Home sweet home.

I was too awake, and too aware, and I was going over an edge and I was scared and shivering and then I was shivering so hard that people came and wrapped me in hot blankets and put heated packs round me and someone put something hard between my teeth to save my tongue and then someone else put something else into the cannula, gently this time, and then a tiny, tiny woman hugged me and stroked my head and started singing.  That was when I knew I had gone completely woofing mad and was probably dying – until slowly, slowly, I began to unclench, and to relax.  It was as if someone had turned the intensity button down and I could start to focus.  Without saying another word the anaesthetist left the room, and I never saw him again.  Gradually my heart slowed and the shivering slowed, and the stroking and singing went on and I felt myself soften into the mattress and sleep.

When I woke the next time, it was a proper awakening.  Eeyore was there, and Chelsea Godmother, and it was two days later.  Of course there was no soft, Holby City style romantic reunion of a man and his wife of many years, the mother of his three children, the companion to his soul and the watcher of his back.   ‘Ah’  he said, looking round the side of his newspaper.  ‘About bloody time.’

It seems I’m ‘sensitive to morphine’ and that I’d had them ‘really quite worried’ for a while.  HAH!  I found it hard to be sympathetic.  I might have been well and truly out of it for most of the time, but I felt I’d lived life pretty hard during the few moments I had been alert: I too had been a little nervous.  Now however, life was good.  My side felt safely, tightly bound and utterly, blissfully pain free.  The analgesic drip into the back of my hand was mine to control, and as I lay there revelling in being alive and in a sunny room full of flowers with Eeyore, and Chelsea Godmother, and the promise of The Archers later on, the door opened and in walked the tiny, tiny woman.


Over the next week I got very used to the quiet rhythms of the day – and to the telly at the end of the bed.  Breakfast (ordered the night before) arrived at a civilised hour and was whisked away in due course.  There followed some exercises, firstly with help and then on my own, and then a little lie down before lunch.  A snooze, some more ‘up and about’ as it came to be known, Bergerac on the telly – usually interrupted by another snooze – and then lo and behold, more food.  More wobbling up and down the corridor, an exciting phone call or two and a couple of visitors, yet more to eat and then bed, and deep sleep.  I knew I was getting better when I began to feel bored, and then to lie awake at night.  The novelty of the peace and quiet wore off and the view from the window became grey again: it was time to go home, and as soon as I could prove that the stairs weren’t a problem, I was officially dismissed.

I don’t do slush.  All I can say is that the moment when the car turned off the lane into the drive was, and remains, one of the very best of my life.  I had never, ever had ten days go by so slowly  – and believe me, over the years I’ve done some very boring things for what has felt like a very long time.  While I was away someone had turned up the brightness and colour controls on my life: the children were more wonderful, the house more homely, the smells and sights of rural Lincolnshire more beautiful than they had ever been.  And more than anything else, the grass on my side of the fence was certainly, irrefutably greener.


Not a cheery read. Sorry about that.

I was dreading it.  I was miserable that it was necessary, and I was frightened of the pain of the cuts, and of the pain when I woke – not of not waking, just of the pain as I did.  I was frightened of not being able to drive for six weeks, and of having to lie on my back to sleep for as long, and of what would happen if I forgot and rolled over.  I was frightened of doing the whole thing once and then, lo and behold, just as I was getting better, going back and doing the whole thing again.  I had visions of mortality and ageing and I didn’t want to be back in London, and I was frightened of being lonely, which I’ve never been any good at.  Most of all I think, I was frightened of getting depressed again – properly depressed: not just a bit sad around the edges.  The future suddenly seemed like another huge, long uphill slog before I would be mobile and well again, and the long summer holidays I love so much and look forward to all year, seemed invisibly distant.

Ever brilliant, Chelsea Godmother took the day off work and came to make sure they were doing it properly.  5′ in heels, she took control straight away: the room I was given was tiny and looked into a dark stairwell covered in pigeon netting and bird poo.  My bird phobia was loving every minute of it.  I whinged, and she swung into action: within minutes I was moved into one on the other side of the hall – overlooking a main road, to be sure, but ten times brighter and lighter and altogether less scary.  She knows me as well as I know myself and so we both knew that had I stayed put in a dark and airless room, I would have been in big trouble.  ‘Morale’ as she said ‘would have been low.’  A phrase of my father’s, and a classically British understatement.

