This weekend, for the first time, we paid a babysitter.
That in itself is not remarkable, or rather it is but only as we have such generous friends and family. The significance, for me, was that someone else was going to sit in our house with the time and quite possibly the inclination to make assumptions about who we are based on what they could see.
“I don’t think its fair” I had said to S, “to ask anyone who doesn’t know us to sit in our lounge for an evening. They would think its horrible.”
“At £10 a bloody hour I don’t care what they think of our lounge.” he had indignantly replied.
D, a teacher from O’s nursery, had been asked and agreed – someone who is regularly entrusted with our sons’ learning and welfare but who hasn’t known up until now what street we live in let alone what type of breakfast cereal we eat and how clean our loo is. All of a sudden this trusted stranger was going to be immersed into our home where everything…..the life we are striving for as well as the one we are more realistically living … is laid out for all to see.
I surveyed the house, trying as I did so to look at it afresh, so accustomed are we to our compromised abode. Sky blue door swinging open to facilitate our entry, we now nonchalantly stride past the bare plaster walls, 70’s patterned glass doors and hall floor cluttered with a pile of leftover wood, bags of sanding dust saved to repair, once mixed with resin, gaps in the floorboard cracks appearing upstairs and a myriad of tools lined up neatly on step three. Night after night we sit and watch TV ignoring the still-life arrangement of foreign objects – tape measure, screw driver, TV strap still in its box allegedly to prevent O from toppling it over onto himself – on a mantlepiece shrouded in dust. We are fairly immune now to the hideousness of the hearth, its multicoloured garishness partially obscured beneath a chiffon-like coating of soot. Moving upwards to our temporary kitchen we have gotten used to avoiding the molehill on the landing comprising of a dust sheet tangled inexplicably with lounge throw and electrical wire – neither S nor I having apparently considered either extracting and saving the throw or alternatively piling the whole darn lot in the skip. In the kitchen I’m used to a can of Leyland wood primer sat next to the strawberry jam, a wardrobe standing assuredly next to a full height retro electric fan, the walls dotted with paint samples. This is, as the bearer of the red book might say, our life.
It’s not technically correct to say we don’t see any of these things anymore…we do. It’s just that our temporary expectations have plummeted whilst our long term expectations rocket. Whilst I measure the utility cupboard shelves using a collection of actual bottles to ensure every inch of storage will be used, or plan the interior of the larder to the dimensions of our bread machine and basmati rice bags, I appear blasé on finding an ironing board stored in a bathroom, a box of guttering stored on a landing or washed up paint rollers and trays permanently stored on the kitchen floor. Until now. Suddenly I’m very aware that D, used to more conventional arrangements of her furniture and household objects, may find quite a lot wrong with our current way of life.
As she arrived I beckoned her into our dusty hallway with a hug and a smile. I opened my mouth ready to launch into an apologetic explanation about how we will remove the pebbledash in good time, how the kitchen is likely to be finished in a few weeks then we’ll decorate our way through the rest, how Im still oscillating between blue or green in the lounge hence the paint swatches – then closed it again.
“It’ll look great when its done” she preempted.
I nodded, trying to read her. Did she mean that? Could she really see that? Or was she so embarrassed at our state of habitation that she simply felt she needed to say something?
“It hadn’t been touched in forty years” I said by way of explanation.
“Oh.” She said smiling….but not really seeing and, I realised with a liberating jolt, not really interested.
I shook my head, not by way of reply but to realign sense which was clearly coming loose. This was a young girl, someone who ordinarily would be in a club on a Saturday night, being polite. The chocolate cheesecake, left out for her dessert, was probably going to have a greater impact on her fleeting visit to our abode than any paint colours, flooring samples or kitchen plans I could bore her with. I stopped worrying. I stopped talking (about the house). I simply showed her O’s bedroom, the kitchen, skipped the bathroom in favour of the Worlds Smallest WC which is, despite its miniature dimensions, multiple times more welcoming, and demonstrated instead how the oven worked for her pizza.
“Right then…we’ll be going” I said, scooping up bag, coat and keys.
“Have a lovely evening” she said, perching herself politely on the sofa. “Don’t worry about anything”
And so I didn’t.
On our return, after we’d thanked her and she hopped into her friends car, I went upstairs to brush my teeth. Stood in the kitchen, the bathroom sink long having been out of action, I surveyed the paint sample wall, my eyes lingering on the to-do list taped amongst the paint swatches.
1) Picture frame organisation
2) Get knob from loft
3) Choose lounge colour
4) Research radiator covers
5) Sort bathroom window
…..and so it went on.
“There you go Lloyd” I thought. “A new format for you. Who lives with a list like this?” And I went to bed wondering what on earth D made of me. Not my house.