Posted by Tania Kindersley.
So we go back to the Cupboard of Doom, the story of which I was too tired to tell you yesterday. The reason I am returning to it is that it taught me rather a lot of Big Life Lessons, and small domestic ones too.
The boiler has been broken for weeks. I have been so cold that sometimes I actually cried, and had to go to bed wearing huge scarves and socks and two cardigans. Luckily the Pigeon greatly admires this look. I assume it appeals to her sporty, outdoorsy side.
So when the plumber finally arrived, with a socking great brand new boiler, I fell on his neck as if he were the last good man on earth. He is a serious man of the North-East, so he is not necessarily used to this. However, he seemed to take it in his stride. What I had not expected was that vital pipes and valves were located in the cupboard under the stairs. This is one of those tall, walk-in things, almost like a very, very tiny room. There are no shelves or pegs or anything, but it is a big storage space with a door that can be closed, so, over the years, I have just hurled things in there. (My poor organised reader, Cassie, must be pulling her hair out by the roots now.)
The problem with the hurling technique is that a perfectly good cupboard suddenly tips over into the Cupboard of Doom. Once it does, I cannot bear to look at it, contemplate it, or admit it is even there. No one else is allowed to see it. I do not speak of it. It is my secret. It is my shame. It says: well, you think you’re all that, with your writing and your fancy books and your making of soup and your garden and your life, but you can’t even organise a cupboard. Pah, it says, call yourself a grown-up?
I have done quite a lot of work on my internal voices. I took them to Hampstead Garden Suburb for years, to a proper wise fellow with a beard. I read all the books by Jung and Adler. I know all about introjects and wrong constructions. However, as you may see, some of them still managed to slip the net and roam freely in the wild.
So the cupboard is not just a cupboard, but a standing reproach. When the plumber needed me to open it, I almost asked him to leave. I had a split second where I thought I would rather freeze to death in this frigid Scottish June than let him see my shame.
Coming up on first big Life Lesson, which should have a drum roll at least. He did not flinch. He did not shout HOLY FUCK. He did not look at me as if I had a social disease. He did not run screaming from the room. (Although I should say the people of Aberdeenshire have an element of flint to them as sure and steady as the granite on which they live. It takes a lot for them to run and scream.) As I over-compensated madly, jabbering away about my own hopelessness, making gags to try and distract him, he just looked steadily at it, and laughed, not unkindly. Miraculously, he did not appear to be judging me Good For Nothing. This was a bit of a revelation.
‘I’ll just clear it out,’ I said, weakly. ‘It’ll take a minute or two.’
I got my Marigolds on and braced myself. I removed endless cardboard boxes, piles of bubble wrap, mysterious crumpled plastic bags filled with old receipts, a dead mouse, piles of ancient magazines, all the Christmas decorations, folders sagging with pointless pieces of paper, some creased old photographs, and a clutch of A4 notebooks.
Second Life Lesson is: it’s never as bad as you think. I had been living in fear, fear I tell you, of that cupboard, for years. In the end, faced with necessity, I only took about fifteen minutes to clear the whole thing. I admit I was then faced with the terrifying task of what to do with all the nonsense. However, I was galvanised by the plumber, who was working away like gangbusters on the boiler. I too could roll up my sleeves. So I got out the dustbin bags, divided everything into Keep, Charity Shop, and Chuck and set about it.
It is quite tiring. But on the other hand, once you get going, it’s rather rewarding. Out out out, I muttered to myself, with glee. Do I really want twenty-seven sample size Floris conditioners which I stole from a hotel I stayed in in 2003? Answer: NO. Out they went. And so on.
But here is the third Life Lesson. The disadvantage of being disorganised is that you don’t know where anything is. This is quite a serious drawback and something on which I must work. But but but, the advantage is that you find wonderful things which you had quite forgotten. It was like Christmas. I am always quoting that Jungian line about in the shadow lies the gold. Well, in the darkness of the Cupboard of Doom, there was gold.
Here I found three enchanting Lulu Guinness bags which I had bought at seventy percent off in the sale. There I discovered four of the chicest Calvin Klein lipsticks which I vaguely remember buying as a job lot off the internet for about a pound each. They are in smart, smooth silver tubes, most elegant, and in the most flattering colours. I love them. I am wearing one now. I shall not have to buy another lipstick for two years.
There was a lovely washbag, which is just what I need now, because my old one is looking ratty, some very nice shampoo, a pot of Elizabeth Arden face cream, some green jade bracelets, and a dashing black and white photograph of my old dad riding over fences. The A4 notebooks turned out to be my diary from university, and another two from my twenties. The university one is hysterical. I was on Mach Force Ten at all times. I’m amazed I made any friends. I was trying to be like a character in Vile Bodies, and no hyperbole went unused. It was all too, too shaming. (Although I was quite pleased to be reminded that I had a bit of a thing with a six foot four Olympic rower from California who was over on one of those bogus sporting scholarships, so he could perform as a ringer in the Boat Race.)
The ones from my twenties were most instructive. Quite often I look back on that time and remember the glamorous parts, when I was always flitting off to Manhattan or Venice. I had a bit of cash and I was self-employed, which was a fatal combination. I like to recall the wild nights in Haig’s Bar or the afternoons in the Met. What I had quite forgotten was that I was batshit crazy in the head. No wonder I went chasing off to Hampstead. There are terrible long wails of despair, endless family fights (I seemed on a quest to fall out with every single person to whom I was related), shattering disappointments, moments where it appears I could not leave the house, and a series of crashing heartbreaks.
It was tremendously reassuring. Everyone says people don’t change, but I think they do. I have. In the last two months I have lost my dad and my dog. There are family complications. There were two other intensely tragic funerals. I have been very, very sad. I am still in grief; I can feel the emotions moving very close to the surface. But compared to that screaming, wailing, flailing creature I was twenty years ago, I am doing pretty well. I am doing my work and writing my book and planting my garden and loving my dear old dog and talking to my brothers and sister and eating well and understanding that sorrow is part of the deal of being a human. I think what I know now which I did not then is that sadness does not mean the end of everything. It will not crush and ravage and destroy. I do not have to panic. If I just sit with it for a while, and let it take its course, it will move on.
I’m not all Smugly Smuggerson, with my Life Lessons and my Whig theory of history. I still have bad days and what the Beloved Cousin calls jangly moments. My startle reflex is at full bore and I am not sleeping very well. My first instinct is still to prove to everyone how fine I am. I am still a bit scared of some of the other cupboards, not to mention the Shed.
But I did learn quite a lot from the Cupboard of Doom, and it feels as if most of it was good. And I do like the fact that I do seem to have trained on a bit, since I was that nutty girl of twenty-four.
And, for an extra cherry on the cake, I seem to have written 1479 words of book. So this goes down as a Good Day.
Now for photographs:
The heavenly new tree, as sent yesterday through the post. It is a little alder, and it is living for the moment in a pot by the house, so that its roots may develop:
The first of the nepeta:
My favourite little geranium:
Raindrops on the apple tree:
And the blueberry bush too:
Thing whose name I forget. I think it might be some kind of lily. Grows from a bulb, anyway:
The hill, invisible in the cloud:
Rather serious but getting so much better Pigeon:
The new boiler is chugging away. I have heat again. It is all new and efficient and low energy, so I shall save the planet, save on my oil bills, and save my poor frozen fingers, so they may type.