Yesterday a tug-of-love in the Collier family was finally, or probably finally, resolved. The central character in the saga is a dour, antique two-piece wooden cupboard with glass-fronted top that we brought in 1980. It cost £3.50 and was spotted by my wife at a sale of furniture and other unwanted paraphernalia when the Hyde Park Corner site of the old St George’s Hospital was closing down.
The cupboard, which is taller than me and would be just wide enough to sleep in, had been used to store chemicals in one of the hospital’s laboratories. Apart from its size, what particularly appealed to my wife was its sloping top designed by the Victorians to allow for easy dusting.
She has loved it ever since it arrived and has resisted every attempt by me, the third person in this story, to sell it, burn it or lose it by whatever means possible. As is obvious, I have never liked it. Apart from being ugly, cumbersome and too deep to find things in, it has a very pungent smell. Somehow, the reagents it housed in its heyday spilled out and permeated the wood. Whatever the cause, close up, its acrid chemical bouquet is pervasive.
The final person in the pantomime is my youngest son, Oliver. It happens to belong to him and he wants it back, which is difficult because he lives in London and for ten years now the cupboard has lived in Brittany. Moving it back across the channel would have always been costly and now even more so.
I said there had been some resolution, by that I mean that after years of separation, once again its top half is sitting back on its bottom half, and it is no longer in my face and occupying otherwise wanted space. Sitting at the back of our newly-built garage is, indeed, ideal.
But its route to the said Brittany garage has been circuitous. When it first arrived it lived in our large house in Shepherd’s Bush where, despite its enormity, it could be lost. There it contained family books in the top and games below. Soon after, because it had locking doors, and in response to the challenge of television addiction, it was where we stored the TV. It also contained, linked up with the screen, our first ZX-Spectrum which Rohan and the children operated from the floor. Like the curtains at a theatre the lower doors would open for limited viewing; the hole I drilled in its back to take the flex is a reminder. Later the cupboard moved with us to our even larger house in Richmond where the TV plus computer was replaced by photograph albums.
When we downsized it went off to a storage container where it remained for several years en route for Oliver’s future house – whenever that might be. The trouble was that the removal company had stored it in the wrong container and two years later it was delivered to our newly bought cottage in France. Here it was far too big for the main house, but in its component parts it just fitted into the earth-floored, one time pigsty, where it became the home for spiders and mice. The pigsty was then converted into a bedroom and the two sections were moved to dominate a small garden shed. With its spiders, it became an occupying force leaving only cramped space for the lawn mower, roller, deck chairs, bicycles and the like.
Then, last week, I tidied out the shed and with Oliver’s brother carried the said cupboard down to our newly-built garage. That final 50 metre journey, winding down a little hill, across a lawn and down a path, was memorable. First, at times our noses were pressed close up to the wood and those lingering smells of its biochemical past were inescapable. Second, the job was nearly back-breaking. Each section weighs around 70kg and, as I took the last strides and lifted its top half into place, I felt a tingle in my right foot – something was being tweaked in the sciatic nerve at the base of my back. Two ibuprofen tablets and a warm bath later all was well but the cupboard and my long-term adversary nearly had the last say.
Soon my bugbear will be rightly filled with new insects plus garage and garden oddments. But at the moment, on Day One of 2013 it looks just fine, it is out of the way and everyone is happy. And by the way, despite its size there is still room in the garage for the car – I just checked!