The Story of My Shelves.

‘Where are we going on our holidays?’ asked the Small Girl, for the umpteenth time.
‘We are going to Sofa,’ replied Teenage Daughter with admirable resignation.

You see, following last year’s fiasco (matchbox chalet teetering over a cliff in driving rain), I determined that the family’s holiday budget would, instead, be spent on a blue velvet sofa. Yes, I do feel guilty. Not very, but a bit. In fairness, with some teasing, the holiday budget stretched to a sofa, a chair, two rugs and SEVENTY-SIX (!) shelves.

I put a post on Instagram back a bit. This picture:

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With these words:

When Husband first came to call on me in my college bedsit my fledgling book collection was lined up on a lovely marble mantelpiece. To his dismay, my microbiology/biochemistry tomes were liable to topple over the edge at inopportune moments. ‘I should build you a book shelf,’ he said. I replied, in my head or maybe even out loud, ‘you’re the one.’

The One and I have a history with book shelves.

That first set of shelves was handsome. He built a tall space for my folders of lecture notes, a middle shelf for science books and two shelves that snugly accommodated my rapidly expanding collection of fiction…there were signs of things to come there.

He carried that bookcase on the bus to deliver it to my bedsit and I was certain then that no-one on Earth had ever loved me more.

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It was, let me think, nine years later that we moved into our first house, together with Toddler Boy and Baby Girl. We had just spent 12 weeks in Florida while Husband went through training for his new job. We were forced to cancel a week’s holiday in New York because of visa difficulties but we were happy enough to come home and pick up our very own house keys from the Auctioneer and use Husband’s holiday (clearly, I have form on this one) to build some bookshelves. We hadn’t a stick of furniture, you know. The in-laws donated an old garden table and two deck chairs so that we wouldn’t have to eat off the floor and still, my priority was the bookshelves.

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Husband was younger then, weren’t we all, and he banged up those shelves in a couple of days. We gave them a coat of gloss and took a day off while the paint dried.

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There was an abandoned summer house in Glandore, owned by Husband’s Godfather but not used, where we knew that there were trees laden with forgotten apples. We made peanut butter sandwiches for Toddler Boy (it was a phase) and filled a flask of coffee and drove our rusty banger down the road to West Cork. We were so happy, bubbling with joy. We were totally besotted with each other and with the children and so excited about decorating the house and so convinced that we could never want for more.

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We picked bags of apples, cookers and eaters, and then lay back on the grass and soaked up the golden light. It was an exceptionally golden day.

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The garden ran all the way down to a private beach and we were much taken by surprise when a naked man emerged from a gap in the hedge. Mind you, he was caught even more off-guard. We sheepishly explained our tenuous entitlement to have trespassed while he covered his assets and admitted he was the gardener. We parted with a mutual confidentiality agreement.

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Cast out of Paradise, we took a stroll through the village of Glandore. It’s a spectacularly beautiful place, a sheltered bay dotted with picturesque islands, handsome Georgian houses standing guard around the coast and a neat row of pubs holding the centre. You couldn’t find any place prettier on a sunny September afternoon which is why we had our wedding reception there.

(This next photo, by the way, is probably the best representation of the paint colour, it looks a bit, more than a bit, lurid in most of them.)

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As we passed an open pub door we overheard an odd sound, a collective gasp followed by a low groan. The sort of sound you might associate with a narrowly missed opportunity to score at football only with a sense of greater anguish. A man strode purposefully out the door as if looking for someone to tell:

‘A plane crashed into a building in New York.’

You know the rest.

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We drove home with the kids asleep in the back and the radio on. We were on the Clonakilty by-pass when the second tower fell. Funny the things you remember.

When we got home we set up the telly on a box of books (the shelves still weren’t dry) and sat on our two deckchairs and thanked God for visa difficulties.

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We moved into this house exactly ten years later. Through all the two-year-nightmare of purchasing, planning, demolishing, building and near bankruptcy I maintained my sanity by living mostly in my imagination.

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Officially, our planning permission was for an ‘extension’ but, in reality, we knocked everything except the front facade and this room. When there was nothing else, genuinely nothing at all, I sat in here with a flask and a bag of scones and built shelves in my head.

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We managed to have the floor put down before the budget ran dry. It was a basketball court in a previous life and came complete with all the lines and markings in yellow paint. Small Girl was six weeks old. I used to carry her in a sling when I came in here and mopped the floor of this otherwise empty room and I spun around and the imagined picture of those shelves got a little sharper in my head.

That painting, by the way, was a wedding gift from the godfather whose apples we stole.

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It has taken six years of imagining, eight if you count the nightmare two, but it’s done.

Seventy-six shelves.

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Yep, he’s the one.

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