When I lay awake in the amber-light of early morning trying to think of what to do with my life, my thoughts rarely fix on a practical occupation. I see myself as a manuscript illuminator rather than a office clerk, a lighthouse keeper rather than a warehouseman. The frustration of my nearest and dearest revolves around twin foci : there are few openings for illuminators of either the textual or the navigational type in the Brighouse district, and even if I could develop such skills they would be of little use around the house. As those close to me know - I am not what you would call "handy". I come from a long line of engineers, toolmakers, carpenters and blacksmiths, But I have inherited none of the accumulated manual dexterity of my forefathers. Timber warps in my presence : nails bend, paint drips, joints fail, cables collapse and tiles rebel against the very grout that binds them together. So for me to pick up a hammer or wield a paintbrush is indicative of either a domestic crisis or a significant bout of boredom.
The backstory of my balcony is reminiscent of a Steven King novel. It's a bit spooky. Adjacent to my office there is a balcony which overlooks the garden and - having a southern aspect - catches the sun. In the winter, it is used by the rabbit as an exercise yard. In the summer I always fancy myself laying out there on one of those steamer chairs : glass of cold beer close to hand and a fall-asleep paperback open on snoozing chest. But the paint is peeling from the walls and the floor is toe deep in rabbit poo. So far I have commissioned two people to re-decorate the balcony. The first chap turned up with ladders and paint, sanded the woodwork down and then vanished off the face of the earth. He left his ladders and paint with us and his wife and children at home and was last heard of on an oil rig somewhere a long way away. Next I turned to the family. I won't mention names, it's not fair and anyway Dave knows who I mean. Contractor No 2 asked me to apply an undercoat myself - it would make the job quicker - and then failed to deliver a top coat. That was eighteen months ago. Today I decided enough was enough. It was time to take matters into my own hands. It was time to pick up a paint brush.
Two things caused me to change the habits of a lifetime. First, the sun came out. I could see myself in the steamer chair. I could feel the sun warming my blood. Second, arrangements were finally concluded for the first ever real-time gathering of the various News From Nowhere contributors. This will take place on Saturday and I suddenly fancied the idea of a cocktail party. I have only ever been to one cocktail party in my life and that was a thoroughly enjoyable affair. My ambition in life is now to host a cocktail party, in four days time, on the balcony next to my office. Thus I needed to start shovelling rabbit guano and painting walls.
I have to stress that this is merely an interim report. The job is but part-finished. The floor has been swept and the walls have been painted. However I have embarked on a major project of painting the very substantial rail that runs along the outside edge of the balcony. This, I have discovered, is not an easy task. Whilst the inner surfaces are comparatively easy to paint, the outer surfaces require me to hang precariously over the edge of the balcony. The gaps between the spindles can only be tacked by forcing my hand (and paintbrush) through the gaps rather like a monkey decorating the outside of his cage. There are 32 spindles to paint. So far I have managed 3. I will report back on progress.