Dear Hermione, normally so tranquil of slumber, was having difficulty sleeping. She descended on several occasions to breakfast with eyes bloodshot and complexion blotchy. Quizzed by concerned husband and children, she complained of no virus or other bodily ailment but rather recalled a formless fear of being crushed.
These incidents of claustrophobic unease were repeated with increased frequency. She spoke in distress of lying in the darkness of our bedroom and staring up. In her troubled state of insomnia, Hermione perceived cracks in the plasterwork overhead. Yet she acknowledged the blackness of night was too dark to allow her see any such thing. Dawn always brought reassurance that the ceiling was intact, with no prospect whatever of its imminent collapse.
Of course the reality of daylight is often at odds with the shapeless incoherence of that state between wake and sleep. Yet something was troubling the mind of my beloved, eroding her wellbeing and sapping her morale. She was terrified that the world would fall in on top of her in the small hours. Though an illogical delusion, this needless foreboding was generating physical effects which were all too manifestly real…
I am normally the one first to spring from the bed to face the new day. Then one recent morning I was roused early by loud thumping noises and muffled exclamations: 'Junk! Garbage! What the hell is this doing here?'
I reached out to where darling Hermione is usually to be found at 5 a.m. But there was no sign of her other than a crumpled bed sheet, already cold. I tumbled drowsily from under the duvet and meandered out on to the landing. I discovered the ladder which allows access to the attic had been lowered and the source of all the thumping was up in the roof space. The face of my beloved appeared at the top of the ladder, a large sooty smudge on her nose.
'Salopettes!' she exclaimed, lapsing into what appeared to be a foreign language. 'You know, my skiing salopettes!'Darling Hermione nurses long unfulfilled dreams of slaloming down snowy slopes - and it seems that her salopettes have come to symbolise her Alpine ambition. She waved a pair of padded skiing trousers, bright turquoise in colour and guaranteed to light up the mountainsides around Grenoble or wherever. Salopettes.
Speaking from on high out of the hole above the landing, she announced that she had finally identified the cause of her nocturnal restlessness. She explained how her worries stemmed from an instinctive feeling that the attic would simply fold under the sheer weight of stuff abandoned there. So she had risen early to investigate and confirmed that our bed was positioned under tonnes upon tonnes of stored material, ranging from a hefty pair of storage heaters in need of repair to a miniature snooker table complete with most of the balls.
As far as she was concerned all this dusty and discarded stuff could all be consigned to landfill, or to re-cycling, or to Done Deal. The only item worth sparing from the dump, she reckoned, was the salopettes. Oh, and the Christmas decorations.
Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I ascended to join her, arriving in a world which resembled a cross between Aladdin's Cave and a Ukrainian flea market. For years we have been tossing things up into the attic without bothering to look around at what was already stored away, following the practice of the preceding generations who also tossed their unwanted things up into the same attic.
Old ledgers. Cracked mirrors. At least one typewriter. At least two commodes. At least 300 copies of 'Ireland's Own' from the 1960s in neat bundles bound with women's nylons. Heaps of irretrievably unfashionable clothes.
Paint tins, each one no more than a quarter full. Incomplete rolls of wallpaper. Toys belonging to children now drawing the old age pension. Bats and racquets and balls from sports no longer played by any family member
'Amazing!' said I as my eyes became accustomed to the gloomy light of an ancient 20 watt bulb and I spotted a long lost croquet set against the water cistern. Then came the creak of the ladder as Hermione set off to track down the number of Pronto Skip.