Growing up in the Charles-and-Di-saturated eighties, I always imagined I’d become a royal when I grew up too. I didn’t want to be a princess though; that seemed much too frilly and duty-bound. I preferred the idea of being a duchess or a lady, one of those glamorous blue-blooded types who wears slacks and has a husky voice – Baroness von Schrader from The Sound of Music, ideally. The fact I came from a middle class family on the Sunshine Coast, rather than from an aristocratic bloodline was something I didn’t think about.
But then, one day in my early thirties I awoke to discover I had at last become a lady, just not quite the sort I’d dreamed of. I’d become a landlady – my own landlady – and I was terrible at it.
My boyfriend and I had moved out to the country, and bought a small, beautiful house. Which is to say that it was beautiful when we bought it, but very quickly the paint started to peel, the dishwasher started spasming, and the heater busted. We didn’t know how to fix any of it, so we didn’t.
I had always been a renter, surrounded by landlords and ladies with varying degrees of commitment to their roles. But I could always rely on the fact that if the carpet was going mouldy, I could call even the shonkiest of them, and by law they’d have to fix it, eventually. Joni Mitchell was right: you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.
Because now it was clear I was my own worst landlord. Do you repair a heater by beating it until it kicks into action? Is the problem in the power supply? What if small toxic things are falling out of the duct? ‘She’s the absolute worst!’ I imagined my tenants (me and my boyfriend) bitching to each other over breakfast. ‘The paint is peeling into our cereal and the broken showerhead is literally backstabbing us. Plus, she stuck a rake in the heater to fix it.’
Then last year, while we were expecting our first baby, something primal kicked in. With our child’s impending due date, we realised our once-charming home was a baby’s equivalent of the temple of doom, with floorboard splinters ready to impale tiny hands, and a potentially poisonous heater.
When the rangehood spontaneously combusted, I reached for the phone to call my landlady, and realised with a jolt that I was she. Staring back in the mirror I saw an irritable pregnant woman who had dreamed of a much different life for herself (one that involved lots of slacks-wearing and speaking in a husky voice). But now I had to admit I had a new dream: I just wanted to feel good.
So it had finally happened. I had reached that boring age where my main considerations for feeling good were based on cleanliness, and the working order of household appliances. And, there’s no way I can say this next thing without sounding like a parent – I now understood that you have to take responsibility for your things, if you want to achieve this.
It turns out a house is a living, breathing organism that needs constant attention, just like a baby. And as with babies, I wasn’t interested in looking after anyone else’s: I really only wanted to look after a house if it was my own.
Becoming a fix-it person didn’t happen overnight. With each new skill I’ve ‘mastered’ (learning how to use a measuring tape so it doesn’t snap closed on my fingers; hammering in the actual nail itself, instead of bashing in the surrounding wall) I feel Kilimanjaro-level triumph. I’m still at the basics, but by the time we’ve paid off the mortgage in approximately 120 years I expect to be a perfect landlady to myself: one who answers the phone, and fixes problems tout suite.
In the meantime, I’ve started saving money for house-related professional help. I no longer care about buying clothes or going out for dinner: I’m saving up for ‘A Brush with Beth’, the woman I want to repaint our kitchen. And the heater fix-it guy (‘The Heat is Ron’). Because no matter how much of a DIYnamo I become, there are always some things best left to professionals with puns in their names. That’s why whenever I’m discouraged by my own pitiable fix-it attempts, I perch myself on the edge of our wobbly armchair, and circle the names of promising-sounding tradies in the local classifieds (‘Spruce Springsteen’, ‘Bonnie Tiler’) while I elegantly sip tea, just like a proper lady.