Hello world!

(Please note: Featured image was made by artist Gemma Correll)

To begin this post by making even the slightest attempt at summarising the last four and half months is futile. I simply cannot figure out where to begin. I’ve taken a break from blogging and from writing in general for the most part, I’ve been focusing more on living and less on reviewing or analysing my life and hopefully I’ve done a lot of growing as a person.

Tonight I felt like getting back to blogging, so I thought I’d at least write an entry to follow through on my intent.


Some things I have achieved over the last five months include:

  • Removing the batteries from my scales and keeping them out of reach. I don’t know how much I weigh and I’m very rarely curious to find out! (I won’t dispose of my scales altogether though, we might need them to weigh luggage)
  • A significant reduction in depressive moods. This is in part because I can more readily identify thoughts that trigger the slippery slope into dejection, as soon as I feel that sinking feeling that tightens my chest I start to fight to get out of my head rather than allow myself to be swallowed up by the darkness.
  • Building a creative habit. I have successfully made art part of my life again, and I’m so glad! I make time several times a week to be isolated with my art supplies and it does me so much good! I guess it’s what they mean when they talk about “self-care”, it’s me-time, with the perk that it is also productive time that builds my self-esteem a bit.


Some of the things that I need more work include:

  • My relationship with food. I’m not a binge-eater anymore, and I’ve made no effort to count calories for absolutely ages, so that’s good. Still, I’m a long way for becoming an intuitive eater, eating mindfully has not become a habit and I am not in tune with my hunger signals most of the time.
  • My relationship with exercise. At this very moment, exercise and I are getting along, but it’s not become something that is as regular a part of my life as I would like it to be. The aim is to view exercise as a way of showing respect for my body rather than to try to beat it into submitting to the shape I would prefer it to be. For instance, I really enjoy cycling and strength training whereas I absolutely hate HIIT and circuit training. However, I’m often tempted to start HIIT and circuit training regimes in the hopes of losing excess fat… even though experience has shown that I do them for a time and then become sedentary. I need to really root out that thinking at its source and come to truly believe that the best kind of exercise is the one that I will keep doing for a lifetime.

That pretty much outlines where I’m at with some of the things that I’ve discussed on this blog before. It helps me to see how far I’ve come, but I won’t be doing a regular update on these subjects, only when the mood takes me. For me, I find that it is counterproductive to monitor these things too closely.

Until next time!


Thoughts on… loving winter

Winter. My lifelong nemesis.

Dramatic, yes, but for as long as I can remember I have despised winter. It isn’t simply my least favourite season, it’s approach fills me with dread while I’m trying to enjoy autumn, it’s first dewy signs inspire gloom in my heart, and every day it lasts I spend daydreaming about living someplace where it’s icy grip cannot reach. I could go on, but you get the picture.

This year is different though.

Sometime toward the end of September 2016 I made the pledge to love winter; a conscious decision to embrace the season that has darkened every year of my life to date. And when I say love winter, I mean adore, relish, delight, lust, become so weak with fondness that I will arrive in spring with longing for the season left behind.

So far, so good. But we have been fortunate to have an extended autumn this year, so I’m not going to blow my trumpet at my success since it may well be short lived.

I realise I have set the bar unrealistically high. Some would suggest simply learning to appreciate the little things about winter, or to plan things, social things, to look forward to. No doubt, that method has and continues to work for many individuals. I have tried some of those suggestions in the past and found that I do get little bursts of joy interspersing the long periods of the blues. But last year I had the longest and most serious bout of depression I have ever experienced.

It began in the middle of summer 2015 and I can say I only feel like I started to recover around the beginning of August this year. I was in a dark, lonely, scary place that I have no intention of returning to. I still struggle some days with the thoughts that led to the feelings that sunk me into that darkness, but I have strengthened my mind so that I can dismiss the thoughts sooner, before they start to do real damage. This year, as a result of overcoming depression, I realised just how powerful our thoughts and imagination are when it comes to the reality we experience.