An arrogant anaesthetist came and went and none of us liked him and I got into my sexy gown.  The day dragged on and on and we kept not going downstairs and waiting and by now the tension had made everything hurt, not just the hips, and all that was keeping me going was the idea of that lovely slidey floaty feeling that comes over you as the anaesthetic creeps into your veins and you realise you’re going.  Finally, the nurse came and I said goodbye to Chelsea Godmother and bizarrely, as if we were just off to visit a friend on another floor, walked calmly to the lift with Eeyore.  It all seemed very strange, and I wanted to ask the others around me if they fully understood the enormity of what was about to happen to me.  I felt I should be protesting: I would never again be quite the same, the original me.

With a wallop, the arrogant anaesthetist whacked the anaesthetic into the cannula he had jabbed into the back of my hand, and with a bang I was out cold.  No lovely slidey floaty feeling, no chance to say goodbye, just a sudden cessation.

I drifted to the surface, and dipped down again.  I slid up, and back.  And again – and this time it was dark, and there was someone there doing things to the machines.  I said I was scared and he laughed incredulously, and told me not to be silly.  And then I was off again – and the next time there was someone else there and people calling my name and Eeyore insisting I answer him.  I tried, I really did try, and then it was the next time and there was the arrogant anaesthetist  and it was just him and me in the room.  He pushed something else into the cannula and there was a rushing noise and a whoosh and I was back in the bright, hard light and I was more aware than I had ever, ever been.  He was at the bottom of the bed watching me intently and telling me that everything was alright, and that he had said it would be, and that of course it was alright.  And I said ‘It isn’t, it bloody isn’t, there’s something wrong, and you know it, and something’s coming’ and then it was too much and I was right: it really wasn’t.

You cannot be serious!

Frighteningly, Eeyore came too.  Given that he hadn’t been there at the conception of No3, let alone his birth, the fact that he actually took time off to accompany me to the Hip Man, gave me cause for concern.  This must be grown-up stuff.

We sat in a private waiting room, thanking God for BUPA and trying to ignore the Aston parked outside.  Irresistibly, it had a baby seat in the front and a BMA sticker on the windscreen: either this chap was a complete fake or he was both a god of orthopaedic surgery AND a family man.  Too much to bear – for Eeyore at any rate: frankly, rather exciting for me.  In reality of course he was neither.  He was reassuring, confident without being arrogant, and definite.  Two resurfacings: first the right, then the left, six weeks apart if I wanted to be back  on my feet by the summer holidays.  But first I had to go away and think about it: these were two major operations with minimal recovery time between them.  I was 43, and I had early onset osteoarthritis.

It seemed that the hyper-flexibility of which I had always been so proud hadn’t been a good thing at all.  Being able, despite my size, to bite my own toenails at the age of 40 for example, while diverting to some (winters are long in Lincolnshire and we have to make our own entertainment) and lucrative to others (namely my dentist, who benefitted big time when I bust my front tooth doing it) was in fact a bad sign.  Making the ‘funny clunky noise’ as No1 called it by waving my legs around, was another.

‘Right.’ I said, as we sat there, winded.  ‘Just one question.  What are the scars like?’

‘I can’t pretend’ he said ‘They’re big – about eighteen inches long, and they curl from just below your hip to the top of your buttock.’

‘One on each side.’  Obvious, but I sought to clarify.

‘Yes.’ he said patiently.

There was a pause.  Then my natural defences kicked in.  ‘So that’ll be the end of my international bikini modelling career then?’ was all I could think of to say.  Eeyore sighed.  There was the tiniest hiatus as the Hip Man opposite me struggled – probably for the first time in his life – to get it right.

‘Ah ….’

‘I was joking.’  I said.

‘Ah.’ he said.  ‘Very good.’

