17 AUGUST 1985, Page 36

Home life

Rainy-day blues

Alice Thomas Ellis

This is getting beyond a joke. I am plunged in the depths of Siberian melan- choly and so is everyone else. My friend Caroline and I have long sad telephone conversations about the difficulty of keep- ing a young person entertained in the hols in the rain and the likelihood of nuclear war. I have the additional problem of getting the clothes dry since even when I haven't washed them they are soaked by the relentless downpours. Nor can I use the airing cupboard as Cadders has seques- tered it. He eases it open with his massive paw and makes himself comfortable on the blankets. We have attempted to discourage him but short of putting a padlock on the door there is little we can do. He is determined and crafty and must be the best-aired cat in the world.

Between the weather and the news — I just listened to it and it isn't good — life is something of a burden at the moment. A number of delightful people have been to stay and kindly helped to amuse the daughter by playing dirty-word Scrabble with her, but I can't help feeling they don't Come all the way to the country in order to do that so I feel guilty as well as demented. I can't wash their sheets either because they have to be dried indoors and this causes the place to resemble a boy-scout encampment and depresses us further. My grandfather shot himself. I wonder if it was raining at the time.

I have decided in any event not to watch television until things start looking up. I have seen an imaginative reconstruction of the after-effects of a nuclear strike and it rather resembled the present scene here untidiness, discomfort and general de- spondency — and I have watched on the news programmes such evidence of man's Inhumanity to man and anything else that moves that I feel inclined to lay claim to descent from the sort of apes who didn't turn into us. Nor is the wireless particularly cheerful at the moment. It brings news of a coach crash, a plane crash, a bombing, several people lost at sea, a gale warning and three traffic jams. I think I'll let the batteries run out.

The only thing that has made me laugh recently is a picture in the paper of some `fashionable designs for women deacons'. A thin girl with an irritating hairstyle and an ineffably silly smirk is shown posed with her hands clasped religiously beneath her bosom and a dog-collar round her neck. In one full-length portrait she wears a long frock, an even more maddening expression and a rope round her waist, and in another she is clad in an 'Old English surplice' with `angelwing' sleeves. She is clutching what I take to be a hymn book and has her mouth open. The C of E is frequently quite funny and I find myself wondering, in view of his rather negligent attitude towards females, what the founder of this institution would have made of the present developments. I somehow don't think he'd have been amused.

I am becoming obsessed with the subject of clothes. The Aga is constantly draped with socks and frocks, and shirts and skirts, and knickers; and steam, fragrant with detergent powder, rises to the rafters. The other things I mustn't watch on telly are the soap ads, as they always irritate me and at the moment I believe I should go berserk if I had to listen to some lady wondering at the degree of the whiteness of her whites. I don't care if my whites are white or a rich grey. I just want them dry. Part of the trouble arises from the daugh- ter's habit of changing clothes about seven times a day according to which persona she has chosen to adopt. If she's being a Mother we have baby doll clothes to contend with as well, and if she's being a Lady from the Olden Days she wears mine. Having nothing else to do, I fall to specu- lating on why it is that children live so much in fantasy, and I have come to the conclusion that it is because they are not permitted to do anything else. They have no power except for lung power which, admittedly, cannot be lightly disregarded, and no money or fast cars or drink or fags; they do not yet see the point of reading Propertius or making lace, so they pretend to be someone else, and I'm beginning to think they're on to something since I am getting no fun at present out of being me. It is boring washing floors and baking potatoes; my nails are split from raking through the coals and scouring pans and I have just frizzled my fringe because I ran out of matches and lit a cigarette with a length of newspaper flaming from the Aga fire door. I think I'll be Katharine Hep- burn for a while, since I'm wearing trousers and a man's shirt, and then this evening if I don't feel in a better mood I'm going to revert to type and be Countess Bathory.