With that in mind, I am confident that telling myself and the people around me that I love winter is the first and most important step to making that a reality. I am also employing a few strategies to make sure I see that through. These include:

  • A change of vocab. Some people may argue that this is ridiculous and they could be right but I genuinely think that coming up with new adjectives to describe cloudy wintery days other than “dreary, grey, dim, gloomy, miserable” makes a significant difference to my perspective. Much to the annoyance of the people around me, I have been labelling cold days as ‘crisp’ and dark greys as ‘atmospheric’. It seems naive, but I have personally found that I am looking at the days in those ways, I actually find grey days pretty cool now, and if it’s foggy even better. It helps that the clear light on overcast days is optimal for painting.
  • Do nice things for others. Dropping in to see friends and relatives, particularly ones who can’t get out the house because they’re old or poorly, taking them a treat or some flowers, these are all things that warm me up from the inside. (Queue the retching noises and mocking laughter). It’s true though, when I’m thinking about how I can help other people it takes the focus off me and my problems.
  • Hand cream, face cream and lip balm. Sounds superficial but the discomfort of chapped lips and scaly hands that are too far gone to heal properly is a major source of resentment for me when it comes to winter. Wearing gloves when house cleaning and washing up helps with this too.
  • Wrapping up like the Michelin man. Who cares if I look like I’m two sizes bigger? If I’m cold, it’s hard to keep up my morale. I get grumpy and I complain. I know this and rather than stop myself from complaining (which is just not gonna happen) I need to do what is necessary to prevent me from getting cold so the complaining never starts.
  • Hygge. Pronounced something like “who-grrr”. This is a Danish term I learned when I listened to the audiobook A Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. It can be defined as “Hygge is as Danish as pork roast and it goes far in illuminating the Danish soul. In essence, hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge.”  So this to me means a cosy house, hot drinks, blankets, movie nights, curries, chillies, and all other warming, comforting, snuggly things that come to mind.
  • Looking after my appearance. I’ve been surprised by how much more confident in myself I feel when I like the way my clothes look put together, my hair is relatively presentable, and my blemishes are covered up with a bit of concealer. Even if I don’t look at myself for the rest of the day, somehow it puts me in a better frame of mind from the start of the day.
  • Getting active. I’m not talking about the gym or a workout video as punishment for all the stollen and pastries I’m undoubtedly going to indulge in. I just mean going for brisk walks and bike rides just because it feels good and gets me out in nature. Sometimes I may get a workout in but it’s just important to get out of the house and face winter like a boss. To look it in the eye and say, “I’m not afraid of you, I’m not going to cower at home because you’re too cold. These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what I’ll do.”
  • A daylight bulb. I don’t know if these actually do anything as far as curing SAD. They apparently do. But the reason I have one is so I can paint and draw and all that good stuff even though it gets dark early. I love art and in previous years I’ve been put off doing any in my free time because it’s been in the evening when it’s dark and all our bulbs emit that orangey yellow light which I think is cosy to curl up and watch Netflix in but not so much to draw in, and definitely not to paint in because you can’t see the colours properly. So my daylight bulb has totally livened up my evenings.
  • Not overindulging. I have often turned to comfort eating in previous years to alleviate my blues but I end up feeling bloated, lethargic and overweight so it is counterproductive. I am trying to have a little bit of what I fancy but to continue to listen to my body by not overdoing it.

Those are the things that are helping me love winter. I’ll let you know if it has worked around Spring next year. In the meantime, tell me, do you hate winter? Or have you always loved it and don’t know what I’m talking about? Please share your thoughts below, especially any tips for making winter enjoyable. I need all the help I can get!

FEEDER at Nottingham Rock City

Brilliant set list including Feeder classics as well as new material. Vibrant crowd of excited fans made an electric atmosphere. Great venue choice – good acoustics, and felt intimate because it’s not a huge space. Grant’s vocals were spot on. Will definitely buy tickets for their next tour!

If you’ve never heard of Feeder, give your ears a treat and look them up, they have been around since the early nineties and still going strong. Check out their latest album All Bright Electric on Spotify.

