How to buy peace of mind in Britain

Ever feel like you need peace of mind? Well, now you can buy some. The high-end British department store Selfridges (please note: no apostrophe) held a workshop teaching people to relax and reconnect.

Reconnect with what? Themselves, of course. Because they lost themselves somehow. Or their phones lost their signal and when that happens what’s left of the self? And so they turned to a department store to fix the problem. Because stores have stuff. And if you don’t count your self as stuff, maybe you should. Think how much simpler your life would be. So having lost their selves, these people also lost their signals and couldn’t look for the self-stuff they needed on the internet. That forced them back to an older, simpler time.

A vaguely related photo: If this doesn’t bring you peace of mind–or at least remind you what it is–well, I’ve done my best.

Listen, don’t expect me to sort out your every confusion. I’m just some idiot you found on the internet. What do I know? These are highly stressed people. I’m feeling a little stressed here myself, trying to make sense of the latest trends in the culture. I’m guessing these folks have outsourced large chunks of their lives and that creates a kind of disconnect with the world and its physical reality. They’ve probably outsourced their cleaning to cleaning people. Their food comes either pre-cooked or intravenously, so someone else is doing the preparation although they never get to see them and don’t know their names. They barely remember that there’s a someone out there who does this. They think food drops off the trees in this form.

Some of them are so far down that road that they’ve outsourced the effect of gravity on their bodies. They step on a scale and don’t register at all because they have people to do that for them.

People working on zero-hours contracts for multi-national corporations.

What’s a zero-hours contract? That’s a contract that binds the employee to employer while the employer owes zilch to the employee—not even a set number of hours’ work each week. Not even the title of employee, because presto lawyer-o, they’re told they’re self-employed.

The employee (or non-employee) is available when the company needs someone. When it doesn’t, they disappear from the planet and don’t need to eat or pay rent or raise kids, so it’s okay that they’re not getting paid. And it’s all for the greater good, because look how many jobs this creates.

Not jobs you can live on, necessarily, but still jobs. It’s good when people have jobs. We all know that.

(In case you’ve noticed, yes, I do mix the plural with the singular. It’s the simplest way to get around the he/she problem that crops up in English sentences when you’re talking about a person who could, for all you know, belong to either sex. Or, in these interesting times, to neither or both. I’m not mocking, just struggling to get my head around it.)

Anyway, I may be misrepresenting the people who took the class. I wasn’t there and I didn’t meet them. Maybe they were just your average media-obsessed types who are stretched thin trying to maintain what they consider the essentials of a middle-class life, which always lie just a little out of reach, no matter how high their incomes are.

Or, may the god of potato peelings help us all, maybe it’s not about a middle-class life but a middle-class lifestyle. Have I mentioned recently how much I hate the word lifestyle?

There’s a funny thing about the middle-class life. Everyone who isn’t either a gazillionaire or broke defines it as the life they’re living—or trying to live. So if their almost-in-reach middle-class life(style) is someone else’s definition of rich, we shouldn’t be surprised, right?

But I’m off the topic again. Sorry. When I start having too much fun, that’s when I have to worry. What I was trying to say is that of course paying a high-end department store to reconnect you with yourself is part of a middle class life(style). So what we need to focus on is how these stressed-out folks reconnected with themselves.

They peeled potatoes.

Potato peeling as meditation. Hence the god of potato peelings, who doesn’t get a lot of respect these days and is very pleased to be honored once again, however briefly.

The Guardian, which seems to have sent a reporter to the event (several papers covered the story; for all I know, nobody but reporters signed up; or maybe they all used the same story, which they bought from an agency that outsourced it to a freelancer who disappears off the planet when they’re not needed). Let’s start over. The Guardian writes that the event was held in a “conceptual farmhouse” in the store and that participants rang a cow bell to get in. Then they took their shoes off. Anyone who wanted to could stretch out on a straw bed for a nap. The paper didn’t say how many straw beds were available, but it did say that, in keeping with the rustic theme, participants could buy £20 incense sticks (that’s £20 for one, I think—to get to the plural I just used, I assume you’d have to fork out an additional £20) or a £1,000 wooden bowl.

That’s not an exact quote. The snarkiness is mine; the information is theirs.

“It’s about a simple enjoyment and awareness of daily life,” Selfridges’ Creative Director Linda Hewson said.

Yes, that is your grandmother you’re hearing—or depending on your age, it could be your great- or great-great-grandmother. She’s laughing so hard she can’t get a sensible word out.

72 thoughts on “How to buy peace of mind in Britain

    • Of course I have. I worked, briefly, on the village newsletter, which was run by a squabble of editors. One of them was dismissive of Americanisms, which made them all the more fun to use.


      • But I don’t think you’ve ever been guilty of writing my most loathed ‘Americanisms’ : ‘step foot ‘( tautology ) instead of ‘set foot’, and ‘I could care less'( the opposite of the intended meaning ) instead of ‘I couldn’t care less’. I suspect you find these two as irritating as I do, given your fascination and respect of the language. LOVE the squabble of editors. May I borrow it to describe a committee in a short play I’m writing?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Absolutely, borrow it. It’s one of those phrases I’d love to see sneak its way into the language while I sit back and smile knowingly.

          I’m not so much irritated by the phrase you mention as fascinated by them. Language changes. Virtually is turning around and will eventually mean figuratively. It’s happened to other words in the past, and I’m trying desperately to remember the history of nice, which (I just looked it up) once mean foolish or stupid. It’s from the Latin for ignorant. From there, it somehow came to mean finicky or particular, and from there morphed into the word we know.

