Britain closed shop to party this week, so I found myself with a week’s holiday on my hands. Ok, really this happened because I have been working so hard I haven’t been taking my holidays, and if I don’t take them soon they will be lost. I hate losing so I booked time off and mentally prepared myself to go sit in the sun with a book for the week. I bought suntan lotion and an extra book. Weeded the garden a few weeks ago, so I’m all set. And then it rains. A lot.
As the forecast was for rain all week, “occasionally hard and persistent”, as one radio professional puzzlingly put it, I had a choice to make: mope around the house all week and end up arguing with husband, who is setting up a new online business from the study; cancel my leave and go back to work; or finally paint the house. You’d have to be hare brained not to understand option 1 was not a smart choice, so I won’t elaborate further. Option 2 was frankly no-go as well: I am p*d off with my employers right now; I would do myself a disservice not to distract myself for a while. I have to dip into my inner energy pool to manage going back smiling. So, painting it is!
We have lived in this house for 5 years and never touched the walls, which were covered by some dusty coat that is supposedly meant to let the walls “breathe” – apparently a new house breathes. I’d have to modify that statement: the children did touch the walls, leaving their grimy paw prints. I’d rub off the dusty paint trying to wipe them off, so we’d ended up with patches of near-bare plaster board, still grimy. I told myself for a long time we should just wait for the children to grow up. They are 15 and 13 now. But really I was daunted by the idea of painting the house myself: surely I am no good, we want the house to look nice so let’s get the professionals in. Cue the British holidays. I tried to get professional painters interested in the job, but didn’t get any takers. By Monday morning there was no more escape: I had to spend the week painting. I knew I shouldn’t push husband to help much: DIY is not his thing, he gets very frustrated. We’d only find ourselves in option 1. But crucially I also knew I must leave the story intact that he has every intention of sharing the paint work with me.
And so it happens that I spend the best part of every day up and down the steps, contorting myself to reach awkward corners with a precision brush without knocking over the TV. Husband has a breakthrough with his business preparations so he can’t join me as much as he would have liked. By the end of the week and of a particularly long day, my back broken and my hand in a permanent precision grip (I swear I was made for a desk job – hat off to painters), husband bursts in: “Oooh, my ear really hurts: I must have been on the phone for hours on end!” The only thing that saved him from a very bad fate indeed was the look of realisation that dawned on him once he’d seen my face. And the stumbling attempt at apology that followed. Which I gave him all the time in the world to get through.
I had been debating with myself whether to revisit my childhood town and the home where I grew up over the last couple of weeks. I left for Belgium still very much undecided. A few days into the trip the perfect day presented itself when every other family member had something planned, leaving husband and me to make our own plans. My hand was forced, I had to indulge husband and plug his gap in the history of me. I kept telling him I had not been hiding anything, that there just was not very much to it. I had wanted to add “my life only started with you darling” but he would have heard the grin. Truth be told, I was dreading the visit (I almost wrote “confrontation”) all the way there. Didn’t know where to park when we got there. Twenty years is an awfully long time for a city. It had changed so much I was surprised to find several shops I remembered from my childhood still exist. Mostly though I was left trying to work out what was there before. I would look at a building and instantly think “ha, there’s a design shop here now”, for example, but not be able to recall what was there before. I just know it wasn’t that.
Husband was duly impressed with the city hall – really I should stop calling it a town 🙂 -, which is the little sibling of those in Brussels and Leuven, and the two beautiful churches. I showed him the school I went to, which has now entered the modern era and merged with the boys’ school next door and removed the fences that were designed to keep us girls safe from them, at least while the nuns were responsible for us. Whilst I do agree with all that I can’t help thinking that kids now miss out on the thrill of looking forward to meeting up with their boy / girlfriend in the little alleyway across from the school gate. Preferably while nun on duty was looking.
With all the change I felt detached from my memories. It didn’t quite feel like the place I grew up anymore, even if I rationally know it is.