Later I was to worry that I had antagonised the man who held my footballing dreams in his hands, but at the time I think Eeyore and I were fairly much beyond rational thought. I knew I wasn’t dying, and that this was a finite problem with a tried and tested solution available, but mine was already a long and boring history of procedures and dramas and medical crises of one sort or another and to have this added to it, at a time in our lives when everything was absolutely and undeniably – though chaotically –  Coming Together, was a bit much.  We sat in silence on the train on the way home and, unlike us, held hands (under the table of course, in case anyone saw us – we’re not Spanish, after all).  I remembered the time I called him back as he left the room on the liver ward in the Cromwell Hospital where I spent a month very shortly after No2 was born.  ‘Sorry love’ I had said.  He smiled, shoulders down.  ‘I know we said sickness and health’ there was a pause ‘Could we have some of the health bit, do you think?’.

But, with no real option, on we went.  A month later we were back at the jolly old private hospital in London, chosen because this was one of the two places where the Hip Man worked, and because it wasn’t too far from Eeyore’s workplace.  The idea was that No1 was safe and secure at school; No2 and No3 would be happily looked after by Saintly Sylvia; Eeyore would come and see me every day after work, and I would lie in bed eating grapes and watching daytime TV.  Oh, and have my flanks sliced open, my joints dislocated and my bones shaved.


Hippy Chick

It was about now that I realised something had to be done about my hip.  Both hips, in fact, but the right one in particular was very painful all the time, and excrutiating for most of the time.  Apparently I was groaning in my sleep, and certainly I could only get round Sainsbury’s by leaning heavily on the trolley and scooting myself along.  I was short-tempered all the time with the pain, and aggressive if I felt someone was being dim.  Which I did most of the time, because … I was short-tempered all the time with the pain.  I dreaded going to bed at night because lying down and turning over brought tears to my eyes, but once there I dreaded getting up because every movement was agony.

An injection of silicone into the socket eased things for three days, and apparently proved that the only real answer was either a replacement or something called a ‘Birmingham resurfacing’.  While this sounds like something interminable that’s always being done to the Spaghetti Junction, it was in those days a revolutionary process designed to be used on the younger (hurrah!) patient, and involved scraping away the roughened lining of the hip socket, and the top surface of the ball joint, and replacing them with new titanium layers.  Resurfacing or replacement: either only lasts about fifteen years, but I was determined to wait as long as possible for a full replacement – longevity runs in my family and I was keen to spend as little of my future as possible in a wheelchair.  Matters came to a head, however, one morning after school drop-off.

No2 was by now at a local Prep school and with great bravery (or so I told everyone) I drove her in one wet morning and walked her to her classroom, leaning on the wall all the way and puffing with pain.  I just about made it back to the car and was about to drive off when two friends approached: wreathed in smiles I wound down the window and then, to my horror, burst into tears.

‘If I have it done now’ I sobbed ‘that’ll do me for fifteen years, then a double replacement for another fifteen, and then what?  A wheelchair for the rest of my life!’

‘Right.  But in the meantime’ said my forthright friend from Carolina (a logical, obvious step: Carolina to Lincolnshire) ‘You’ve got no life.  You haven’t got an option.  Go do it.’

It was as though someone had turned the lights on.  It was as if I had been stumbling around in the gathering dark for the last few months, in such a stew and in such pain that I simply couldn’t see a way out.  It was suddenly utterly and completely clear that this had to be done, and the sooner the better.  As if someone had turned off a tap I stopped crying, and just looked at her.

‘Of course.’ I said, and that was it.  I went home and googled the name of a surgeon I had been given.  His CV was frightening and completely beyond my comprehension but he had a nice face, so I sent him an email, and that evening the phone rang.  It had never occurred to me that he might ring, and even once he had convinced me this wasn’t a prank I was more than a little taken aback, but we talked and got on well and arranged that I should come to London the next week to see him.  Before I wasted time and effort and a train fare on getting there however, there was a question I needed answering.

‘I’m really sorry to ask you this’ I said ‘But are you any good at these?’

