Family toasters drop crumbs of basic wisdom

getimage (1)One of the great mysteries of the universe is how messages of wisdom keep popping up, again and again, until we listen.

This isn’t a new age hoo-hah concept; it’s not about white feathers crossing your path, or smells of incense wafting up nostrils during deep meditation. Messages appear in things like toasters and spilt milk.

They don’t cost anything, but they’re priceless.

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions anymore, as I always end up fatter in December anyway.

But one thing I have noticed is that the same message kept repeating itself in 2014: get back to basics. I wasn’t sure what this meant, except that it was meant for me. And I think it might have some global significance, too.

Going back to the end is the best way to explain a concept that seems a bit dog-eared around the edges, so let’s start with yesterday, when my friend Belinda, visiting from Uitenhage, cleaned my toaster.

“Mrs Howell,” she teased, pulling out a tray full of manky, mouldy crumbs underneath the appliance, “look at this – has anybody ever actually been under here yet?” In my world, a toaster is a toaster is a toaster: if crusts don’t jam in the element and bread crisps up, we’re good to go. But people like Belinda get back to basics – even the most basic of things, such as toasters.

She explained to me that toaster trays are there for a reason and must be cleaned. Ignoring them, or hoping that they’ll go away on their own, does not work. Cockroaches will come and in summer, possibly ants.

She couldn’t understand why I found this to be a profoundly spiritual and moving experience. Her toaster tray gets cleaned routinely and is no big deal in the greater scheme of things. But that’s the thing about basics – many of us have lost touch with them, at our peril.

Sandwiched between January last year and now, I keep meeting women who can do things that I can’t.

Mandy not only makes killer pot roasts and crochets, but installs washing machines and dishwashers and can put up bathroom hooks. In between, she might do your dishes after being invited over for supper.

These multi-tasking women are not A-list personalities. They do not have perfect matching dinner services or a string of qualifications, plus gym memberships which are actually used. They are, instead, the Back to Basics set – and I want to be one.

Too many of us have become so reliant on technology, trends, big strong guys, the internet, fast food and organic markets that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to sow our own seeds, grapple with our own bathroom hooks and cook a basic meat-and-two-veg casserole for the family of an afternoon.

I spent 2014 being so busy doing what? Fussing about my expanding waistline, faffing on social media and clawing my way to wine o’clock each week day, just glad to have dished up “something healthy” for supper before settling down after the kids’ bedtime with a glossy magazine.

I have realised that learning about toaster trays and having a little plumbing knowledge is worth as much, if not more, than my years of academic swotting. Getting back to basics reminds me that regardless of my raggedy nails, and slap-dash cooking, the secret to a happy life is living the life you’re living – not the other one in your head.

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