We’ve had one of those brilliant weekends which brings everything into focus. I have a significant birthday coming, and the two older children were born at the beginning and the end of August, so we all gathered here on Friday. We spent Saturday making food, eating food, and then around a campfire with a ukelele, a guitar and cake. We are all inveterate singers. We sing in the shower, sing in the car, sing when we’re together, sing when we’re on our own, walking down darkened streets in dangerous towns. It could be because I was brought up a Methodist and sang to the children in the womb. It could be because my husband was brought up by Wagner fanatics who sent him to orchestra bootcamps during his teen years. Or that we both have an encyclopaedic musical knowledge (and collection), which starts with the first Blues recordings of the 1930s and spans the twentieth and twenty first centuries and the globe. It could be that we just seem to have a good ear. We are great harmonisers. Favourite songs to sing are ‘You are my Sunshine’, a song my father sang to me when I was a little girl, and which I have sung to each of the four children, when they were babies. We’re great at the harmonies on that. Also, ‘I’ll Fly Away’, and ‘As I Went Down to the River to Pray’. We had a lovely time.
The next day, my husband’s family were all arriving for our summer get together. At 8am, we sat up in bed with cups of tea, surveying our day. We had three hours to chop and cook and tidy. His sisters are not judgmental. Or maybe they are and we don’t know it, but we don’t want it to happen, so we do everything within our ability to make our lives seem perfect, just as all families do. As we sat there, I looked at the rug on the bedroom floor. I said
‘I remember saying to you when we bought that rug – it won’t be a waste of money. We’ll keep it forever.’ Tom laughed.
‘Did you have to make those sorts of assurances to me back then?’
Well, I think I did. It was twenty-seven years ago. We were on a make or break holiday to Turkey. We were at the end of a very rocky first year of marriage. We had been given some shares in Abbey National Building Society, and had sold them to my father-in-law in order to be able to afford a holiday. Turkey – Fethiye, in fact – was the cheapest package deal we could find. I don’t remember much about it, apart from staying in the most beautiful villa, the inherited home of an academic who served us two boiled eggs, a slab of Feta cheese and some black olives with bread and black Turkish tea for breakfast, solemnly and with great dignity, before getting on his moped to go to work at the university. We would sit on the beach all day, and Tom got incredibly burned and woke up one night going deliriously mad with the itching and the rawness.
Our last day, we went shopping. I’d seen the carpet on our first or second day, hanging outside the shop, and we had to walk around and around the small town Fethiye was back then, to find it again. I had become obsessed with its patterns: the Christmas tree repetition like an Escher drawing, in browns, beiges and creams was so sophisticated and different and was the beginning of my obsession with making a home that was bohemian and represented our mixing of cultures from around the world. I wanted wooden floors, white walls, bookcases and this carpet. That would be home, for me. It cost more than we could afford.
‘I promise you we will have this carpet forever,’ I said to Tom. We bought it, and also a painting from an antique store: a miniature that had been painted with a fine brush – our academic host told us it could have been a single hair in the brush, the picture was so fine. It is a picture in browns and purples and oranges of a Princess escaping in a fine carriage from court, in order to be with her true love. The picture is over two pages, and her escape is from the frame of the first page, the horses of her carriage galloping onto the second page. It hangs in an alcove in our wooden floored sitting room, between bookshelves which hang on white walls.
Our twenty-eighth year of marriage, we are sipping tea and laughing about that promise in a Turkish carpet shop, because we are still young, back there together, though our children sang with us around the campfire the night before: our twenty-six year old son who is wont to say things like ‘When I was living in China…’ or ‘when I taught on a Saudi Arabian army base…’, our twenty-four year old daughter who lives and works in London, our seventeen year old daughter and our fifteen year old daughter. The years that have been sung by like three minute songs played on the radio seem not to have aged us, because we are the people we were, still looking at expensive purchases with the eye of forever – will it last? Will it last as long as we are together? If I promise another year and another eternity, shall we have it?
And that’s the joy, I think. That’s been the joy for us. We went to Turkey because we were nearly finished. He had toured with his Blues band that year. I had worked in the City. We were going in different directions. We were too young when we married. We wanted different things. In Turkey though, standing in a carpet shop, we both saw the house we live in now. We saw the carpet in it. We saw the singing, swearing, nutcase children. We saw the garden and its fading roses and the ducks that knock the petals off and eat them. We saw the bed in which we sit and drink tea. We saw that we would laugh at our maturity when we were twenty-five and twenty-three. And now, we do laugh at that maturity, and tip our hats to it, and feel we are the same people, those people who made it all.