Wednesday, April 27, 2011
I know we’ve talked about revisiting childhood homes and fantasy homes but we haven’t talked about revisiting a home you once lived in as an adult. This thought struck me yesterday as we accidentally revisited one such home and I was surprised by the emotions it conjured. Well, actually I was surprised by the lack of any emotions.
We took the kids to the Museum – a good rainy day solution for the end of a long weekend – and parked in a nearby side street. We parked about three doors up from a flat Stuart and I once rented before we were married but neither of us mentioned this as we got everyone out of the car. It was raining and the museum was in the opposite direction.
On the way back to the car we walked down the hill, passed this old flat, to get coffee.
‘Look kids’, I said pointing across the road, ‘see that tiny balcony near the top of that tree?’
‘Um yeah’, said Lily squinting slightly.
‘What tree?’ asked Ned looking in the opposite direction.
‘Banana bread’, said Louis pointing down the hill towards the cafe strip.
‘Well, mummy and daddy once lived there.’ I said, not quite believing it.
‘What’s with those purple curtains?’ asked Stuart as he turned to walk away.
Everyone walked on quietly. I wondered why I didn’t feel happy or nostalgic seeing that little Juliet balcony again. We only lived there for six months but a lot happened during that time: Stuart proposed, I found my first job in book publishing, we’d just returned from a big overseas trip and the future had really changed direction. It was a good time; fun to live in the middle of the city and work there too. Yet none of those memories came flooding back as we stood outside the building.
‘What number house was it?’ asked Lily as we got to the cafe.
‘Ummm. I have no idea,’ I said and looked at Stuart. He shrugged his shoulders.
As we walked back to the car, we stopped outside the building so Lily could see the number.
‘There you go, you lived at number 17,’ she smiled.
‘That must mean we were unit 6,’ said Stuart as he looked at the side door we used to enter through. Still, those numbers meant absolutely nothing to me.
‘Well, there you go,’ I said, ‘you guys weren’t even born when we lived here. Isn’t that strange?’
‘I’m glad I never lived here,’ replied Ned, ‘this hill is too steep for me. I can’t make it up to the car.’ He started whining.
Lily and Louis were already up at the car, ready for home. Their home, not this strange little balcony in this inner city street.
Perhaps while our homes shape us they also don’t become us. While they can be an external expression of who we were at a particular stage of our lives, we don’t need to recognise them in the same way we recognise old friends or distant relatives. We don’t need those buildings to remind us of the person we were then... and that, for some reason, surprises me.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
This happens every year. The bookshelves are filled and no more books can be stacked sideways on top of others. It’s time to be ruthless and work out which are worthy to stay and which are on the way to Vinnies or the School Fete.
Usually I do this job alone and it doesn’t take too long to pick a pile of paperback fiction that I can live without but this year something different happened... Stuart. While innocently out having coffee, unbeknownst to me, he was busy making piles – ‘suggested’ piles – of books to give away. The suggested pile was chosen with common sense in mind but no emotion.
It was then that I realised books not only give a room its soul but they also act as markers of our history, they help shape the story of the people we become. They are yet another expression of making our homes truly ours.
Ok – I know I will never need to use my pregnancy books again or Robin Barker’s bible Baby Love but I still want to see the bent back spines of those books on the shelves, remembering how thumbed through they were. I like seeing the folded back pages in Baby Love reminding me that, yes, at three weeks old babies properly wake up and cry for substantial periods of time and that’s normal. It was hell at the time but now I fondly remember turning down the corner of that page at 2am one morning with three-week-old Lily screaming in one arm while I held the book in the other.
And as for fiction; I agree that my shelves filled with Virginia Andrews complete collection – and dare I mention Penny Vincenzi – may cause visitors to wonder how I became a book editor or why any magazine would ask me to write book reviews, but these books are such old friends. At least my Sweet Valley High collection is hidden under the bed...
I haven’t read Flowers in the Attic since I was 14 but it was within these pages I discovered the power of reading and the pleasure of escaping into another world. I like remembering that excitement and I don’t mind that it’s on display for all to see. They may take up nearly a whole shelf but they are staying.
So while Stuart’s ‘suggested’ pile went straight back on the shelves I still managed to get us back to full capacity rather than over capacity.
Interestingly, my ‘suggested’ pile for him also went back on the shelves. Funny how common sense goes when it’s about pulling apart your own story. I don’t think he’ll be reading Tuning a Racing Boat, Three Sheets to the Wind, They Ran with the Ball or The World’s Best Rugby Book Ever again but there they sit.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
How is it already April, the end of first term, the start of Autumn and the first quarter of the year already gone? And how is it that we will be heading off to the other side of the world before the year is out without having had any thoughts of booking flights or accommodation?
For all these reasons, the last couple of weeks have seen me think very little of ‘home’ here in Sydney and panic about a temporary home in the UK in many months time.
Oh yes; with me it’s always about the accommodation. And knowing me as well as a certain English friend does, it’s not too surprising that she sent me the link to The Landmark Trust website...
We’re in London – rain hail or shine – for a special friend’s wedding. Not the royal wedding, obviously (although her father did tell me recently that my friend is a descendent of King Edward I) and while accommodation is sorted for that weekend, we aren’t flying all that way for two days. So where to stay for a couple of weeks either side?
Well, thanks to the Landmark Trust, I can see a few options.
Wolveton Gatehouse caught my eye first: built during the reign of King Henry VIII. Thomas Hardy came to tea here in 1900 and the towers were thought to have been built during the fourteenth century. The fourteenth century! The Jacobean fireplaces still work; actually they still may be the greatest source of heat with the website suggesting to light the fires and wear an extra layer as the ‘Dorset nobility would have done hundreds of years ago’.
But wait! Where else in the world can you say you stayed in a water tower? After future King Edward VII fell ill with Typhoid in 1871 and his son with the same illness three years later at Sandringham, an investigation into the water supply was ordered. It seemed the castle was built upon numerous cesspools and new waterworks needed to be designed. Part of this design needed to include a service reservoir: this is the 32,000-gallon cast-iron tank that tops the Appleton Water Tower.
The engineer responsible for the design realised the tower would command superb views and the second floor room was made for the royal family and their guests ‘when shooting parties or picnickers required a base during the day’.
Today not only this room, but the whole tower is available for a family of four – and I think Louis could squeeze into a bed with either Lily or Ned too.
But if we really want to feel what it was like to be royalty, why not stay in a palace? Why not, indeed, when Hampton Court Palace offers a two bedroom apartment for rent?
Well to be truthful, it wasn’t ever an apartment that King Henry VIII visited. It was actually built for the Officers of the Pastry and lies in the service wing of the Tudor palace.
It was enlarged, though, by Henry VIII who enjoyed entertaining lavishly and even had extra kitchens built, one solely for the baking of pies.
Imagine, a kitchen just for pies... I think I’m leaning towards a few nights here.
Suddenly I don’t mind the year running away from me.
All pictures © The Landmark Trust website