Sunday 13 January 2008

On resolving to reinvent myself - and soggy wallpaper

It’s tough to reinvent yourself when you’ve got flu. It’s also tough reinventing yourself when you live in the House of Doom. No, the builders still haven’t come. ‘Why are you surprised?’ says Verity. ‘They’re builders. Their job is not to come. Their job is to drive you to psychosis. Come to think of it, they’re probably getting paid a packet from the local psychotherapists.’ Maybe in Marylebone, but not down here matey. There was only one psychotherapist and we viewed her house. Why was she selling? ‘Not enough custom,’ she complained, ‘Down here, people either get drunk or top themselves if they get low.’ On Exmoor, if you go mad, you go mad alone.

The house isn’t helping. A drawer in the kitchen gave up the will to live and collapsed and then three others decided, lemming-like, to copy it. The cabinet doors thought this looked like a fun game and two dropped off. Copycats. Mysterious holes keep appearing in the walls. Strange stains erupt on the carpet (and not even sure it’s Asbo Jack this time). Huge drafts are blowing through the windows and up through the floors and in through the ill-fitting doors. The fluorescent light in the utility room has started flickering in best horror movie style.
The dehumidifier has been chugging away in an exhausted fashion and we have been frantically emptying it. How much water can one house generate? An entire reservoir, by the looks of it. So much, in fact, that as I was coming up the stairs from the front door I put my hand on the wall and my fingers sank into several inches of soggy wallpaper. I’m one of life’s natural pickers (scabs, peeling sunburnt skin, candlewax, I’m not fussy – if it’s loose, I’ll pick it) and so my fingers naturally tugged and two yards of molten wallpaper collapsed onto my head. Adrian was outside, talking to someone about beer (naturally) and, in the time it took him to debate the merits of Pale Ale over Porter, I had excavated almost the entire lower hallway. I also gained an insight into life in 1963 – as under three layers of thick wallpaper the walls had been lined in the Daily Express.
‘Bloody hell,’ said Adrian, choking on a miasma of dust and mould spores. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’
‘Look at this,’ I said, trying to distract him. ‘There was a time when the Express didn’t talk about Princess Diana.’
He didn’t fall for it. ‘That wall’s going to collapse now. The wallpaper was the only thing holding it together.’
He had a point. We all walk Very Carefully up the stairs now as the slightest heavy clump of a boot sends another pile of dust and plaster cascading down.
Anyhow, getting off-point now. I have realised that, if we ever want to get this house sorted, it’s going to cost a darn sight more than our meagre savings. I am going to have to work MUCH more. Walker and my agent have vanished into the ether together and aren’t responding to emails. I bought two lottery tickets – on the basis that once in a while you have to give Fate a chance - but have somehow managed to lose both and am now convinced of course, that they were the ones that would have made our fortune. So I have to get back to work properly and Earn Money.

This, of course, would be easier had James not purloined my computer during the holidays. My desk is now piled high with notebooks covered in code, test-tube aliens blinking viciously and sweet wrappers. When I turn on my PC I find I the Northern Lights gleaming biliously at me. Every key makes zoo noises and my cursor is blinking yellow. A rash of weird icons litter my desktop and if I gaze out into space for more than ten seconds multi-coloured bubbles bounce mournfully over my screen. Nothing is sacred.
I write a feature on ‘creating a sanctuary in your home’ and laugh hollowly at myself telling people to ‘find a space that can be entirely your own.’ I don’t even have a desk of my own anymore. Hot-desking in your own home? It’s ridiculous.

Summoning the energy to do anything is virtually impossible. I can’t even be bothered to bitch about semi-famous people anymore. Who cares if newspaper columnists lie in print? That’s what all journalists do, right? Maybe that’s why I’m finding it so hard to get back into journalism – I’m sick of bending the truth, making things sound better or worse or wilder or madder than they really are. Maybe I need a new job altogether. Perhaps I could fill the natural void and become the Only Psychotherapist in the Village…. Then again, maybe not.
For the moment, my solution is to lie low, wrap up in a large blanket and sip sloe gin while watching episodes of Ugly Betty back-to-back and thanking my lucky stars I don’t work at a fashion magazine. Reinvention can wait until spring.


toady said...

Now now Jane, spit spot. You've got a dose of SAD so don't beat yourself up. Says she reaching for the Citalopram!
You havent' lost your touch, you made me laugh especially about the picking!

Norma Murray said...

Oooh Janey! Flu and damp! It must be January.

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

Hello again. Sounds even wetter at your house than in ours. Ours copes if the woodburner is on most of the day but becomes cold and damp as the grave if unheated. I think you'd be a great psychotherapist but suspect the analysis of the other one is right. Pretty much the same round here, not a country for introspection.
I think you need something nice to look forward to and selfishly propose coming up to see me! Please, please? You'd like it, I know you would and you could look in Adrian's folks and be a good DIL too.