When a friend is diet-obsessed

If you’re reading this blog post, maybe you have somebody you care about whose eating behaviours are causing you concern. Perhaps you’re thinking there will be advice you can use to help this friend or relative wake up to the dangerous course they’re travelling on. Let me save you the disappointment right now, this isn’t that kind of article.

“What do you eat on a typical day Esse?” that’s how the weary subject of dieting entered our conversation today. Lily and I have been meeting up for a coffee almost every Friday morning for the last year. We spend an hour or so talking about our work, our friends, our families, and inevitably the subject veers onto Lily’s latest diet and weight loss efforts.

“All sort of things. I don’t have a set meal plan. I just try to eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full.” I said.

“Well, yeah, ok. But what do you have for breakfast each day?” she said.

I felt like I was treading dangerous territory. I’ve told Lily before that I don’t believe in diets anymore and tried to help her understand why. This is a truth I came to realise before Lily and I got to know each other, a couple of months before our coffee dates became a regular thing, and I have been making steady progress toward recovering my relationship with food and restoring a positive body image.

“It depends. Sometimes I have cereal, sometimes I have toast, or fruit and yoghurt. Sometimes I have  pastry and a coffee! It changes.” I groaned inwardly. Even after last week’s attempt to get her to see the futility of dieting, the importance of not measuring her worth by her appearance, following it up by sending her links to videos on healthy lifestyles and articles on positive body image… even after months of my politely but consistently changing the subject when it she steered it onto weight loss… here we were, Lily on the verge of asking me for diet tips.

“What about for lunch and dinner? What do you eat during the rest of the day?” she said.

“Like I said, it varies.” I said, purposely being vague and hoping she would give up.

“Ok, but what do you usually have?” she insisted.

“Well, we have a lot of stir-fries and curries. I mostly cook from scratch. We hardly buy anything ready-made. We have pizza once a week or once every couple of weeks.”

“Hmm. Ok.” she said, thoughtfully.

“And crisps, biscuits, cakes, they’re in there too.” I added, laughing.

“How do you do it though, how do you stay so nice and slim?” she pleaded.

It was meant as a compliment so I took it as such, I swayed my shoulders in a mockery of showing-off and jokingly said, “Ah, thank you, you’re very kind.” then added seriously, “I just try to not eat too much or too little.”

With this, Lily told me about her latest endeavour to eat less carbs and have no more than 3 meals a day. She told me she feels bloated most of the time, she can’t get her lower abdomen to shrink and she is sure her legs could be thinner… etc etc. Lily and I are not very different in shape. To be honest, I would be surprised if I turned out to be lighter than her because I would guess my dimensions are a bit bigger than hers. Yet, there she was, thinking I am enviably smaller than her. Oh, and did I mention? Lily is 17 years old.

It’s frustrating. I have been there, I have reduced my self-esteem to the size of a set of scales, I have dived into the starving, calorie-counting, fat-free, sugar-free, flavour-free whirlpool. I was sucked in for nearly 9 years, and I have steadily and with great difficulty fought my way out of it. There have been times when I thought I was free and got sucked back in, there have been times I’ve been on the edge and daring myself to dip my toes in, but gradually I’ve left that part of my life further and further behind. I have slowly rediscovered the Esse that was sucked in and trapped by the binge-eating, body-hating, diet-addicted monster that could have easily turned into an eating disorder.

In Lily I see a reflection of my past, and it tears me up to see her making the same mistakes. I feel so helpless, no matter how many times I have tried I just can’t make her see how futile this pursuit of thinness is.

The Psychological Benefits of Writing Regularly

Recently received a link to this great article through Pocket, an app which collects great articles from around the web. As somebody who carries a lot of brain static around with her but often doesn’t use writing as her first response to cope with it, this article gave me plenty of reasons to put pen to paper even without the intention of ever publishing or sharing what I write. Writing doesn’t have to have any greater purpose than clearing brain static, that in itself is a worthy reason to make time to write.


