My wife and I have been discussing some adjustments and alterations we feel we should make to our house, in readiness for sharing with a child. Not just a shelf here and a cupboard there…
We live in a three-bedroom 1930s semi-detached and we’ve got the old place looking pretty nice. But there’s always scope for reorganisation or redecoration or new development, isn’t there? Improvement. And that’s particularly pressing now there’s a baby on the way…
Since we moved in two years ago my wife has had the smallest of the bedrooms as her dressing room. This was not a theft of communal space or some selfish land-grab, and nor was it an excessive indulgence lavished upon her. It was a practical concession, and one I was very happy to make. She has a lot of clothes and many many shoes.
It’s not a large room – a narrow box, really – and she has maximised storage with her ingenuity. There is also a restored vintage dressing table in there, at which she can pamper and compose herself. The dressing room is, kind of, my wife’s private space – and I totally respect that. I’ve been in there just a few times during the seven hundred or so days we’ve been here, and never uninvited.
I have the middle-sized bedroom as my office, though it doesn’t have the same clarity of purpose and I don’t have the same degree of privacy. Notionally, it doubles as the guest bedroom due to the inclusion of a fold-down sofa-bed. But little by little this place has been invaded, and reduced to a post-apocalyptic wasteland. A Twilight Zone. The house dumping ground…
Currently lodging in there rent free are around fifteen yet-to-be-hung pictures, a dusty Stratocaster copy and an old acoustic with broken strings, a large box of my wife’s old DVDs, and a plastic storage tub containing remnants of her pre-me life. Plus a box of assorted I-don’t-really-know-what, a set of broken bathroom scales, a wash basket, a pile of bedding and an array of coats and boots.
The office also serves as the ironing station and it is the daytime throne room of our cat (who can usually be found nestling amongst the pile of coats, curled up and oblivious to everything but affection or the scent of food wafting up from the kitchen).
When the baby comes, they will definitely be ‘in with us’ for a while. But eventually we’ll need to make sure our child has a room of their own.
We’ve decided that my office will be sacrificed for the greater family good, and it will become the nursery. It might not seem the logical choice, but there is method to this apparent madness. It couldn’t be the dressing room that goes, as our master bedroom is just not sizeable enough to take all of my wife’s clothes and shoes and that dressing table. And it wouldn’t do at all to put my office stuff in there, either.
But the inevitable reorganisation does pose a bit of a problem for me. I’m not the kind of writer who is comfortable or remotely happy working on a laptop on my knee in the living room, or tucked away at one apologetic corner of the dining table, or metro- style in a café. Some would say a writer shouldn’t be happy anyway, even remotely?
Under no circumstances could I ever have been a roving reporter, lobbing his copy across the ‘net from an uncomfortable location. I need the formality of a desk and a reasonably tranquil environment around it. A ‘thinker’s space’, if you would prefer me to be slightly grand about it.
So where will my office go? Where will my many shelves of books and my desk and chair and lamp and computer relocate to? And I’ve yet to mention, of course, any implications for the iron, ironing board and ironing pile. And the cat… The poor fella. Where will he go and what will he do of an afternoon?
The current idea we’ve floated is: Get rid of the dilapidated old garage full of shit which stands at the rear of the house. Build a modest – and ideally brick – office. Next to that, a wooden shed (for lawnmower and bike storage). The aim would be to get on with this, or something akin to it, within a year to eighteen months of the baby’s birth.
To be perfectly honest I’m not sure we’ll be able to afford it – either as is or as will undoubtedly be. But we’ll see. And, in any case, I’m not yet at peace with the thought of moving to a new building on the ground floor. It’s hardly bucolic out there, but I love the elevated view from my current upstairs window too much. Whatever the weather.
Each morning a pair of feisty squirrels visits a feeder in one of the trees just beyond our boundary. I have the most delightful arena seat for their occasional squabbles and their general squirrelling about. Across the fence, through the foliage, along the branches, sometimes on our garage roof. Plus, this is a great spot for staring into the middle distance.