Now the discerning among you will think that was odd.  Was he ever likely to admit he wasn’t, and ring off?  No, maybe not.  But I didn’t think it was unreasonable: if I was going to let him cut me open, dislocate my hip – how, I didn’t dare imagine – put a sling round the end of my femur, hoist it out of my body, grind off the top of the ball, grind out the lining of the socket, reline one, recap the other, lower it again, whack it back into place and sew me up again, I sort of wanted to know that he knew what he was doing.

There was an indrawn breath, a pause, and then a chuckle.  ‘See you next week.’ he said.

We Meet again.

Somehow, in the middle of all this, the year had moved round again and it was time for the Meet. 

Picture the typically English scene: the house, the gleaming hunters, the pink, the excited hounds.  Picture too the equally English Guys who downed tools, brewed up and lined the scaffolding the instant the first tight-jacketed, tight-jodhpured filly appeared.  I should have realised when eleven of them turned up that morning that they weren’t suddenly dying to get the chimneys pointed or to replace the ridge tiles.  Nor was it an appreciation of equine form or ancient English traditions that had got them out in such numbers. I had made the mistake of telling them in advance why it was that they wouldn’t be able to screech about in their vans and lorries quite as much as usual, and knowing much more about these things than I did (not difficult – and after all, they’re mostly Leicestershire Lads) they knew full well that there would be lots of port, and a jolly good view from two floors up.

I think it was when I saw No2, by then 3-and-a-bit, wobbling across the grass that I realised that while we might have taken the girl out of the city, we would never get the city out of the girl.  She looked gorgeous, clad in her own choice for the day: a little checked skirt, multi-coloured stripy tights and a pair of Woolie’s finest high heeled gold clickety-clack sandals, with a vibrant green puffy jacket on top.  Balancing a tray of sausages she was making determinedly (you need to know her) for the paddock.  She considered the fence around it for a moment and then put down the tray, got under the bottom rail, stretched for the bangers and set off to look after her guests.  Thankfully Unca Pete got off the scaffolding in double quick time and rescued her from just behind a particularly large beast sporting the give-away pretty red tail ribbon.  Naturally, this only deepened Daughter’s crush on anyone with a hard hat and boots with reinforced toes.  It was also all the encouragement the Guys needed to swarm, lemming-like over the edge of the scaffolding and soon we were hard pressed to keep glasses filled.

Eventually, the Meet dispersed and we gathered the empties.  All that remained was for The Guys to get back up the scaffolding and crack on.  Ah, but silly me: by now it was midday and clearly therefore lunch time.  The deckchairs all came out (ours, of course) and the lunchboxes, and a great time was had by all: naturally we joined in and between us we finished the sausages and mince pies (unseasonal, but easy to mass produce) and enjoyed each other’s company in a very Hardy-esque way.  But then the mobiles started to ring, and the ’emergency’ calls came in, and soon eleven were eight, and then four then two – and then there weren’t enough of them to do whatever it was they said they had planned for the day, and suddenly they were gone.

But you know what?  We didn’t care.  Eeyore and I sat in the warmish sun and enjoyed the view, stirring only really to rescue No3 from the edge of the ha-ha now and then.  We dredged what remained of the port lake, and remembered W12 – fondly, but without a scintilla of regret.


Stormy waters skillfully navigated.

For weeks we had battled.  The entente had not always been entirely cordiale, and I had employed an oft-used tactic of mine known as ‘procrastinate until he gives in’.  He did bang on a bit along the lines of  ‘All I ask is that we have one room – just one, mind – that’s a real colour.’  By this it transpired that he meant not something with a silly name: ‘blue’, presumably, or ‘green’ or ‘yellow’.   I, however, knew exactly what I had in mind and became ever more practiced at the art of non-committal response.  Time wore on and eventually, as he had left for Cape Town that October he had sighed hugely and cast over his shoulder ‘I don’t care what you do, just get it painted.’

