We recently had our kitchen done up. It was a freebie from our housing association which we just could turn down. Or as someone else might have put it, "an offer we couldn't refuse." The freebie, however, meant that I could not join my wife and daughter on our much-longed-for holiday in the Caribbean. My son and I stayed behind to ensure the work got done properly.
On the first evening, after the contractors had finished ripping out all the kitchen units and cupboards, taken out the floor and gone home for the day I stood in this temporarily-empty, dusty space. This is the same space in which I had stood and sat down for more than ten years with pots, pans, plates and cutlery around me. Yet, I suddenly felt swept away by the power of the echo of my voice bouncing off the kitchen walls. I also felt exposed. The bareness of our soon-to-be new kitchen had both an eerie and hypnotic effect on me. My voice sounded louder than usual and this made me self-conscious, a trait I am not aware of possessing in great doses.
I realised that this absence of furniture was more than the mere replacement of a set of units for another. To me this moment meant the instant realisation that to be human is also to hear your real voice bouncing off the walls and coming back to you. It is being you, the real you. The bare kitchen with its un-plastered walls, wires hanging out and bomb-hit look, made me think of how we “dress up” our voices as we grow up, sometimes inadvertently, hiding our real ones.
There is nothing like a window with no blinds on (we asked the contractors to chuck them away as we were buying new ones) to make you confront the outside world. Especially when the new lamp is one of the brightest ones you have ever seen in your life and you can’t see out. You are being seen but cannot return the favour fully. All this made me think of the various layers we use to cover (disguise?) our voices, in the same way that we buy a kettle, a toaster, a smoothie-maker and a microwave to match the colour on the walls of our kitchens. I know my voice is the tool through which I let the outside world know the assumptions, the platitudes and misconceptions my brain churns out. I also know that that might not be the real me all of the time. Through the blinds-free window I was being exposed in a manner I had not considered before. Plus, I also felt as if I was not in control of this transaction: audience outside my house vs actor under bright, fluorescent lamp. It was the monologue I had never prepared for and which I had no intention of delivering.
For the duration of the work in the kitchen I avoided the room at night. Tough action to take as my CDs and other belongings were in our “office”. Still, I moved as much stuff from our office to my bedroom as I could. Nevertheless, there was still a strong attraction in me towards the kitchen in the same way that the main character of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart must have had towards the man he kills. I have never been convinced that Poe’s creation hated the old man completely. I always thought the short story was a metaphor for that which lives within us and yet we cannot name. Sometimes it takes an eye – and the imaginary threat it poses to us – to awaken our most primitive reactions, some others is the dismantling of a whole kitchen. You might see this whole scenario as nothing but flumadiddle but it did make sense to me then.
I was glad when the contractors began to furnish the room. The boiler came in first, then the electrics, then the floor, the cupboards, the surfaces and the sink. By the time my wife returned from Barbados, there was just the handyman to pop in and apply the final touches. The day the project manager and supervisor came to carry out the inspection, I was pleased to see that my voice had got back to the level it was before. A voice that was all “dressed up” and ready to go.
Next Post: “Urban Diary””, to be published on Wednesday 23rd September at 6pm (GMT)