It starts with a new city, the next stage of life and an empty flat in Portsmouth. The aim was to furnish the flat while spending as little as possible; a task which has involved a sprinkling of luck, a soupçon of skill and a large dollop of time. After looking through the usual second-hand websites in the build up to the move, a realisation struck me. My brother Henry had recently helped a neighbour move an extremely heavy sofabed out of their house and into the garage for storage (cue light bulb).
The shutter folded up slowly and the dust-sheets cast were off. In the dim light of Geoff and Emma’s garage, a beautiful cream three-seater sofabed was revealed, with large red cushions and a sprung fold out section. Though it clearly would have fetched a reasonable price on E-bay, they hadn’t sold it. It had belonged to Emma’s mother, and they were putting off dealing with it out of the fear of selling to someone unknowing of its sentimental value. Emma’s mother and my girlfriend share the connection of being Irish, which gave Emma peace of mind to be letting her mother’s furniture go. Blown away by the neighbours’ generosity, a table and chairs was thrown in for next to nothing.
When Henry lugged that sofa the first time he had no idea that two weeks later he would be helping me hoist it up two flights of stairs, only just around the corner and barely squeezing through the doorway into the new flat. We put dad’s coffee table by the sofa and I assembled my old bed, which used to belong to my older brother Tom.
A bed, a sofa, a table and chairs and a coffee table. Along with a horde of cardboard boxes, this comprised the contents of the flat for a while. But books don’t live in a box, just as shoes in a heap are an eye-sore. It is quite possible that half of the independent shops in Southsea are pine furniture shops and it would be easy enough to spend £50 on a book shelf. However, with the cost of moving already draining the bank account, I decided to buy instead a hammer, a saw, a box of nails and a tube of wood glue. Having that morning acquired four undamaged pallets from a builder on our street, I began my quest to furnish the place using free materials at minimal cost.
After the bookshelf, I made shoe and towel racks with the same design, using the existing spacing of the pallet’s planks to determine the width of the shelf.
The drill was a present from Dad, and is now my most treasured possession.
Now that I have a drill and a few sharp chisels (also from dad), I increasingly find myself wandering around builders’ merchants and hardware stores. Strolling through the isles of screws and sandpaper, engulfed by intoxicating material smells of wood and spirits, I reminisce about working on my parent’s house with dad – building pizza ovens and plumbing bathrooms; rendering, plastering, pointing – each job requiring the employment of a specific tool. The variety of materials, fittings and paints on offer opens up seemingly endless possibilities, stoking the excitement of starting a new project.