Friday, March 30, 2007

Elizabeth declined our meeting at the last moment and nominated a replacement. I shall meet the replacement on Monday.
With so much writing to get done and so much going on I think I'm going to let the UB hibernate for a little while. As I said to TA, I think somethings need to happen behind a curtain.
My subconscious would seem to agree - for the last two nights I've had anxiety dreams about, well, performing calls of nature in public. Deeply disturbing, although TA found them very funny indeed when I related the details.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

novel assignations
I received a call on my mobile yesterday evening just as I was thinking about leaving the office. As soon as I heard the woman’s hesitating and polite enquiry I knew what was coming. I confirmed that I still wanted counselling (despite being sorely tempted to decline). She sounded more cheerful as she informed me that there was an open appointment on Thursday at 11.30. I let her know that I could attend it and waited for her to confirm the booking.
“So, that’s 11.30am on Thursday…” a long pause “with Elizabeth.”
“Great. Thanks.”
I left the office with a heavy heart, but put my anxieties to the back of my mind and prepared to spend a lovely evening with a dear friend I don’t see nearly enough of. Some things sound like a fantastic idea when dishes of tapas are on the table and conversation is flowing. “How about we buddy up?” she said.
Intoxicated with the pleasure of fine food and even finer friendship, I agreed with an excited smile on my face. Of course, in the cold light of day, deadlines and word counts don’t sound quite so enticing, but I think accountability is a good thing and I am excited at the prospect of writing fiction again. It’s a scary commitment though: 500-1000 words a week to be delivered on Monday and 500-1000 words read, commented on and returned by Friday. It’ll be like being at school again!
As of Thursday, I’ll probably be keeping a therapy journal too. TA has to keep two – one that Elizabeth can read and one that’s just for him. Discussing this new imposition with my friend last night, I opined that I should just give her directions to the UB and let her do her homework!
Seriously though, where does one begin with the explanations?

Monday, March 26, 2007

pure poetry
I call my dad on Sunday morning and apprise him of my plans for the day. He’s doing okay. He drove my mum to the airport and, on the way back, had fish and chips – I take this as a good sign (as the day before he wasn’t eating anything) and bite my tongue about him supposed to be on a diet. I’m off to Beckton to see a friend and won’t be home until the evening. Beckton is at the deepest darkest end of the DLR and twinned with Tartarus, I explain. “Are you going to market today?” he asks. “No, we’re going to Beckton to play TA’s game with the German Goths in Beckton,” I say.
I return home to find two missed calls on my mobile. My father has been calling. Its late, but in a blind panic I call home.
Me: Are you okay?
Dad: Oh, hello.
Me: I missed your calls.
Dad: Were you at market?
Me: No, we went to Beckton.
Dad: Oh, yes.
Me: What’s wrong?
Dad: Um, I wanted to e-mail my friend a poem and I remember mum saying it had to be a JPEG or it would be too big.
Me: It’s a scan?
Dad: Yes.
Me: What file type?
Dad: I think it was a psd. Wait a minute I’ll go in the loft [to the computer] and look.
Me: Are you sure? I didn’t think you had Photoshop? Is it a pdf – does the file have a red triangle with curly corners?
Dad: Yes.
Me: Okay. Have you checked the file size?
[Five minutes pass while we establish that it *is* a psd file and it’s tiny.]
Me: Does your friend have Photoshop?
Dad: I wouldn’t think so, no.
[Ten minutes later we have managed to save the poem as a GIF]
Me: Right. Now all you have to do is attach the new file to your e-mail.
Dad: How do I do that?
Eventually I get off the phone. I ask TA in a tired voice, “Why the hell didn’t he just type the bloody thing?”

Saturday, March 24, 2007

all bets are off
I was in the midst of writing a defiantly cheerful post about how I was going to have a lovely weekend when I made the mistake of calling home.
Gordon Bennet! My mother leaves for a two-week safari in Kenya today. Last night my father woke up bathed in sweat and suffering from palpitations and chest pain. After consulting NHS Direct an ambulance was called. My father has dangerously high blood pressure – the latest theory is that his medication gave him indigestion. Apparently he feels fine now, but (despite the fact my brother lives on the Isle) I’m on Dad-watch duty until her return.
Perhaps you’ll remember his previous mishaps? Last time she went on holiday his entire leg went septic:

and he was bedridden for six weeks, indeed it’s never truly healed. The time before that he contracted dysentery-like symptoms and passed out when he was halfway up a ladder, giving himself a black eye in the process and, upon waking, found himself in a pool of diarrhoea. One year he tripped on a path in the garden and fractured his ankle.
I’m not sure how many more of her holidays he will survive.