Sunday walks and homemade Wild Blueberry ice-Cream

What a glorious way to spend The Summer’s Day… A proper noun on account of it being a yearly event rather than a season in the UK. I exaggerate of course, but if you have ever lived in England, you’ll know how hit-and-miss our seasons tend to be, making themselves subject to constant derision and scorn. The British do talk about the weather a lot, but the reality is, there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to the weather, you can literally have the weather of four seasons in just one day.

Anyway, enough complaining, today is gorgeous and I’m going to gush about it. It’s hot, it’s sunny, the wind is very mild, I walked around in my Crocs sandals without a jacket or a scarf and feel like Remi and I have already made the most of the good weather. We drove half an hour out of town to visit a quaint little village with a main street monopolised entirely by independent businesses. Among these was a homemade ice cream shop which boasted flavours such as Morello Cherry, Wild Blueberry, Lemon Cheesecake, Earl Grey and Prunes, and… this one was a shock – Marmite flavour! Can you believe it? As I sit here I realise I ought to have asked to try it, but it didn’t cross my mind at the time. I was torn between Morello Cherry and Wild Blueberry so the shop girl offered to let me taste both! How kind.

We walked in the woods and talked about travelling, maybe moving to live in a beautiful place one day, the paths were framed by trees and huge rhododendron hedges  – it was sweet and romantic. We hope to do more of this sort of adventuring at the weekends, to slow the pace from the relentless demands of life and recharge. And flowers, ah, I forget how much I love flowers sometimes, that is until I stumble across sights like these and find my chest rise as I’m filled with a mixture of excitement and awe – the best things in life truly are free.


My fling with Audible – are we ready to commit?

image_1059978721My first fling with audiobooks was fast, furious and short-lived.

In the grip of my disordered eating behaviours, I was desperate for some guidance and
hoped that a free trial of Audible would grant me access to the intuitive eating bible that is Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that the audiobook was not available for the UK. True, I could have ordered a hard copy but that Adobe Photoshop PDFwould have meant being seen with it, so I settled for Michelle May’s Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat insteadAs it turned out, Dr May was probably better for me than would have been Ms Tribole’s approach, with her list of 10 intuitive eating principles and other mantras that I’d already devoured from her disciples’ blog posts. Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat was a jolly helpful audiobook which I have listened to more than twice, alongside physically reading several self-help books on eating disorders. Fun times. But seriously, despite the touchy topic of the book, I was impressed by the narration and how easy it was to listen to and concentrate on an audiobook.

After a while, I wanted to focus less on my “problem” and get back to more recreational reading/listening material. I listened to One Day by David Nicholls – it was alright, but I like the film adaptation more. My next choice was The Girl on the
by Paula Hawkins, a bestseller at the time which was heavily advertised on Spotify; so after several weeks of interrupted playlists, I was left with a cleverly imprinted bit of marketing in my subconscious. Obediently, I downloaded it. Listening to The Girl on the Train helped motivate me to go out for long walks during that gloomy, English winter, something for I which I am grateful because I was going through a period of extremely low mood, but on account of that gloomy state of mind, I found myself sympathising a little too much with the depressive protagonists… My empathy gave me imaginary, like-minded friends but left me as hopeless as ever.


Unable to find another audiobook that caught my attention, my hopes for a lifetime of adventures were dashed, I cancelled my subscription, and at least from my point of view, it was the end of my relationship with Audible and all other audiobook-kind.

I returned to my local library and strengthened my ties with my membership card, I was introduced to the her website and the world of eBooks that came with it, quite “over” my fling with Audible and pretty sure he was, likewise, done with me. Audible, however, didn’t agree, he thought we were just on a break. I didn’t hear from him for several months, then I was seduced with a deal of 3 months for £1.99 – a sucker for all things reduced and discounted, I simply could not refuse.

