I am hanging Mother’s paintings and pictures in my study. The study smells of drying paint and I have a headache. I am not sure if the ache is because of the paint’s volatile organic compounds or because I cannot hang a single painting straight.
I am frustrated because I’m not even winging it like I normally do with household chores. I have done some preparation. I have watched a Wickes DIY video on how to hang pictures (twice) and bought a new tape measure, plugs, picture wire and a hammer. I’ve put a pencil behind my ear like a DIY guru, in the hope that by living the part like a Method actor, I’ll be able to get the pictures up fast and efficiently. But after four hours only three mall pictures are on the wall.
‘You’re not a natural at this DIY thing, are you?’ says my Wife from the doorway. ‘It all looks a little random.’
She’s right. There’s no rhyme or reason to the way the pictures are hanging.
‘I didn’t want it to look formal like an exhibition,’ I say lamely.
I am hanging Mother’s pictures in my study because she moves in next week and my man cave is becoming her bedroom. She has called time on solo living. It is the end of hesitation and the start of something new, though none of us is quite sure what.
Many of the photographs are from a shared past: departed aunts, uncles and godparents. Others are of unknown people who played a part in her life which I can only guess at. They are from an age when men wore dinner jackets and women smoked through cigarette holders clasped in gloved hands.
‘Cigarette holders came in different lengths for different situations. One for the theatre, one for dinner and so on. It was a more elegant age,’ she says pointing at a photograph of my father lighting a cigarette for her. They are at a party in a place she can no longer remember.
The study walls are too small to curate her entire life, of course. Tough choices have to be made. How many pictures to hang of the grandchildren versus husband? Is a photograph of our wedding day necessary when there are so many elsewhere in the house? Making these choices is stressful for her but she’s passed the decisions to me and I feel more like an ignorant museum curator than a caring son.
Choosing the pictures for her bedroom is a small challenge compared to the sorting the rest of her possessions. We have agreed a plan to sort things into three groups: Keep, Donate or Dump. But she keeps redefining the categories or re-allocating things between them. Overnight one pile grows, another shrinks. It’s a border without customs controls.
I’ve booked a small van to bring her stuff over in two days. At this rate, I’ll need to hire a lorry instead. The whole house will be full of her stuff and tip from a shared home into a Museum for Mother. I wonder if the British Museum have a video, which could help me?