I don’t hide the cables anymore

Our walls are made of the kind of stuff sugar lumps are made of. They look perfectly sound and reasonable, but as soon as you go near them with anything approaching a sharp point they crumble away to dust. Most of our pictures are stuck up with a combination of No More Nails and Blu-tac.

Soooo, the phone socket just dropped out of the wall, leaving a big sugary hole and no way of plugging the phone in upstairs without extensive restoration work involving something called ballast.

I reconciled myself to not being able to hear the phone unless I was standing next to it, but my father-in-law, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of every electrical item Amazon has ever stocked, knew better.

US diner phone

Look at it! It’s so fabulous

For my birthday he bought me a jazzy new phone set up, which only needs one socket for the base phone while the rest of the handsets just plug into your proper solid British three-pin electrical affairs.

It took me fifteen minutes to plug it all in and set it up, and most of that was spent choosing the ringtone, which were all either awful, terrible or really, really shite. Now we have phones all over the house, and they light up and play electronic tunes and show the time as well, so we don’t need clocks anymore either.

new Gigaset phone

The new phone. Alright, it works, but stylish it ain’t

This is undoubtedly an improvement, but with each phone I plugged in, a little bit of my soul withered.

When I first moved into this house, I spent years slowly doing it up, trying to get it to look as close to how it would have been when it was built (1928) but with central heating, Netflix and super fast broadband, obvs.

I had paint specially mixed, sourced door handles from reclamation yards, painted a cocktail cabinet in nail varnish because I couldn’t find the right paint tones I wanted.

blue drinks cabinet

The nail-varnished drinks cabinet. See, it’s true

I had two phones – a clever replica of an American diner phone and an original chrome 1930’s affair, with a proper dial and real bells instead of a ringtone.

The diner phone has always sounded as if you are actually making a call in America, using a cocoa tin and a piece of string. The chrome phone, while crystal clear, took five minutes to dial a number (they were invented when you just called the operator) and you could never dial 1 to be put through to the complaints department or tap in your date of birth.

So, they were pretty useless as actual phones, but they looked bloody fantastic and sounded great every time that nice woman called, concerned about my lack of PPI claims.

I pulled up carpet to hide the extension wires, even stuck wallpaper over some cables, and dabbed others with paint to make them invisible, because I wanted it to look perfect.

It's not quite this bad...

It’s not quite this bad…

Is it the fact that I have grown up and stopped being so precious (I used to keep the DVD player in a drawer because it wasn’t authentic looking. Like, that was practical) that has made me just plug these new phones in, oblivious to whether they match the colour scheme (of course they don’t. I also once painted a TV bronze to match a room), and let their ugly cables trail merrily over windowsills and across the floor?

Or have I lost my sense of style, my perfectionism, have I let my standards slip, preferring convenience and the mainstream over authenticity and originality?

Or am I absolutely climbing too much up my own backside? Whether my phone matches my bookshelf shouldn’t really be dominating my thoughts in the weeks after a ruinously expensive Christmas at the arse-end of what has been one of the worst years for global upsets we can remember.

A friend, whose new curtains I was admiring, said she thought they were “too blue” but didn’t care. “When I was younger I would rather have sat here with a bare window than curtains I didn’t like. I wanted it all perfect. Now I live in the real world.”

And maybe that’s it. All the previous me, the one who ordered a mirrored bathroom cabinet from Italy because I liked its shape (**weeps at the thought of the expense**), had to worry about was how to hang an Art Deco mirror on a wall made out of brown sugar. Four children, three jobs, one husband and a near bankruptcy later, hiding a couple of cables has been shoved a bit further down the priority list. And it is a long, long list.


Is it better to feel the fear – or take a detour?

An old style telephone surrounded by takeaway food menus

This is about social anxiety – those hidden fears and neuroses that blight your life and make you feel like a brain-crippled, un-normal, low-functioning fool.
I didn’t know, until I heard a radio phone-in, how many other people have Things. Thought it was just me and a couple of close, confiding friends.
Everyone else has no problem ordering a drink, opening the door, talking to a teacher, going to a bank. They – the happy, carefree, normal people – just get on with stuff like this.
But a 5live phone-in last year was unexpectedly flooded with people who successfully hold down difficult jobs or manage busy lives while coping with Things.