Well!  Carte blanche, in my book, and caveat emptor, and any other educated sounding aphorisms.  Within minutes of that throw-away line I had ordered umpteen litres of a cheap copy of Fallow & Bell’s ‘Cream’, and two days later the first coat hit the plaster.  A triumph!  A veritable triumph – it didn’t look anything like real cream of course, more a sort of toffee yoghurt, but I loved it and found myself wandering in there last thing at night just to gloat at my brilliance and peerless taste.  I blu-tacked a bit of the curtain fabric up against it and was struck again by how talented I was – the fact that I was neither making the curtains nor even painting the walls didn’t impinge at all: mine was the creative genius and therefore, Clarkson-like, the credit.

We spoke daily while he was away of course, but I was always decidedly vague when asked for a progress report.  So much so that when the day of his return dawned, I was suddenly nervous.  I conscripted a couple of Chaps who had foolishly stood still for a minute and together we got some big bits of furniture into the room and put them against the wall to lessen the impact of what I knew he’d feel was the non-colour.  We were still lacking carpets and a fireplace, but my hope was that the overall impression would be of an understated elegance just beginning to emerge ….  I moved the two portable lighting units apart and angled them up slightly … I was losing my nerve.

Children’s supper time, and Eeyore’s arrival was imminent.  Then he was late and I asked Sylvia please to do the bathtime honours, and then to keep them out of the way until I blew the ‘All Clear’: I had a feeling things were going to get ugly.  She gave me a sympathetic look.

I think I was doing the beans for supper when I finally heard the back door shut.  How to play it?  I made sure I was standing, Stepford-Wife-like at the island, looking harmlessly domesticated as I heard the tackety-tack of his steel shoe tips go past the kitchen and across the hall, and the distinctive sound of the drawing-room door open and close behind him.  This, I felt, was a poor start: I was unnerved by the fact that after two weeks far from the bosom of his family he had gone straight past his wife, and for all he knew his children, to check on a paint colour.  It got worse: there was a long pause.  Then the sound of the door opening and closing again, and the tackety-tack of his shoes coming back – in all likelihood, I feared, with him in them.

I feigned surprise when he came into the kitchen.  He cut me off at the pass: ‘Well,’ he said, annoyance and resignation personified ‘You’ve done it again.  Another shade of f*****g sludge.’

Reader: it got better.  I whisked him back in there and set about him with words I knew would make him want to run: ‘ambience’, ‘colour-way’, ‘tone’, ‘texture’ … and he caved.  ‘Whatever.’  he finally said, and went upstairs to change.  I breathed out.

And do you know what?  It’s now his favourite room.  When we can’t find him – which happens quite often when the house is full and buzzing and he needs five minutes out – we know exactly where to go.  He’ll be in there, either having a snooze or sitting in his grandfather’s chair reading, or leaning in the window looking out at the view.  ‘Soothing’ is a word he didn’t really know, before.

What he didn’t know, didn’t hurt him.

The silence was deafening.  Not in my head, where I was screaming, but all across the building site you could suddenly have heard a pin drop.  Again.

‘Right.’ I said, with frightening control.  ‘So what exactly was the point of the last four days?’

‘Well I did wonder ….’ he said.  Bravely, I thought.

I breathed in and out twice – in through the nose, out through the mouth, as you’re taught for labour.  It didn’t work now, either.  ‘Back in a minute.’  I muttered, and left at speed pausing only to scoop up No3, who was chuffed to bits with the turn of events: off we went down the lane to count the rats in the copse we call Rabbit’s House.

That night, I hatched a cunning plan.  I gave each colour a number and labelled each box of tiles – on every face, just in case.  (I was learning.)  Then I made and copied a master list of the tile serial number, name, colour (pointless, but just in case) and the number I had given it.  Then I drew a grid of 100 squares and numbered each one according to the tile I had decided should go there.  Genius.  And it worked!  It took a very long time to do but slowly slowly with great care, much checking and a very accurate eye, The Chef applied 352 whole tiles and innumerable slips to bits of the kitchen wall.  Where, as I write, most of them are currently obscured by drying washing, or dirty washing-up.  Heigh-ho.

