Anna Donald starts unpacking

Anna DonaldWe moved. We are now living between piles of boxes and unpacked, random items: spoons; piles of sports socks; a wooden statue made from a tree in Oxford; the iron; a huge Herend teapot.

The first day was totally chaotic. It took me an hour to get dressed. I put on my socks. Then realised I had no idea where a shirt, trousers, or indeed any useful item of clothing might be. I hopped about the boxes and suitcases, freezing cold (it is mid-winter here), trying to locate anything wearable. Stuffed toys, ink cartridges, garbage bags and sleeping bags (all of which I managed to find before I found a shirt) didn’t count.

I finally managed to assemble a hodge-podge of tops and bottoms, which I camouflaged with a large coat. I was late for an appointment with the pathetic and true excuse that I couldn’t find my shoes, which my strange attire at least made credible.

Anyway, we’re installed, sort of, and can start to settle down in our new home. The apartment was built in the 1930s and has a late Deco feel with a touch of Arts and Crafts. It has immensely high ceilings (not helping the freezing-to-death situation), pretty architraves, rather whimsical etched and stain glass features all over the place, and wooden carvings in the stairway plinths outside. In short, it’s pretty, a bit creaky, and needs a lot of heating up. We like it, even though my husband and I are in the middle of World War III about a) where and what to hang on the numerous big walls b) how to arrange our 1500+ books and c) what to throw out.

My husband has a drawer of cricket balls, whiskey shot containers, sealing wax and the like, none of which he uses or even looks at, but which is a sort of shrine to boyhood or manhood (not sure which). I know I’ve got Buckley’s chance of getting him to throw out any of those items, but maybe I can get some movement on his great aunt’s first attempt at oil painting of an undiscernible floral object.

Not that I can talk. I have somehow managed to collect four containers of Mr Sheen (a product we don’t use), an unbelievable number of white tights (a colour I never wear) and my grandmother’s horrendous Royal Doulton tea-set: cream with pink orchids and a black rim, because some semi-royal person had died that year. My mother managed to land it on me by sending it without my consent to England. I stupidly shipped it back (meaning it has circumnavigated the globe twice in its lifetime) and now have no idea what to do with it. Absolutely no one wants it and I don’t quite have the heart to throw it away.

The books are a bigger problem. We both love books and have far too many of them. But we have different ideas about what they represent and therefore how to manage them. My mother was a university librarian with a robust approach to purchasing, storing, and culling books. I think I imbibed her attitude. I can’t wait for the day when I can store, read, and organise my entire collection on an electronic device, like Amazon’s Kindle (only available in the US at the moment), and ditch the hard copies (with a few notable exceptions, like the Winnie the Pooh my parents bought the day I was born).

My husband, on the other hand, likes to have and to hold the books as precious objects. For him, they are more than just stories but totems: symbolic objects signifying intellectual endeavour and understanding of the human condition. So when I want to throw out the admittedly worthy paperbacks that a) we’ll never read again b) cost 50p second-hand and c) can be loaned from every library in Sydney, I am tearing him from the source of his being. Hence World War III. I know I should be more compassionate. I am doing my best to struggle with my inner librarian.

Another obstacle of sorts is the oral chemotherapy I’m taking. It has two anti-house-moving features. The worst, as with most forms of chemotherapy, is an insidious fatigue. It means that if you unpack boxes for a full (ie normal) day, you are completely shattered and need to sleep until midday the next day. In other words, there is no chance of whizzing through the boxes and getting things unpacked quickly. There is no chance of whizzing through anything.

The second is its drying and cracking the tips of your fingers and toes. At present, the toes aren’t a problem. But the cuts in my fingers make touching anything surprisingly painful. (It brought to mind those rather gross medical maps of the body according to nerve-ending density, portraying homunculi with enormous tongues, genitals and finger tips.) To make matters slightly worse, the cuts in my fingers keep opening up and bleeding on whatever I’m handling. This is annoying, as little streaks of blood are a pest to remove and I’ve already stained several documents and books. So far, diclofenac cream and a stream of small bandages have helped but not eliminated the problem. I tried wearing a clear rubber, medical glove on my right hand. Which worked quite well until some friends came over when I forgot I was still wearing it. It wasn’t a good look.

My geriatric speed means that it’ll be weeks before we can get dressed, make dinner, or welcome guests without omitting something critical. But we’re delighted to have a home at last. And to having such lovely encouragement from all quarters, including readers of this blog.

Anna Donald Blog 13, 27 July 2008