’re pissed (as in drunk, for you un-Australians.)

‘Um, well, I can have one,’ I said.

Landlord looked at me with wide eyes. They clouded over a bit in a misty way. And then he got all Hugh Grant on me. ‘Yes, well, that would do nicely. You can take it with you. Yes.’

‘Why don’t we just leave it here?’ I asked. Please rememvber. Was slightly drunk. ‘I am coming over Christmas day, yes?’

‘Yes, of course.’

‘Good. Because didn’t fancy sitting in the gatehouse by myself while you and Policeman had a party up here.’

‘It’s never a party.’

Cripes. The bitterness in his voice.

‘Well, let’s make it one this year.’

The festive cheer wore off after that. Was time to go. Am not sure what it is but whenever things get too personal with Landlord I have to high-tail it out of there.

I declined his invitation for a lift back because, though cold, I fancied the walk. Landlord came with me to the door, opening it for me. His body stiffened.

‘It’s been a delightful day, _______, thank you.’

And yes, he really did say ‘delightful.’

‘Yes, I’ve enjoyed myself.’

And then, obviously quite uncomfortable with the act, Landlord bent down and kissed me on the cheek, very, very close to my lips. I could smell the eggnog on his breath as he probably could on mind. It was such a slow, measured gesture I froze momentarily afterwards.

And then, perhaps, became a little Hugh Grant myself. ‘Right-o then’ (have never used that phrase in my life until today) ‘yes. Thank you. Good day to you.’

I practically ran out of the door.

KOOL-AID: mania yes, happiness, no

When I was diagnosed as bi-polar, it was a bit of a shock. Firstly, I didn’t understand what it was. ‘Manic depressive,’ it was explained to me. Which makes you wonder why they insist on calling it bi-polar when everyone needs the explanation of ‘manic depressive’ to understand it.

I’ll tell you why. Because people with bi-polar don’t always experience mania.

Have never experienced happiness.

Even as a kid. Was understandable that I would disagree with the doctor who stated I had a condition which meant I should have experienced happiness — even in mania form — at some point of my life.

Yet was explained to me that mania didn’t always mean happiness. For me it meant aggression and weird compulsive spells of shopping.

Like, I would never wait for anything. If I wanted something, I had to go out and buy it straight away. When I was a teenager and had no real money to speak of, it’d be things like notebooks and nail polish. I remember at one stage I had over a hundred Moleskins. Which I suppose does add up to quite a bit of money. I wouldn’t even use the full notebook. Just the first few pages to write down whatever madness was filling my head before feeling like the notebook was spoiled, and then having to start another one.

I’d paint my nails a different colour every day, removing and starting again on the next. I gave my mum a headache, quite literally, with all the polish remover fumes.

I had over twenty Filofaxes. All different sizes because I could never make up my mind which size best suited my needs. I would never, ever, get through the year on the same organiser. But because of my manic tendencies I would then have to copy everything from my old diary out into the new one. Would quite literally spend half my life re-documenting it.

I, of course, didn’t know that these were manic tendencies at the time, just like I didn’t know my aggressive tendencies were manic, too.

And I mean aggressive. It’s a little embarrassing and shameful to admit to, but it’s probably one of the reasons why my parents split up.

I stabbed a kid in the neck with a pair of scissors. He was being a dick, saying some shit about my dad, and I just totally flipped out. We were at school, the scissors were in my hand, and I just did it.

I can’t even explain it. Wasn’t a conscious decision at all. I just remember being so mad, that it just happened.

My dad was mortified. He was so worried about what people would say about him. He with the psychotic daughter. He was awful to me. Mum, being a mental health nurse, she knew there was something more to the story than her daughter being a naughty psychotic child, and had me see a doctor. Hours and hours of therapy with no result. My diagnosis would come much later.

Maybe if there was a diagnosis my dad would have felt better with everything. He’d have something to blame at least. Something which wouldn’t put his parenting into question.