Since then, I’ve come across some excellent reads… or listens… what am I supposed to call them? At many of my cleaning jobs, I plug myself into my Windows phone and use the Audible app to transport myself far away from the work, almost forgetting how much I dislike it. Sometimes I have had to return audiobooks because I couldn’t get into them or they swore too much for my tolerance, but Audible understood, he didn’t interrogate me, he just took the audiobook out of my library and refunded me with a credit to spend at my leisure. I abused the freedom a bit, I must admit, and my returns are no longer being accepted, I’m being chastised, and I deserve it. Besides that, I’m really enjoying the experience. The website is easy to browse, my place in the audiobook gets synced between my iPad and my phone, the narration is quality and a “Finished” banner goes across the thumbnail of the book on the app which is highly satisfying.

But is this relationship sustainable? Can it last? Self-employed, working part-time and volunteering part-time, can I really afford to spend an extra £7.99 a month on a new audiobook? Won’t I have months where I’d prefer an ads-free subscription to Spotify? Or some data for my iPad? Or a gorgeous new nail polish? Or a fancy candle? The life I lead is simple, by choice, so I try to choose my luxuries carefully, and as much as Audible has shown me that he does, in fact, thrill and excite me, I just don’t know if I can commit for the long-haul. Let me say it for you, ain’t first world problems a pain in the Prada?

Have you tried audiobooks? What did you think? Also, do you know of anywhere to get reasonably-priced audiobooks? 

“Living Danishly” in my head & other stories

Today has been a reasonable sample of what a really busy day at work is like for me, and as such, I thought it worth describing in some detail along with the storm of emotions it is prone to building inside me.

The backdrop to today is positive. It was a hot day in May, the wind was strong but it was comfortably t-shirt weather still for which I am extremely grateful. Just a week ago, when a friend of mine commented on the positive turn the weather seemed to be taking I incredulously retorted, “Ha – don’t speak too soon”, but happily, I have been proven wrong daily ever since, it turns out that we are having a spell of summer this year.

I started the day with a hearty breakfast, a little too hearty perhaps – my tummy was a little overstretched – whilst digging into another chapter of The Maze Runner. I enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy and, if TMR is as far from the film adaptation as THG is, there’s a high likelihood that I’ll enjoy the books. So far, James Dashner’s plot has whetted my curiosity enough to keep me reading, but I’m not yet gripped by his writing style. Admittedly, I did have to force myself to put it down for fear of making myself late for work this morning, but I don’t look forward to my job in the first place. The majority of my secular work is cleaning, partly domestic and partly commercial so for all intents and purposes I tell people that is what I do for a living when they ask. I had run out of a couple of chemicals so I quickly nipped into Home Bargains at around 9:30 before my first cleaning job. My husband, whom we shall call Remi (after the real name of Hergé, the cartoonist who created Tin Tin, on account of my hubby’s hair being fashioned much like Hergé’s Tin Tin), has come down with a cold so I picked up some supplies for him as well.

My first clean today was at an elderly widow’s house whom I have known since I was about 16 years old. Rose is one of the most positive and upbeat people I know, every time I go to her house I come away feeling better. She insists on paying me to spend an hour once a fortnight vacuum cleaning her bungalow and doing a few other cleaning tasks, but I would gladly do it for free just for the satisfaction of helping her out. She has difficulty walking without a stick, besides other health problems, but she refuses to dwell on her limitations. She always greets me with a kind, broad smile and welcomes me into her home with a hug and a kiss. Recently we have taken to my bringing my iPad and showing her some videos of talks and discourses which I’ve downloaded in advance, she laps up the knowledge with delight and has even built up enough confidence to poke the screen a bit in an effort to navigate it by herself. I left Rose’s feeling warm and relaxed, Maybe today isn’t going to be so bad after all, I thought.

The next client is one I was not looking forward to, however, on account of our difficulty in communicating as well as her idiosyncrasies which drive me up the wall. Asmi is a stay-at-home mum whose kids are at school for most of the day, and to this day I do not know why she needs me to work at her house. I try to put her off, refusing to go on any day other than Mondays which means that sometimes a whole month passes by until she has a free Monday, but she persists in contacting me until I acquiesce.

