Paint job

by haywardhelen


‘And this is my son’s old bedroom’. Walking into the bedroom, I spread my arms around. An old desk, pushed into the bay window, is blanketed with Airfix model kits, some still unfinished. Paint tubes, small screwdrivers, a pair of scissors, three sports medals, opened letters and a couple of certificates fight for attention. A single bed on the side wall, still vaguely smelling of my son. Underfoot, a large pinkish rug that I’d never entirely liked. Bookcases lining the walls filled with cast-off titles. My friend, with grown up children of her own, laughs gently. Just gently enough for me to hear her thoughts.

For a month after my son decamped to our guest room, as far away from his parents as possible without actually moving out of the house, I wondered what to do with this old bedroom. While I didn’t want it to stay my son’s old bedroom for much longer, I felt timid about changing it. But first my son’s stuff had to go.

It took Alex four hours to sort his childhood into three unsentimental piles. Hundreds of model train magazines, hardback transport books, wooden blocks, Meccano, Lego, paints, glues, tools, brushes, unmade plane kits, completed model planes, Arthur Ransome novels, loose photos, bits of boats and bits off bikes, sports ribbons. And then it was done. Years of nagging him to sort out his room was over.

For a week or two the things that he didn’t want enough to take down to his new bedroom sat unloved and unclaimed on the floor of his old bedroom. Any value they might have had was soon lost, although he did insist that the Lego and Meccano be kept ‘for the future’. Then, after a trip to a local recycle shop, the room was all but empty.

I didn’t want it to be a sad room. Originally the master bedroom, I had no desire for a museum of childhood off our upstairs landing. I wanted it to be the lovely room it might always have been, had it not been the incubus for my son’s adolescence. And I certainly didn’t want to be swept with nostalgia every time I vacuumed the big pinkish rug that I’d never really liked. I wanted the room to have a new life of its own.

It was such an easy fantasy to have on the heels of our recent trip to Amsterdam. It was a simple image that I had in mind. I saw a pale painted floor, a subdued but colourful rug, soft enough for sewing and drawing with my daughter, and cream furniture. A day bed for when friends came to stay, a big table near the window, and a cupboard for family overflow. But first I’d have to paint the walls and floor.

Five years ago I painted our house, room by room, wearing dungarees and Dunlop Volley shoes. It was hard work but I was keen and I enjoyed it.  I could see the results of my efforts each day. I didn’t do an incredibly professional job, but I felt proud of what I’d achieved.

So why, five years on, did I wait another month before picking up a painting roller? Why did everything seem more important than tipping paint into a bucket and dipping a brush into it? Until finally, fed up with my excuses, I tricked myself into painting when my husband went to Melbourne at short notice. I started at night with an undercoat that smelled so bad that I felt I was coating my lungs with it. But having put on an undercoat there was no going back. The floors that I once stained dark brown were now a ghostly white. It was after midnight, everyone in the house was asleep, but it was done.

But of course it wasn’t done. There was still the walls, two more coats on the floor, window sills, mantlepiece and skirting boards to do. And, with every coat, I felt myself rebel against putting on my dungarees and getting out the paint brushes.

For a while I couldn’t understand why I resisted painting so much. And then it came to me. It was fear. Fear that my family would hate my colour choices. Fear that they would say that a room decorated entirely to my taste was an indulgence. ‘It looks like a milk factory’, said my son tactfully, as he came in smattered with mud from a bike ride. ‘It’s like being in Sweden in here’, said my daughter, home from school. And my husband, on his return from Melbourne? ‘It looks fine’ he said, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

And me? I love it. Late at night I sneak into what I now call the big room with a book and a hot drink and listen to the wind in the trees, on my own little ship in the night, and feel completely at one with what I’ve done.