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.