Kim said...

I'm quite impressed with how hilarious you can be while in the depths of a flu episode and winter doldrums.

Don't stop writing, dear. You have a gift.

Wooly Works said...

It seems like everything happens at once, doesn't it? "When it rains, it pours"? Good luck with the house and feel better soon! It will, hopefully, all look better once you feel good again.

Anonymous said...

I do sympathise. My good wishes to you that you get well soon. And sort the house out!

Crystal xx

Frances said...

Hello Jane,

I just keep thinking that every time that you post a blog, we get to read For Free a wonderfully written essay.

Sometimes these are funny, but they all have a very serious core, well grounded (if often damply so) and speak to realities that every reader can recognize.

Thank you, dear pal! xo

mountainear said...

We should all hibernate on a day like today....whatever you do don't give up writing. Your words are such a pleasure to read.

Should you take up elizabthm's invitation you MUST come via the small kingdom of Treylstan and visit me - I could arrange and audience with SBS too!

Hope you shake of the fluey thing soon.

Milla said...

Dearest Jane, how glorious to have you blogging again, it's been far too long. And your house! How can it conspire against you so! It's sounding like Kevin and We Need To Talk About. Please don't let it end up shooting you. The money pitness of them is terrifying. Months of sleepless nights wait. Am now into heavy giving up of everything to fund the inner porch! How middle class is that? No, darling, no sauvignon blanc for us, the inner porch needs it. You're on one of those down days, and the good days return. Remember that. Am reading "the secret river" (Kate Grenville), great so far, and life SO much harder it really cheers one up! xx

Elizabethd said...

Oh dear, Jane, you sound sad. But then, so would I be if I had to cope with wet everywher, its very 'downgetting' I find.
Hope it all improves soon and the builders come as soon as poss.

Ivy said...

Want to earn money? here is my idea: become a builder! Be the only one around who comes ON TIME and you'll have cash flooding your bank account in no time :-) You've obviously have talent on putting your finger to the sore point! So there will be plenty of demand.

Faith said...

Jane, a blog from you is worth waiting for and of course we will comment - wouldnt you hate it if we didnt?

Work will come in, the house will slowly get done. And Walker will get printed. Have faith! and get better soon. x

Queen Vixen said...

Jane - another gem! Even with flu you are a star. I wouldnt bother reinventing yourself. Publish your blog - I would buy it!

Hate to tell you but you have to do lots of writing and even more reinventing of yourself in order to become a psychotherapist. I should know, in fact its so bloody frustrating I may try the Exmoor solution to madness myself - well at least the drunk bit.

Really on board with the picking. Utterly irresistable - in fact its worth getting injured and sunburnt in order to pick. (Did I say that out loud).

You take care!

Westerwitch/Headmistress said...

Oooo not good . . . um but you did buy the house . . . you will love it in the end.

Our washing machine packed up before Xmas - finally got the replacement through the insurance on Weds - went to use it today . . .um we have no water, this problem stems back to when the house was built after the fire - builders were told and told there was a leak coming into the house and that the water pressure was low and they did nothing . . . so you are not alone. . . Builders have promised to come along tomorrow . . . .

. said...

Oh Jane, poor you. At least I'm only damp outside! You can't reinvent yourself when you have flu. Sit back and enjoy the sloe gin and once the flu has gone, reinvention will happen!

Zoë said...

Oh Jane - how I empathise; THIS is is exactly how I feel about IT and writing software, and computer consultancy, irrespective of how well paid it is, I hate the job with such a passion, hence trying to make dreams reality .... maybe you should too? Go on - Dare you!

Zoë xxxx

PS, hope you are wearing a mask when you do all that picking at moldy wallpaper - if not , any wonder you feel like you have the flu?

Cait O'Connor said...

Wonderful. I'm so glad you are back blogging. I hope you feel better soon, things always seem worse when you are or have been virus-ridden. All old houses have damp problems I think.
It will soon be spring, warmer and dryer!
I'm a picker too by the way,wonder what that says about us?

bodran... said...

That house as a soul and it's just testing to see if your up to the care of it and you are, and she's yours at last after all that time, she tried your patience at first now it's your purse strings......As for sodding builders what a waste of space...
I've painted the back bedroom this weekend, Wet wall and mould spores galore, and me sneezing fit to burst all good fun!! Get well and buy yourself a peel of face mask love em...xxoo

Expat mum said...