But my dad, he has pride, and he could never get over the humiliation of what I had done to him. Little did he know there was worse to come. Poor fucker.

Mum couldn’t bear the way my dad was treating me, and it drew a wedge in their marriage. That and his cheating.

So Mum and I went to live in London where I continued to live a confused life of unhappiness, buying shit compulsively.

I started a cigarette habit because we bi-polar folks always need a habit. I got into the occasional fight with chicks on the streets of Camden because, whether I knew it at the time or not, the imbalance in my brain caused blinding rage.

But most of all I was depressed. Cloud-heavy, always-seeing-the-negative, depressed. I felt like I was walking around with a weight around my neck and tar choking my lungs. I felt trapped, unable to see the way out of my unhappiness.

When I did finally go and see someone after all the shit that happened after Mum died, I was certain that would be my diagnosis: depression. I had just spent there months locked in a dark room writing all kinds of shit down on those various Moleskin notebooks, chain-smoking and not bathing. Surely the behaviour of a depressed person? But no. The behaviour of a bi-polar person.

I thought giving a name to what was wrong with me, giving an explanation of sorts, would help in some small way. It didn’t really. By then I’d made my bed. The decisions which would affect the rest of my life had already been made and no amount of lithium could stop it.

Cripes, why am I writing about this? Oh yes, that’s right, now I remember…

Was in the study with Landlord today, helping him again with his work. His mood today was far better than it has been of late, and so chatting has resumed. Comfort resumed. And was sitting there, across from Landlord, having a general chit-chat, and out of nowhere the thought came to me: I’m happy.

And not in a delicious, manic way. In a pleasant, isn’t-this-nice, content way. For the first time in a long, long while, I am at peace. I enjoy the status quo, and am not looking for anything more.

Which is very, very rare for me.

Without sex, without drugs, without some fucked-up church promising me the world — I am content.

KOOL-AID: a cult’s guide to cleaning

 

Didn’t even think about it. Windows were dirty. Normally would not care about this. Am not saying am a dirty person. No. I do like things clean. Is easy in the gatehouse. Not much stuff. Floors are wooden so a sweep and going-over with a damp cloth is enough.

Have not normally been concerned with windows. Not like Mum. She was nuts over them. Our flat was on the first floor and she damn near killed herself trying to clean the outside of those bloody windows. Yes, she could have paid someone. Think it was an Italian thing. Martyrdom. Wondered why she bothered. After all, we were living in London. It rains a lot. There’s a lot of cars. Windows would be washed (mum hanging out the window with me holding onto her legs) and an hour later it’d rain. By the end o the afternoon exhaust dust had stuck to the watermarks. Would drive mum (and me) insane.

So when she died, I didn’t clean the windows. And it never bothered me.

Yet have lovely outlook here at the gatehouse. Lovely cottage box windows looking out to green fields and oak trees out the front; lovely fenced paddocks out the back. Spend a lot of time looking out of windows. And windows; dirty.

Also — don’t have much else to do. Do not have a job, and Landlord not needing my help today. Time enough to clean windows.

And yes, I know what you’re thinking — is her life so boring she’s taken to writing blog posts about cleaning windows?

Well. Yes. But there is a purpose to this, I promise.

So am cleaning windows, actually enjoying self. That’s what my life has come to. Enjoying tasks like cleaning windows.

But then — disaster! Ran out of newspaper.

Which is understandable, because I only had a small stack of newspaper left by Landlord. Am supposed to be starting fires with them. Which I have been. Because do not get papers delivered, though, have now run out.

Thought to self — how the fuck am I going to clean windows now? Because cannot clean windows any other way. Window cleaning is done with newspaper. Is the only way. Well. According to church.

Then that weird mind-click thing happened. Like a clog in my brain jammed. Ex-cult members would know it well. The moment there is a system override when it all clicks and you realise you have been doing something cultish.

Like cleaning windows with fucking newspaper because creator of church was so egotistical he believed was best way to clean windows and wrote it down, thus becoming policy.

