“Take a deep breath. Stay calm.”
My friend Barbara and I are standing outside my terraced house in
. I have the key in my hand and am about to open the front door. This is the first time I will have been inside my home since August last year. In the seven month interim it has been rented out. Belfast
The solemnity of Barbara’s tone unnerves me, and I feel anxiety rising as I turn the key and push the door open. With just one foot over the threshold, I am immediately confronted by the first of the transformations my tenant has wrought in my home: a ghastly purple wall covered by gigantic stick-on purple and white flowers. This is my chimney breast. I step inside the room and rotate. Two more walls have been painted loud purple to match it while the others have been left white, the original colour, the colour the room was when I rented the house before I left
Belfast for . In a fury I drop my suitcase, hiss an expletive, step over to the chimney breast and rip off one of the triffids. It comes away in its entirety. Barbara looks disconcerted. She knows me as a sedate, easy-going Buddhist. I don’t feel like a sedate easy-going Buddhist right now. Tarragona
The homecoming, the moment I had been yearning for during the lonely hours in my flat in
, has been profaned. My cosy living room-cum-study with its original pine book shelves and antique clock has vanished. A hairdressing salon seems to have replaced it. As if reading my thoughts, Barbara points to the pine shelves, stacked in a corner and painted white … Tarragona
“She removed them and set up a mega size flat screen tv in this corner.”
I wander into the kitchen and through to the bathroom where, I’m relieved to see that everything looks pretty much as I left it. All the tiles are in place and they haven’t been painted.
Now for upstairs.
There’s barely any need to switch on the light in my bedroom because the colour is staggeringly bright: fluorescent green screams at me. The glare is ugly and I’m tempted to reach for my sunglasses. Instead, I venture into the back bedroom fearing the worst and what I find is a repeat of the living room: purple and white, minus the triffids. My home, I have to conclude, has been transformed into what I regard as a monument to bad taste.
“It’s not bad taste - Barbara protests – it’s just different.”
That first night my sleep was disturbed by angry thoughts that jabbed relentlessly at my brain through the small hours. “How could she? What a nerve. You should have been consulted!” In the background, a calmer wiser voice urged me not to be judgemental, to give consideration to my tenant who, after all, had the right to make this house into her home.
Over the following six days while the debate raged in my head I tore through the house with paint brushes and rollers. In record time I have redecorated four rooms, the attic included. With satisfaction I can now say that there is no longer any trace to be found of fluorescent green or loud purple anywhere in my home. Subtlety abounds. Soft peach soothes me when I step into the living room and magnolia wafts serenity through the bedrooms. But I am beat out. Redecorating at breakneck speed while battling with bronchitis has just about finished me. All the reserves are gone.
Was it worth it? I think it was. I just couldn’t stand looking at those colours for a minute more than was necessary. Does my tenant have bad taste or is it just different, as Barbara argued? Part of me, that harsh jabbing voice, insists that there is an absolute standard of taste and that “she” violated it. But the truth is that it’s all relative. My reaction, I believe, was probably about a deeper need to reclaim my space and to feel that I was really home again, albeit without Thelma, who has always lived in this house with me. It was about the need to feel secure after the “
experience” which didn’t quite work out as I had hoped. That’s another story; the one that I haven’t published on this blog. Tarragona
For now though I am home and for the first time in my adult life I have no plans to move on anywhere else. This is it … and that thought scares me more than a little. This is it: my red brick terraced house in this West Belfast street, cups of tea with neighbours and friends, queuing for the Number 10 bus, rooks cawing from the nearby City Cemetery in the early morning rain, red-faced winos stumbling along Castle Street, Saturday night cinema, mittened hands on a frosty evening and the frantic search of grey skies every April for the first swallow to herald in a summer that never really arrives.
The finality of my decision to return home has a chill to it.
A miniscule doubt crouching in the darkest recesses begins to rise and then a woman out shopping smiles broadly at me on a busy city centre street; the bank clerk asks where I’ve been these past months, he missed me. A stranger at the bus stop comments at length on the unseasonable warm dry weather and my friend Judy surprises me by arriving with some cakes to welcome me back home. The doubt recedes and I know that I can live with this. Just this.