• Rae Gellel

Our House is Insane, But I'm Grateful For It

This house has been driving me mad lately.

It’s always like that when I have a lot of writing to do. For some reason, just sitting in my room, at my laptop, for any significant amount of time is a near-impossible feat.

There is feeding to be done. There is medication to be administered. There are cages to be cleaned. There are baby pigeons, all knocked out of their nests by the recent amber-alert level storm, to be fed every hour from sunrise to sunset. There are syringes to be sterilized and heat pads to be warmed. There are missed calls and texts to reply to about stray cats and mangey foxes and ailing birds.

And even when I’ve done all the above, when I have finally cleared a lengthy backlog of chores and can open my laptop at long last, the phone rings, a cat scratches at the door, or my mum shouts my name because some crazy shit is happening that requires my urgent attention, like someone leaving an injured starling on the doorstep. Real example.

It's not just animals; an uncle used to jokingly refer to this place as the 'halfway house' when I was growing up. My mum is a foster carer, so it has always been a hive of human and animal activity, of mess that we're forever trying to keep on top of, of ringing phones and doorbells, shouting kids and barking dogs. An ex-boyfriend once remarked that I could sleep through anything and I thought, well, that's because I have slept through everything.

Sometimes I move from room to room, just trying to find a quiet spot where I might clear my head and begin to write. Animals follow me, clambering across the laptop screen or nudging me to stroke them. Guys, please just leave me alone for a minute. No, please don't press any buttons. Stop pulling the laptop keys off. You want to go out? I've only just let you in. Don't start crying. For fuck sake.

I massage my temples and finish my third can of Red Bull. How am I ever going to become the next Margaret Atwood if you guys won't SHUT THE FUCK UP?

I've had a week and a half much like this. By the time Wednesday came around, my head felt like it was going to explode. It was evening, I had committed to submitting a list article for a film site that night. So, I sat down, opened the laptop, and of course, my phone rang: an injured pigeon. Typical. We've had a steady stream recently because of the storms.

Half an hour later, I am sat in the bathroom, working on a pigeon rather than a laptop, dripping rehydration fluid into his mouth with a thumping headache. It’s delicate work; birds don’t have an epiglottis like humans, which makes them very vulnerable to aspirating liquid into their lungs. So I have to rehydrate him one 0.1ml drop at a time. Drop, wait. Drop, wait. Fight off pangs of anxiety about that deadline. Drop, wait.

All the while the wind is battering the bathroom window, rattling the glass in its frame. I can hear the barbecue cover flapping wildly in the garden, a wind chime tinkering uncontrollably, the first persistent tap-tap of rain. It’s as if waves were crashing outside.

These are the only audible sounds in the room; it’s a rare moment of quiet for the house. I breathe out slowly, feeling my head clear for a moment.

I feel glad to be inside. The pigeon stares at me in one hand, wide-eyed. I’m glad he’s inside, too.

I’m suddenly grateful for this noisy, busy, mental house, for the refuge its four walls represent. For the shelter it's provided for so many, and how its chaotic inner life is a product of that. It's lively because it's full of lives. It's saved a lot of them: chickens and pigeons and magpies and baby animals and cats who’d only ever known the streets before. Foster kids, cousins who needed a place to stay, school friends having a hard time at home.

Yes, we can never seem to get it tidy, and the fire alarm goes off every time someone makes toast, and you’re always tripping over a cat when you’re in a rush, and frantically trying to brush dog hair off your work trousers. But it’s more than its four walls. And some people don't even have four walls.

Maybe it’s the storm combined with the thought of waves crashing, but a quote from a Jacqueline Wilson book, Diamond Girls, about a big family living in a pokey council flat, pops in my head:

“Things had never run smoothly, not even in any of our old flats. If we were in a ship it was always an old leaky one, and we were tossing up and down in a storm. Still, as long as we were all clinging together, safe inside the ship, that was all that mattered.”

I feel a little lighter for a second or two. And then I get back to work on the pigeon. The article will wait.

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