When we moved back in to the cottage, the study became a dumping ground. Anything that could not find a home in the rest of the house weedled its way into a pile and stayed there. I tried ignoring it; pretending it did not matter; telling myself it would get better. It got worse.
The problem with a study that looks like you have a sideline doing house clearances, is that it shows what is going on in your head. You might as well have the words "My life is a mess" scrawled in neon glass and hung over the doorway. I have had psychotherapists living next door to me, I know these things. (I decided I like having psychotherapists for friends. I am hoping they will not send me a bill when they get home.) Chaos is alright in moderation but after a while you cannot think straight.
My husband does not help. When he is not down in London, he shares the study with me. I do not find it easy working alongside him. He has been known to eat herring at his desk. He prefers to work hunkered down behind enormous walls of paperwork, newspapers and statistics - in London, he has been declared an official fire hazard. He is also ever so slightly deaf which means he shouts down the phone. Sometimes, if I am on the other phone, the person I am talking to will start talking to my husband instead of me.
I was invited for lunch the other day in a house so grand it makes you think: "I so married the wrong man." It has a kitchen that would fit four of my kitchens in. Three larders including one in the grounds for game. The sort of book lined drawing room you see in Edwardian dramas. It has a dead tiger on the floor and an ironing room with a linen press. Thirteen bedrooms and an atrium so large I did not immediately notice the grand piano. I brought roses. My friend took me to her "Flower Room". Shelf after shelf of vases. I counted them. Including the planters for the 78 pots of orchids she has in the hothouse and the bowls for roses, there were 114 vases to chose between. I wished I had brought a bigger bunch. I said: "Wow." She said: "Let me show you the box room."
I grew up in a boxroom; it had a narrow mirrored wardrobe and a single bed. Hers was a room full of boxes; it smelled of dust, scented soap and money well-spent. It had heavy cardboard boxes from 1950s Bond Street jewellers; boxes from Hermes, Tiffany and Saks Fifth Avenue; for gardenia toilet soap, glace fruit, macadamia nut shortbread and oriental cigarettes. When you opened them, you could think: "This box is empty" or you could think: "This box was full." My friend said: "You buy something and you think, this would be a nice box rather than that's a nice soap." I thought: "Why keep all these boxes?" Apparently, it is handy to have a box if you wish to send a gift to a godchild. Then I thought: "This house is so big, they probably would not even notice if I snuck in my laptop and set up my study in an outhouse or a large shoebox."
I decided I did not want a room for my gift boxes. I did want a room in which I could work. I tried desperately to find an alternative working space in my own house. I suggested the four-year-old might like to move in with the six-year-old and let mummy have his room to do some work. That did not go down well.
The builders are still working on the arches. First of all we had to wait for the painters, then the electricians; now we have to wait for the carpet and floor fitter before the plumber can come back in to do the underfloor heating and the shower room. I have decided the builders have become emotionally attached and do not want to leave us. Unless I was willing to work in the arches with a concrete floor and type by candlelight, that was not a goer either. There was only one thing left. Clear the study.
My husband told me he would sort it out in November. He has been telling me the same thing since July. I hardly ever shout at my husband but I shouted at him about the state of the study when he told me none of the mess was his. He did that walk-away male thing and "left me to it." I cried. Then I threw something out and kept going. I dry cleaned my chair; I vaccuumed the floor so hard I broke the vaccuum cleaner. I became obsessed. So obsessed, I cleaned the windows. In three different ways to see which pane looked the best. I used washing up liquid and newspaper (a traditional favorite of my mother's). This is how I normally clean windows and mirrors but I think I may have put too much washing up liquid in the water because it came out slightly smearier than usual. Then I tried my best friend from school's window cleaning product designed for car windows (works a treat but you have to give it time to dry first). Then I used bleach. I have never used neat bleach to clean windows before but I went to visit a friend on a farm and the girl who cleans for her was using bleach "because of the flies". Good enough for me. It got the windows clean but the smell nearly knocked me off my chair. The problem with cleaning your windows in this way is that once you realise that you have a winning pane (the car cleaning product), you have to do the others again to bring them up to the same standard.
Anyway, I cleared the study; my husband helped me shift some of the heavier furniture despite the fact he had not diaried it in till November. We started speaking again around half past one this morning.