Let’s go back to basics, says Beth

St Francis Bay freelance journalist Beth Cooper Howell takes a look at the New Year resolutions we make and vows to go “back to basics”

toasterThis week, being the first in January, is contagious. Like you, I’m tempted by one or all of the myriad extremes so typical of the clock-over between Christmas and now.

We hover between cheeriness and chaos, or derring-do dreams and quiet desperation. Sometimes, we scrooge the hype, pointedly going to bed early, sneering at countdowns and champagne. Whatever we do, though, becomes habit.

To avoid making my own habits negative, I play a “year in review” game on New Year’s Day; mostly by idling through old columns over tea and leftover braai meat.

“One of the great mysteries of the universe,” I wrote, in 2015, “is how messages of wisdom keep popping up, again and again, until we listen.”

Now, as then, the concept of “getting back-to-basics” keeps appearing for me, like the proverbial white feather on a path. 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 two years ago, when my friend Belinda, visiting from Uitenhage, cleaned my toaster.

“Mrs Howell,” she smiled, teasingly, 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, plus a few arts and crafts with the kids. These multi-tasking women are not A-list personalities with a God complex.

They do not have perfect matching dinner services or a string of qualifications in several disciplines as long as my arm, 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 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, occasionally whining children 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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