My motto for life: spend, spend, spend...
Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country
I have a dear friend in London who once imparted some very wise advice which I always turn to in moments of need.
“If you are ever in doubt,” she says, “throw money at the problem.”
I absolutely love this as a motto for how to live life – it’s so decadent. And the best thing about it is – she assures me - you can apply it to absolutely everything.
Got to cook dinner for your husband’s boss and can’t find your Jamie Oliver cookbook? Call the caterers. Need to lose a bit of weight to attend a school reunion? Hire a personal trainer. Kids driving you mad? There is always nursery, an au pair or a bribe you can thrust at their favourite aunt or uncle.
This week I have thrown money at two problems – my house and my garden.
With my landlord’s permission I have set about painting all the mustard-coloured walls (and there are a lot of them) white.
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“Why?” you might ask. “After all, you are only renting, and who wants to decorate and improve a place they don’t own?”
Well, I can’t stand yellow. It gives me a headache. And who knows how long we will be here? I’m getting rather fond of the place and, like it or not, first-time buyers in Britain are struggling. House prices remain high, mortgages are hard to come by, and deposits are difficult to find.
Having decided to paint the house, I immediately enlisted the help of my husband to start on the downstairs loo. Three and a half hours later he was still struggling with the first coat and I was getting increasingly annoyed. “I will do it myself,” I said, tutting at his incompetence.
Every day when he returned home from work, another room was painted.
“Unbelievable,” he said. “You did all this on your own while looking after two children?”
“Multi-tasking,” I replied, rolling my eyes. “Women were blessed with it and it gives us the perfect opportunity to prove how wonderful we are.”
I’m praying he won’t read this latest instalment of my diary, because I have a little confession to make. While I did indeed paint our bedroom and the playroom, and did a pretty good job of it too, I got pretty bored with the whole adventure halfway through.
That’s when I turned to good old Google and found the marvellous Ben Horner, a painter and decorator from Woodbridge who was happy to work solidly, with plenty of tea and coffee to keep him going.
My house looked wonderful at the end of it and it was worth every penny. The trouble was that while the inside of the property was gleaming, it only served to make the outside look in need of a face-lift. I know I mentioned gardening two weeks ago and how I felt moving to Suffolk should be an excellent opportunity to try out a new hobby. But, truth be told, I had very little idea where to start. I am also not a very patient person. And gardening is supposed to be a pastime which involves a lot of effort in the initial stages, with the reward being reaped only months down the line.
First stop was to spend a day in my mother’s allotment. It has always rather annoyed me that I have inherited neither her good looks nor her incredibly green fingers. But listening intently as she pointed out different herbs, flowers, shrubs and vines, I decided it was high time I worked on at least one of these areas of grievance (I can always throw money at cosmetic surgery at a later date).
The next day I marched into Notcutts in Woodbridge with a long list of requirements.
I left two hours later with nine bags of compost, an array of different plants, a pitchfork, a spade, some bamboo canes and a water butt (well, we may be mid-drought but nothing is going to prevent me collecting rainwater to keep my new foliage happy).
It feels quite satisfying spending money on gardening – a bit like donating to charity, it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.
I enjoyed it so much I returned a further four times through the week, each time picking up a new necessity: among them a miniature apple tree, some decorative rocks, a bird feeder and some solar-powered pretty lighting for my herb garden border.
On the days when it hasn’t been raining, I have been out in the garden, painfully removing stones from the soil, carefully planting seeds and bulbs and arranging bamboo canes in the hope my sweet peas will grow up them. I have mint, tarragon, chives, parsley and sage in one area and have even managed to get my husband to build me a raised flowerbed which I plan to fill with lettuce, radishes, beans and tomato plants.
Yesterday, when I had finished digging, I sat back and wiped my muddy hands on the back of my jeans. Taking a seat at my new outdoor table and chairs – a housewarming gift from one of my wonderful relatives – I surveyed the scene. “Lovely,” I thought. “But there is still one thing missing.”
Grabbing my purse, I set off once more for the garden centre. This time I was looking for a barbecue. After all, this would be a vital ingredient to host the summer parties I have in mind to showcase my new garden.
I found the perfect one: ivory-coloured, porcelain-enameled, with a “one touch cleaning system” – which sounded good, whatever it meant.
I reached the till, card in hand. “That will be �199.99,” the girl at the checkout chirped.
Hardly listening, and envisioning my friends enjoying my chargrilled chicken and sizzling sausages in my new paradise, I handed over the Visa. But I’m afraid my dalliance with the debit card has meant I have a second reason for not wanting my husband to read my column this week. And I certainly don’t want him to stumble across the bank statements hidden beneath my gardening gloves in the shed.
After all, it is all very well throwing money at the problem if you have got an abundance to throw. Sadly, Barclays and I are well aware that I don’t.
• If you have any gardening tips for me, or just want to get in touch, email EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.