          Some time before I left Minnesota, I began noticing that people were saying, “The thing of it is, is that…” It’s such a strange set of words that I got to like it. I used it in a bit of dialogue in a novel I never managed to publish but just resurrected and sent out. (It’s better than I thought. I think.) If it’s accepted, some copy editor will go nuts over it.


  1. peeling potatoes as meditation?
    paying to peel potatoes as meditation?
    did anyone ask the people afterwards if they felt better or if they felt they had been duped into prepping food for the staff canteen?

    I am not sure what a “middle class lifestyle” is… do I have to have one?

    can’t I have a life instead?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I could be wrong about this, but I suspect that maintaining a lifestyle precludes having a life. (Don’t you like that precludes? Isn’t that just impressive?) However, to answer your question, Do you have one? I’m not sure, but if you clear our your closets and cupboards you may find that you do, crumpled in the back somewhere, with dust bunnies stuck all over it.

      I haven’t gone back to reread the original article, but I think they did interview at least one participant, who sounded happy. Or maybe that was drugged. I’m not sure what goes into the middle class lifestyle these days.

      Liked by 1 person

      • And the actual house. I had to do a double take at “conceptual farmhouse”. Think the people who conceptualised it have ever seen a farmhouse up close? Or did they outsource it?

        Liked by 1 person

        • I expect they outsourced it, then built a conceptual model in the store basement. The more we think about this, the sillier it gets. Maybe what they built is like conceptual art–it’s not really art unless you explain the concept behind it. So, in a conceptual farmhouse, any real work goes on elsewhere. It’s all about the label.

          I’ll stop now. I’m getting way out on a limb here.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. OMG! all those times I had my daughters peel potatoes as a punishment and now I find out that they were not paying me for the experience??? I am so gonna withhold from their inheritance.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Is this the same “The Guardian” whose reporter got body-slammed by the winning candidate in the Montana Special Election ? Or was it connected to that group that includes the raccoon that protects the galaxy ? If so, why is a UK reporter on the scene in Montana ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now that’s an important question, and I’ve had to dig deep into the inner workings of the universe to answer it. The easy part is the first part of the question: yes, it’s the same paper, but in a less dangerous moment. The second and third parts are where it got difficult. I wouldn’t have thought of the Guardian as employing a raccoon, but it turns out that they do–off the books, which is why answering the question was hard. Their deep, secret mission is to protect the galaxy, and covering the news is precisely that: a cover.

      Why, then, did the reporter let himself get taken down by a mere politician? For the same reason Clark Kent wears glasses: so we won’t notice what’s really going on.

      Now for god’s sake, don’t tell anyone or we’ll both be in danger.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Granny is cackling so loudly, I can barely gather my thoughts.

    I took a mediation class at the library years ago. The teacher encouraged us to peel carrots mindfully. I wonder if that is the advanced course at Selfridges?

    I learned something here – zero-hours contracts – sounds vaguely feudal, if not slave-like.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure Selfridges (being high end and all) would say theirs was the advanced version, but I wonder if carrots, being long and narrow, not to mention orange, aren’t for the more advanced student–the one who doesn’t get distracted by bright colors.

      Give your granny my best. And you’re right about zero hours contracts. Anyone who thought we’d gotten past the need for unions should have another long think.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I suppose these are the same sort of self obsessed prunes who have their organic food delivered by zero hour contract delivery persons on bicycles…stuff being more important then people.
    Had I known I could have arranged to sabotage the event by sending my husband to conduct the potato peeling….as he used to grow the things (when we had the appropriate climate) he resented waste, so visitors who volunteered to peel the spuds were supervised. Closely supervised.
    I can still recall the cries of
    `You could plant those peelings as seed potatoes!`
    Followed by the crash of a paring knife hitting the sink and a suggestion as to where to stow his potatoes in whatever language was currently in use in the house.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Whodathunkit…paying someone for the privilege of peeling potatoes with an expensive incense stick and into an even more expensive wooden bowl.

    This is supposed to be relaxing?

    I may have been born at night…but not last night. Guess this once again proves out PT Barnum’s famous saying – A sucker born every minute.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Maybe you didn’t miss much at all. The attendees could have been paid to attend on behalf of someone else. You know, the way they pay people to: “go do my community service” or something like that. “If the course is interesting, summarize it and have it on my desk so someone can read it to me tomorrow.”

    Did they say what they did with the peeled potatoes? It’s Memorial Day weekend over here, I could use a nice bowl of potato salad…just a thought.

    Thanks for putting me on the right course for the weekend (smiling).

    Liked by 1 person

    • So the person who sent someone else to do the course comes in on Monday and finds a pile of damp potato peelings on his or her desk.

      That would make it worth having been the designated attendee.

      I don’t know what they did with the potatoes. Oddly enough, I didn’t even think about it. Probably sent them to the store cafeteria. I’ve discovered that potato salad’s even better with new potatoes–unpeeled. I’m making a batch in a few hours. Stop by.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m not sure whether it’s heartening or disheartening to learn that there are countries beside the U.S. where this sort of nonsense transpires. There really is a sucker born every minute. The fact that people are paying to seek peace of mind in a department store is a clear indicator that Mother Nature needs to find a new advertising agency. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. My grandmother and my mother should have been so zen if peeling potatoes was all it takes to relieve stress! Both of them were cooks in restaurants. So many good nuggets in this blog, Ellen. Sometimes I feel like I need a break from life. Is it possible to outsource myself? Can someone else do my life while I am hiking in Oregon or something? Let me know. ;)

    Liked by 1 person

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