On Interior Design and The Brilliance of English Grass

I can’t remember what I wrote on this site about my trip to Latin America last year. I think I wrote good things – or at least, 90% good things with the usual ‘wahey’ shenanigans thrown in. In truth though, and certainly upon reflection, I didn’t love the trip. I definitely loved bits of it, like standing on an erupting volcano and swimming in a warm bioluminescent sea, but there was a heck of a lot of slogging to get from good bit to good bit – and not just slogging, but dangerous slogging. Like the bus ride to San Cristobal: a nightmarish twelve hours careening through dark mountain passes, being pulled over every hour by ominous squads of ‘police’ who wore revolvers but no visible badges. There was a lot of that. There was a lot of other stuff that sucked too, which I never wrote down and don’t really like to talk about.

All in all it was a weird trip. It was an escape, basically – a flight from a reality back home that I wasn’t coping with very well. In retrospect, I didn’t need another world tour, I needed friends and therapy. But whatever, it’s done now, and I figured it out in the end – I feel stable and pretty content these days. Pretty calm. . And even if it was a bit of a dumb jaunt, I still achieved some cool things. I saw one of the Seven Wonders of the World, I celebrated the Dia de los Muertos, I got over my fear of deep water, I trekked in the Amazon rainforest. I’m aware that I beat myself up so much sometimes that I totally skim over the good bits. So there we go: lots of good bits, even among the silliness.

So. Because I wasn’t feeling mad chipper for quite a big chunk of this trip, I often found myself fantasising about being home. ‘Home’ covers a lot of things, of course: my family, my friends, my dog. Chatting to shopkeepers, knowing where things are, knowing how to act. Familiar songs on the radio, mossy walls, welly boots. The smell of English grass – hell, the feel of English grass. The colour of English grass! English grass! Big fan!

But among all of this, the fantasy I returned to more than any other was of decorating a living space for myself. It makes sense, I suppose. On that trip I spent – what, nine months in hostels? I do enjoy sleeping in dorms – it’s comforting to hear people moving around and breathing and doing funny little whimpers in their sleep – but after such a long time, and such rapid movement from one place to the next, I found myself yearning for a room, one especially for me, and one I was allowed to decorate and fill with whatever I liked.

I’ve never had a lot of belongings, because I’ve spent many years moving around – and you can’t exactly fit furniture in a backpack. This made the idea of having a room all the more appealing. I never really cared for interior design when I was younger. When I lived in Berlin, and Sheffield before that, my bedroom was decorated with things I found: stickers I liked, posters I peeled haphazardly from lampposts, scraps of paper with doodles from friends. It was janky, but I liked it. I’m quite a different person to who I was then, and I felt curious and excited to see how that would be reflected in my interior design tastes.

Now, because I share my house in London with four friends, I can only really decorate my own bedroom – but after spending so long craving any personal, customisable space at all, it’s more than enough. I have this obsession with creating a home that looks like the life I’ve led; I want guests to be able to look at my walls and shelves and prints and to just know, instinctively, who I am.

The last ten years have been eclectic and vivid, and I want my room to reflect that. That said: in all my travels, annoyingly, I rarely bought souvenirs. I think I have a fan from Japan, somewhere, and a work shirt from Australia. I’m pretty sure there’s a t-shirt covered in powder paint from Holi festival in India in a box somewhere – but none of it can really be used to decorate my room. I do have a little wooden skull though, from Oaxaca in Mexico. He sits on my desk and grins at me, alongside a few shells from the desert in Colombia and a rock I took from the top of the volcano, Fuego, in Guatemala.

I bought a clothing rail instead of a wardrobe. I thought about it for an embarrassingly long time, unsure if rails were cool or not. Lots of people in Berlin have them – but then, lots of people in Berlin do meth and fist each other. In the end it just made sense, because rails are cheap, and when it arrived and I assembled it I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoy being able to see all my jackets and shirts all at once. It suits my new philosophy: nothing hidden. Everything out in the open.

I brought my guitar down from Leeds a few weeks ago. I took it on the train like a numpty and had to hump it across London to get it here, fuming the whole journey, but it’s done now. A guitar is a great thing to have in your home because it’s a pastime and a decoration. Bung one in any room and watch the atmosphere instantly tick up three notches on the hygge-o-meter.