Friday, March 23, 2007

tissues for issues
I get these totally useless brainwaves. For instance, if anybody out there is planning a Tears for Fears tribute band then I have the perfect name for you. But then, sadly, how often do you hear about Tears for Fears tribute bands?
As we’ve already covered, I’m officially mental, which might go some way to explain why I’m already rehearsing for my first – as yet unbooked – session with a counsellor. The thing is, where does one start? I’m too logical, I think. In fact I think far too much, which actually might be the root of the problem. The obvious questions keep popping into my mind. And, honestly, I started writing us a Q&A, but got too distressed to continue – I mean, it makes no sense! The questions and the answers don’t add up to a reasonable, believable explanation for my actions.
I know the questions, I know the answers and round and round I go. Sometimes the human being is not logical, rational or explicable. Honestly, there’s no real reason for my bonkersness. Sure, I can list things – abuse, illness, surgery, fostering, fears of more abuse, adoption, surgery the second, insanity in the family…then the everyday normal angst that we all have: family, school, career, body image, relationships – but they don’t really add up to much.
Is it wrong that TA and I are starting to get competitive? Is it possible to play poker with our unhappy family cards? I see your religious fundamentalism and raise you a new-age fruit bat.
And the thing that’s really playing on my mind is that we might well end up with the same therapist: the therapist that has already told TA that we’re not good for each other. Seriously, I only half mentioned not wanting to see her and the GP, with evil emperor Pope from Star Wars staring at me, agreed for a moment before the force took control of her.
Wait. Perhaps this is the therapist you are looking for?
Er, no?
But you both see me. She’s the senior therapist here.
The conversation lasted several minutes and I didn’t say what I was really thinking because I like the GP and want, to the best of my ability, to appear normal. So, I left the room having agreed that perhaps Elizabeth (obviously not her real name) could well be the therapist I’ve been waiting for. Great.
She’ll call or write, apparently. Can’t wait.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

bed shaped
Today I am working from bed. Yesterday we had our company's annual general meeting (complete with live video link up with offices around the world), never a good experience, and I had my appointment with the GP and Pope Benedict this morning so I was able to persuade my co-workers that working from home was the best option. The joys of wireless broadband.
It's official: I'm mad. Counselling will start soon.
However, no one should worry about me because, as my mother told me, "Jonathan Cainer in the Daily Mail (he's quite good, you know) says everything's going to be okay." Well, that's a relief isn't it? Almost as reassuring as the time she told me, after we'd had a blazing row and I was sobbing with incoherent rage, that my grandmother was sitting on the bed next to me and stroking my hair. My grandmother had been dead for several years at that point.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

give her a medal
TA kissed me at the glass doors – have a good day. He says it every day as he tries to make it seem as though I’m about to spend the next nine hours on pink fluffy clouds of happiness, but today his words were even more filled with devout hope. I smiled and said, well, it can’t be worse than the second year of middle school. Walking into the office I was comforted to see Skye resolutely glued to the pavement, unwilling to leave me with the lions.
So far, so good. I’ve made some apologies and kept my head down. It’ll blow over. The two people in the know are treating me as though I might break; presumably they have been shielding me from fallout. And to think I was considering sneaking in on Sunday and clearing my desk.
I rang the surgery to make an appointment and have two days to figure out exactly what I’m going to say to my devoutly Catholic GP to persuade her that while I’m in need of an urgent talking to I don’t need more drugs or to be sent to the lovely, quiet, white room for a tranquil holiday of indefinite length.
What a mess.
Meanwhile, here I sit in an inconspicuously long-sleeved jumper contemplating what on earth to do. Don’t worry, sweetheart, I was joking when I said I’d try pills next time. Note to self: don’t run away; face the demons; stop self-sabotaging and making excuses for fear. I’m tired just thinking about it – acceptance of failure is so much easier and it’s become comfortable too.
I was bunking off middle school when I got myself squished. What a rebel. I was so embarrassed and wanted to just slip back into school after two weeks away – please ignore my arm still strapped up, please let’s just forget this little mishap. As for punishing my bunking – why not? I might have got myself run over, but I was still bunking off; bring it on – I deserve it.
The headmaster read out my name in assembly and told everyone what I’d done. My cheeks burnt red with shame and embarrassment. At least he didn’t ask me to stand on the stage as he explained to everyone that I was being given a reward, a star, for my bravery. It was the star that stung – I knew I wasn’t brave; I knew I was stupid and selfish and had hurt those who loved me with my actions – I threw the certificate away and never looked at the stars I won honestly in the same way again.
Do you ever get the feeling that history is repeating itself?