One of my favourite quotes about writing is by Alan Bennett (and I paraphrase him here, but you’ll get the general idea): “Being a writer means putting in a comma in the morning and then taking it out before lunch. Then staring into the middle distance for the afternoon, before putting the comma back in again just as you finish for the day”.
But, I suppose, I could force myself to come round to the idea of a different middle distance to linger over. It’s quite pretty out there in the back yard. We’ve greened its grey. We’ve made the most of limited dimensions and unremarkable ordinariness. We’ve accumulated and tended many potted plants and flowers, bought a couple of nice seats, put down some some rudimentary decking, dotted some solar lights about and were given a charmingly ramshackle old wooden greenhouse.
Perhaps, as I sat in a new office, I’d be able to leave the door open and engage with the outdoors in a slightly different way. Perhaps a new sort of connection with this tight urban corner of nature would bring fresh seasons of influence to the things I think and write.
In the past week we’ve started to sort out the entrance hall, stairs and first floor landing of the house. The travel areas of the house have been glum. Cheered only by framed photos of loved ones up the stairs. On the landing is a large poster I designed for a gig I organised (The Wedding Present). And there is a groovy circular mirror from Ikea in the downstairs hall.
We’re hardly expecting Kevin McCloud to call – but there will be an impressive transformation. Onwards, we’re going for a faintly formal and slightly old-fashioned aesthetic. Crisp but cool. No carpets. White everything with a dash of dark wood here and there.
The stairs, bannister and spindles need some work and so we’ve booked a friendly joiner to come do that for us in a couple of weeks. The disgusting dark-striped hall carpet (which seemed as if it was the discarded wrapper from a particularly unambitious packet of Refreshers) got taken up this last weekend. It was a surprisingly painless task, and there was joy lurking beneath…
Lo and behold, here are the original 1930s hall tiles. Red and cream checkerboard. And they’re in reasonably good condition. Only six from approximately four hundred and fifty are cracked. A bit of repair work and some elbow-grease to rid the hall of edging tacks and strips, tenacious patches of underlay and stubborn glue, and the floor should ‘come up nice’ when cleaned and polished.
I’ve been tackling the gunk-removal for around half an hour each evening since the weekend – but I cannot manage any more than that. I’m using industrial-strength nail varnish remover to break down the adhesive and re-order the Universe at a sub-atomic level, and a succession of cheap nail brushes to scrub it away. The gunk, not the Universe. It’s become a fume-fuelled transcendental saga. I’ve developed a new appreciation of late-’60s psychedelia and a serious headache.
Maybe this addled state explains why, last night, there was ‘a domestic error’ in the living room, just as we were settling in for an episode of Grand Designs. My wife and I are reformed smokers, having both been quit for about two years. She can be a determined soul. She made the decision and minutes later went cold turkey. Impressive! But I just didn’t have that same menthol strength (yes, I did go there). I stopped the fags seven days later, but with the aid of a vape. I’m still using it…
When I was refilling it last night there was what I would describe in court as a bottle malfunction. About three hundred and fifty six thousand litres of viscous and strong-smelling vape oil flooded out and slicked everywhere. I looked like an incontinent beanbag, but the sofa really got it.
I’m afraid words were exchanged.
I like to try and find a positive direction out of a tight spot. So I think the flurry of fucks and for-Christ’s-sakes was, though quite unpleasant, actually rather useful. It made me consider that when things happen which are totally out of our control (ie. when we are parents and our child throws shit at heirlooms or Jackson Pollocks the furniture using a palate of carrot and swede mash, Play Doh and a Sharpie) we will have to be a bit better about it. We’re constructive communicators, usually, but at these rare flash-points we must strive to be smarter.
Anyway, the sofa was rescued. Thanks – only – to some good thinking and doing by my wife. Skills I am sure she will need again.
There are other things to tackle around the house to bring us ‘up to scratch’. To be where we think we need to be by December, and the arrival of our child. Perhaps by then I will also be posting here from over there – not twenty feet from where I’m sitting now. A new office. A room in which I can pamper and compose myself and then write in peace, without an ironing board reading everything over my shoulder.
I doubt it, but perhaps…