Sample bookshelf from my parents’ attic: Just one of the many collections of books that tells you probably more than you need to know about my family.
Our renovation is about to begin. We have packed everything from one half of our house and jammed it into the other half. The builders are going to knock out few of our walls, fiddle around with the layout a bit, and put in a new kitchen. The house is very overdue for some care and maintenance, but knowing the renovation was approaching we’ve treated it like a teacher treats their class in the last weeks of the academic year. Gradually everything has fallen apart, and we’ve stopped caring and worked around it. It’s been the domestic equivalent of the teacher putting on a video of ‘Behind The News’ every day for two weeks and reading a book while the class flicks spit balls around and braids each other’s hair.
For a while we’ve only been able to use one electrical outlet at a time: kettle or washing machine. Toaster or microwave. Tiny, boring decisions made dozens of times a day. Then most of the lights stopped working. The handles on the drawers all broke over a couple of days. The microwave decided it was more of a rotating display case than a cooking device. The grill lay down and told us to go on without it. By the end we were cooking on one burner, by the light of a desk lamp we’d propped on top of the increasingly overheated fridge.
But we made it. We limped to the finish line and decamped to my parents’ house for twelve to fourteen weeks. Twelve to fourteen builder weeks, thought, which is three and a half years in our weeks.
It’s fantastic here. You can boil the kettle, make toast, wash your clothes and the dishes, without even a single heater bursting into flames. There’s a steam oven and an induction cooktop, and while initially I regarded both like the Kalahari bushman regards the Coke bottle in The Gods Must be Crazy – that is with confusion and deep suspicion – I’m now a convert.
We’re sleeping upstairs, H and I in the room I lived in while I was at university. To put our clothes away, I’ve have to shove the past to one side – Dad’s pastel marbled jacket from the 1980s, a couple of bugles, the instruction manual for a Sony Walkman and four years’ worth of unopened mail addressed to my little brother, from when this was his room. At times I’m overwhelmed with nostalgia. I look at my kids carefully navigating the steep staircase and remember, fondly, projectile vomiting the better part of a bottle of vodka down those stairs in the first year of my Arts degree. Those were the days.
We’ve been here for five nights so far, and we’re all getting along fairly well. Two things are imminent that will make things go even more smoothly. Eventually both my parents’ hearing aid batteries will go flat, and they won’t be subjected to quite the same level of aural torment from Garnet. Which leads to point two: once we finish the box of mini chocolate Magnum ice-creams Garnet knows his grandfather has stashed in the freezer, the pressure around here will lessen considerably and there won’t be quite so many howling meltdowns. Because it is torture to be three years old and in the same house as a whole box of chocolate coated ice-creams on sticks that you can’t just eat whenever you want.
The ice-creams are in the second fridge, out near the garage, and Garnet is separated from them only by his ever-dwindling willpower and a door with a combination lock. The combination to open it is written on the door beside the lock, for reasons unclear. May Blossom has figured out the secret, right-in-front-of-your-eyes entry code, but it’s just a bit beyond Garnet. Often I walk in and find him standing by the door, jabbing impotently and furiously at the keypad.
His best tactic for getting in near the forbidden treats is to offer to fetch something innocuous that’s kept in the same room, so he’s doing more sweeping and shoe polishing than normal.
It’s good being in my old family home. Last night Dad and I ended up eating dinner together, just the two of us, for the first time in many years. We don’t get a lot of opportunities anymore to just hang out together, so it was very nice to chat about Brexit and words that are their own opposite and the Nazi party and suchlike. We were eating soup.
‘This is pretty nice, isn’t it?’ I said, ‘You know, for vegetable soup.’
‘It’s not really vegetable though,’ Dad pointed out. ‘It’s leek and potato. I’d call those honorary meats.’
I think he’s onto something.