crispy, crispy Benjamin Franklin
Do you ever feel deep fried? Is it really just me, surely not? I think I have – let’s face it, I know I have – an overactive imagination, but really. Crispy, burnt edges and an idea that lava might break out from under my skin at any moment: Peter Jackson’s Balrog has a lot to answer for.
I know I’m being good, or supposed to be, but I so nearly ran out today. I work on the third floor. The window looked inviting and I thought of myself as a seventies cop crashing through the sugar glass and falling poetically to the street (so what if they have crash mats when they do it on the telly) while my coworkers looked on dumbfounded and that wap-woppa-wap music slapped its strings in the background. And it was so crazy – the window overlooking the Savoy is picture perfect for that kind of caper, perhaps Bob Hoskins was at that very moment exiting from a Long Good Monday – that it took all my self-discipline not to make it happen.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

paint it red
A glass of red wine with a friend and a colleague on a Friday afternoon. Lovely. A second glass of red wine on a Friday afternoon with a friend and perhaps a proto-friend. A naughty, daring, silly thing to do. A third glass of ruby red wine. We had crossed a line. Three empty bottles on a small table. Three people sitting around a table when they should be at their desks. Rebels, but why?
The fourth bottle was empty. Staggering back to the office I fell over my chair to the amusement and disbelief of my sober colleagues. Career suicide?
It was still light as I caught the bus home, cradling a bottle of water and eating chocolate biscuits on the top deck.
You'd have to ask TA for an accurate account of the hours between six and midnight. He shouted at me, I think. I passed out in bed. He wasn't amused when he found me sharpening knives in the kitchen in the witching hour. "Are you hungry?" he asked, bemused.
Sitting on the sofa in a cold sweat I couldn't see an honourable way out. The past few years I've been a bull in a ring - I keep charging at the matador but all I get is wounded and tired. I can't escape the ring, but what if there was a way out?
Cold hatred, disgust. What a fuck up. Unless dog steroids and Prozac can kill, there weren't enough drugs in the house to obliterate the loathing thoughts so I took the last two ibuprofen and sat on the sofa with the two sharpened knives. Decline and Fall in my hands.
I have a small scar on the inside of my right wrist from a brush with a hedge - I hope people don't think I cut myself. Although of course now I have. Lengthways I remember TA telling me is the best way. Blunt knives scratch rather than cut. Long scratches, bruises really, just bruises. I'm not good at sharpening knives.
A day after being run over they moved me from one hospital to another. In the back of the ambulance the drip fell out and they couldn't get it back into my wrist - in the end my right arm was splinted and they moved up the arm to the inside of the elbow. I still remember how it hurt as they struggled to get the bloody drip in.
The serrated knife, the one I always use for preference, sliced bluntly and didn't hurt much. It took me a while to realise that this time I'd managed to make me bleed. Pleased and a bit surprised I watched the blood run down my arm. I already knew it still wasn't nearly enough to require no more thought and anyway it was so pretty. So red, bright - not heavy like the clotted sludge of a month's end - a liquid jewel.
I realised there was more blood than I had originally thought - it was soaking into TA's black sheepskin that I'd curled up under. What a waste. I took the blood into the kitchen and made patterns on my canvas. So pretty and still it wasn't stopping. Drip, drip, drop.
I padded into the bedroom. "Will you bandage my arm?" I asked.
A little trickle of blood ran into the bath as TA found his Australian army first aid kit. A pool collected as he placed an aloe patch over the half-inch of open wound and wrapped it in a bandage. Thankful and tired I was ready to sleep.
"Ambulance or A&E?"
Shame and guilt - really it's a tiny cut.
"Ambulance or A&E"
A walk to Guy's and then a taxi to St Thomas's.
Three minutes with a senior staff nurse called Lisa. No explanations needed, help offered and declined. Decline and fall, decline and fail.
I'll keep the bus ticket TA bought me as he brought me home, valid for travel until 3.18am on Saturday morning.
Saturday morning. Explanations, recriminations, apologies.
Today. Soaking my clothes and TA's fleece on cold water. Washing my rust from the draining board. I dreamt last night that my menstrual blood was everywhere - handprints on the walls and toilet cistern - but when I woke I wasn't bleeding.
TA says I have to stop running away. My mother says I have to learn to love myself. My boss says he’s there if I want to talk. I don’t want to talk. I’d like to run away but the fact that I’d be doing it on my legs defeats the purpose. I’d like to love myself better and yes write that blasted novel. I’d like to live and work on a farm close to the open sky and fields. I’d like to achieve something in this tiny stretch of time we call a life. I’d like to love my husband better, I’d like to paint my body with ink, I’d like to howl.
Can someone please open the gate for me? I don’t want to be in the ring anymore, but I can’t seem to find the right exit.

