Have you ever noticed how intensely irritating it is when people with far less to do than you keep telling you how very busy they are? As though you aren’t, and are somehow therefore a lesser being. As Christmas loomed that year I feared for my sanity as warm friends in cities all around the world kept calling, seemingly with the sole purpose of reminding me how little time there was left before my ‘Country Living’ meets ‘Homes and Gardens’ Christmas had to be complete.
To make matters worse, I found everything took four times longer than it should have done.
Take, for example, the night that I decided a large gin was the only answer – and then remembered that to reach the vital ice (ironic, that) I had to don the wellies, extra coat and fleece, find a torch, unlock the front door and walk down the side of the house through the mud, negotiate my way across the yard around the many piles of building materials, the skip and the rubble-laden trailer (tip: towbars hurt much more in the dark and cold), heave open the garage door, climb over the mower and get to the freezer. And then get back again. I think that’s when I became a Baileys drinker, and when it discovered it’s new resting place just behind my head as I sat in the relative warmth of the sitting room/playroom (which used to be the dining room, and still sported its quaint orange checked wallpaper ceiling) squinting at the telly through the narrow slit in my balaclava. Brilliant bits of kit, balaclavas.
Moving the washing around was another source of endless entertainment. That Christmas Eve it involved negotiating three precipitous uncarpeted stairs in the dark (of course: no lights in that bit of the house), climbing through the scaffolding that was holding up much of the back of the first floor, unloading the machine and bringing the wet washing downstairs through two stairgates to our friend’s spare (spare?!) tumble dryer in the front hall. (With no hot radiators, snow outside and our dryer – like BOTH the hoovers – too full of dust to be capable of anything at all, we had yet again become dependent on the largesse of our new friends who had supplied tea, sympathy, warmth and eventually even their precious white goods over the last few months until they must have been ruing the day we crash landed into their lives.) All the while, of course, I was trying to avoid the razor sharp carpet gripper which gripped nicely, given half the chance, to my bare feet – shoes were naturally out of the question, as clacking on bare boards and stone was bound to wake the Little Darlings. Carpets, meanwhile, were a thing of both the past and the future.
And yet. That birthday night in London? After the lovely carol service we had sat, Eeyore, No1 and I, and talked at length over dinner about what we had done. It was extraordinary how detached from the city I already felt: my home for 39 years was even now familiar but completely unappealing. Grey, dirty, full of people, above all loud – as a family Eeyore and I felt we had most definitely moved on, and pretty much with never a backward glance. But we were keen to hear No1’s point of view: he’s no fool, and naturally cautious, and he had been unsure about leaving the security and safety of the only home he had ever known. Now, it transpired, he, perhaps more than all of us, was sure we had done the right thing. He loved the space, the colours, the freedom, his bike, the dog (we hadn’t got one, and he looked sort of sideways at us and rushed on a bit as he mentioned it) – and the scale of his new life.
Eeyore and I looked at each other and grinned. Perhaps it was the distance we were from them but suddenly, if only for an evening, the downsides didn’t seem so bad.