The way I work best is to be clearly told what is expected of me and in how much time, the client needs to make it clear what is the highest priority and then leave me to get on with it while they go and do something else. Ideally I like to be left in the house by myself, but I don’t mind other people being around, provided that we avoid getting in each other’s way as much as possible. At Asmi’s house, it is rare that any of these preferences are met.

“So, what is there to do today? Toilets and vacuuming as usual?” I asked on entering.

Asmi smiled, “Yes, and keetchen as well. Also mopping.” she added in her broken English.

“Alright. I’ll start in the downstairs toilet.” I announced, she nodded and I got to work. Soon I was finished and, after telling Asmi, I went upstairs to deal with the bathroom and the thick, dry limescale. I may not be the quickest cleaner in the world, and I may not enjoy it, but when I am cleaning I like to do it thoroughly and to the best of my ability within a reasonable amount of time. The upstairs bathroom had been neglected (probably since my last visit) so I reckon it took longer than usual. Once finished, I went back downstairs to pick up the vacuum cleaner. Asmi reappeared.

“I’m just going to vacuum the floor upstairs – ” I started.

“Keetchen pleasse.” Asmi interrupted, pointing to the kitchen.

“Okay. You want me to do the kitchen? Now?” I asked, slightly annoyed at being stopped before completing the previous task.

“Yes.” She said firmly.

“Alright.” I sighed. Putting the vacuum cleaner down, I picked out my equipment for the kitchen. The hob was thick with burned and dried ghee, the sink dull with limescale. Determined to have it all clean, shining, and as close to new-looking as possible, I doused it with bleach and set to work scrubbing, spraying, rinsing and scrubbing some more. Asmi  wandered back and forth moving all the appliances and clutter from the worktops onto the dining table. I disliked the proximity but it wasn’t intolerable, that is, until she was finished and decided to stand a couple of feet away, just watching me.

“Here please.” She said pointing to the windowsill.

“Okay. I will.” I clipped. I hadn’t finished the sink.

“Are you working?” she asked.

I frowned. Was this some sort of sarcastic remark on how long it was taking to sort out her disgrace of a sink? I couldn’t even hide my indignation. I stopped scrubbing and turned to look at her.

“What?” I asked evenly, frowning.

“No, no, I mean. You are doing some different work?” she rephrased, suddenly realising what her previous question sounded like.

“Er, yes, I have cleaning work all day today, until 8pm tonight” I went back to my scrubbing. She wasn’t satisfied.

“But you are doing some new job?” she tried again. I don’t know what prompted this, perhaps the fact I’ve been so elusive lately.

“I have three jobs.” I said, coolly. “Cleaning, interpreting and photography.”

“Ohh!” she remarked, eyebrows raising, she seemed impressed. “So… you do cleaning, maybe 3 days in week?”

“Not necessarily. I’m cleaning all day today, and cleaning is the most regular of the three, but it depends when people want it. Interpreting depends on when people want it and the photography we do is seasonal. With cleaning, I have regular work, people have me every week or every two weeks.” I explained, not stopping my vigorous cleaning. She continued to smile, evidently reassessing me.

Once the sink was sparkling, I started back at one end of the kitchen worktop aiming to work my way around the whole kitchen.

“Okay, upstairs mopping now.” she piped.

“What? Now?” I asked, baffled.

“Yes. I finish this.” she confirmed.

“Right, okay, whatever.” I sighed. She hit a nerve, reminding me of why I had nearly always come away from her house grumbling under my breath.

Obediently, I went back upstairs with the vacuum cleaner, cleaned up and mopped and worked my way down the stairs and into the downstairs rooms until I was at the entrance. Meanwhile, Asmi watched, sometimes crossing her arms, sometimes sitting down on the sofa, whilst I purposely avoided eye contact with her for fear of my gaze petrifying Asmi on the spot.

I finished, she paid me, and I left, vowing that as soon as I can permanently jack some cleaning work in, Asmi will be the first to go.