Friday, March 16, 2007

haraldskær woman
What a difference a day makes or, more strictly speaking, a night since that’s where the problem probably lies, so to speak. Moogie, caffeine, the office and sunshine – nothing has changed except that I feel as though I’ve been buried alive in a claggy, clayey peat bog. Perhaps it was the three large glasses of Rioja last night or staying up until 11pm that did it, but today I can barely summon the energy to continue breathing. This is doubly frustrating because attempting to bubble up through the mud is my desire to continue flogging yesterday’s Mari Lwyd of inspiration for all it is worth.
I’m reading volume one of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire at the moment and thoroughly enjoying it even though I think I’m more interested in the Celtic mythos that preceded it and that of the Anglo Saxons that followed. Honestly, I don’t really know much about anything: my education’s been such a mismatched patchwork of historical and literary periods; and of the bits and bobs I have at one time or another learnt very little has escaped the daily tides of forgetfulness.
Somewhere in the mud of my brain are lodged the shipwrecks of secondary, tertiary and post-grad courses, not to mention the jetsam of current affairs. Today I found myself trawling the interweb for evidence of a shadowy recollection that Joanna Lumley has a trout of a sister who resents her – my google nets came up empty, nothing to show me that my memory held anything more than a wicked sister fairytale. Now I’m left wondering if I’m suffering from recovered memory syndrome or simply wishful thinking.
Of course, as a bored office worker, I trawl the interweb with the dedication of a commercial fisherman, although probably with more success. The treasures I find – haraldskær woman, for example – seem to only surface briefly before becoming submerged in the sucking and acidly sterile peat of my mind. Wikipaedia accidently gave me the answer – I need to turn my flotsam into ligan (or lagan), by tying it to a buoy so that I can find and retrieve it later.
Of course, in more ways than one, that’s what this is – a ligan of my life – an attempt to mark treasures for later recovery.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A day of counting blessings – I have my health, a puppy and husband who love me, a significant pay rise, the sunshine and a beautiful apartment.
Coffee is percolating its way into my bloodstream while the moogie is playing the best kind of music there is: moody, intricately syncopated piano that slips between the ribs like a serrated knife. I’m back in the office after a day and a half working from home and, actually, it feels good to be here.
The living room of the Sett has become even more dramatic with the addition of a friend’s birthday gift: a huge Toby Burton original of our choice. The bathroom has been graced with a Badgergirl original (placement inspired by “and here’s where Queen Vicky hauled her ass off the can”, as I once heard an American tourist explain to her friend on seeing a handrail in the royal bathroom of Osbourne House) and TA is working on a triptych for the hallway.
My painting. Now there’s a thing. I love painting and TA is very supportive, but what I create is, well, at the very least, divisive. I am not a particularly adept manipulator of paint and distrust brushes – I’m still at the playschool stage of development. In our last unshared home I created a triptych of my own on the maiden, mother, crone theme. The mother was a resplendent Sheela Na Gig – wild haired, bare teethed, unapologetic. TA was disturbed; grinning down over the bed she rather put him off his stroke. I very much wanted him to create a cheeky Cernunnos to face her across the room, but sadly he never felt like rising to the bait. Later the maiden, mother and crone canvases were painted over and finally disposed of during one of our many moves. I don’t miss maiden or crone, but Sheela – with her raging strength, ability to shock and horrify, and unabashed blood lust – I miss.
I enjoy the sculptural possibilities of paint – recently I’ve added flour to make it more malleable. I like the idea of images built on the bones of others – the hidden archeology of the image (there was a painting of a gourd under the body of my Sheela, giving her an underpinning roundness and a secretly fertile body). I keep looking at the prints of my hands in the bathroom and thinking about trees and bones – the next incarnation. I’d like to make my own paint – the plasticity of acrylic feels slippery, gaudy and, well, synthetic. But boiled onion skins, hair, henna, coffee, tea, blackberries, woad, even – ah, now that’s exciting.
Did I ever write about the mask I made for a friend? A plaster and paper reflection of my face, decorated with paint and fur and a braid of my hair. Left to my own devices, I fear my home would fill with bleached bones. TA found the pupster trying to eat my journal – my blood has soaked through the paper. Sometimes blood says it all. There’s a reason why our living room was christened “the living womb” by a witty friend.
I am but imperfectly trained to wear shoes and walk prettily. Inside Sheela is shouting insults; can you hear the whispering echo?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

