“They’ve got a similar one in beech for just under five hundred in such-a-store. It’s really frustrating because this one here -‘
Jodie indicates a catalogue. There is a table with £899 written in a big red star
‘ – is EXACTLY the wood that I’m after. It’s so much more modern-looking. Tasha’s got wood just like it in her hallway. It would work perfectly in here……’
We are at a small, unofficial reunion of old schoolfriends. The others are nodding empathetically. One of them has not only seen Tasha’s hallway but somehow manages to remember the colour of it.
‘It’s be better for your table than it looks in her hallway, actually. It’s a bit OTT at Tasha’s isn’t it? Too much of it?’
The others agree, even the ones who haven’t seen it.
I say nothing at all.
‘I’ve been round stores X, Y and Z,’ Jodie continues, ‘but theirs aren’t nearly as nice. I mean, obviously there’s a gorgeous one in shop Q – I keep having little fantasies about that – but maybe in another life. Honestly though, I’ve been going back to the shop for months now and they never put it in the sale. And I could do with it now. I want it for people coming round for Mum’s birthday.’
I still say nothing.
I don’t say, ‘But the two tables are near-identical except for a subtle difference in the shade of beige wood and a different beige will be in fashion next year anyway.’
I don’t say, ‘I’ve never considered spending £800 on a table.’
I don’t say, ‘Have you tried freecycle?’
Or even: ‘It’s just a table.’
I am too busy totting up the number of Saturdays she appears to have spent in furniture shops; the numerous conversations she’d had with other people about tables; the number of other people’s tables she had been to visit (and she could reel off the cost and origins of several friends’ tables without blinking).
Well. I know that not everybody’s interested in climbing or fell-running, but surely there are other ways to spend a Saturday afternoon in summer.
And she’s not the only one.
I’ve heard the conversation at babygroup: ‘Which pram could you affor- sorry, did you decide on? Which cot? I’m getting the spare room completely made over as a nursery. I’ve found the cutest gender-neutral print…..‘
In fact it’s common, this active interest in buying things for the house. My sniping aside, it is what normal people – nice people, with lovely, attractive houses – talk about. I fear that the oddball, once again, might be me.
We didn’t have a house before we had kids. It was never particularly our aim: we had mountain huts and vet surgeries to live in and shopping was our least favourite occupation. Furniture as a status symbol? I’d never even realised it happened. Until a PHD student walked into the digs above where I was working, looking around the flat and said, with genuine puzzlement,
‘I always thought vets were supposed to be well paid…?’
Anyway. No vet practice would house a locum-vet-on-maternity free of rent, so we signed contracts on a place the month Toddler was born. Making it look nice has never seemed as vital as living in it. Throwing food down our throats and going for a day out somewhere. Or finding whatever it is that I happen to have lost (which always makes a mess), or keeping the kids safe (there have been two giant bags of sleeping bags hiding the edge of our granite hearth since Toddler learned to Toddle).
Who cares if the previous occupant painted the hall bright blue next to the red carpet? We can live with it until some unspecified time in the future.
Who cares if the bath has a tidemark of funky floating alphabet letters? That it’s still obvious where the plumber fell through the ceiling? That the guys who rewired the place for us left holes in the walls? After all, there’s Tiddling and Toddling to be done (and most of it on the lounge carpet).
Last weekend, some of the Walkers came to crash on our floor. Actually, they all used crash here. But the walkers have got older and more fastidious; the available floor-space has decreased. I can’t offer any of them a bed; the chances of waking up to find a pile of baby-vomit next to their pillows have gone up. The chances of an undisturbed night’s sleep have gone down. And to cap it all, their last invasion coincided with the bathroom being plumbed in. The workmen overran and ten adults ended up sharing a toilet with a flush-bucket.
This time round, two of the walkers crashed and a third put a tent up in the garden. Someone else had a camper-van. Most booked the hotel down the road.
On the night of their arrival, as is usual, I got home from work and panicked. I’d been away for the week: hubby had been in charge. Hubby is good at looking after kids and cooking but he doesn’t like housework either. The place was a tip. I suddenly had a minor panic as to how I could pretend that my kids’ excellent immune systems came about due to luck rather than necessity. We immediately launched a cleaning party. It must have worked to some extent because when the guests arrived, the only criticism we received related to how come we only have one comfortable chair.
I should put in a good word for our chair, actually. We ordered it with some vouchers from the kind souls who came to our wedding (we had a sofa then too, but the sofa died soon afterwards). We fight over it endlessly and this is how it was affectionately christened ‘the reading chair’: the early rules were that whichever of us was reading a book to the ever-demanding Toddler was allowed the comfiest seat. (The other day, when Toddler told me that a worm disappearing into the soil was ‘going home,’ I asked her what worms’ homes were like.
‘He’s got a reading chair in it,’ she said).
Anyway: it has occured to me that houses are like our bodies. We can all pretend that we don’t care about them, but we do care.
We have to look after them to the minimum acceptable standards to avoid getting ill (in the case of housing, this possibly demands more than one toilet for ten people).
Emotionally, we react to our housing / bodies. Practically, we have to function while spending time in them.
We also care because our society conditions us to care. i.e. When we think someone might be looking.
A little bit of pride is probably a good thing (‘You should always try to look your best,’ my Auntie says – and the same probably goes for houses).
On the other hand, it is possible to spend so much time, money and energy perfecting or worrying about the appearance of your body or house, that you forget how to enjoy it.
Not us, it has to be said: we will probably have holes in our walls for a while yet (but at least I know that the electrics are safely wired). We will continue to use the dining room table that we inherited from the family (it is solid and has sentimental value: one of them made it). We will probably always battle with the endless pile of toys and washing up and laundry and Toddler-crumbs and spilled Tiddler-food and goodness-knows-what-else. We will always love the reading chair, even when Tiddler has emptied his milk onto it another 20,000 times.
I think the walkers still enjoyed their visit. At any rate, they’ll probably be back (as long as the new toilet continues to flush), even if they do seek out comfortable beds at bedtime.
I have promised that, by next time, we will have acquired another chair.
Choosing it, I hope, will be a simple process.