Domestic and commercial cleaner. There’s a stigma attached to that job description, and the reaction to it is usually a thinly veiled cocktail of disappointment, disregard and a subsequent underestimation of my education and intelligence. The fact that I am self-employed and thereby able to set myself what most would agree is a “very good wage”, that I can pretty much choose my work days and hours, and that I can afford to work less hours than I ever did in any of my previous jobs (this includes working in a mortgage broker’s office and as a sales advisor for an international brand) is besides the point to certain individuals. In fairness, I only spell this out to people who ask me why I don’t do something ‘more’ with my life, like spend it working more hours for less pay for the sake of a more socially respected job title (of course, they don’t word it quite as bluntly as that.)

My third clean was at the home of a new client, Zakia. After several phone conversations and texts I finally caved and agreed to come for a one-off job since she was so “stuck”. A friend of mine whom we shall call Roxanne went to this lady’s house some months ago to clean for her but it didn’t go well. Roxanne had told me a frightening tale of how the woman had shouted at her, followed her around and even banned her from answering her phone; she never went back. This account of events left me with a very bad impression of Zakia and I was put off ever going to her house myself. On the phone, Zakia complained that Roxanne was slow, too young for the work, and her fee was overpriced, even though she charged the same as me. On account of her persistence and my concern that she might dissuade one of my regular clients from continuing to employ my services, I chose to consent to help Zakia clean as a ‘One Night Only’ appearance.

Still stressed from my morning with Asmi, I arrived at Zakia’s house sporting a rather forced grin. Zakia, for her part, made no effort to put me at ease, her demeanour was almost cautious, almost mistrustful. Having nothing to lose, I carried my equipment in, put it on the kitchen floor and without small talk asked, “So, what do you want me to do?” She told me she wanted the oven cleaning and the kitchen seen to. “The oven? Let me look at it. I might need a different product.” She told me she had lots of products that would be suitable, opening a cupboard she pointed out kitchen cleaners by many popular brands. “No.” I said determinedly. “It has to be a proper oven cleaner. I have some at home. I’ll go and get it, otherwise it will take me ages to clean that oven.” She hesitated to agree but I wasn’t taking no for an answer, I reassured her that I didn’t live very far and would be back within 10 minutes, which I was.

I worked ferociously, wanting to get the job done as quickly as possible, hanging on the last straw of my tolerance for domestic cleaning. This impressed Zakia, she saw it as a mark of intense, meticulous work. She began to soften, smiling even, commending my work, leaving me unsupervised in the kitchen while she went to do other jobs around the house, she even offered me a cup of tea which I refused but, as a result, I began to relax and ease up. Before I knew it, she was re-heating a samosa for me, pouring on some homemade dip, and she pulling up a chair for me, I ate with gusto. When I was done, she gave me a few more tasks until I said I simply had to go home because of my next job. She paid me and we parted ways, amicable and, on my part, with a transformed first impression.

On three weekdays, or rather, week-evenings, I have a commercial clean at a farm office in a nearby village. At 17:00-20:00 tonight that’s where I was, listening to the audiobook  A Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. In it, she described the equality experienced by the Danes. The way their country is set up discourages class-distinction, she remarked on how daily life is established in such a way that it is commonplace for CEOs to belong to the same clubs as cleaners and supermarket staff; people simplify their lives so they can work less and spend more time with their families; and the Danes rank #1 in numerous polls on happiness. Like any country, it has its down sides, but I couldn’t help but think how cleaning would be more enjoyable in Denmark, and also that Danish clientèle would be less likely to prejudge me or my reasons for being in this line of work. That said, they were described as such tidy, minimalist people that I probably wouldn’t find much work.

Sometimes the condescension gets to me, I start finding it harder to focus on the perks, namely all of the freedoms I get with being self-employed, I get hung up on how I find cleaning boring and repetitive, and I start to make myself hate it. At those times I’m more sensitive to the way people look at me and the way they speak to me, but it only takes voicing this to my husband, my mum, my brother or my in-laws and they soon set me straight, reminding me of how little the opinions of strangers matter. My family love me for who I am, what I can do, and what I do do for others, and at the end of the day, it’s their opinions of me that carry the most weight.