I wrote this a day in advance! I’m going to have my hands full with champagne, chocolates, pork pies, Guinness, cake baking, wine and acrylic paint (TA bought me a new canvas to play with)…oh, and presents too.
I’ve compiled a birthday-themed playlist to play on random that reflects my mixed feelings: 30 songs for 30 years.
1. Oedipus, Regina Spektor (a song about claiming inheritance. Oh my, she is fabulousness itself. If Edward Gorey wrote songs they’d sound like this…)
2. Goodbye Pisces, Tori Amos
3. Pants, Gloria Deluxe
4. Crested Hens, Soluus
5. Inner Universe, Origa (everyone needs to get some anime soundtrack action)
6. When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die, Moby (I find embracing the possibility is often a comfort)
7. The Living Daylights, A-Ha (I can’t help being a child of the 80s, okay?)
8. Upside Down, Tori Amos
9. Consequence of Sound, Regina Spektor (listening makes me want to write and I’m damned if I’m going to spend another decade being merely a frustrated novelist)
10. 40 Boys in 40 Nights, the Donnas (one can but hope)
11. Sullen Girl, Fiona Apple (under the waves of the blue of my oblivion)
12. Immature, Björk
13. You Came Through, PJ Harvey
14. Breath, Kathryn Williams
15. There’s No Other Way, Blur
16. Suddenly I See, KT Tunstall
17. Take to the Sky, Tori Amos (my heart is like an ocean – it gets in the way)
18. The Harder They Come, Paul Oakenfold
19. A Place Called Home, PJ Harvey
20. Believe, Franke Potente
21. If 6 Was 9, Tori Amos (yes, seriously – one of the best cover versions in the world)
22. 10pt Agenda, Herbaliser
23. Us, Regina Spektor (have I mentioned how much I love her?)
24. This is a Low, Blur
25. Joyful Girl, Ani Di Franco
26. One Day, Björk
27. In the Bath, Lemon Jelly
28. Time of Your Life, Paul Oakenfold
29. All I Need, Air
30. Wing-Stock, Ashley MacIsaac (I soar every time I hear the swell of sound)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

the pupster’s predilection for puddles
For many weeks the pupster would not – there’s no way to put this delicately – “go” when he was on a walk. We became resigned to the fact that he’d never twig that outside was a good venue for piddle and poo. TA even thought it was a good thing.
Then, out of the blue, one day he surprised us by widdling while walking – right on the South Bank steps, outside Tate Modern (the dog has class). A few weeks later he astonished us by pooing while he was walking home – TA knew I’d be thrilled so, because I wasn’t there to witness it, he rang me to inform me.
Now he averages two widdles and a poo on the walk into work in the morning, he even has his favoured stops. We’re running low on poo bags and these days we don’t go through nearly as much newspaper at home, which is all to the good. The thing that puzzles and slightly disturbs us is that when outside the pupster will only widdle or poo if all four paws are in a puddle – this makes cleaning the poo an interesting challenge, but so far TA has coped admirably. TA thinks perhaps Skye is trying to mask his scent because he’s not top dog. The pupster seems happy enough though so for the moment there seems no point in trying to dissuade him from blessing the puddles.
However, as TA said yesterday, what is he going to do in summer?