An old housemate had a Thing about hairdressers. By no means shy, or lacking in confidence, what he used to hate about it was that you are held captive and can’t escape while they question you. He used to beg me to come in with him and tell the barber he was a deaf mute so I could do all the talking. He would regularly make appointments then cancel them. Eventually, he bought a set of clippers from Argos and I trimmed his hair in the kitchen (this is when military-style crew cuts were in fashion).

A pair of sharp hairdresser's scissors

Would you trust me with these? I wouldn’t, but I don’t have the Thing about hairdressers…

A colleague’s wife had a Thing about people coming to the door. It freaked her out, unsettled her for days, so much so she used to ring him, sometimes in hysterics, whenever anyone knocked at their front door.

Made no sense to me, who has no problem yanking the door open and telling whoever it is to shove their taunting double glazing leaflets somewhere they’ll be appreciated – like Antartica.
But ask me to pick up the phone and call for a takeaway and you will end up very hungry.

A telephone and lots of takeaway food menus

Yes, sometimes I would rather starve

I have a Thing about phones, and calling takeaways in particular. Just can’t do it, and I don’t know why. The phone often crackles and you can’t hear what is being said properly, you might mess the order up, you have to give your name and if you mumble you have to repeat it.

Using the phone is hell – I would rather drive to the takeaway, order in person, sit on a draughty bench surrounded by drunken yobs reading last week’s local free sheet for half and hour then drive home while it all goes cold or spills out over the passenger seat.

I have always regarded this as a weakness, a failing that limits me, sets me apart from the rest of the population and which I should try to overcome. I make myself use the phone, and when I do, it is always fine. Although I hate it, I always end up with the right order.
But I still dread it as much the next time.

There is a theory, the Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway theory, inspired by the book by Susan Jeffers. I read this book years ago and can’t remember anything about but the inspiring title. You can work through your fears, it implies, until they aren’t fears anymore.
But can you? If you have a Thing about making phone calls, or parking the car (another of mine, let’s not go there), the theory is, if you make yourself do it often enough, and without mishap, then it becomes easier and easier until the fear is gone. Yeah, sometimes I can pick up the phone and get on with it, but it doesn’t make me feel stronger, and the next time I loathe it just as much. And it has always been this way for me.

Same with my housemate with the hair. He now has a standing appointment with a city-centre barbers which is too loud and busy for chit-chat. He says it makes it a bit easier – but not much. He still occasionally cancels when he can’t face walking in there.
In the twenty-five years I have known him, he still hasn’t got over his Thing, despite facing it time and time again. (I don’t know about the colleague with the wife. I changed jobs. Maybe she is cowering in the hall right now while he bangs on the door having forgotten his keys.)

MOT certificates and a MOT refusal certificate

I. Would. Just. Rather. Walk.

I have a Thing about garages. The kind where you get your car MOTed and it costs you £1,000 and there is nothing you can do, luv, because they have already stripped it down, y’see and it is going to cost you 500 nicker just to build it back up again, luv.
I have had a LOT of bad experiences with garages. But not my current garage, which is run by two laid-back blokes who have cheerfully stuck my car back together with duck tape before now, always manage to jolly it on through its MOT and are always up front and honest. My car has been going to this garage for fifteen years now, but MOT time still sees me with my head in a bucket of sand while reaching for the bus timetable deciding I don’t actually need to drive anywhere anyway.

My husband does the garage stuff. He books it in, drops it off, even when it is of extreme inconvenience to him. He braves the oily workshop and talks about alternators and crank-shafts and stuff. The amount of stress and anxiety this saves me is mammoth. I know I shouldn’t be avoiding it – I should be feeling the fear and doing it anyway – but the relief that I don’t have to any more is indescribable.

Is this a bad thing? Is this the thin end of the wedge? If I avoid every Thing I have anxieties about will I end up a prisoner to them, stuck at home with a broken-down car, slowly starving to death as I try to harness the mental strength to order a curry? Or will I just feel better able to manage everything else in my life?