There’s a wall in my house that I want to knock down. James won’t let me, because we don’t own the house on the other side of it and he feels our relationship with our neighbour might be affected. The structural engineer won’t let me, because apparently the wall in question is supporting the roof. But these are mere details – opinions, if you like. It would be most satisfying to take a sledgehammer and create a lovely, open space with room for all the books.
It wouldn’t only solve the problem of the books – it would give me a space to think and write, away from the kitchen table. At the moment I cook breakfast, take the children to school, come home and write among the dirty plates until I get stuck (this never takes very long). Sometimes I manage to clear the table before I start work – but then I notice that the oven needs cleaning too, and the kitchen floor, and I think how nice it would be if I had a cake ready for the children when they come home, and then there’s a delivery to be signed for and school uniform to be ironed and trip forms to be filled in and oh my goodness we’ve run out of milk. If I could just knock down that wall, I’d have a place where I’d never be distracted.
There would be no radio, no television there. I’d have to come out to find out what fresh hell the government are unleashing. I always thought that living in politically desperate times would be interesting. How could people not have known, I thought, reading about 1930s Germany, about communist China, about segregation in America, apartheid in South Africa… how could you live through the establishment of such horrors and not know? I always felt I lived in a decent country, where it was safe to respect people’s different political views. But these last few years have changed that.
There is a situation in my life I hate, but that I cannot change, because the change that’s needed is not within my control.
There is a wall in my house that I want to knock down.
We cannot escape the times in which we live, so we have to find a way to survive them. I know people who have muted Brexit in their mentions, who turn off the television or the radio whenever certain politicians start to speak, who create that space for themselves. I can’t do that. The horror is too real, the effects too immediate. I have to know.
All I can do is turn the telescope round, so that instead of the close-up images of things that frighten and stifle me, I look at the world made tiny and far away. A beautiful creation, a place I’m privileged to be part of for as long or short a time as I’m allowed. It’s that image I see in the rising of my cakes, the cracked crust of my bread, my youngest’s crooked bunches as she sings with her choir, my eldest finding a place for his double bass when we’re late to orchestra. Those things will survive; this time of intolerance and bullying will not.
If God is there, that’s what he sees of us too. Living creatures, looking for the beauty, making a terrible mess. Today’s commandment is simply this: thou shalt do what works for you.