tides of March
I’m 30 tomorrow. The scene has almost been set: the champagne is ready to chill, the organic orange juice is in the fridge…I’ll pick up some croissants tonight (not to mention pork pies). I’m looking forward to a day filled with customised pleasures.
head case
Oh how I’ve tried to avoid writing about this, but really it’s still bugging me.
I like the writer; seriously, I’m a huge fan of her mouthy, opinionated, educated, literate posts. I really admire her take-no-hostages approach to adoption, her sanity, erudition, ballsyness. But that makes this evidence of her fallibility worse, a greater betrayal and also makes me worry that I’ve laughed along at her cut-to-the-quick humour unthinkingly.

Dear Mimi Smartypants,
I understand it, its wordy, look-at-me exactitude metaphor wittiness, but even on that level it doesn’t – if you’ll pardon the pun – hold water. So, the balloon children have hydrocephalic heads do they? Have you seen a hydrocephalic head? I see one every morning and I defy you to pick it out in a large-head ID parade.
Oh, you meant an unsuccessfully treated hydrocephalic head! I’m sorry. And you think that’s what the balloons looked like?
I’m just checking here, but have you ever seen an unsuccessfully treated hydrocephalic child? Because I have and he looked, well he looked sad and in pain and as if he was going to die soon (which he did), but his head looked like a point-on rugby ball. Is that what you meant with the witty in its slightly esoteric exactitude metaphor? No. I thought not. And – to give you the benefit of the doubt – I thought perhaps that my experience was unusual (perhaps the excessive pressure affects other little children in a different way) so I googled for pictures other hydrocephalic children (I was going to post the link, but really it's not pretty). Nope, the rugby-ball pain and sadness seem pretty universal.
To me, no matter how disturbingly inappropriate the balloons were as a representation of romantic love, your thoughtless, clever-clever witticism was infinitely more disturbingly inappropriate.
All best,

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

a dolt?
I think, by any measure, 30 should mean a certain degree of maturity. I’ve got three days to achieve it and so far the signs aren’t great. As time goes by I get more resentful of the responsibilities and constraints of age rather than less. The sun is shining in a clear blue sky and I should be outside skipping through meadows instead of staring at a screen, avoiding my timesheet and the list of tasks I should complete today.
People keep asking what I’m going to do to celebrate, but they don’t believe it when I tell them – I’m not joking: I’m taking the day off so that I can lie in bed, eat (cheese, pork pies, cake and chocolates) and drink (tea, coffee, champagne, microbrews and red wine); read (a good thumping novel) and listen to music (TA bought me a Regina Spektor CD, which is pretty fantastic). I might squeeze in some DVD watching and, if Skye obliges, I might have some puppy play too.
I started as I mean to go on by having friends over at the weekend for copious quantities of cheese and by breakfasting on Scoobydoo cake (thanks A and J!). TA claims I’m milking it and asks how I can justify a “birth week”. But he should know better. After nearly six years together, he should know that I’m never good at celebrating my continued existence and require as many opiates as possible to maintain the cheerful demeanour that everyone expects. The pressure has already started with TA wanting me to open presents in advance. Has anyone got a drink? I’d quite like to wake up in a week’s time, or never.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

