I awoke in my new home, sunlight streaming through the makeshift curtains, reached out across the bed and patted an empty space - no husband. What time did he get up? The slightest disturbance - a passing truck, a dog yapping through the far wall, a child coughing through the near wall ruins his beauty sleep. Will he ever adapt to having neighbours after vicarage life in glorious isolation? Mind you, he sees so much more of the day than I do.
My Bible reading is Luke 12:15,
A man’s life does not consist of the abundance of his possessions.
Only last night, surveying our mass of boxes, I was lamenting not buying bigger. Ach, will I ever get my priorities right? If we can live comfortably in France with less than a quarter of the stuff we have here, why can’t we in the UK?
I find Peter enjoying the new, sunny sitting room - so lovely for him after a modern vicarage with tiny, low windows. He could never see the sky - unless he got down on his knees. Perhaps that was the diocesan designer’s intention.
We have used one of those light-catching paints - a tad expensive, so is it worth it we ask ourselves, examining the walls. It’s one of those hold-your-breath moments - does the colour work, or am I going to have to live with a mistake in taste for the next foreseeable years? And does it matter when people in Africa are dying of ebola?
Small things give Peter pleasure. Like the downstairs toilet. Our builder found us a super dooper loo for a fraction of its usual price. Never in the history of toilet seats has one caused such excitement.
“No bleach, no chemicals, no detergents”, he orders, reading the instructions. “The seat lifts off so that you can clean it separately.”
Just what I’ve always wanted. It makes up for France where you’re lucky to find a loo with a seat, and many public places still have a hole in the ground. My aunt once pulled the chain before she moved out of the way and got a shower thrown in for her money.
One of the greatest bones of contention between me and my man is deciding where things should go. Never does the discrepancy in our height seem so important and I find myself asking,
Why didn’t you pick on someone your own size?
Marry his mechanical engineering background based on the law of thermodynamics - the theory that all breaks down in chaos - with a naive, but blissful unawareness on my part that anything will ever go wrong and what you have is a recipe for conflict. Let me explain, whenever we cross the road, (enneagram fans will have my husband well and truly numbered at this point), I find the back of a hand shoved hard across my midriff.
Since I’m the sort of woman who crosses roads without looking, it’s understandable - though feeling like a three-year-old does wind me up.
In Peter’s imaginary world, shelves launch themselves at his shoulders as he passes, bed ends attack his shins, lights beat him about the head, mirrors come crashing down on him, and things mysteriously vanish if they’re not in his direct eyeline - so nothing can be attached to anything where I can reach it or put away so that I can find it.
I had no idea that being six foot four was so disabling. I seem to have gone through life at five foot one relatively unscathed. I can’t reach things on the top shelves of supermarkets, but most of life’s dangers appear to have gone over my head. So I can’t quite get this “forget aesthetics” mentality. Who needs beauty when you can have safety and usefulness?
Over the next days I gradually descend into sullen frustration. Unlike my daughter, I am not DIY Barbie. I am a helpless woman in whose hands a screwdriver is a lethal weapon. So I have soon done all I can do until Peter builds shelves and cupboards.
And it takes forever when married to a man who has what the church administrator calls, “distraction syndrome”. “What’s that?” I asked her. “Whatever Peter has.”
He gets there in the end - after endless detours, hunts for lost tools, (why did he not pack them systematically??), cups of tea, phone calls, and emails to find out why his pension hasn’t been paid. Not to mention the cat naps because of his insomnia. The Myers Briggs “J” in me wanders round the place staring at the stuff waiting for a home, hating my dependency and increasingly desperate. Will we ever be ready to go to France in two weeks time?
So I did my first machine wash - and everything was boiled at rinsing stage to within an inch of its stretch. The plumber has reversed the hot and cold pipes in the cellar. Peter’s keks are munchkin size, his tee shirts a strange shade of duster yellow.
I was saved from a nervous breakdown by Jane popping round for a coffee. She has lived in many different houses in the area, even one of those gorgeous Georgian properties I have so admired.
“I’d have loved a place like that,” I said, my brain failing to remind my mouth of my morning’s good intentions. “Don’t be,” she said. “It was like cleaning the Fourth Bridge. By the time you finished at one end, the other was dirty again.”
“Be without covetousness and content,” said the next day’s Daily Light. I’m being got at from above! Great advice all the same. I remind myself that my cousin Stephen also moved into his new home a few months ago, and is now in hospital, dying. His life draws slowly to a close as mine is caught up in the pains and pleasures that were so recently his.
How quickly life slips through our fingers and earthly hopes and dreams evaporate. How very book of Ecclesiastes with its emphasis on enjoying what life brings today.
I use my wonderful late mother in law’s annotated Daily Light - a miniature record of how she lived through Second World War with two small children, not knowing whether her husband, a chaplain in the Eighth Army, who vanished in 1943, was dead or alive. She and the children sheltered from the blitz bombs under a table we still have in France.
What must that have been like? Here are marked all the birthdays of her nieces and nephews - the younger generation. Only now we’re the older generation. How did that happen? What is life in all its fulness? Have I lived it? I always wish I had served God better, more, less self-indulgently, but as I recall so many, many blessings - and more treasures of the present to come, I believe I have.
The poet RS Thomas captured this perfectly in The Bright Field, words that Peter has as his screen saver,
Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
And next? Back to France!