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U3A Writing: The Gift Of Tidiness

Untidy Julian meets Miranda and decides she's the girl he wants to spend the rest of his life with. But there is a problem. Miranda is so...untidy. Mary Cryer tells a neat tale.

There is no doubt that his Fairy Godmother was present at his christening. Julian grew up tall, fair and ruggedly handsome. He was a good athlete: could pass examinations with ease. though not even his worst enemy would have called him a swot. But then he didn’t have any enemies because, despite all his accomplishments and the charmed life he led, he was remarkably unaffected and self-effacing. Surely his Fairy Godmother must have slipped up somewhere? She had. Julian did not have a tidy gene in his body.

It didn’t matter much when he was little. Mother would say “Oh Julian, look what a mess you’ve made. Let’s put all the toys back in the box, shall we?” Or even at school: “Stafford, you odious boy. Clean up this mess immediately or you’ll miss Rugby practice.” Everyone thought he would grow tidier as he grew older. But he didn’t

The odd thing was that however chaotic the room looked after he had been in it for less than half an hour, he could always find what he wanted - his pen, or the watch he had flung off as he made his way to the bathroom for a shower. He never lost his lecture notes or his keys. It was as if his mind was neatly in order even though his belongings were not. His friends came to accept that a room occupied by Julian for any time whatsoever, looked as if a whirlwind had entered by the window and gone out by the chimney, leaving his personal belongings scattered: debris everywhere.

Julian was used to his parents’ admonitions and being shouted at for being untidy in class. Even at university his scout was always on to him. “Please sir, if you could be more careful sir, it would be a great help to the cleaners.”

Things didn’t change when he discovered girls. They were appalled when they saw his rooms and didn’t hesitate to say so. However Julian found his untidiness very useful. If the girl rushed round tutt-tutting too loudly, cleaning up diligently, he realised she was the wrong girl for him, and would move on. He didn’t take offence at a raised eyebrow or a sardonic comment. In fact he would have been somewhat surprised if there had been no such reaction.

Time passed, and in his late twenties Julian was living in a top floor flat in Peckham which was in easy distance of his office in the City and the delights of the West End. I wish I could say he was a reformed character. He had just met Miranda, who worked as a stage designer at the National Theatre, and had persuaded her to move in with him.

She had passed the test with honours. Only the faintest sign of a raised eyebrow, and the sniff he fancied he had heard could well have been caused by the cold she was getting over. Anyway, they had collected all her stuff that afternoon and he had been slightly alarmed by the amount of clothes and cooking utensils she brought with her. No doubt everything would fit in as it was a good sized flat after all.

Miranda was a delight. She was a joy to behold and he could spend hours propped up in bed watching her sleep, looking at the rounded curves of her body, the short curls framing her soft skin, the humorous turn of her lip and the tip tilted nose. He got out of bed and, ouch, he trod on something hard and prickly. It was her hair brush, bless her. He picked it up to put on the dressing table but there was no room, so he opened a drawer and stuffed it on top of a pile of underwear. As he opened the curtains and the sunlight half blinded him; he stepped gingerly over an open suitcase, coat hangers and various plastic bags on his way to the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

“Perhaps we ought to decide now which drawers are yours and which are mine,” he suggested tentatively as they supped their mugs of tea.

“Yes, of course. No hurry is there?”

Miranda proved the perfect flatmate for quite some time, and so he couldn’t say exactly when it hit him that the flat was even more of a tip than he remembered it. Seemingly so full of her stuff now that he had nowhere to put anything of his.

“I meant to wear my blue shirt today, but I can’t find it,” he said as he lifted the items she had dropped on the floor, avoiding others to reach his wardrobe where her clothes now had taken precedence over his.

“It must be somewhere,” said Miranda airily as she squeezed passed him on her way to the bathroom. “Try behind the kitchen door.”

“Kitchen door!” he muttered to himself. “What’s it doing in there?”

But so it was. He heard himself say, “We really must have a tidy up this evening when we get back from the theatre.”

“Right Ho,” carolled Miranda as she cleaned her teeth, grinning at her reflection in the mirror, before remembering to leave the cap off the toothpaste.

But, of course, they didn’t clean up as they were late, and bed was so much more inviting.

The next morning Julian propped himself up on his elbow, watching Miranda as she lazily opened one eye and smiled sleepily at him before shutting it firmly again. The room looked even worse than it had the night before and he came to the conclusion. SOMETHING WOULD HAVE TO BE DONE.

“Dearest Miranda,” he said to himself,“what a wonderful girl she is. Most women would be livid to be living in such a mess, but she never complains.” He smiled complacently until the realisation came to him that a large part of the mess was Miranda’s own. “Messy little madam, bless her,” his thoughts rambled on. “I wonder if I asked her if . . . ”

Miranda turned over, waking slightly as she did so, and it was imperative that he kissed her.

Having made up his mind Julian decided to act swiftly. That weekend he took her home to meet the parents at their house in Sussex. It went very well. He could see they liked Miranda and she fitted in easily. She was even quite tidy, he noticed, which pleased him greatly because he had not thought to mention that his Mother was always on to him about his mess.

Whilst Miranda and Mum were taking a tête à tête in the garden, Julian sought out his Father. “Dad,” he said ,“Do you know what Mum has done with the ring Grandmother left me in her will?”

“Do you mean the one Grandfather gave her on her seventieth birthday?”

“That’s the one,” he said rather shyly, watching his Father going to the wall safe behind a rather dull painting of a fighting ship.

The small black jeweller’s box opened to reveal a diamond and sapphire hoop, perhaps rather too large as she had had arthritis in her hands in later years, but it would do.

“May I take it?” he asked, and was grateful that the older man nodded in agreement and no questions were asked.

During the next week Julian was waiting for the right moment. One evening after a take-away curry he judged the time had come. They were on the sofa with his arm round her shoulder and her head on his chest. Stretching out his free arm to the side table where he had hidden the ringbox, his fingers searched for it, but in vain. “Damn it!”

He had to disturb her comfortable position as he got up the better to see what he was looking for. It was not there. He knew it should be there. He had put it there only yesterday. In panic he started moving things left, right and centre.

“What’s the matter? What have you lost?”

“It’s a . . . its a small box”.

“Goodness, its going to be difficult to find in all this mess!” Miranda started looking too.

Ten minutes later, still having no luck, Julian felt near to tears. “It must be here,” he said. “The room‘s a tip, it could be anywhere. Oh thank heavens! Here it is.” The box had fallen into, of all things, a waste paper basket into which someone had stuffed an empty box of chocolates.

“Gosh, what luck that with all this mess we should find it”.

Miranda pulled herself up from the floor on to the sofa beside him and sat very still.

“Darling Miranda. This is an old family ring which Grandmother loved above all others and which she left to me for the woman I love. Will you, would you . . . ? and at this point Julian lost his confidence and gazed at his beloved with anxious eyes.

“I take it,” said Miranda unsteadily, “that this is a formal proposal, and if it is, I accept . . . on one condition . . .”

“Oh my darling. On any condition you like.”

“That tomorrow morning we make a concerted effort to bring order out of chaos.”

Nowadays when family and friends visit Julian and Miranda Stafford there is a warm welcome, all creature comforts, and just that general disarray which makes any house a home. There can be no disputing that they have a talent for living.

No doubt Julian’s Fairy Godmother is very pleased.


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