illustration by Angela Barrett

‘On the first day of spring, whenever that may be, any day of March, April, or May, the sky is swept clear of cloud and rain and winter murk, the morning sun shines in through the kitchen window, and there is a little warmth in it.

Start to spring clean, very early.

Turn out cupboards. Sweep to the back, clearing all the debris of spilled rice and sugar and currants and dead ants; rub away the sticky round rings of jam and marmalade. Throw out half empty packets and half-full jars with lost lids, and dented cans and unlabelled bottles. Rip off the dirty shelf papers. Brush cobwebs from corners.

Soon, everything smells of hot soapy water, and woodwork drying in the sun and the spring breeze blowing through the open door.

And then, if you can, whitewash walls, with a wide flat brush, slip-slap-slop in the pail.

And later, sit out on the step and turn your face up to the first spring sunshine and, like Mole, “Hang whitewash!” ‘

– from ‘Through the Kitchen Window’ by Susan Hill

MTM made a comment on a recent post of mine that she’d been re-reading some of her old posts, and realising how far she’d come in a year. which had me looking back at some old posts of my own, including this one from April 2014 about cleaning out kitchen cupboards.

ahem. in the interests of complete and utter honesty I will state frankly here that no kitchen cupboard cleaning whatosoever has taken place since that date. one cupboard in particular has been reproaching me frequently – the sundry bottles/sugar/cake decorations/dried fruit shelf, which sees quite a bit of action these days, due entirely to my daughter’s enthusiasm, nowt to do with any domestic goddessery on my part.

so please, please, if you read the start of this post and felt a lurch of guilt at the state of your own cupboards (as I might have done) then just DON’T, ok?! phew, glad that’s cleared up 😉

so I set to and cleaned out the shelf. it took me 28 minutes. sigh. and most satisfying it was, too, particularly removing the rings of gravy browning and throwing out umpteen empty fairy cake case boxes.

and guess what? once I had cleared out all the empty broken useless rubbish, what had been a toppling, anxiety-inducing muddle became a practical location where everything we actually use can be seen and accessed in a moment.

“ooh, so like sobriety!” I tell myself and start composing a post in my head before the shelf is even finished…which needed an illustration, of course. the book I’ve quoted and shown the illustration from is a cookery/housekeeping book published in 1984. which seems quite recent but, nope, is over 30 years ago. which makes me as vintage as it is, perhaps?

I’d picked up the book in one of those loveliest of places, a second hand bookshop.

if I ever get to Heaven, I hope it will look like this.

the book is a charming and evocative snapshot of an English kitchen of, perhaps, the 1970s? a time when there was a Kenwood mixer and an electric refrigerator, but walls were still whitewashed and shelf papers replaced. it’s very like my grandmother’s kitchen was, in fact.

the lovely thing about finding a wonderful book is that you can then discover other books by the same author. I discovered that Susan Hill has in fact written a great deal,  one of her most well known works possibly being the Gothic horror novel, The Woman in Black. I saw the play in London a gazillion years ago and it haunts me still…

and thanks to the great website Abe Books, I discovered a companion volume to her kitchen window book, ‘Through the Garden Gate’ – which is currently available on Abe Books for the ludicrous price of £3.48 including shipping! here’s a pretty picture from that book:


which then led me on to looking for work by the illustrator, Angela Barrett. which took me in some more disturbing directions. in this Guardian article, she describes her inspiration for this unsettling image:

‘…the ethereal figure of Snow-White lifeless on the floor after a visit by the wicked stepmother. Gravely beautiful, it has a dream-like quality, but a nightmarish provenance – “It was a photograph by the American photographer Lee Miller. The girl is the daughter of a Nazi, who had shot himself after poisoning the rest of the family.” ‘

or, on the illustration of Ann Frank in her cradle, as a baby:

‘But illustrating Anne Frank was a very different challenge: “We’re used to dreadful things happening – either way back in history or on the other side of the world: I think we comfort ourselves by that distance, but the medieval cruelty of the Holocaust was neither far away nor long ago, so I concentrated on the everyday reality of Anne’s family, showed the detail and the texture of their daily life, and how it was systematically destroyed.” With telling use of colour and composition, these pictures have a quiet, shocking impact. And you keep returning to the first picture which shows Anne as a baby, safe in her cradle. But then, as you think about it, the cradle doesn’t seem so safe – its decorative mesh sides begin to suggest wire netting, and the symbolism of the framed landscape and the open window is unbearable.’

Allie left a comment on a recent post of mine, saying,

‘I feel like all I do now is struggle to find words that describe how utterly transformative sobriety is, and it isn’t the simple act of picking up a glass, or choosing not to, that is transformative. It is the experience of living as oneself. Authentically and honestly and clearly, without the twisting hatred and fear. It gives you hope. It gives you wings.’

that’s what I’ve been trying to do in this post: using illustrations to show how transformative sobriety is. and that recovery is not just about clearing up the immediate and obvious muddle and mess.

when you start off on the sober path, everything pretty quickly improves so much that for a while everything in the garden is lovely. and then as you go on you uncover some far more disturbing underlying stuff which is possibly how you got into the muddle in the first place. and I am still uncovering and dealing with some of those issues that I didn’t even realise were there. and that’s neither easy nor painless, but it needs doing.

but everything, however hard, is worthwhile. to re-make our lives into a place where we want to live again is priceless.

here’s a link to one last Barrett illustration: that of a house re-occupied and made a home again after years of abandon and neglect.

it absolutely glows with colour and life and hope. now – that’s what recovery means to me.