Hi, and commiserations. I wonder what would happen if we fired the builder/electrician/plumber who kept us waiting or made us beg? I fired a man who came to mend a celing fan in October (we have lots of ceiling fans in the States) with a disastrous result. When I answered the door to him, the lock jammed (again). I explained my predicament, asked him to go round the back, whereupon he started whining and moaning on my doorstep. He then said "Lady, I'll just come back when it's fixed", to which I yelled through the letter box, "Don't bother - I'll find another company".
My irate husband later informed me that they were the only company for miles who can mend our particular kind of fan. I find that very hard to believe personally.


Oh, Jane - you poor thing! And to think I've been obsessing about upturned lavatory seats in my Career area - I've just been reading your wonderful Spirit of the Home (about which I'll email you - two chapters left to go, but I think it's fab, honestly).

I doubt the Express is really holding up your home (even without Princess Diana's redoubtable assistance) - it's been there a lot longer than that by the sound of it and will certainly have coped with many decades of wet Devon winters in its time. (Did you spot any Rupert cartoons, by the way? Now they might be worth a bob or two...)

LBD xx

DJ Kirkby said...

Feeling for you...what a shit load of problems piling on all at once...but you found the right treatment for your despiar, Ugly Betty and sloe gin! Well done! Need to know more about what is going on with Walker and more specifically, your agent! Where have they vanished to, phone them, demand attention in the best diva like manner you can manage!

snailbeachshepherdess said...

Jane ...wailing here ...wot happened to barcelona?

Fire Byrd said...

I so sympathise here Jane, I spent 10 long cold years on a building site imaginitively called my home.
When we sold it it still hadn't got any heating outside of the aga and wood burning stove. So my bedroom was so cold the water used to freeze in the glass. But the views were to die for! and we almost did but that was the hyprethermia!

Rob Clack said...

Another great post, but wow, that house sounds like hard work.

The trouble with pulling wallpaper off is that you discover the horrors the previous owners covered up. I love the idea of reading ancient newspapers like that!

We had anaglypta all over the place. We knew we shouldn't touch it, but no, we had to tear it off. It was covering up the damp and disguising the disintegrating victorian plaster. Ho hum.

Hope you start winning some battles soon. Or at least that the flu eases.

Rob Clack said...

Another great post, but wow, that house sounds like hard work.

The trouble with pulling wallpaper off is that you discover the horrors the previous owners covered up. I love the idea of reading ancient newspapers like that!

We had anaglypta all over the place. We knew we shouldn't touch it, but no, we had to tear it off. It was covering up the damp and disguising the disintegrating victorian plaster. Ho hum.

Hope you start winning some battles soon. Or at least that the flu eases.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Oh, you've made me laugh. What did the Express write about in 1963? I've done that same trick with wallpaper and brought an entire ceiling down.

annakarenin said...

Oh so nice to finally put off your a house a bit but you do allow us to laugh at your expense soooo well.

I need to win the lottery because what our house could do with is a major input of cash for an extension that would provide us with adequate living space for all of us not to kill each other or any guests that should want to stay over. Unfortunately I always forget to buy a ticket and any inheritances will probably arrive once we no longer need the bloody room. Even working wouldn't buy us what we need, unfortunately.

January is a grumpy time of year I am only coping at the mo because I am relieved to be finally over the chest infection that wiped out Christmas and New year.

abcd said...

I have been reading back through your brilliant blogs and it seems to me that you and your amazing house were meant for each other. Everything else will fall in to place eventually, just keep in a good supply of sloe gin in the meantime! Hope you are feeling better.

Sally Townsend said...

Hmmmm this is all sounding very familiar Jane, (exhausted sigh). I've just had a psychotherapist stay and she couldn't sort out her builder !! At least you have the will to blog dear........(another longer drawn out sigh)

CAMILLA said...

Darling Jane,
Sorry to hear you are feeling absolutely rotten at the moment, wishing you more cheery days,I think it is this time of the year, not easy when much rain and cold grey bursts our bubbles.

Dont go putting yourself down Jane, you are a truly fab writer, and we are the better for it for having you edit such great wonderful posts. On the house note, sympathise entirely, our kitchen is in need of serious repair, drawers to cupboards always fall out whenever I open them, grhgrh.!! We are to move eventually soon, that's if others dont keep taking the property's off the market when they have agreed to us that we could have it, the Estate Agents have been absolute cr...!

You mention Marylebone, I was born there all those 60 years ago.

Hope that you feel better soon Jane, seriously think a good swig of the old Vino might do the trick.


@themill said...

What I really need is a project advisor - if only I could afford to employ you, and you didn't live a matter of almost 400 miles away.
Top blogging, but hope you're feeling better.x

Pondside said...

Oh dear Jane - I hope that things have improved in the past month! I think you might want to send this to a certain country magazine - it is better than anything I've read in a magazine for a very long time!!!