Last Night. The garden looked lovely, all lush and green and ever so slightly blousy, not unlike myself this morning.
Youngest daughter set the table, and by the end of the evening, the candles - which I had to insist she place on the table against tough resistance (they don't match, she protested) - were flickering; the only pinprick of gliterring colour in an otherwise black night - and it was one of those biblical, sixth-day moments where you, sit back after creating the universe (rising at dawn to re-gel gelly, rushing home from work to debone fish, washing dishes that haven't been out of a drawer since the beginning of time, and dashing to the supermarket to buy another 30 quid's worth of last minute essentials in your coffee break) and think: My world. Exactly as I see it in my mind, for one day a decade. Kids flittering around with their boyfriends and girlfriends. The girls looking beautiful. The dishes enjoying their freedom from the rack, colourful and Good Housekeepingly styled, the garden blooming, the evening balmy. People - friends I shall call them, just to make the evening perfect - chatting and happy, glasses chinking. If the happy police were doing their rounds they would have walked on past, satisfied. And I'm laughing in the middle of it - me and my article on Loneliness - as if it's all faintly ridiculous, or I made it up for the money, the vast sums of money to be earned from baring your soul in the Guardian. Nobody believes it. You're surrounded by people - all those lovely children... And us, they say.
One of the guests, a very confident and strong woman saying how lovely it is to be in the house by herself... That again. The potent pleasure of time to yourself when you don't have enough of it, when it's a pleasant change from the otherwise continual demands of family and professional life. Enjoying and empty house is the privilege and boast of those continually accompanied. It is not so pleasurable when the house is always empty, always, day after day, and the only thing that greets you is a cat, who only loves you for your opposable thumbs, but which affection, nevertheless, you take gratefully, because it's miaou, miaou or nothing but tick - tick - tick of the clock that has been running slow since September like you, which nobody's bothered to fix, because nobody is just you and you've got used to being two hours and thirty odd minutes behind. You're the clock fixer, the garbage taker outer, the lawn mower, the window washer, the bed maker, the everything - the supreme being in the lonely planet of Alone. And you sort of congratulate god for bothering, really, with six days of slog to create the oceans and the mountains, because after a little while of being by yourself in the house, you give up I haven't made my bed since 2009 - except on sheet changing days. I don't really hang up my clothes so much - I just drape them on the doors, which I don't bother to shut, and then do a blitz once a week. Some places - like the sitting room where nobody, least of all me, ever sits for nine months of the year are arranged and tidy - because I don't use them, don't go into them, and let the dust muffle the echo. The domestic equivalent of - say - Yellowstone... Pristine wilderness. Without the bears. No - other things stalk me in there - other things like pictures and books and furniture, bought by my ex husband, that I seem to be curating.
Anyway, I make jokes. I'm good at that. I laugh at myself. I'm good at that too. I could do stand up - I don't mind being a figure of fun, because if you don't laugh at some things you curl up in the corner and cry. It can't always be a lovely summer evening, with your children around you, and random people that you don't know very well, drafted in to bolster you. In a couple of months, the kids will be gone. Already, this morning, one is shooting off to Oxford, back to her real life, in a few weeks one of the girlfriends is returning to Brazil, to her own mother. I just borrowed her for a while. And the dishes won't come out for another year or two. But, nevertheless, it looked gorgeous, it was fun - and the family especially wonderful.