Not Too Shabby By Emlyn Rees (H,1989) Whenever I think about College these days, in addition to the great friends I made there, and the good times I had, it’s the books I remember most. I was lucky enough to encounter a series of inspiring teachers during my time at College, but none more so than in the English department. I’d always enjoyed reading, but I caught the creative writing bug first hand from the published poet Duncan Forbes, who was Head of the Department at the time, and the inspirational Jonny Eminson, who taught me English four out of my five years. My first ever published work appeared during my time at College too, in The Cheltonian. It was a short piece about the perils of eating sweets in class, written under protest in Sunday detention, which then got secretly handed into the magazine’s editor by the Master who set it. I remember my friends taking the mick when it came out, but I was secretly proud. I liked seeing my writing in print. I was hooked. By the time I left College, I’d branched out into working on an alternative school magazine, and writing articles, short stories and (excruciatingly bad, in retrospect) poetry. In large part thanks to this, I went on to study English at university and later got my first job in publishing at the well known London literary agency, Curtis Brown. More books followed. I had my first novel published aged 24, and have since written several race-against-the-clock thrillers, and co-written many comedies and, more recently, parodies with my wife, Josie Lloyd, including, Come Together, We’re Going on a Bar Hunt and The Very Hungover Caterpillar. A typical ‘Shabby’ home
Our latest book, published in December 2017, is called Shabby – The Jolly Good British Guide to Stress-Free Living. It’s another parody, this time aiming to lampoon the recently popular slew of Japanese and Scandinavian lifestyle trends – like Hygge and Lagom. Along with other branches of minimalism, the aim of these movements is to transform us into a state of zen-like bliss through such apparently life-changing activities as decluttering, rolling our underwear, lighting scented candles and distributing folded cashmere blankets throughout our homes.
Shabby, published in December 2017
Being Shabby Shabby, instead, describes what we hope is a much more realistic and attainable British lifestyle, which I suspect many of us are already familiar with and can easily achieve without making many (indeed any) changes to our daily routines.
But as with most parodies, there’s a serious point lurking beneath the jokes as well. In our Instagrammed world, where image feels like it’s everything, it’s become normal, even addictively so, to worry about our appearance and what others think about us.
It’s founded on the Four Central Pillars of Shabbism, being: Messiness, Dilapidation, Clutter and Bodged Works, which should easily, of course, be found occurring naturally in most British homes.
Being Shabby is all about letting go of that stress and learning instead to relax. It’s about not trying to be that perfect family in that perfectly decorated sitting room that looks like it’s just been tidied up before the estate agent comes round. It’s about resisting that Evian-esque tide of cleanism lapping at the shores of our homes, clothes and very beings. And it’s about always wearing your shoes inside, no matter how new your carpet is, because your house is not a temple, it’s your home.
The guide itself is full of practical tips for you and yours on how to achieve that perfect Shabby aesthetic. Because, deep down in our hearts, don’t we all know Shabby when we see it? It’s that welcoming pair of pants drying on the radiator. That half-mouldy, but perfectly gin-and-tonic worthy lemon on display in the fruit bowl. That tin of plum tomatoes in the cupboard with a sell-by date of 1983. It’s always remembering to flip the babymilk-stained sofa cushions over to the cleaner ‘guest’ side whenever your parents come round. And, of course, it’s never
dusting higher than your tallest friend’s line of sight.
Shabby, in other words, is a quintessentially British way of life that’s been tried and tested for generations. So what if your paintwork is chipped, the carpet is threadbare and there’s a damp patch on the ceiling? Or your cupboards are messy and the fridge is crammed with jars that are glued to the shelves by their own sticky residue? That’s just real life for you. And real life’s just too short to waste striving for perfection and keeping up appearances. Real life is much better spent spending less time fussing, clearing up and getting stressed about stuff that doesn’t really matter anyway, and more time hanging out with family and friends. ■
The Cheltonian Society Magazine with articles from the full range of Society members, from pupils to parents, OCs and staff.