Thursday, January 30, 2014
I'm always interested in the idea of home - the importance of having a home and in the way we have of making our homes into individual spaces.
"We all hate home / And having to be there", says Philip Larkin in "Poetry of Departures" and I always think, no, I love home. It's not that our house is a palace, though it's nice enough and perfectly comfortable. But it's ours, our sanctuary, our place that we can invite people into; and, when they go, we can shut the door and be among our stuff. I love coming home. If we've been on holiday, one of the best bits is always getting back, inspecting the garden and seeing what's grown; just looking about and thinking how nice and familiar everything looks. Even if I've just been up town, it's so satisfying to leave the main road, come up the little lane that leads to our street, open the front door, put down the shopping and relax with a cup of tea.
Things are a big part of this. It's so beautifully easy to live in one's own house, knowing where everything is and how the devices work. And it's enjoyable to be surrounded with objects that please, colours that seem soothing, photos of loved ones.
It doesn't need to be somewhere you actually own or rent on a long-term basis. I'm always amused at my own behaviour in a holiday house. I find myself arranging things to personalise it a bit. We fall into little routines, choose favourite chairs, start feeling that it's slightly ours. This even extends to people's behaviour on trains or planes, I've noticed. No matter how crowded it is, you feel a bit more secure if you have a little bit of tray on which you can arrange your book, cup of tea and newspaper (or whatever). That then becomes your little home for the duration of the journey.
And as for past homes - I've lived in five houses altogether, all in Edinburgh. Firstly it was a bungalow; then a biggish stone house; then our first married home, which was a small modern terrace; then a much bigger, older terraced house with high ceilings; and lastly this one. I kind of feel that they all belong to me still and am a bit indignant if the present owners aren't keeping the gardens weeded and the front doors painted neatly. I have a little bit of homesickness for each one.
And if I moved away from Edinburgh then I'd always suffer from nostalgia for it. I suffer from nostalgia even for places that I've visited often and vaguely miss because I feel they're sort of mine: North Norfolk and Crieff particularly. But perversely, if I moved away and then back again I suppose I'd forever miss the place that I'd left to get back to my original town. Though maybe you can't ever really come back, because things would have changed and it wouldn't be quite the place you remembered.
I once met by chance, in the Botanic Gardens, a woman who'd been at my school. She and her husband and sons were back living in the city. "Mind you," she said, "I don't know if we'll stay. I think we've outgrown Edinburgh." I wanted to laugh because she sounded so pompous ("BIG ME!") but indeed they moved on after a few years. I have no idea where they went.
I wonder if Larkin was interested in the colour of his curtains. Did he enjoy choosing lampshades? He did eventually buy a house (having previously lived in rented flats) but complained that it was ugly. I hope he got some pleasure from it, all the same.
Mind you, it's just a poem, not necessarily true. Maybe, like most of us, he really quite enjoyed putting his slippers on, sitting by the fire with a cup of tea and feeling at home.
I am very grateful to have a home.