I've been wielding mops and sponges and hoovers and wire wool and sugar water with a verve I usually reserve for talking. It's the great Zen of housework: repetitive action soothes frazzled nerves. I find a burnt bit on the stove and scrape it with the zeal of a recent religious convert; I lean out of windows in blizzards rubbing at the residue of traffic fumes on the panes; cupboards have spilt their secrets and filled bin-liners. I have even started baking. Bread is great for anger: as you pound the dough, you can project the sinner's face upon it. This, I'm sure, is how housewives stopped themselves dismembering their families in the days before soap opera.
The trouble is, once you start it's hard to stop. The more chaotic your emotional life, the more control you want to exert over your environment. When I'm contented, I can happily lounge in a heap of old coffee mugs; right now, one glass put back in the wrong place brings me out in hives. I filled most of a day stacking the videos in their proper order, straightening pictures, fishing bits of paper from under the sofa, battering the hell out of rugs and generally fluffing upholstery. It then occurred to me that the only thing that would make the place look halfway habitable was if the walls were yellow. Hell, it was an excuse to pull all the furniture about. I flung on a coat and leapt on the bus.
My local paint shop is one of those huge warehouses with an in-house cafe where the really sad can while away their day. It is full of couples with outsize shopping trolleys into which they have stuck a pair of eight- foot curtain poles as their first item. The Muzak-laden air is regularly rent by crashes as another one catches on a pyramid display and levels it. And this time - something I've never noticed before - the place was also full of people who were up to no good.
In tools, I squeezed past a man who was trying the staple guns out for size. He had that haunted look of someone who is choosing weaponry for the coming holocaust. He glanced briefly at me and opened a box of extra- long staples. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I moved on. Three mass-murderers in V-necked sweaters balanced hammers in their right hands, testing their weight. A middle-aged woman revved the motor on a hand-drill and grinned maniacally. I shrugged into my collar and slunk on towards paints.
Which lay through garden accessories. A youth with brushed-forward hair and overalls stacked mulching forks in neat rows. I brushed against him as I passed and muttered an apology. He looked slowly up and smiled. It was the smile of the banjo player in Deliverance: inbred, toothless, psychotic. His eyes followed me down the aisle, obviously planning where to send his brothers with their shotguns. At last I saw my destination: an oasis of normality in a dangerous world. Or so I thought.
Two couples were there before me. Both sets wore overcoats. One pair stood in front of pots of pure brilliant white. "Do we want it in sheen or silk?" she asked. "Well, I don't know, you decide. Just don't take all day about it, OK?" "I thought you said you wanted to help decide. It's your bedroom too, you know. Shall we pick a border while we're here? Would you like a border?" "Christ." He was gazing back at tools. "Have you seen the size of those saws?
Before the colour card display, the other couple were engaged in debate over a series of dirty browns. "I don't know," she was saying. "Maybe pantechnicon, with quicksand in the alcoves." "No." He scratched at an imaginary stain on his coat sleeve. "I think sorcery would be better in the alcoves. It's pinker. And perhaps this one" - he indicated a dirty tan - "aerobics. That would be lighter on the walls." "Hey!" she said, waving a card of sulphurous greens, "What about brimstone?"
I leaned round the side of them and helped myself to cards of yellows. For the first time in my life I realised there is no such thing as yellow: there's somersault, Guy Fawkes, tambourine, party day, October glo, Aztec gold, yellow rice, bright sun, new daffodil, golden vista, salute, little miss, jubilee, beachball, procession and stonecrop. I became paralysed: this was my first experience of synaesthesia. Could I cover my living room in something called Charlie Girl and not be plagued by images of Sixties models with swinging handbags? If I opted for the jolly pink of Scaramouch, would Freddie Mercury's voice ring constantly in my ears? Why do paint companies do this? What's wrong with a simple Y037?
The couple next to me were still negotiating. "What about slurry," she was saying, "with night soil woodwork?" "Well," he replied, "I'm getting keener and keener on My Little Pony with sea slug." I decided to ask for help. Leant across. "Which of these two yellows d'you prefer?" I asked her. She took the cards and thought. "I'd go for frenzy if I were you," she said. "It's such a brilliant name." Then she smiled at me with her clear blue eyes, and I fledReuse content