It was around now that Eeyore suddenly decided he had An Opinion.  The attentive Reader will have noticed how very hard I tried throughout this whole moving malarkey to make the dear chap think he was being involved, while actually keeping him far from any sort of decision making role: of course he was allowed to offer a view – of course!  But when push came to shove, when a commitment had to be made to a definite plan …. well, obviously I was the better placed to make it.  After all, his pretty little head was very full of numbers, and interest rates, and trade deficits and grown up things like that.  Bless.

So when he first said that we could have any colours at all on the walls but absolutely no grey anywhere (my favourite), I smiled obligingly and continued to go about my business.  After all I had managed to manoeuvre him away from red carpets or swirly patterns (he is Northern, after all) and I remained confident that if I employed my usual method – smile, distract, carry on – all would be well.  How wrong I was.

The tester patches on our walls proliferated.  For a man hitherto almost totally uninterested in matters domestic, he suddenly became two things I had always assumed he would never be: involved, and informed.  Imagine my horror.  I tried offerings I knew he’d hate, in the hopes that I would win a war of attrition and he would lose patience.  Violent oranges and purples were suggested; ochres and vermillion, fluorescent greens, black and ultimately a funny sort of metallic yuck.  He saw through the lot and had the temerity to call my bluff by picking a screaming yellow that made our eyes burn to behold.  As the painters became more insistent, and rooms actually started to look as though they might just one day be real, habitable spaces if only they had a couple of final coats, I became desperate.

His nemesis, and my salvation, arrived in the form of a two week business trip to South Africa.  In the days before the instant, amazing technology we all now use as a matter of course, I took to reading him the names of the colours I was considering – and for the first time ever, I thanked the gods for the idiot names Fallow & Bell use.   From a distance of 8,400 miles he followed as I once again led him by the nose and he sanctioned the use of about four shades of elegant, soothing grey.  Parma Blue, Great White, Parchment, Wevet … he never knew what hit him.  And to this day he thinks they’re blue, white, cream and slightly iffy pale green, and loves the lot.

Except the drawing room.







Not a word of a lie. Gospel truth.

Back at home I got a large piece of plywood and put it on the floor of what I still fondly believed would one day be an elegant drawing room.  Bare boards and wet plaster challenged my optimism but in my mind’s eye there was a certain faded grandeur to it …. It took me four days of meticulously moving and placing 100 tiles to achieve a patch of the dashingly casual random pattern I wanted repeated on the walls until the area was covered.  Anyone fool enough to come to the house during that time was roped in to check that no adjacent tiles were the same colour and to offer an opinion – and if anyone minded that their views were scorned on the spot, they were too wise to mention it.  Only Eeyore knew me well enough to steer clear completely.

Finally, I was happy that the Krypton Factor was over, and that I was victorious.  Unca Pete was called and he came in with The Chef (his son) in tow, to carry the board into the kitchen prior to taking the whole lot off one by one, and sticking them on the walls.  The Chef was between jobs, and as a man of some years’ tiling experience, had agreed to undertake the not inconsiderable task.  All went well, for about three minutes.

‘Ah.’  said Unca Pete.

‘What do you mean ‘Ah’?’ I enquired, with a deep sense of foreboding.

‘It’s just that … I’m not sure we can get the board through the door without tipping it.’ said Unca Pete, bravely.

There was a pause.  Obviously, I should have thought of this.

‘Tipping it, how much?’ I asked with restraint.

‘Too much.’ he said, succinctly.

I breathed in and out, slowly.

‘Right.’  I said.  ‘French windows.’  We could take them out, along the side of the house and back in through the hole in the wall where the door into the kitchen should have been for the last two weeks.

‘Nailed shut.  New cement round the frame.’ said the man who had just moved a few feet further away from me, in case.

I breathed in and out, slowly.

‘Right.’  I said.  ‘Plan B?’

There was a pause.

‘We nail a batten to the bottom of the board, and they rest on that as we tip it.’ Unca Pete saved the day.

‘Fantastic.  Absolutely brilliant.  Thank God for that – see?!  There’s always an answer.  On you go!’ I was sunny and jolly and back to being the favourite (current) client.

