There is a tree outside the window of my new room. An oak, with ivy wrapped around, embracing his body and lower branches. His body, yes. There is something male about this oak. A wise old man ready to share stories about this part of South West London before there was a street here; before they built the house with the room I moved into, two weeks ago. A room with a strip of stained glass on top of the large windows, where the morning sun floods in as soon as you part the curtains, in the morning, bathing you in bright gold.
After seven years of camping in someone else’s living room, the first room of my own.
After the removers leave, I have a moment of panic, as I step over all the boxes, knowing full well that I will never be able to fit the contents of the one-bedroom flat I had, what feels like a lifetime ago, into one, albeit large, room. I have strained my right elbow ligaments during the move from Norwich, and my whole arm now feels inflamed, but resting it is not an option. Slowly, I stack up into a corner the thirty photocopying paper boxes of books and CDs, then start pulling off the parcel tape, and arranging them in double rows on the two shelves that belong to the room. After an hour, I observe a worrying hammock effect, so frantically remove the books. The shelves straighten up, again. I think. The lower shelf had better carry DVDs – they are lighter. In the centre, I build a pillar to support the top shelf with the help of my hard back collection of Harry Potter, and Mark Kurlansky’s The Basque History of the World. All the unread books go on the top shelf, but in a single row. The other, built-in shelves, and the bookcase I brought with me, are sturdy enough to bear the majority of my other books. I have too many books, I know. I resign myself to re-packing five boxes of books, and stacking them in a corner, behind the armchair. A small price to pay for a room of my own. The armchair, I have pushed next to the window, so that I can sit and watch the squirrel vandalise the clusters of rusty leaf buds that are bursting out of the tree branches, and throw twigs at unsuspecting passers-by. The squirrel came close to my window, a couple of days ago, and peered at me. Then it was the turn of the magpie. They are spreading the word in the animal world, that the room has a new occupant. At night, I can sit in the armchair and look up at the moon as she smiles down on me.
I have put my work table by the window, too. This way, I have a choice between glancing out at the tree or the sky, or at the postcards I have Blu-Tacked to the cupboard door, in front of me. Postcards with Commedia dell’Arte characters, reproductions of National Gallery paintings, and a photo of a Venetian Palazzo, which I took with a sharply-angled tripod, some years ago. Like so many London houses, this one is also affected by land subsidence. Furniture has to be propped up in front, so that it does not tumble forward. My table is on a slight slant, the furthest edge higher than the end at which I sit and work. This is a room that could feature as a character in a short story, or a novel. A room with a personality. I know we are going to get on well.
It takes me nearly two weeks to unpack everything. I have left the best till last, as a treat to unwrap once the hard work is complete. I unroll my posters. There is room for two on my walls. I had forgotten I had most of these. I must decide which ones I will hang up. There are joyful Dufys, and a Rosina Wachtmeister cat with a mouse suspended upside down in his belly. There is a glamorous, 1951 black and white photo by Willy Maywald, of a woman in yards and yards of Christian Dior skirt. My soul is still a little bruised, after recent tempests. I hang up my beloved National Gallery print of Verrocchio’s Tobias and the Angel. I need the Renaissance sense of peace for my mind. Also, a print I bought at Villa Farnesina, in Rome, three years ago, but which has remained rolled up until now. Sodoma’s depiction of Alexander’s wedding to Roxane. I need the Baroque lusciousness as a balm for my heart.
Out of a box stuffed with shredded paper, I pull out another old friend. A papier mâché Venetian Commedia mask, half gold leaf and half colourful Harlequin, complete with oversized nose.
Finally, with care, I unwrap another treasure I have not seen for many years. Something I bought in Murano, from an artisan glass blower. A small glass unicorn. Transparent, with swirls of cyan blue flowing through its body.
I place the unicorn on the shelf of one of the sturdy bookshelves. Right next to my collection of world fairy tales.
This is a room for dreaming, planning and building.