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"Surfaces darling, surfaces ..." Edina in Absolutely Fabulous

Edina was talking about her beautiful white kitchen bench on which somebody had dared to put something. It was a long time ago that program, but I have always remembered it because it struck a chord with me. I like blank surfaces, tidiness, maybe even emptiness. And my husband seemed to always be doing what Edina (and I) hated. Covering cleared spaces with 'stuff'. It seemed to me that every time I tried to have a major tidy up and cleared a space - a table, a chest of drawers, a bedside table - it was immediately seen as an invitation to strew things upon it.

But I see I have gradually over the years given up the battle. Above is my huge kitchen bench and just look at it. Now I will say that most of the mess is my husband's - all those papers, and cables and little bits and pieces of stuff, but I also have to admit that a goodly portion of it is mine, and also that I have made very little attempt to clear up his mess. Well it's difficult. I have no idea what is 'essential' and what can be thrown.

And just to show that it isn't just him - here is a photograph of my desk as it is this very day, this very moment.

I could show more mess to the right of the picture but I dare not. But I do look out at space - green and brown space with the occasional bit of blue sky.

Space is probably very much on everyone's minds at the moment. Keep your distance - a shopping trolley between you and the next person - unless you live with them that is. I feel for all of those people who live in confined spaces and who are not allowed to go out. We might laugh in a marginally superior way at the guy who is undergoing mandatory quarantine in the Hyatt Regency in Sydney. He might have a wonderful view, and it might be a large hotel room, but still - it is just one room, and having to spend two weeks in it without going out at all must be difficult. And he, as he said, is lucky. What about the people now confined with people they are gradually realising they don't much like in tiny flats and bedsits, and shared houses.

Well you can go out for a walk. And lots of people do. I passed a few this morning on my own walk, and when we went out for a drive this morning - checking out houses we might move to eventually - we also saw lots of people out walking or riding bikes. And truth to tell it's all a bit confusing as you can mingle with the semi crowds in Bunnings.

So yes, space was on my mind as I ambled along the pleasant paths of Eltham. Space was one of the reasons we decided to stay in Australia - a decision that we took almost immediately upon arrival. Well we flew from Sydney to Melbourne, and I looked out of the window at all of those mountains which were a completely unexpected sight for me and I was hooked. Here they are seen at ground level. And yes it is farmland and inhabited, but not exactly densely. And it's blue.

And then there are the beaches and the thousands and thousands of miles of coastline. Here is a popular beach in Port Douglas.

No crowds there. Well it's marginally dangerous I guess - stonefish and jelly fish, sharks and crocodiles, but still - it's a major resort in Australian terms. Australia - even in the cities - is space.

The world is full of such spaces - and we yearn for them. They give us peace and escape.

But at the same time we cluster in cities - I can't remember the proportion of the world's population now living in cities, but it's very large, and growing. Is this a good thing? Does it leave the wilderness to recover whilst we seek out human company and activity?

Well not really - we have all read about the plastic islands in the oceans, and the wildernesses that are being destroyed, and now we seem to be doing it to space as well.

But back to my kitchen, well my home really. Our home is pretty large - not mega large, but a castle compared to most English homes for example. There are two of us living in it. And yet is full of 'stuff' Every space, every surface is covered with 'stuff'. As we have expanded with each house we have inhabited, so we have expanded our 'stuff'.

My very first kitchen in a basement flat in Hampstead, was tiny. The only workspace I had was the top of the half height fridge. Less than a meter square probably. And yet I somehow managed to cook my way through Robert Carrier and Elizabeth David there. I can't have had much equipment. No electric mixer, or food processor, and I think just one set of saucepans, a roasting tin and a beautiful Le Creuset casserole. My second kitchen was a little larger - galley style, but in my first house in Australia I had what I thought was a giant kitchen although it was small compared to what I have now. It was a galley kitchen with a bench on one side, and the sink on the other with a wall oven at one end and a pantry at the other. A wall oven - what an untold luxury. With each new house that we built - there were two more - the kitchen grew and the size of the house grew and 'stuff' grew with it. The space was filled with more equipment, more books, and, of course, our two growing boys and all of their stuff as well.

My first kitchen here was remodelled by us but was moderate in size really and by now I had difficulty fitting all my stuff into it. So I had a major purge at one point and threw out a whole lot of things, and half of my cookbook library. A futile effort really because as time went on, and as, finally I had my dream kitchen I accumulated more. And now it seems I can't help leaving half of my things out on the bench top. Mostly I find myself actually using about a quarter of the space on the bench top. And mostly I have to confess it is adequate.

But I do like the feeling of space around me. When it comes to kitchens though you don't actually want a huge space or else you will be walking for miles.

It's weird isn't it? For years our bedroom here was small - it had room for the bed and not much else. And I felt a bit claustrophobic. Now we have expanded it to at least double the size, without putting much more into it - a chair on which nobody sits, a bookshelf against one wall and coat hanging thing for David's clothes that would otherwise lie around the place. But I love the feeling of space around us. There is cosy and there is claustrophobic. What is the difference?

And then if the space is just yours, that brings a whole new dimension into the argument. A tiny space all your own, is probably worth much more than a very large shard space. I have only had a space that was all mine for three of the four years I had at university. I miss it.

As I walked my head was filled with what I considered to be grand thoughts about the human need to fill space with something, but when I try to write them down I cannot. It was always thus. No doubt it will be a conundrum we shall return to over and over in the next few months however.

Space or clutter - which do you prefer? I do know that space somehow brings calm.


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