There are weird moments like that when you leave a cult. You spend your days questioning every single thing you think. Is this what I think, or is this what the church wants me to think? Do I like what am eating or is it only because have been conditioned to like it?

My mind is a weird jumble of lies and truth and for the most part cannot make head nor tail of it.

Was listening to a podcast the other day when presenter made reference to a friend who grew up in a strict religion. Apparently she has the same issues with her own thoughts — trying to weed out what are hers and what are those of the religion. Is worse for those who grew up in cults, I imagine. Only have ten years of pollution I need to clear out. Not a lifetime.

KOOL-AID: pathetic state of affairs

‘How was your weekend?’

Is it possible to ask that question in sarcastic tones? Because I think Landlord did. Was almost snarky. Cripes, after all this time referring to him as Landlord, do not want to have to change it to Snarky.

He was at the kitchen table when I came in. I have a key so I let myself in now. Saves time waiting in the cold for Landlord to come to the door.

Seriously, have never seen anyone look as proper as Landlord eating breakfast. It wasn’t really a thing in my house. Breakfast was a meal you ate on-the-go — if at all.

But Landlord, he does it in a proper 1950s way. Minus the round table, breakfast nook and tacky wallpaper.

The TV is always on. BBC news or some such. He sits facing the TV with a napkin (real-life ,fabric napkin) on his lap. His breakfast always consists of two courses. Fruit to start, sometimes with yogurt. If the whole scene wasn’t traditional enough, once I actually witnessed him eat half a grapefruit. Without sugar. Crazy.

Landlord’s second course varies. Is either toast and marmite, eggs scrambled or a soft boiled egg.

This morning; the egg. He was dunking his toast into it as I walked in. Turned to look at me before asking how my weekend was. In that tone.

Honestly, prefer Landlord with the wild beard and hair. At east he wasn’t as still.

At least this way I had the time to get self settled. To put all I had learned in the back of my mind. Easier not to feel sorry for Landlord when his behaviour towards me was cold. Goodness knows why. Suspect he’s the moody sort, is Landlord.

I made myself a coffee and faffed around the kitchen, making myself useful. As I cleared the plates landlord finished his egg and came to help me. He was moving a lot slower than normal. Hands shook with extra vigour. Wonder if it’s the weather.

We started around one another between sink and dishwasher until all was cleared. No words.

Automatically we headed off to the study so could help Landlord with his work. Which I normally enjoy. As I’ve said previously — is good to have a purpose. But today was excruciating. The silence just far too caustic. I even tried making small talk about the snow. All I got in return was, ‘yes, was quite substantial.’

At some point, just before lunch I think, Landlord let out an exaggerated sigh. Looked over to him — had been avoiding it — to see he had his face in his hands. I waited, because he was obviously dealing with something. He looked as if he could burst into tears at any moment.

Finally — sighing again — Landlord asked if we could give it a miss for today. Must have looked hurt, because after seeing my face he said: ‘it’s not a good time for me. Too much on my mind.’

The wife. Am wondering now if today is the anniversary of her death. Was not snakiness from Landlord. this morning, was melancholia.

His weekend must have been dreadful. Trapped by the snow in that big house he once shared with her. Cannot help but feel pity for him.

I couldn’t just leave without trying to convey something of comfort. I walked over to where Landlord was sitting and placed a hand his shoulder.

He looked up at me with an expression which plainly read he thought I was being peculiar.

Because I was, I suppose. Patted his shoulder and everything. Like an eejit. Like a fool who doesn’t know how to comfort another because somewhere along the line I have missed the compassion gene.

A rather pathetic state of affairs. If truth be told. But then — I am rather pathetic.

KOOL-AID: 7 stages of snow

Catch up on Kool-Aid now by hitting the link in the menu above

Ah, yes, I remember. This country goes slightly crazy when it shows. As if a natural occurrence in this climate is some kind of cataclysmic event.

It’s snow, folks, snow. Deal with it.

Having said that, am quite like the rest of the country when it snows It’s like the seven stages of grief.

