Explore, Escape, Live your Life!
The Porthole Peeper
My journey begins…
I woke and we rowed, over lampshades and curtains…
Curtains of golden weave, heavy, lined, regal even. The day I found them they sat on a car-boot stall. I walked a full circle of the field contemplating their length, colour and value before plucking up the courage to return to the stall. I didn’t want to ask their price, only then to walk away leaving the eager gentleman disappointed, or annoyed that I considered his price to be unreasonable. The undone deal would then turn sour and immediately be dropped, bluntly! Worse, he would be left painted with a straight-laced expression like one of those stiff-backed people you might find sitting for an old Victorian photograph.
I hated having to ask the price of anything! I was no good at bartering either. I always over thought situations, imagining the worst case scenario and never considered the best possible outcome.
One skill always written on my school reports and one that I never understood as a child, said, ‘conscientious in all that she does’. Did this mean I was intelligent? Long words sounded clever! I was perhaps considered to be a thoughtful and caring type. But really, my conscientiousness meant fearful, an annoying attribute that stopped me reaching out to people, prevented a fair deal on many an occasion and took a lot of effort on my part; I frequently wrestled my affliction to the ground. Approaching the stall, for a second time, I conscientiously asked, “How much?”
Two minutes later I am carrying the weighty curtains, smiling, not too much as to show off, but just a little, like the Mona Lisa’s smile, for inwardly I am decidedly happy with my four pounds investment, a bargain! Two women passing by admire the curtains, “Oh, you bought those lovely curtains! They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” Now exuberant with confidence in my own creative judgement. I’m a wrestling champion! Is this kind of shopping high, a lady’s only experience- I wonder?
Back home, they fit perfectly royal. My smile, the elated emotion, continues. The lampshades too, were discovered on a car-boot sale; thirties styled, glass domed shades. Both hang from three chains. One, is orange and white tortoiseshell, the other a pearly white marbled effect but smaller. Both give the high-ceiling-ed rooms and rich colours, a majestic finish that would make a statement in the most unkempt of rooms.
The orange glass shade complements the hallway, just below the stairs of rich purple-blue. An old, curved with age, tall and thin, stained-glass window sits opposite, and the floor is dark stained wood and bare except for a small red rug.
The other shade completes the dining room ceiling rose and lincrusta surround where the walls are painted bright mango with an olive green chimney breast. A large, ornate, wood-burner sits on a fireplace of small, slate green and blue earthenware tiles. I love the warm earth rawness of the tones and cold texture of each individual small tile.
My cooker is ‘Queen’ of our newly fitted kitchen. Simple, white and unobtrusive, uniform white cupboards with their plastic protection covers still intact. The utilities stand in contrast against newly plastered walls, a calm shade of grey. A simple twist of a timer switches the oven on, with one dainty ding when switched off. The simplicity of it!
Before you put in a claim for my insanity and to understand my attachment, I need to explain about my last cooker. Big and ugly, she dominated the small kitchen like a rhino squeezed into a basket. This old girl did what she was meant to, cooked that is, except the oven door fell off when opened. Red hot, in her fully naked and unabashed attire, there lay her door rudely upon the kitchen floor, too hot to then pick up and try to put back before all the oven’s heat had bolted from the stall into our freezing cold kitchen. Amidst a stream of bad language and my vain attempts to sit the “f…... thing” back on broken hinges while using a pair of oven gloves that gave you the same dexterity as a penguin out of water, cooking in this kitchen had no part in my dream house!
Further, the walls of ‘yet to be plastered’ red brick, hid their equally shameful state of undress beneath an even uglier double-bed sized, wooden chipboard, an abomination fixed upon the bare wall with giant screws of a semi-permanent nature. The bricks gave the kitchen a constant dusting of dirty old plaster.
A mish-mash of revolting varnished pine and white veneer cupboards sat high and proud on the walls. A collection of other people’s throw outs, they clashed in shape and wood effect. Sometimes little spiders got in the cupboards and left eggs in a dark corner, wrapped carefully in fluffy cocoons.
A green chipboard floor put down when eradicating woodworm awaited lino and thickly glossed paintwork on the cellar door drew the eye to a dripping, cream shade that had yellowed.
Here was a kitchen, it did a job, but it was a humiliation to any sense of self-respect; a wound deepened by the fact that this was the first room people stepped into when entering our house, a poor man’s burden. Yet my husband seemed less bothered about such clashes of colour and design, practicality being his first concern. It worked!
We had moved from flat to flat in our earlier days, we once used a shopping trolley and later an upgrade, our work van, collecting up kids, high chair, washing machine, animals, toys, bedding and bin liners… Thirty years later; we are here: hard work, poor pay, long hours, exhaustion but a new kitchen! Newly plastered, smooth curves, clean lines, fresh, white, shiny and complete.