Except that it didn’t work.  The tiles were so heavy that the board flexed alarmingly when picked up, and the whole thing was so big that it had to be tipped at a very acute angle even to approach the doorway.  At which point the tiles at the top started to move, pushing those below them out and risking bringing the whole lot crashing off.  Quite apart from the cost of replacing the stupid things, I couldn’t bear the idea of another trip to the back of beyond and another four days of trying to be arty.

‘Right.’  I said, much more calmly than I felt.  ‘Plan C.’

We stood and thought.  Then I stood and thought, while Unca Pete went and put the kettle on.

‘I’ve got it!’ I said, to the empty room.  ‘A photo!’  So while Unca Pete and The Chef had a brew, I dug through boxes and piles and rooms of clobber and displaced essentials until I found my digital camera.  Triumphantly, I marched into the drawing room and in the fading light took a couple of pictures of the board on the floor – true, they had to be a bit small to get the whole lot in, but if you concentrated you could work it out and it was with a great sense of having overcome the odds that I went triumphantly to find Unca Pete and The Chef.

‘Great!’ said Unca Pete.

‘Except ….’ said The Chef hesitantly, looking sideways at his dad who buried his face in his mug.

‘Except what?’ I enquired.

‘Except … I’m colour blind.’ said The Chef.







In which I draw a line.

More decisions had to made, and foremost among them was the issue of the tiles to go around the heirloom Aga, and behind both the electric hob (I’m not as stupid as I look: evolution has done many wonderful things, including presenting us with alternatives to stone age methods of cooking) and the huge double sink and drainers.

Many years previously, on a trip around the north circular to Ikea designed to provide us with CD storage boxes, I had found a lovely mirror with a blue and green mosaic surround.  (And two rugs, 200 tea lights, a 4′ long green snake, several uselessly small wicker baskets and some Swedish meatballs, among other things.  Sadly, no CD storage boxes.)  Like the sky and the sea, blue and green next to each other have always been a personal favourite, and one morning inspiration struck: blue and green tiles it would be.  In my current state of deluded grandeur the nearby ‘Topps Tiles’ was obviously out of the question and ‘Fired Earth’, in a rather lovely converted water mill about an hour from the house, was clearly my next port of call.  In due course a very nice lady there made some fresh coffee, subtly sat me near the Aga gadgets (yet another retailing opportunity I hadn’t anticipated), and showed me hundreds of tiles of varying hue, shape, size and finish.

Over the years I had mocked the under-employed friends who would spend weeks crossing London looking for exactly the right shade of white for their skirting boards.  ‘Get a life!’ I had seethed.  ‘Get a dog – get a JOB even!’ and now, I freely admit, I had joined their number.  My indecision knew no bounds.  The scale of the alternatives available was baffling.  If someone had said ‘Red or yellow, take your pick.’ it would have been easy.  (Neither.)  But just as ‘Mole, String, Mouse’s Back, Taupe or Cord’ as paint colours had caused my eyes to swivel in panic, now ‘Aqua, Navy, Sea, Moss, Lichen, Turquoise, Sky and Lincoln’ had me hyperventilating in record time.  And the knowledge that after this we still had all the bathrooms and downstairs loos to do, didn’t help.

Nonetheless, with the help of the heroically patient lady I eventually chose seven colours of smallish, square, shiny tile and got two of each packaged up to take home to show to Eeyore.  (A quick aside: I have always found it best in these situations at least to seem to consult – a fait accompli tends to cause conflict: the impression given of a shared decision made often softens the blow when the bill appears.  Unless you manage to get to it, pay it and ‘file’/shred it first of course, in which case you’re laughing.)   All was going well, until the hitherto lovely lady said, with barely a slip of her lovely polished (and practiced) accent, that we were looking at the thick end of £5,000 for the lot.

