21 FEBRUARY 1987, Page 42

Home life

Curate's eggs

Alice Thomas Ellis

Just before I woke up this morning I was thinking in my sleep. What I was thinking was that February is like a strip of damp drugget laid in a narrow aisle, and one is oneself like a hard-boiled egg being pushed along by the toe of the curate. Someone awakened me with a cup of tea in time for me to grab the edges of this curious reflection and scrutinise it closely. Dis- count the Freudian connotations. What it means is that February is a nothing month, a means only to arriving in a (we hope) more clement season. The altar of May, we could say if we wished to wax poetic. I don't know what the curate was doing there, except that somewhere in the En- glish unconscious the curate and the egg are inseparable. I wish I could remember all my dreams. Some of them are much more interesting than waking home life, and I could have sat before a sheet of blank white paper all day before I conceived of myself as a hard-boiled egg.

Home life at present is rather dull. Three of the sons are away, the boa constrictor has gone back to the pet shop until her owner returns because I was not prepared to give her her dinner or clean up her tank, Janet has the influenza, the daughter is here only at weekends, and that leaves Someone, the eldest son, two cats and me. And a lot of moths. I don't know why I said dull'. The absence of all these people means I have no excuse for not spring- cleaning the entire house and squirting moth-killer in every neglected corner. The fact that I would rather die than do this is immaterial. Tidying up is not dull. Ex- hausting, depressing, and frequently heart- breaking as one comes across the belong- ings of the dead, but it is never dull. Janet says throwing things away is very reward- ing but I don't find it so. The minute I consign something to the dustbin I find an urgent need for it. On the other hand when the place is actually overflowing with junk, steps have to be taken. There are areas in this house where it is impossible to take a step at all, unless it is upwards to the top of a pile of books. Alfie is going to have to be very firm and chuck things out without telling me. There is absolutely no need for me to retain the three discoloured 30-year- old dress shirts and Someone's outgrown tennis shorts which came to light the other day at the bottom of a drawer. No, I tell myself, the V&A doesn't want them. Nobody wants them. Nor the candlewick counterpane with a big hole in it. And there is no reason for me to keep the decayed red canvas sandals that I was once so fond of. They have gone crispy and are now unwearable. The lidless teapot is useless. I am never going to find a lid to fit n, or use it to grow bulbs in, and the poor don't need it any more than I do. Nor does anyone want the 50 odd socks tied in a bundle behind the washing machine. Nor the Mary Quant riding mac which has also gone crispy and keeps out not one solitary drop of rain. I am never going to tear out and use the blank pages in the children's old schoolbooks, and I don't need out- dated telephone directories to light fires. We only light the fire on high days and holidays, and there are always piles of newspapers two feet deep which serve the Purpose perfectly well. I must persuade Someone to sling out the million ties which he never wears — no, hang on: they could perhaps be used to mend the Victorian patchwork quilt which has some patches missing. Is this a sensible, thrifty idea or merely an extension of the neurosis?

The one thing we are short of here is ashtrays. Someone uses pudding bowls for his cigar ends, which I find annoying. Alfie's brother-in-law, who was a Wapping striker for ages, has given me his favourite one because it bears an image of my church in Wales. I am not altogether cognisant of the rights and wrongs of the dispute but, as Alfie says, not all the strikers were brick- hurling monsters. His brother-in-law, for one, is an angel. Thank you, John. What- ever else gets thrown away, my Melangell ashtray will always retain pride of place. I once kept a hard-boiled, dyed Easter egg in Wales for four years but a desperate mouse ate it, together with a plastic bottle of Tipp-Ex.