Beautiful! I have it for a moment. Then, it is gone! In a breath. The water drains away down the sink plughole. A light is switched off. We close the door for the last time. I say goodbye. I cry a little inside, deep down in my heart. The last time we will close our gate. “Don’t look back”, I hear a voice deep within say. I remember an old bible story about a man named Lot and his family, who fled from a city called Sodom; Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt because she turned to glance back at the total destruction of the city behind them.
“Just drop them off when your ready!” The words of a superficially polite estate agent loaded with a rifle round of legal requirements, rudely interrupts my emotional moment. Heavy house door keys jangle in my hand, my keys for twenty-three years, the key to my back door, is relinquished from it’s key-ring and handed over.
What have I done! Wait! I’m aware of my gut, a hidden feeling deep within, a place you can’t touch, an unpleasant turmoil! I just gave up my home, all that is familiar! I remember the funny and huge, ungainly, white ducks that waddled round my garden, the comfort of my soft couch and slobbing out in my pyjamas, memories of my beautiful laughing children. Suddenly not my home but someone else’s.
Sold! A whole great piece of my life is now allotted a shelf in history. I can’t come back! As I slip out of the double gates for the last time-my heart sinks into my belly- I keep walking, towards an unknown, forwards into the future. Don’t look back!
On the boat; that’s where the argument begins. A row about lamp-shades and curtains. My realisation, it’s all gone! All the objects I had invested myself in. Selling a house after twenty-three years, and weirdly, to the very day we moved in, could this be a strange coincidence? If you knew the story of how we bought the house, you might say, ‘it was meant to be’, but that’s another story.
There is a letting go of a part of my-self, my vanity, my things, me. I don’t want my things to go to people I have no say in choosing. Objects that hang on to you, pull you down. Just things! “But he owns lots of those already, he keeps a house full of beautiful objects piled up; potential projects. He doesn’t need them!” I retort.
“We don’t need them! We can’t keep them on the boat!”
I am looking back. With anger welling up within, the tears burn my eyes and my heart aches. But they’re just objects. Why then do I feel so utterly angry? I am empty. How can mere objects take such a hold on my feelings? How can he just walk away, no regrets, no attachments, glad to leave it all behind? Is he so much stronger than me? Holier than me? Less feminine? If I let go of these things I hold, will I sink? Have I sold myself for a house full of objects? Did I sell my soul? Can I take these things with me when I die?
It was first, my crazy idea! On our fifty-foot narrow boat we now live the minimal life. We struggle to make electricity to work our fridge for the duration of winter and through the night. Hot water is an occasional luxury we use when the boat engine is run for two hours. Gas comes from bottles we replace and carry to and from the boat every two to three months. Filling water bottles, twenty at a time; a cold, wet, arm at a water tap some distance away and a heavy bag on a trolley; all neatly line up down our bedroom wall. Boat toilets are a posh bucket with a flush that slowly accumulate a smell -we must empty every three days, another heavy load and a walk down the towpath to some sanitary facilities, and a bin. Obviously, a fire must be kept going because the alternative is that we live in a steel fridge during winter. Another trolley load, this time coal.
Summer is equally challenging, when the inside is so close and hot, you need a fan running and then step outside, only to be devoured by midges that leave behind great itchy bites that only a wild beast would be burdened with. Sunny days are spent chasing flies up and down the narrow length of the boat, swatting one dead with precision only to give chase again. I write of the wonders and beauty of living a floating life but it is only fair to share the challenges with you too!
This is now home, …and this is me! Nothing is attached, I let go, like the balloon that loosens it’s-self from the huddle and floats, up, up, and away, on an unknown journey. Wealthier and richer (they’re not the same thing). Off grid, living for real, alive! Wind whipping my face, the taste of the farm on my lips, stinging fingers in an early morning frost, a sudden awakening of a soaking rain, I hear nature all around me-it’s like I woke up from years in a hypnotic sleep.
I decided to jump on this train one day and here I chose to get off. I live in an ever moving time capsule, never in one place, transient, a step – into the future. Peace in a manic world. With flowers and leaves for hair, I belong to nature and nature begins to know me and trust me once again. The wildlife comes a little closer and stays a little longer- was it passing me by or was I rushing past it?
How long I’ll stay here, I’m not sure. True freedom is a rarity, a heavy burden lifted, oh! Just golden weaved curtains and glass lampshades- insignificant things. Now I am free to go wherever and whenever, to follow the keeper of time himself; he who creates, but he who also folds up, and puts away.
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