My desk was cheap, but it looks nice. It has black metal legs and a wooden top. I don’t think it’s real wood, but it looks close enough, so I’m happy. On this desk I have several things which live there, among all the detritus that comes and goes over the course of any given day. I have a book of English grammar and a book of French verbs. The verb book was a quid from a weird charity book sale inside an Argos I visited with my brother and mum a few months ago. I use it mostly for a coaster – and I secretly like the fact that I’m using it as a coaster because it makes me feel like a quirky intellectual, like Amelie or a Wes Anderson character.

Speaking of, I dunno, quirk, I keep a little bottle of ADHD pills beside my lamp (one of those PIXAR lamps that look like hooded men with bowed heads). I only put them there at first so I wouldn’t forget to take them, but I actually quite like them being there. They mostly just help me to work steadily and stop overthinking and flitting between tasks – that is, they’re good for me – but as I sit and type at my desk I like to pretend I’m a fucked-up yet brilliant detective and the little bottle is the industrial-strength painkillers I’m addicted to.

The Oaxacan skull and the shells and the rock – they sit on the base of the lamp. The lamp is black, which means it shows every last particle of dust, which vexes me because I have this thing where if there’s even a single speck on a surface, I want it eliminated. You should see me using a laptop: it’s a miracle I get anything written, ever. I spend most of my time prodding at infinitesimal dots and cleaning keys in long, increasingly irritated sweeping sessions. I don’t even realise I’m doing it – I just sort of tune out, thinking of other things, and when I next surface I find I’m licking my finger and scowling as I frantically scrub at a stubborn blemish the size of a pinprick. (Don’t even get me started on the kitchen island downstairs. My god. Lived here seven weeks and I’ve spent at least three of them aggressively spit-shining that damn island. I can’t help it: sweet, fruitless agony. One day I will make it perfectly spotless – one day.)

So, the French verbs book – my coaster – sits to the right of my laptop. The lamp sits top left. Bottom left is the grammar book – and on that book is my diary. It was a birthday gift from my mum, and I love it to death. I only asked for ‘a nice diary’, but my mum outdid herself: it’s a gorgeous, elegant thing, real leather (I think? Or suede? I don’t know materials very well), with a little compass stamped into the front. The pages are unlined, so I write and I doodle, and it’s a fucking joy. The leather binding adds a real writerly ambiance to the place. Finally, on top of my diary are the sunglasses I bought off a man in Lisbon with Annie, after we failed miserably at haggling. The sunglasses don’t really need to be on my diary; it’s winter, the sun doesn’t exist. But that’s not the point: they complete the aesthetic; they seal the deal. Fucked-up detective chic.

In terms of art, I have two things: a pair of prints I got from a shop in Cali, Colombia. I don’t really like to think about Cali much – was a pretty intense city, lots of shooting etc – but the posters are beautiful. One of them says ‘Baila Bugalu’, and shows a man and a woman dancing in the street against a stylised background of fire escape ladders draped with Cuban and Puerto Rican flags. The other one says ‘Vivas Nos Queremos’, which Mike (he’s from Mexico) tells me translates as ‘We want ourselves alive’: a rallying cry against violence to women. It’s a beautiful poster: red cowboy font, warm Caribbean yellow background, black ink side profile of a heroic-looking woman, along with an eagle, a flower and snippets of barbed wire. The prints are made from wooden blocks and a giant, real-ink printing press; they smell amazing if you press your nose to them. They’re beautiful. I’ve been looking for more art since I put them up, but everything else I’ve seen around here looks cheap and generic compared.

There’s more stuff in my room: lamps, books, shoes, juggling balls, and the obligatory Playstation and kettlebell. I have six pairs of shoes now. I used to only ever own one – always one pair of desert boots from Primark which I’d wear until they literally crumbled off my feet, and then replace them with another pair for £12. It’s pretty wild to sit and look at my twelve shoes and think ‘mine’. I feel like a dragon sprawled atop his horde, making snow angels in gold coins.

I also have this little tray thing that hangs off the side of my desk. It came with the desk when I built it – a canvas tray that you can screw into the metal frame. It’s nice; it encloses my legs in their own little private area with the radiator – bliss. I think you’re meant to use the tray to put magazines and books in, but I’m using as a makeshift holster for the hairdryer I took from my mum’s when I left in November. I don’t often use the hairdryer for my hair these days; my follicular exodus has reached the stage now where there’s not much point. My hair looks bewildered no matter what I do to it.

I mostly just use the hairdryer to warm up my toes when it’s cold outside. If I’m having a rough day, or I feel a little anxious, I turn on the hairdryer and whoosh it around a bit, and it calms me down. Sometimes, for a treat, I blow warm air into my socks before I put them on. It makes me feel all fuzzy and nice.

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