If you want to run the full gamut of human emotion (anger, despair, panic, horror and euphoria), there is no need to climb Mount Kilimanjaro or jump off the Golden Gate Bridge attached to a gigantic rubber band. Simply spend an afternoon attempting to fix two exorbitantly expensive curtain poles (they were the only ones that matched - you could say the decision was taken out of my hands) to the freshly chipped and re-plastered walls of your living room, just recently painted in an equally exorbitant paint colour (also the only one that matched - see earlier comment) in order that the equally equally exorbitant curtains (which caused the curtain pole/paint colour co-ordination difficulties in the first place) might hang straight (ish) and hopefully not follow the line of the street outside the window (uphill).
As I stood at the top of the ladder and nervously mopped my glowing brow I would not have been in the least surprised to find that I had been sweating drops of actual blood. The weight of responsibility hung round my shoulders like a heavy shawl made entirely from responsibility. Because it is a fact universally acknowledged that curtain measuring and hanging is a fairly traumatic procedure… my painful lessons on the subject were learned early.
When Beloved and I were first married we bought a little two bedroom flat. It was an extravaganza of IKEA flat-pack and gifts from family and friends. Not even the Shah Jahan himself, on completion of the Taj Mahal, could have been more proud than we were of our very first home. On return from our honeymoon, I enthusiastically commenced feathering our nest. Cushions were plumped, and scented candles were carefully positioned on every suitable surface. There was a lot of straightening of towels and adjusting the edges of things so that they sat at perfect right angles.
There were two wide windows in the living room/diner and I had several sets of much-prized Habitat linen curtains that I thought would be just the ticket. They were, however, much too long. I was undeterred. They were no match for me and my amazing curtain-adjusting skills, I foolishly thought, full of youthful vim and bravado.
I duly got out my very long curtain-adjusting scissors and set to work. Being nothing if not meticulous, I thought I would hem the first curtain, from which I had already hacked the excess length, with tacking stitch, then hang it just to make sure it was absolutely perfect before sewing it properly with the ancient Singer machine I had borrowed from my mother for the purpose.
I struggled to the top of the ladder with the heavy curtain and attached it to the pole, carefully letting it unfurl, like a victorious heraldic banner denoting the House of Thompson, before climbing back down to earth to survey my undoubtedly excellent work.
At this point, Beloved, who had been sitting on the couch reading a magazine and generally minding his own business, glanced up. In the manner of a newly married man, as yet not adept at the time-honoured art essential for matrimonial bliss, namely waiting to see how the land lies before passing comment on stressful situations, said, “Is it meant to look like that?”
There was a pregnant pause. He read my expression and obviously not liking what he saw went back to reading his magazine instead - though in a decidedly more nervous manner than before. It is hard to describe the sound that I emitted but it was perhaps somewhere between a wail and a shriek. For no, as you might have gathered, Dear Reader, “it” was not meant to look like that. Somewhere between the measuring stage and the cutting table I had lost an entire metre and the curtain now hung at least 50cm proud of the windowsill.
“I don’t think anyone will notice,” said the Beloved consolingly. But there was a note of desperation in his voice as he scrabbled to reclaim lost ground. Unfortunately, by that time it was too late. I had already collapsed in a yowling puddle of despair. I kicked the ironing board, hard, to relieve my feelings. I stomped around banging doors for a while. Unfortunately, nothing could alter the cold hard fact that the curtain was resolutely and irreparably too short. I had no-one to blame but myself.
In the end I sewed (badly, I might add) the missing metre back on to the bottom of the offending curtain. Then in a moment of studied feng shui I slid the sofa into position squarely in front. There it stayed for the rest of our sojourn in the flat. Even though I could not see the mangled section, I knew perfectly well it was still there. It served as a graphic, if silent, warning to measure twice (plus another fifteen times to be sure) and cut once. I have never made the same mistake again.
And so it was, that last week I stood once again at the top of a ladder, internally crossing my fingers, as I attached the extortionate curtains to the extortionate pole and let them drop to the ground. Mercifully, all was well. I had even accounted for the uneven floor. As added insurance I had roped in my Dad for his moral support and expert measuring skills and his consultancy had clearly proved to be the winning component to success. The curtains were level. I felt my smugness was well justified as I repeatedly peeked around the living room door to admire my handiwork over the following few days.
The renovation in general has tended to follow a similar pattern of emotional highs and lows. There seems to be some kind of cosmic balance in place which helps to ensure things do not go too smoothly. For every day that every person turns up who was expected, works hard and gets their job completed by teatime there are another three days where things fall off the wall, leaks are discovered or no-one turns up at all. For every holiday weekend spent stripping wood chip off the walls there will be two weeks of plasterers sticking the plaster, accidentally stripped off with the paper, back again.
Indeed, sometimes it feels as though life is passing us by as we spend every free minute trying to finish the job we so optimistically started. The renovation started with all the pomp and ceremony of Sir Walter Raleigh starting off on a new international romp. We waved. There were streamers and a brass band (not historically accurate but something tells me that lutes and harpsichords were not rocking the dockside). Family and well-wishers waved us off with looks of concern carefully sculpted into “Rather you than me” resignation. We were undeterred. “We’ll see you soon!” we shouted joyfully. “We’ll travel to the outer reaches of human experience of buildy things and will soon return to show you the seven wonders of our new heating system.”
Now, on the homeward stretch of the return journey, things have taken on a more subdued air. The coffers have emptied alarmingly quickly. There is frequently no fresh food to be found in the fridge so smaller members of the crew are surviving on a subsistence diet consisting largely of buttered crackers - except when there is an Asda delivery, after which all hands spontaneously appear in the galley like hungry apparitions and fall upon the booty in the manner of ravening wolves.
The deck is frequently littered with those small off-cuts of electrical flex that seemed to breed during the night and produce new plastic-covered-copper babies every single morning. Empty cans of energy drinks and torn bags of Skittles (the tradesperson’s version of afternoon tea) freckle every surface. The mainsail was badly ripped during a great storm in the middle of the voyage and had to be replaced at great and un-budgeted expense. We only went into that small cupboard in the deepest reaches of the hold to look for spare loo rolls and found asbestos and the whole area had to be tented. People with hazmat suits had to be hired to remove of and dispose of it. We have the thousand-yard stare of people who have seen things. We have stopped opening small cupboards.
But now the passing of the bank holiday weekend heralds the bright and balmy days of early June when the summer is at its newest and sweetest. There are signs that the house is beginning to rise, Phoenix-like, from the ashes and perhaps at some point might even be *whisper it* finished. All the brain space that has been preoccupied, since the dull days of early January, with the positioning of security lights and wall sockets is beginning to be occupied instead with thoughts of more summerish pursuits. There is an air of cautious optimism. Safe harbour is in sight.
I’m not sure what it is about the onset of summer that sets everyone into a DIY frenzy. But as quickly as the urge is upon us it soon begins to fade. As the crisp days of May slip into the balmy long afternoons of June, enthusiasm for fence-painting seems to wane and and the sun lounger beckons. The mayfly only lives for 24 hours and many species of butterfly for only a few short weeks or months. Just like them, the summer is fleeting. Thus it is imperative to put down the hammer, paintbrush or cordless drill every once in a while. Wait for a wet day to hang the curtains. Stop sweating drops of blood and let drops of melted choc ice run down your hand instead. It will be a long winter. Back to all Articles