home, sweet spinach
K, a friend I made in Greece (why do all my friends have the same initial?), is off to Namibia for four months to help with Operation Raleigh activities. After all, if it’s good enough for Angelina and Brad it’s good enough for lesser mortals. I went round to K’s house for dinner the other night to wish her luck and say bon voyage.
K’s boyfriend has recently bought a flat in Battersea. While K’s salary is as modest as mine, boyfriend is a city hotshot and the flat is beautiful: real wood floors, real slate kitchen tiles, a garden. Added to these natural advantages, K has an excellent eye for styling interiors. As I ate my risotto I admired the simple flourishes and queried how she’d settled in. Apparently the answer was with the greatest of ease – the flat was in an excellent condition when they moved in and all they had to do was buy new furniture to fill the gaps. The new sofas were lovely – one duck-egg blue fabric and the other chocolate leather – and, curled up on either side of the spacious living room, we chatted about the joys of home owning and cohabiting.
K admitted that she does most of the housework (as I write this I’m wondering what changes her four-month absence will wreak) and is a tad obsessive. I remember when we shared a flat in Tripoli we had a rota that was religiously followed and, while my room was frequently slightly dishabille, her room was always artfully arranged as if for a Homes and Gardens shoot: perhaps a little too cluttered with pretty-pretty touches for my taste, but always welcoming and neat. She described how she comes home from work and immediately tidies up, unable to settle until everything is in its place. I expressed my admiration for her routine.
On the (two!) buses home I mulled over how it is that other people always seem to keep their places clean and ordered. My parents, for example, always do dishes straight after the meal and I used to too, but since living with TA I’ve learnt to let the sink fill until he gets round to it (usually once a day while I’m at work) meaning that the sink is always cluttered. I’m a shedder while TA maintains piles. I do collect my detritus and put it away fairly regularly, but TA’s sacrosanct piles are immovable, so to speak. This means that there’s always a degree of paper clutter (for instance, why he keeps the envelopes of opened letters I’ll never know). The Sett is small and storage is always a problem, but neither of us helps the situation by not being very good at organising what we have (and TA has an awful lot of stuff, bags and bags of unidentifiable stuff, not to mention bags and bags of bags).
I returned to a Sett that was littered with laminate off cuts, tools, painting supplies, dirty dishes, drying laundry and what can only be described as assorted gubbins. My heart sank. When it gets this bad I get completely overwhelmed and paralysed – I know I want to live in an immaculately presented apartment (and feel a deep sense of shame that it is not) – but can’t summon the energy to tackle such an overwhelming project. There wasn’t one room that didn’t need urgent attention.
I fell into bed next to TA completely deflated, feeling envious and hard-done by. At 4am the alarm went off and TA and Skye left on a day trip to Badger Avenue to complete the broadband installation process for my parents. At 6am I decided that I had a headache and needed a duvet day. At 9am I got up, checked work e-mail, made my excuses and took a deep breath.
The to-do list covered two sides of the Westie notepaper that lives on the freezer, embracing everything from charge the drill and wall-mount the bathroom cabinet my father rescued for me from a friend’s skip to clean the fridge, dust and rearrange the clothes in the wardrobe. It was daunting, but it felt good to be taking the chaos bull by the chore horns for once. I made coffee and set to work. Dishes were washed, laundry put away, more laundry started, windows opened…every couple of hours I would run out of steam and return to the list for fresh inspiration or to triumphantly cross off another completed task. Low-hanging fruit, I muttered to myself as I avoided collapsing on the sofa and instead washed the fridge, thus getting another tick on the list in short order.
Climbing the ladder to reach the arctic loft my palms were greasy with nervous sweat – what if the ladder toppled and left me stranded until TA returned? I persevered – moving the flooring remnants into storage and bringing down an unused piece of furniture to house the stereo in the living room, meaning that it would no longer be sitting directly on carpet.
Order gradually began to make an appearance. Room by room, progress was slowly made. But it wasn’t all plain sailing, far from it. Moving a plant so that I could clean I discovered that the slate it was sitting on had not prevented water from damaging the paintwork. New tasks – such as painting the windowsill – were added to the already lengthy list and triumphantly crossed off.
Finally, it was finished. In total, I spent 12 hours cleaning, tidying, reorganising and completing outstanding DIY tasks. Cleaning the Augean stables would have been a cakewalk in comparison.
Last night I collapsed into bed and thought, I’m proud of our little home. It might be an acquired taste in terms of décor and perhaps some of the inherited furnishings do look a little out of place or mismatched, but still: the Sett is just like us – it scrubs up surprisingly well.
When K and I were in Greece we were always practising our newly learnt vocabulary. “Spitimou, spinakimou,” we would say to each other – proud that we knew the Greek vernacular for “home, sweet home”. It used to be what we would call out as we walked through the front door until one day a Greek visitor corrected one of us. Not “spitimou, spinakimou”, it should be “spitimou spitakimou” – we had spent months saying the Greek equivalent of “home, sweet spinach”.
UPDATE: who knew! (Yep, that says what you think it does.)