I read that piece in the Observer last weekend about how fear of a miserable, long, dark winter is mostly in the mind — I'm paraphrasing, but that was roughly it — so of course I have started watching Borgen again from the beginning.
I saw this Danish political drama when it first started airing on the BBC in 2012, so I'm not really in it for the coalition-forming drama this time. Rather, I'm looking for clues on how to be good at being inside when it's cold and dark all the time.
This scene from the first episode struck me as an atmosphere I'd like to have. Philip Christensen, husband of politician Birgitte Nyborg, has been at home on his own with the kids while she's out campaigning. When she comes home, we see him from her perspective as she comes through the front door. He's working on the sofa, shoes off, books next to him, a beer half drunk on the table in front of him. The curtains behind him are open, showing the darkness outside, because he's not bothered about it and his house is well insulated. He looks cosy, busy, and just a little bit pissed off that she's now going to interrupt him with a long story about how all the other politicians are bad apart from her.
In the UK, Borgen was part of the inspiration for a larger trend towards more Nordic cool in interiors, publishing and fashion. People went wild for the lampshades and for a while you couldn't turn round in a bookshop without knocking over a "how to hygge" book. The mania has abated somewhat, but if Instagram is anything to go by, people are still very into mustard L-shaped couches.
Now, I should emphasise, this is very much not my personal aesthetic. That low-backed sofa Philip is sitting on looks extremely uncomfortable and I bet the hairy rug is a devil to clean. Plus, I like my light fittings to look like something other than flying saucers. My house is from the 1890s and I'm much more interested in making it look like a National Trust property on a budget.
But I do like how happily Philip is coexisting with the darkness outside, leaving his curtains open and keeping the light minimal. The day after we watched this episode, I looked around the tottering piles of stuff in our living room and had a think about how I could make the space feel less frustrating, given that all the signs are I'm not going to be leaving it any time soon.
I decided on two courses of action that in my head I called "clearing sightlines" and "minor mendings". I can't Marie Kondo away all of the stuff, because a) although it does not spark joy a lot of it is paperwork and course materials my husband needs for work that would normally be at his office and b) it feels redundant, even unfair to dump donatable things on charity shops nobody is shopping in at the moment. But I can organise it in such away that it isn't always in my eye line, and make the vista as you enter a room a pleasant one.
"Minor mendings" is a phrase that came unbidden into my head, borrowed from the 2014 conclusion to Lev Grossman Magicians trilogy. A character discovers that he has no grand, impressive magical gift, but rather a talent for fixing things, for making good after a disaster. Those books are not without their problems, but they would make for a nice wintery reading session if you haven't tried them yet.
My own version of this involved standing in the middle of each room with a notebook for a few minutes, thinking about the things that are inconvenient or broken but in such a familiar way now that I don't notice them. It was very gratifying every time I spotted another one, like doing one of those "spot the difference" puzzles, and soon I had quite a list of handles to glue back on, wobbly hooks to screw in properly, and light bulbs to replace. I'm by no means a competent or well equipped handyman, but even I had enough epoxy and the right screwdriver to make these small adjustments.
It probably took less than an hour to tidy up and to fix everything. Now, every time I reach up and successfully open a kitchen cupboard that used to have a handle that pinged off one in three times that you touched it, I feel a warm little glow of satisfaction. The same happens when I come through the front door and see a nice clear table in front of me, or reach out to put a mug down easily and safely while drinking tea in an armchair. It might sound simple, but the lethargy towards these small household chores I felt after six months of being in the house all the time was immense.
I'm not sure that I will ever obtain the positive attitude towards the winter confinement that a resident of Copenhagen or Tromsø might have, but I have at least made my space a little more inviting for the coming months. If you're also in the northern hemisphere, I recommend doing the same now, before the clocks go back and the pre-4pm darkness envelopes us.
Twelve things I'm reading, watching and listening to:
- How Work Became an Inescapable Hellhole
- "Risk once had a kind of valour: this has been lost, if briefly"
- brb, getting a secret Twitter account
- Why I Can’t Finish Watching ‘I May Destroy You’: A Parable
- Patricia Routledge singing Noel Coward's "I Went To A Marvellous Party"
- Very useful advice on how to take criticism well
- Obsessed with Rosalía's facial expressions here
- "What are you going to tell me next, the sky is on fire?"
- This is an extraordinary interview about being a Black country singer
- An extremely good podcast drama
- I am very into Grace Jones' Warm Leatherette now
- Let's learn more about grouse
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Until next time,