So far so easy. The tourist treatment. Now I had to drive to the village and the home where I grew up. Still hating the thought of it as I was edging closer, fearing that regret for what was loved and lost would take over. And then there it was: the castle and the pond where we went skating; then the garden appeared in view, and finally, a glimpse of the house itself. I stopped the car in front of the drive and peered in. You couldn’t see much, just as I remembered it. The house is nestled behind tall hedges, trees and bushes, which all still looked familiar. Waves of emotions crashed over me, all different hues. I drove around the back, where I could only glimpse into the garden but not make out the house. I sat there for a while until the seas inside me calmed down. Then I told my husband I was glad we had visited. The dread I had felt before, linked to the bad memories of the final year or so of us living there, was being pushed down below overlays of the many more memories of all the wonderful years there. Growing up there was a privilege: we enjoyed a space and freedom my children couldn’t dream of. We waged wars with the other children throughout the village, built camps and rope bridges in the garden, built dams in the brook down the road. I wished I had brought my walking boots so I could trace back some of my favourite walks. It is beautiful out there. Too muddy without boots right now, but it gives me a reason to go back. I might even take the children to see where their roots lie. Because now I feel freed to do so and enjoy it.
Somewhat paradoxically, my restored connection with my childhood home has made me even more comfortable being at home where I am now. I feel as if I have been given a bright new room to keep my childhood memories in, one I can visit and feel good about, but only a room in my existence alongside so many others.
I didn’t have the presence of mind to take pictures but I found one of the castle pond, where we used to skate:
Three birds pooped on my mini while I was in Ikea today. Gross. That has to be washed off pronto, I don’t want the paint damaged. But I get home and resolve to ask my husband how to clean it when he gets home several hours later. He actually enjoys washing cars, and he is very particular about the tools he uses. He has special shampoos and spot removers and cloths and sponges of different softness. I wouldn’t know which to pick! He might even be angry with me for using the wrong one! And so it goes that he offers to do it for me. Thank you darling! I revel in my sly little victory. Then I ask myself: How did I get like this? I have always prided myself on my independence: I can connect a washing machine, trim the hedge when necessary and lots more that would probably not feature in womens magazines. It was my dad’s most valuable lesson: being a girl does not absolve you from being able to fix stuff.
I know deep down that I have chalked washing cars up on the man side of the divide. Just like fixing the kitchen cupboard door, which I reminded husband yesterday again is really irritating me. I could just get on with it, but for some reason I have not fully explored I don’t. I told him it was a man’s job. “Oooh, I can’t wait to point out the next chore that is a woman’s job!!” he roared. “Don’t you dare!!”
I respond with unconditional rage to the phrase “That is a woman’s job”. How can I allow myself to utter its twin?
How frustrating! I’ve been working from home today and experienced the exact opposite of the slice of life described on the Dark Globe recently. Patrick Dykie wrote about the incessant flow of knocks on the door at inopportune moments. Whereas I was left waiting all day for a delivery that did not arrive. Then again, my work flow was churned three times by a cold call, putting me in Dykie’s camp again. Do you have any idea how many cold calls you miss when you are at work all day? They don’t even bother with real people anymore. They’re all prerecorded messages. Which is a shame because I quite enjoy to let cold callers do their spiel while I move on to something else, leaving the phone just close enough to hear their feigned enthusiasm turn into indignation when it dawns on them their audience has disappeared.
The soft side in me feels for the cold callers actually, it has got to be one of the lousiest jobs out there. I’ve done some awful jobs myself to survive, but I reckon none of them were as bad as that. I have blanked out the train station hot dog shack job because my mind cannot cope with the memory. Moving on, the bottom two jobs were sorting apples according to size in a cold store on an apple farm, and serving in a posh restaurant. You would think the apple sorting was the worst because of the sheer numbness of the task and discomfort of working in the cold, but for me the restaurant waitressing was infinitely worse. Many customers treated me like the gum splat on the sole of their shoe and the owner/chef was a more demeaning boss than Sir Alan could ever hope to be. In the apple job we would occasionally joke together, but most of the time your mind was left to wander while you acted on auto pilot. You could map out a whole novel in your head while you were earning your crust. I now understand how some people choose a routine job and are happy with it. They can leave at the set time stress-free and move on to something that really interests them. Writing, perhaps. Is there a career change in here, I wonder? Tough one. When would I have my stuff delivered then?