Town Life: Victoria Summerley

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The Independent Online

September. back to school, back to work, back to the daily grind that had melted into such a delightfully relaxed routine in the summer heat. For so many of us, the year begins in September, not in spring. My mother, a lecturer, is still inclined to ask me, as holiday periods such as Christmas and Easter loom, when I am "breaking up" - despite the fact that I left full-time education more years ago than I care to remember. Perhaps it's the last-minute annual scamper to buy new pens or plimsolls, but the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness can be easily mistaken, especially by those of us with children, for the season of maths sets and yellow pencil-cases.

And if kitting the kids out hasn't already cost you a fortune, September is a dangerous month for the spendthrift home-maker. All those new catalogues that shimmy through the letterbox - Ocean, Oka and so on - will do their damnedest to persuade you that life will not be worth living unless you order a new velvet bedspread or a mohair throw or a set of perspex occasional tables, all in shades sneakily selected to make you salivate: mulberry, damson, mocha and chocolate.

I don't know about you, but there's a spooky correlation between the size of these catalogues, which get fatter and fatter each season, and the size of my overdraft, which, unfortunately, does likewise. So this September, I'm not having any of it. Christiane Rucker of The White Company, I don't care if your velvet bedspreads come in pebble, ivory, or solid gold plus 90-per-cent off, I am going to resist temptation. And this is how. I am going to indulge in literary makeovers.

The method is quite simple. You don't need to spend any money (assuming you're a member of a half-decent public library or have friends who like to lend and recommend books). Whenever you feel the urge to splurge on your own place, you go and read a book that involves some sort of domestic transformation.

Not of a real person's home, I hasten to point out. You'll be down Tottenham Court Road and buying a sofa in a trice. No, what I mean is fiction: a story that soothes those autumnal urges to tweak and rearrange. The L-Shaped Room is a good one: heroine spritzes up room, gets man. (OK, OK, sort of.) Another good one is The Wind in the Willows. (The chapter you want is "Dulce Domum". Don't read the first chapter if you're in the middle of spring-cleaning. Not unless you want to move in with a water rat in the next 24 hours. )

Alison Uttley's Little Grey Rabbit books, if you're lucky enough to find them on your children's bookshelves, are also wonderfully satisfying, especially for green-wellie wannabes, with their nostalgic foreword: "Of course you must understand that Grey Rabbit's home had no electric light or gas, and even the candles were made from pith of rushes dipped in wax from the wild bees' nests, which Squirrel found".

Even classic adventure stories, such as RM Ballantyne's The Coral Island, will do at a pinch: "Our first care, after breakfast, was to place the few articles we possessed in the crevice of a rock at the farther end of a small cave which we discovered near our encampment..." (from chapter six).

It's funny how many children's books involve descriptions of home- making - the Laura Ingalls Wilder series of Little House stories is a prime example (the books, not the TV version). But it's equally odd that these much-loved stories don't seem to have any lasting domestic impact on one's children - my daughter, brought up on Little Grey Rabbit and Little House on the Prairie, now seems to be a fan of Little Greying T-shirts All Over The Floor.

I find the technique works in reverse too. If you're suffering from faulty plumbing, a leaking roof, or any of the other disasters that seem to strike only with the onset of winter, go and read Dodie Smith's I Capture The Castle, which will a: put your dripping mixer tap into perspective and b: remind you that in times of domestic crisis, it may be a good move to get out of your gaff altogether and cadge dinner off a rich neighbour. Now that's what I call creative writing.

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