The people opposite
have spent the better part of a year changing the shape of the house they bought. Each to his own. My idea of altering a house is at most a minor extension. Otherwise, a revamped bathroom or some bookshelves. They have rebuilt the house they bought and then began Round Two which involved a loft extension. When the storms and the winds came, that scaffolding didn’t look any too safe to me.
In the upheaval, the houses on both sides have sustained damage and you don’t want holes in the roof if the weather is cold and wet. You don’t want structural damage, full stop.
Having bought a property with everything wrong with it, Buns nearly killed himself holding the roof on with one hand and keeping the cellar dry with the other. And decorating and improving. When it eventually sold, he couldn’t believe it. Since then he has been to Dublin
(he is a closet Celt) and back, back to Dublin, looked at properties, stayed with friends on both sides of the Irish Sea, packed and unpacked his essential belongings, spent more money than I could bear to on storage, more energy than I could bear to arranging the transport of his vehicle, his equipment (radio man), worrying and not sleeping – both of which he does to Olympic standard. It’s all money going out and he needs a place to call home. He came back to the Blightly side and promptly left for a week in Spain. I hope Spain makes him sleep, nothing else seems to. He cannot decide until he can decide and I couldn’t live like that for two months, let alone two years.
In my life, I have lived in some horrible places, which I scrubbed and sprayed, where I kept things in suitcases as cleaner and safer, and moved on as soon as I could. But where I lived was mine. I paid the rent and shut the door. I couldn’t have survived without.
Lack of privacy, no time to think by myself without any other input, would finish me. I could live much more modestly than I now do, which God knows isn’t glamorous, but I would still have to have such a place, where I could catch my breath, without witness.
If I think about home, I think of what I came from and what I took with me into the homes I made and I am deeply grateful. Home to me means order, not obsessive cushion twitching , just space on desks, things in jars, garden tools where I can find them, all the clothes hung up in the days when I had a big enough cupboard, now swapped over once a year between the chest and the wardrobe, cleaning and turning out on the way. Books. A neighbour came in last week and exclaimed “Your books are in wine crates !” I internalised that from a French book of interior decoration ideas 10 years before.
Home means buses and tubes I know, where to buy certain foods or toiletries. It means a chemist with common sense, and a sort of all round dry goods store, where I can buy compost. It means the shape of the street and who lives where. You don’t have to like them all but it helps if you know their names or their faces. They often come good in the most unexpected ways.
Home is where you hole up when you’re not well and wait till you’re better, like a beast in its den. It means where you shut the door in the heat of summer, taking off all your sweaty clothes to put directly into the washing machine or to soak in the basin. It means where you come in freezing in winter and walk straight through to put a light under the soup in the kitchen.
It means where you can always find a plaster for a cut, yours or anybody else’s. It means where the bits and pieces your friends have given you down the years have a place, on which light shines from the street.
It’s what people are fighting for in Ukraine.
*The title comes from Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz: “there’s no place like home …”