Our house has three floors. The top belongs to the kids: its their empire. The bottom belongs to the world. On the middle, not too far up, not too far down, just right: that is where the Middle Sitting Room is situated.
When my mother-in-law had this house, it was her sumptous, down-filled bedroom, rosy, warm and welcoming. She had a chair by one of the huge windows and would sit, cross stitching, watching the world go by, which it does quite a lot beneath that window.
It came time for us to swap houses: she to the white-clapboard-detatched number down the road, us into this huge Swedish behemoth of a house, sitting rather like one of Tolkein’s Ents on the edge of the forest.
The high-celilinged rooms and huge windows delighted our family, because we are tall, and we bump our heads in small houses.
The allotting of rooms was down to me. And I write in a slightly shamefaced fashion here, because this is where I admit I gave myself the best room to write in.
The Middle Sitting Room is so-called because with my socialist tendencies, I wasn’t going to have it called Mummy’s study. We are all equal, me and Phil and the kids: it’s just that I am a bit more equal than them.
But as so often happens in my life, words come back to kick me in the bottom.
It’s the Middle Sitting Room. Therefore, as its name implies, it is deeply communal. My family reasons that everyone lives there.
In Quiet Time- a 40 minute early afternoon sanity break- the kids migrate there for their rest, and I find sundry toys, both scattered and hidden, when I return later to write.
When my sister’s three arrive for play, anything mobile- literally anything the kids can move- is relocated to create the most epic Camp. And while they always help to put it away, junior helping usually turns out to be more of a hindrance, and just another social skills lesson.
The ironing board and my Vesuvian washing pile lurk sulkily in the corner, and the first portion of every day is spent with the board up in the corner, dressing the family.
Occasionally I pop in early to grab something and find Phil, engaging in a tricky exercise entitled Trying Not To Look At This Unholy Mess While I Iron A Shirt.
I usually smile beatifically and exit with all speed.
Even the dog is in on the act. A pile of blankets and cushions nestles between the end of the sofa and the window wall. He has mastered the art of perching on top, wavering precariously.
This is not the ideal position for a boundary-conscious terrier, and if the window is open it can result in a highly stressful writing environment.
How is it he is so deaf to calls in the forest, yet he can hear the softest footfall of an approaching postman?
His bark is explosive, and it is usually preceeded by a low rumbling warning. So writing can often proceed a sentence at a time, after which he rumbles, I warn, he lapses into sceptical silence. You can’t fool me, he’s saying, I know they’re out there.
The windows are fabulous. You can open the whole frame inwards into the room, and simply write watching the placid surburban life ticking away below. The room faces west and captures flame-red sunsets over gracious landscaping.
Once I left a window by the dog’s lair open by mistake as I went to a friend’s for coffee. I returned to find the dog, raised on his sofa-dais, doing a passable impression of Mussolini at his balcony, giving forth to the bemused children and adults who congregate on the green outside.
On a Friday and Saturday the children get an extra treat: they sleep on the sofa-bed in the Middle Sitting Room. They watch the ancient video and television. They eat popcorn.
It’s a recipe for visual chaos, and my beleaguered husband has a policy of simply not visiting the bedroom for 48 hours until it all just goes away.
And my desk sits here, in this corner. I may employ my dustbin bag policy soon. If I haven’t looked at that piece of paper for six months, I don’t need it now, just chuck it.
But don’t you always find you need that very piece a week later?
This is not by any stretch of the imagination Mummy’s study. The door is never closed, except when the dog’s in there because we have someone round to play.
Its idiosyncratic identity – the Middle Sitting Room- says it all. It’s in the middle, and people just mill around there, doing their thing. But it’s the closest thing I have to My Own.
Serves me right for trying to bag the best room.