You wake up in the morning, confused, trying to work out why the house is no bright. Then you see the snow and you go into that romantic phase. ‘Ah, isn’t it lovely.’ And it is. Place looks like a fondant sculpture.

You have your coffee (or, for you British weirdos, tea — though how you can start your day with anything other than coffee is beyond me) and you stare at the window, marvelling at the beauty of the snowy landscape. You wish you had thought to dress in a thick-knit jumper with one of those rolled necklines o you can better look the part.

Which is when you go through the whole fantasy stage. In the fantasy of snow you have this amazing wardrobe with Abercrombie Fitch ensembles which make you look cute, yet comfortable, and oh-so-warm. Your beanie actually looks good on you and your hair cascades underneath it in voluminous, soft shiny curls. Your skin is milky-white, like the snow and your lips are pearly red. There’s a slight flush to your cheeks from the cold and your eyes are bright and smiley.

But then — yep, you guessed it; reality. Your clothes make you look like the Michelin man. But you’re still cold. Your beanie looks like your mother’s tea cosy, flattening your heart an unattractive state. Your hair is frizzy and whips due to the moisture in the air. Your nose is red. Rudolph red. So are your cheeks. In fact, your entire face is blotchy. Your lips are dried and cracked — the only redness is the bloody seeping through. And your eyes are watering from the wind. Basically, you look like Jabba the Hutt if he’d spent the last six months crying. Then there’s the whole annoyance stage. You spent forever getting dressed in twenty different layers but hen most of your day is spent removing said layers whenever you walk inside, before having to put it all on again when leaving. You spend the entire day wet from the knee down.

If it’s a work day, you spend most of it frustrated. Traffic is horrendous, they haven’t gritted the roads and it took twenty minutes to try and de-ice your windscreen. Which, you know, makes you angry. And exhausted; going through all these emotions in one day. But we won’t mention exhaustion, because that would make it eight stages of snow, which wouldn’t really work.

To be honest I didn’t really go through that many of them yesterday. There was certainly a romantic, fantasy aspect to everything but given I spent the entire day inside, I wasn’t really affected by the other stages.

Haven’t seen Landlord all weekend. Am kind of apprehensive. After what I found out Saturday I’m worried I”ll find it hard to look him in the eye. To come face-to-face with him and not do the whole head-tilt ‘are you okay’ gesture. There’s also a concern I may hug him for absolutely no reason. Which would be weird for both of us because I’m not a hugger and Landlord would be wondering why am hugging him in the first place.

I guess I’ll find out soon. The moment I’m done here with this blog, my coffee and two more cigarettes, I’ll be heading up there.

Wish me luck.

KOOL-AID: because it’s policy

Why am I so worried about what the church will do? Because it’s policy. Attack enemies of the church. It’s in writing. When they say attack, what they mean is, aggressively attack. Do everything possible to bring down the enemy.

Private detectives are hired, dirt is found. You’ll be brought down, no matter what.

But who is an enemy of the church? Well. Anyone who speaks out about them, for one. Also — anyone who leaves.

Yup. You leave the church, you’re an enemy of the church. And enemies must be quashed.

Is the only way they can try and hang onto their congregation, really. In the same way that Christian religions talk about damnation and getting into heaven and all that, putting the fear of God (literally) in you so you stay, the church uses the threat of attack if you leave.

Basically, anyone who have any kind of independence, intelligence, you know, common-sense, then they are the enemy. Because god forbid you actually know how the world works.

And I’ve been seeing weird shit, too. Like former members of the church who used to be quite vocal in their opposition are suddenly all for the church again. Attacking people who are attacking the church. Obviously, the church has something on them. Whether it’s family, or secrets, who knows.

One of the reasons I’m scared is because they have my secrets. Of course they do. Your secrets are videotaped to be used against you. I guess I should be thankful they can’t hold my family against me. Because I don’t speak to my family.

It’s policy to bring people like me down. And it scares the shit out of me.

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