Nobody needs a Chiminea
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It was the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US this week and I have to say, I’ve enjoyed it. I'm not in any way a Thanksgiving aficionado: I'm not over-fond of the origins of it, I don't visit any parades, my life is completely not a Hallmark movie involving plane travel, a little town in the Midwest, and a guy wearing a checked shirt who drives a tractor and persuades me to leave all my crazy city life and settle down in the country to hold bake sales instead.
But honestly, what's not to love about sitting around on your fat one just eating food you wouldn’t normally eat, in quantities you wouldn’t normally eat on an otherwise regular Thursday in November?
When I first arrived in the US, I didn’t understand the holiday at all. It was explained to me that it's like a mini Christmas, but without the pressures of gift-giving and decor, and that's how we’ve rolled with it. We’re pretty low-key here in Tweddley Manor. It's a long lie-in, lazy day. I do a big dinner for late afternoon, for which the dress code is firmly ‘comfortable.”
This Thanksgiving Day I was up early doing interviews for the new book and feeling properly thankful. I've never published a book before, and the feeling of it is akin to being in high school and getting that new haircut you really want: You might have dreamt about doing it, but you can't guarantee that you won't get ridiculed about the stupidity of what you've done for the rest of your life.
Yet by a proper Thanksgiving miracle, the reviews so far have been lovely. (Take that, fictional checked-shirt, tractor guy).
In the afternoon I cooked, ate and - laughing in the face of non-elasticated trousers -did some more eating. For a moment or two as we all sat round a table full of food, I pondered over why having much more than you really need is considered celebrating.
And then I ate some more.
The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, which again when we moved to the US I had no idea about. But I learned it's basically the sales equivalent of the day before. Instead of gorging on food, people are supposed to gorge on bargains.
(Apparently now, there's Black Friday in the UK, even though there's no Thanksgiving. I guess apart from Easter sales, Summer sales, Autumn clearances, and Christmas sales, and January sales, Britain was running short on bargain events.)
Anyway, on Friday I was even lazier than Thursday. It was an interview-free day, and there wasn’t even much cooking to be done - there was so much left over, meals were going to be a reheat situation. Also, I had zero interest in buying anything.
Truthfully I used to love a sale. Shamefully so. I'm the girl who, back in the day, got her ears pierced multiple times because there was a jeweler’s shop on the walk to drama college that had a deal for students. In the end, I had to stop walking to college and take the Tube instead - a loss in terms of exercise but a big win for my ear lobes.
But I'm still a bit dodgy when I see that word, ‘Sale’. Even when I don't need anything. Even when there's nothing I particularly want, I have to take a look. If I do, earlobes tingling, it's an act of will to not buy anything. I can so easily succumb to some random thing “because it was half price and I might need it one day.” (Maybe it’s because somewhere I’ve been led to believe that it’s not until you have much more than you really need that you know you’re celebrating. )
When we first arrived in LA we had nothing but 8 suitcases and two kids under the age of 6 and we moved into an empty house we rented from the internet. It was kind of liberating not to have much ‘stuff.’ But - and this is a big but - I say that from the position of having a steady salary and being able to buy stuff if I needed it.
Because it's one thing to not have stuff but to be able to afford to get it. It's a completely different thing to not have much stuff and not have money either. Plenty of times in my life I've had the 3 o'clock in the morning, terrifying-yourself-about-money, wake-up call.
And that’s when sales are their most dangerous. Because when you're broke it feels like there's so many things you need. Really what you do need is a rest from worrying about money all the time, but you can't buy that in a shop, so a frickin half-price chiminea, or a waffle maker, or a pair of black trousers that look almost exactly like all your other black trousers will have to do.
When I was a kid - pardon me while I bring out my tiny violin - money was tight. I am the youngest of 4. Before my Mum became a teacher, everything depended on my Dad’s salary from the Post Office. Sales were a given - especially for necessities like school clothes, winter coats, and shoes. Many times over the years I've thought how hard it was for my parents financially - especially at times when there’s some kind of national holiday, or celebration when there's so much expectation.
My friend Miata teaches people about how to handle money. I met her at a class she was holding at The Actors Center here in LA. The room was full of all sorts of people - a selection more varied than Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. At the beginning of the class, Miata asked the same single question.
“Hands up anyone whose parents taught them about to make money work for them.” Virtually nobody put their hand up.
Then she’d ask. “Anybody’s parents teach them about how to handle investments?”
Every single class.
I've never ever forgotten that. Watching the discomfort in each room. Money, the great unifier. Scaring the crap out of all and sundry.
Then Miata, all kindness, would smile, and say, “ It's not surprising you'd feel out of your depth with money. If you never learned, then how would you know?”
At a time when shops offer me anything I could ever want at a discount price, the one thing I desire I can’t find. I wish I could give my parents back that time they spent worrying about money. Their sleepless nights. Fearing they were failing when actually they were doing just fine. I wish I could have been of comfort when they were hiding how hard things were. When my mother looked strained and my Dad was working double shifts. If only I could have told them, that what they knew about money they had learned from their parents. And they learned from theirs. And we are not all bred into the gentry or the stock market. I wish I could have smiled kindly too.
Some things are about learning. Some about unlearning.
As a parent myself, I can’t say I’m brilliant with money. But I think I’ve almost gotten my head round sales. I have pointed out to both my kids just how many times I have my ears pierced.
I have periodically been known to proclaim, “We have too much bloody stuff in this house!”
And from time to time I might get all zen-like and worthy and spout something like, “You can't buy self-worth, you must grow it yourself” - after which they'll either nod tearfully or howl with laughter depending on the situation.
I was thinking this week as I lazed around in “comfortable attire” about the current seasonal theme of gratitude. And that after a busy year, slobbing around on the sofa and completely ignoring Black Friday was actually me being parentally inspirational. And oooh I was thankful.
Also if I do find myself needing a waffle maker or pair of black trousers that look almost exactly the same as all my other black trousers, there’ll be another blockbuster sale before long. And nobody needs a chiminea - at any price - ever.
Till next week.
Well hello there my wee NFTV kitcheny compadres,