You can’t kid a kidder.  Even I have my limits.  I didn’t wait to tell Eeyore and have him hit the roof: I did it for him.  ‘Ludicrous’ and ‘immoral’ were two words I squeaked when I could.  I think ‘revolting’ might have been another.  Whatever – by the end of the phone call it was entirely clear to her and half the county that I would be going elsewhere for my tiles, and two days later I was heading up the A1 with my samples on the front seat, heading for a town I had never been to before, on the recommendation of an acquaintance with frankly dubious taste, looking for a warehouse deep in the Fens where, I was promised, every tile in the world was represented.

Sure enough, there they were.  Absolutely identical in every way, but price.  I got the whole lot (5,318 sq in) for a grand total of £750 – and they threw in pots of grout and cement, and while I was at it I got a load of samples for the bathrooms and loos thus, as far as I could see, taking the return trip petrol costs off the overall bill.

What a fabulously economical wife I was proving to be.

Always hide in plain sight.

For some reason, the cost of the samples we had ordered rang no alarm bells.  Eeyore – normally my early warning system in matters financial – was oblivious, and I hadn’t quite heard the lady and wouldn’t have been able to multiply the amount by the number of rolls even if I had.  Inevitably however, once we had lived with the four samples stuck on the wall for a bit and fallen completely in love with one of them, and indeed had ordered 36 rolls of it, it transpired that this was no ordinary wallpaper.  Oh no.  This was handblocked, special width, clever wallpaper that was worth its weight in gold for its wonderment value alone.

A better woman than I would have ‘fessed up, gritted her teeth and gone to B&Q. But  poor Eeyore never knew what hit him: unblinking I told him precisely how much our walldressing was going to cost him, and used a tone that expressed relief at such a reasonable total.  Led entirely by the nose and duped by my wide-eyed innocence, he coughed up.  He’s a good lad – but he never learns.  Many years before, I had I got him to spend £250 on a miniscule length of curtain pole I had ordered accidentally …. but I digress …

Unpublishable numbers of pounds passed from hand to hand and eventually a brown van from a very well known courier company arrived at breakneck speed in the yard.  With loud thuds, six extremely battered boxes landed in the back hall, chucked in by a very grumpy man in a baseball cap.  Given that they represented several months worth of mortgage repayments I felt entirely justified in yelling ‘Oi!’ and, my blood up, proceeded to make sure he’d always throw our deliveries at us by making him wait while I checked the contents.  Sure enough, the briefest of glances in the top of a random few boxes showed that more than half the rolls were dented.  There was nothing for it: I made the chap take the whole lot back.

Three more weeks of bare plaster and scaffolding all up the front stairs and then a new batch arrived in a brown van driven just as fast as the first by a man in a nasty baseball cap.  Imagine how my heart sank.  But out hopped the lovely Nick, who proceeded to deliver six unbattered boxes with great care.  Chatting amiably, No3 on my hip, I fished out a roll to show everyone how wonderfully clever I had been and what superb taste I could now demonstrate – and let out a howl of anguish.  Right pattern; wrong colour.  A rather nasty shade of curry sick, as I recall.  Loud silence from all around me as they sought reasons to disperse without comment.

Three more weeks of trying to use only the back stairs and inhaling plaster dust, and another new and undamaged batch arrived driven by Nick (still, unfortunately, with the nasty baseball cap.  Standard issue, it seems.).  I do not exaggerate when I say that the entire household held it’s breath as I pulled open the first box .. and then sighed with relief as I beamed at the baby.

‘Perfect!’ I said.  No3 grinned, and waved a banana at the world in general.

So Les scaled the giddy heights and began the process of applying the stuff to the walls.  Unfortunately part of this involved unwittingly trapping me in the study behind a mesh of planks and ladders so intricate that I had no chance of extricating myself during his three hour, unannounced lunch break.  Imagine my joy when I was released and emerged to inspect the first full drop of paper skillfully applied by a craftsman of many years’ experience …. who, it transpired, had stuck the thing on upside down.  17′ of tear- inducingly expensive glory, totally and utterly round the wrong way.

I was speechless.  It doesn’t happen often, and a small crowd gathered.  Les thought I was choked with excitement and gratitude.  Nobody else did.  Eventually I managed to point out that on the whole grapes hang down, and that even if they didn’t in his world, they most certainly had to in mine.