Staring at Yves Klein's painting IKB79

Skirting The Issue

“They mistook my kindness for weakness
I fucked up, I know that, but, Jesus
Can’t a girl just do the best she can?”

(Lana Del Ray / Antonoff)

Among the many , many, many, many things I’m blessed with is living close to my parents and being able to visit , safely and bubbley, and have a chat over a cup of tea. These chats are wonderfully eclectic and wide ranging. On Wednesday evening , on my way home from work, I popped in and the conversation ranged from St.Brigid, Colm Wilkinson in Les Mis, second hand jeeps, The Dig, Linda, Hannah and Catriona’s Eve’s pudding, work, shortbread with butterscotch, Astra Zeneca, Amsterdam, Catherine The Great, and skirting boards.
The last two topics sum up how like my parents I am and how different at the same time.

Mam and I are fascinated by Catherine The Great, and we’ve both stood in the Hermitage museum and admired the painting’s she bought. I visited when the city was called Leningrad, Mam when it was renamed St.Petersburg. Technically Dad has this in common too, in that he has also stood in the Hermitage, but impatiently and largely against his will.

Mam and I diverge however when it comes to the subject matter of paintings or genre’s. Mam has an abhorrence of modern art. She wants to immediately recognise what it is the artist is representing. I embrace everything with equal wonder.

My Soulmate and our kids now share Dad’s pain whenever we go anywhere as I can’t pass an old Church, museum, or art gallery…or even an interesting doorway without stopping to have a decent look. They are very tolerant , until we get to places like London, where I’m now limited to only two museums a day. To my dying day I will always cherish Elliott’s reaction to Yves Klein’s painting IKB79 which we saw in the Tate Modern in London. It’s a solid blue square, one of a series of 200 paintings of solid blue that he made. He registered his shade of blue as a trademark in 1957. Elliott was staring at it for a few moments when I asked him what he thought :

“Jesus Christ !” he said.

Do you like it ?

“It’s a blue square. I could do that.”

Yes, but it’s his blue, he invented it.

“No he didn’t. It’s blue blue.” Elliott replied.

We agreed to disagree.

“Who would buy that ?”

Lots of people, and it would cost them £8 million to do so.

He looked at the painting once more, more intently this time, and then he turned away , muttering “For fuck’s sake….”

 Skirting boards are something else we have in common…sort of. On Wednesday evening Dad mentioned that he’d have to get the skirting board in the kitchen , near where his seat is at the kitchen table, sorted , as it had always annoyed him. This came as a surprise to Mam and I, as he’d lived in that house since 1976 and neither of us recalled him having an issue with it before. But Dad, being Dad, it will be fixed soon.

He went to the sitting room to get a newspaper article he’d kept for me from the weekend and I sneaked over to where he had been sitting to take a peek at the offending skirting board. I got down on my hands and knees and couldn’t see anything wrong with it. I even tapped it in case it was hollow or rotten. Nope. Looked perfectly fine to me.

It took me back to 1995, and our first home , in Clane. A three bedroom semi-detached sanctuary. It was brand new and we bought it off the plans so we had some input into the kitchen layout, floors, fireplaces, bathrooms and so on. Wooden floors were de rigueur so we asked the builder to leave the skirting boards off so that our wooden floor people could lay the floor and put the skirting boards on afterwards. Simples.

I got on well with our builder, Lar, due to the fact that when we did our snag list before making the final payments, I couldn’t find anything wrong. He asked me was I sure, and I said yes, it all looked lovely. He then pointed out to me several things that he’d fix anyway.

He left over the skirting boards for downstairs and I put them out the back.

The wooden floor people came, fitted the floors and buggered off without fitting the skirting boards. Not to worry, I’d just do it myself…someday.

After a few months passed and we’d repainted some rooms, hung up pictures and paintings, got upstairs carpeted, mutilated the bathroom trying to attach mirrors, toilet roll holders, and towel rails, my Soulmate mentioned the skirting boards. No problem I’ll do it this Saturday. I didn’t. Several Saturdays later, while my Soulmate was working , I dragged the relatively dry skirting boards into the house and decided to attach them to the walls. I realised that I would need a saw , so popped down to the local hardware store and asked for a saw and some nails. He asked what I was doing, and I said ‘skirting boards’, and he sort of laughed to himself.

The long bits were easy, except where the boards had got a bit warped, but a few extra nails seemed to sort that out. The corners were tricky, but I thought ‘Sure I’ll paint over those wee gaps later.” All in all it was going swimmingly and I was very satisfied with myself until I realised that I had to fit the skirting board around the fireplace. This proved to be beyond my sawing skills, so I just started to fit in pieces that I’d sawed off earlier. It became a jigsaw.

I deliberately didn’t hoover up so that my Soulmate would know that I’d been busy.

She arrived home and came into the kitchen where I was making dinner for us. She smiled, “You’ve been busy.” And then she went into the sitting room. I followed her a few moments later, ready to bask in the glow of her admiration. She was kneeling at the fireplace, I thought I heard her sobbing ,  she looked back to me and , God bless her, did her very, very best to smile. I turned back to the kitchen and continued to make the dinner …loudly.

Over the next few weeks I stubbornly told myself that it wasn’t that bad. And then I just got used to it. And then I was quite proud of it. It was unique.

A few weeks later still, Lar, our builder, who was still on site, called over to leave a drum of magnolia paint that I’d asked for in order  to repair another job I’d tackled. I offered him a coffee and as he sat down on the sofa in the living room I could see his eye following the skirting boards around the room , silently, until he got to the fireplace “Jesus Christ!” he exclaimed. “Did my guys do that ?”
No, it was the wooden floor guys. I lied.
“They should have their hands chopped off.” He then said he’d get his lads over later to do them properly. And he did. It looked perfect.
I was tempted to leave the sawdust on the floor again and pretend that I’d done it….but I knew she’d never believe it. She was thrilled to have proper floorboards. They looked like everyone else’s. I hated them. They looked like everyone else’s. I missed my jigsaw.

In every house we’ve lived in since, in Belfast, and in Monaghan, my Soulmate decided to do all the  DIY jobs herself. The house we bought in Belfast had a 1970’s fireplace that seemed to take up half the room. I returned home from work one day to find my Soulmate, 7 months pregnant with Robyn, emptying a wheelbarrow of concrete rubble at the side of the house. She’s borrowed the wheelbarrow and a sledge hammer from a neighbour and demolished the whole thing and removed it on her own.

These days ‘big jobs’ that need to be done were taken note of and then that note was handed to Dave Liddy when he arrived with Ger and the kids for their annual two week holiday in our house. Dave’s not a carpenter, nor an electrician, nor a plumber. He’s not me, so he’s good at all those things. And I am more than happy to let him shine. It allows me more time to stare at blue squares and dream up stories.

We’re all, each and every one of us a hodgepodge of our folks, our friends, and I marvel at the wonder of it all.


P.S. Tell me of a time you got in waaay over your head with something and I may very well send you a sweatshirt.

P.P.S. This

Author: paul

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