I’ve been thinking in these past days about why the house where I live is so important to me. By that, I mean the way that a house feels to me, how I like to arrange and rearrange little corners, assemble still-lifes of flowers and precious objects.
For some people, this is all clutter, surplus to requirements. For me, it feels essential. I’ve spent hours over the years pondering paint colours and wallpaper and floor coverings, taking pleasure from the way that the light moves across a particular wall or the patterns in the surface of a door jamb.
This, I hasten to add, was all in my Life Before I Had A Baby.
Our new house is pretty chaotic. More or less everything is still in the wrong place. I can’t find any of my books when I need them. But that’s probably a good thing, since I haven’t really got time to read. (Ten minutes before I face-plant the pillow doesn’t really count.)
I keep telling myself that it takes some time living in a house – or rather, it takes me some time – in order to decide where the sofas need to go and how best to place a cupboard or a shelf. The TV needs rewiring so that it can sit in a less obtrusive place. Picture hooks left by the last inhabitants need taking out and the holes filling. It feels as if everything needs to be smoothed and polished and loved.
Our new house is a practical and warm 1960’s build. Our old house was a draughty, hundred-year-old cottage. Where once we had hardwood windows, we now have ugly UPVC that needs to be concealed with beautiful window coverings. When we have time. And more money.
Why is this all so important to me, I wonder?
My parents are gifted ‘homemakers’ and made a succession of beautiful homes for my sister and I. They always knew how to make something out of nothing – often with little money but always with a lot of care. And yet, I think it’s about more than this. I think it goes even deeper.
My first poetry collection, Refugee, is all about making a home in the world. My novels are about people finding their way, savouring the ordinary and everyday, making things, mending things, telling their stories.
It seems to be my theme. All my life so far, I’ve felt drawn to people whose own lives are fragile or disrupted in some way – because isn’t there a sense in which we’re all teetering on that edge, trying to hold on to what is most precious, carving out our little corners whilst everything around us shifts inexorably under our feet? I’m always amazed at how strong we are and the way that the human spirit is unbroken in the face of so much tragedy, so much suffering; how we build and rebuild and remain, if we choose, open to joy. Perhaps this is why I feel so unsettled until I’ve begun to to make – one more time – my nest around me in this new place in which I find myself.
And, this time, I feel something changing. Rather than the old desire for order – for everything in its place – I feel myself surrendering to a new rhythm. A spirited little girl lives with us now and her toys and books are scattered all over the floors and surfaces. I find miniature cars in my slipper. The floor under the dining room table is sometimes covered in crumbs and squelched fruit.
But when I come downstairs and see all this mess, I often find myself smiling.
I’ve been dipping into – for perhaps the hundredth time – one of my favourite books, Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space. (It’s good because you really can read it in two-minute chunks.) This morning, these lines by Noel Arnaud, which Bachelard quotes, resonate with me:
‘I am the space where I am.’