Jess of the dairy fields
By Jessica Miller; the illustration is by Becky Blake
Published in November ’16
November is one of my favourite months, filled with the promise of hot chocolate, open fires, red wine and impending festivities; it also heralds my annual short-lived stint as a decorator. At this time every year I gather my faithful brigade of brushes, rollers and trays in an attempt to make good the interior damage wrought by four dogs and a seven-year-old, whose primary preoccupation with the great outdoors is seemingly to bring it all indoors.
Her latest project is the painstaking construction of an ‘Insect Hotel’. The acquisition of the hapless residents involves a lot of time digging in the mud with bare hands. Such is the force of her enthusiasm, that she forgets to wash her hands under the outside tap before coming inside to inform us of the Hotel’s progress. It’s impossible to scold her for leaving grubby prints on the wall when she is in raptures over the success of the new ‘restaurant’: a rather Ritzy Lego house whose diners have included a fat pair of caterpillars, a glossy black beetle and an indeterminate number of wood lice.
Now an annual decoration regime also allows one to change the colour scheme, an activity best left to the brave. I often choose a shade that prompts a look of abject horror from Jasper when first I take the lid off the paint pot, but, almost invariably, looks nice when the room is finished. That ‘almost’ refers to the exception. Fourteen years ago I had a mental aberration and painted our entire 6x6ft bathroom in a Cobalt blue. I knew within seconds that I had made a monumental mistake, but gritted my teeth and stubbornly plundered on, hoping against hope it would ‘dry down’ a bit as I covered the warm cream walls with an eye-popping blue brilliance one would dread seeing flashing in the rear-view mirror, let alone permanently ‘on’ inches from one’s eyes. I was, though, also mindful of the expense of starting again. ‘It will look fine when it’s finished,’ I told myself.
I was wrong.
The end result was so violently oppressive – and the sensations of claustrophobia and rising unease so viscerally overwhelming – that I had to leave the room for fear of a panic attack. So much for my long soaks in a rose scented bath, I thought miserably. How would I read a book or look into the mirror to check my face mask had dried if I had to keep my eyes closed the whole time.
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Jasper on the stairs. Thank goodness for equable, easy-going Jasper. He pushed open the door, made a strangled noise of dismay and stepped back onto the landing: ‘Oh my GOD! What have you done?! Are you insane?’ His eruption turned as blue as the walls.
‘Don’t you like it?’
‘I feel like I’m about to be launched into space,’ he spluttered, ‘I can’t even look at it. It’s hurting my eyeballs.’
‘I think you’re being mean.’ I huffed half-heartedly as I realised an even more awful truth.
If painting a room a hideous colour is demoralising, the arduous task of subsequently applying four layers of undercoat to conceal the offending colour is infinitely worse. Jasper has never let me live it down.
So, each year, there is a frisson of fear as I pick what I hope will be the appropriate hue for each room. Last Friday I decided to paint one of our bedroom walls a deep red colour that I had seen advertised by a well-known paint company. I ordered a tester pot (thank you cobalt bathroom for that life lesson) and was delighted when the patch of wall I had painted looked even lovelier than I imagined. Our bedroom is west-facing and the low, late afternoon sun lend it a rich warmth. I stood for a while watching the sun slip behind the copse and enjoying the evocative smell of wood smoke. Skeins of smoke curled from a distant chimney and the nip in the air promised a frost. It had been a long day and I was tired. After a bath and a supper of scrambled eggs in front of the woodburner, I went to bed and was drifting off when I realised I hadn’t applied my night cream. Half asleep, I grappled in the darkness to find the pot on the bedside table, rubbed a few small dollops all over my face and sank into a deep slumber.
The dogs furious barking woke me next morning. It was a Saturday; Jasper had gone to the farm early and Lily was still asleep. Through the glass pane of the back door I could see Steve the postman holding a parcel. I opened the door and noticed his eyes widen fractionally, before he handed me the parcel and hurried off without exchanging the usual pleasantries, which was unlike him.
Yawning, I made a cup of tea and went back up to bed. Glancing in my dressing table mirror I almost dropped my mug; I looked like an extra from Apocalypse Now. Wild eyes stared out of a crimson face, then they gradually slid across to the bedside table; next to my night cream, sat the tester pot for Rectory Red.