Most of us have two homes, the one we came from and the one we make.
I have a friend whose parents parted shortly after her birth, whose mother felt her father’s family could do better for the child. This displaced her utterly and she says quite matter of factly that not until she came to her present delightfully ramshackle flat in her fifties, did she ever feel at home. And most of us – apart from long ago memories – have had one place or another we really felt at home. Of course if you had one that you then lost, you may remember that fondly, or refuse ever to think about it again or, by the time you can contemplate it without getting furious or choked up, discover large bits of it have gone missing, like torn photographs in the brain. And then you have to start again. It’s not the roses round the door that matter. It’s what they represent.
I had a broken sash cord and a door that wouldn’t shut so this morning I was visited by Adam who moved the hinges of the door slightly, explaining that with a new door, you don’t want to be taking lumps off it till it settles in through the damp of the first year. And then he restrung the sash window, lifting it out and neatly fixing it anew, while explaining that there is no longer anywhere in London that has handmade finials (the carved bit on the end of the cord, generally an ornament on the end of something) any more. They are all mass produced and he is thinking of investing in a lathe to start up a small business, cornering the market.
And I thought all over again how deeply I appreciate my flat, quite viscerally. I have rarely allowed the press into where I live but, some years ago, offered a fee, I admitted a photographer and his assistant (they were fine) and another young woman (perfectly civil) and the deputy editor of a television magazine who asked me, as she collected her coat, ready to go “Do you like to live like this?” I knew what was coming. “What do you mean?” I said. “Well, it’s very poor isn’t it?” she explained. So I explained that I grew up through the 1950s in what is now called austerity, in the north east of England and that my aesthetic is personal: I like wooden floors, uncurtained windows (I have heavy wooden shutters at the front and am not overlooked at the back), everything useful and comfortable, decorated in the main by treasured ornaments and many books. And when she was gone, I went round stroking the walls and begging the house not to be offended by the silly woman.
Recently I had a friend to supper and we sat over coffee in the living room, and she said “I love this room.” And I can’t pretend. “I love it too” I said. I remember coming here, the first place I ever bought alone, finding my feet, making friends with the proportions, knowing that it was better to assemble my home slowly because I had no spare cash to make mistakes with. How excited I was to get a hearth rug. I remember my son (then living with me ) opening his eyes to the big Edwardian club chair – “That looks as if it’s been there all the time “ he said.
A friend from long ago can’t stay away from Africa. He was born in Cairo and brought up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and he will be drawn back, to the light and the sun, the space and the smell of the dried grass. He complains about what has become of it but he will always want to go back. The Kandinsky Kid (she’s a painter) wants to go to St. Petersburg and see the art in the Hermitage. People list the places they have been to that you have not visited – Vienna, Rome – and suggest that you’ve missed something. But I am no longer sure.
The other day I turned up the name of an Indian city which handles more cut diamonds than anywhere else in the world – and other jewels. “A very Indian city” – and I thought I might – And then I looked round at what I have, to my taste, valued and cherished and easy on my eye. And I felt very lucky, fortunate indeed. I have a home and though I will have to go away from it again in order to appreciate it, for the time being I can admit “old rocking chair got me”.