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.)