Five years ago, D and I moved into this, the first home we could properly call our own. I was pregnant with Austin; the house was a bit of a state, after having been rented out to short-term tenants for the best part of ten years. (Bits of it still need attention. Doesn’t it take aaaages to get round to any home improvements, when you have two children under the age of five?)
The bathroom was the first place we tackled. And, to help us, our kind-hearted friend Tam, a fine-artist-turned-builder-craftsman, offered to convert one bedroom into the bathroom of our dreams.
Tam knows how to add features that bring out the character of a place, and of the people who live in it. As well as coming up with the idea of an illuminated shelf above the toilet cistern, he talked us through the pros and cons of our different design ideas. We ended up with a cast-iron rolltop bath that was large enough to house both of my baby bumps (with room to spare); and a shower cubicle into which you could just about cram two baby giraffes.
Propped up by some of my lotions and potions, is a picture of one of Austin’s very first bathtimes (and yes, we did bathe him in a washing-up bowl. We stopped short at using a scrubbing brush, though….)This shot was taken from inside a condemned Council building in Elephant and Castle. Our good friend Rupert (who, just before D and I got together after a skiing holiday, was my confidante about how much I fancied this man) gave it to us as a present, on one of our anniversaries.
I picked up the vintage Pears tin plate on a Christmas shopping expedition to the South Bank. The heart is cut from slate formed in Wales (where I grew up), and was given to me by an old family friend one Christmas. I bought the bowl in a small local gift shop; the shells inside are from Deal, where D and I went for our last day out to the seaside as a twosome, in the late summer of my pregnancy with Austin.
And finally: the books. The Michael O’Brien/Tom Waits volume featuring shots of homeless people, and David Shrigley’s Red Book, were presents from me to D. The Ivor Cutlers are from his youth. Europe Without Walls and Make Your Own Damn Art were given to me by old University friends. I’ve only ever skimmed through the Tate magazines, but I can’t bear to throw them out. They are sent out to members of the Tate, and remind me of those days pre-children, when I had the time and freedom to make regular visits to one of the best museums in the country.
So, there you have it. Our bathroom shelf, spinning a yarn about our past and present.
There’s a footnote to the story of this shelf. While Tam was building the bathroom – at a cost much less than even mates’ rates, with energy and input well above what you normally expect from craftsmen – there was a hiccup in the proceedings. On a few occasions, Tam turned up late; there was even a day or two where he didn’t show up at all. We found out that the reason for these slips was his meeting a beautiful woman named Poppy, and falling in love.
This, of course, all takes a bit of time. Who wants to be installing the plumbing when you could be staring into the eyes of your new-found beloved?
Tam and Poppy now have a gorgeous toddler, and were married a couple of weeks ago. They held one of the most splendid of wedding receptions I’ve ever been to, in a warehouse in south London.
Let’s hear it for love. And for light-up bathroom shelves.