Will and Alf are watching the Ashes, Anna is at the cinema, Olive is saying goodbye to a friend who’s moving to America and Zam is at a speed-awareness course. The flat boxes lying in the hall next to their optimistic tape gun are the only clues. We are moving house in four days’ time.
For my part, I’ve peaked and have taken to staring out of the window counting the cabbage whites, which are like a blizzard on the catmint. I’ve become keen on writing lists and find myself putting things on them that have already been done so that I can strike a pleasing line through them.
Nobody has cooked or washed up for days. Despite many trips to the clothing bank and charity shops, the house hasn’t lost any of its stuffing-it just seems to be coming out at the seams.
The next four days are looking murderous. The children have decided to ask numerous friends over, Zam has asked any neighbours for whom we have a telephone number in for a drink and, owing to a longstanding plan, we have three people staying for the weekend. The new owners are coming to look at the boiler and so on tomorrow, then it’s Anna’s birthday on Monday. The movers turn up on Tuesday. So many heads have, therefore, never been more firmly planted in the sand.
I think it was opening a box that held endless bits of paper, most of which related to a time before I was married, before I had children, and a long time before I moved into this house. I’ve never looked in it and was astonished to find not only the carefully typed job-application letters from 1988, but the letters of rejection that these had in response. I appear to be the sort of person who keeps evidence of failure for 25 years when they could have gone in the bin on the day of receipt.
The same box held a cold enamel painting set, unused and about 15 years out of date. I found some jam jars and spent a happy half an hour experimenting. But, as always, I was too impatient to read the instructions, the enamel hasn’t set, the results are a failure and I’m surrounded by some drippy pots. I’ve put the enamel set in the bin. This is progress. Until a skip came into our lives, I’d definitely have put them back in the cupboard, to dry up and become entirely unusable, like most of the contents of the cleaning cupboard, a misnomer of epic proportions.
The unfinished craft project has been brought into sharp relief these past few days. Scraps of patchwork, half a sleeve, a lot of paint. The sewing machine that I’d left next to the radiator about 10 years ago and had melted, which has only been patchily usable ever since. I’m making a lot of resolutions: in my next house, should we ever find one, I will ‘declutter’ on a regular basis. I will prune the mug collection, often. I will not buy storage boxes from Ikea and sweep the desktop into them, believing that this is tidying. It will be safer not to have a larder.
Three things have just happened within minutes. The door bell went and, after tripping over The Graveyard (an enormous box full of leads and chargers for who knows what items of technology), I opened the door to a smartly dressed pair of boys who asked me if I’ve thought about living forever while giving me a pair of pamphlets. My glazed expression didn’t invite further conversation.
Seconds after I shut the door, a neighbour appeared to say she’d love to come to drinks tomorrow night, but Fletcher the dachshund is in an upset state-and he promptly bit her on the ankle. And as she left, bearing teethmarks, the telephone rang. It was the friends who are due tonight: ‘We’ve got you a present.’ I was about to shout that I do not want another item coming into this house, when something stopped me. ‘What is it?’ I asked grumpily. ‘We’re in Devon and we have just caught a huge seabass.’ Now, that is a nice idea. Supper, at least, is sorted.
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