Lying in my bed looking out the window. The sky is the palest of greys, and mostly, that’s all I can see.
Apart from telegraph wires.
And the tips of chimneys from the houses across the street. Television aerials.
One or two birds.
But it’s beautiful. It’s all strangely beautiful.
The wall around the window looks crisp and clean. You can’t tell there was mould there, and there. It’s cleaned up well. It will come back, and then we’ll treat it again.
Everything is crisp and calm and beautiful somehow. I gaze out the window in the contentment of time and place.
At the end of 2012 I lay on top of a bed in the Fitzwilliam Hotel and doodled with a pencil on their complementary notepad. My husband was catching up with his brother at a well-known Belfast establishment across the road and I was enjoying the rest and the quiet and the Deep Thoughts about Life that come in the final days of pregnancy. I doodled the name we had picked, checked again how it looked beside her sister’s. Scribbled some words I was thinking about, and decided on a ‘word for the year’… Home.
Home was my word for the year firstly because I was going to be home for 2013, on a year’s maternity leave. And also, because we were about to become a family of 4, in a very small house and maybe I thought if I meditated deeply about Home, then perhaps, by the end of the year, a slightly bigger one would present itself.
People have asked me what my word for the year has meant, what I have done and I don’t know. I have barely thought about Home in any coherent, connected sentences. I have books still waiting to be read and journal pages still waiting to be filled. And Chris and I are going to discuss finances and the house and depressing negative-equity figures, just as soon as we aren’t so damn tired, maybe tomorrow.
But yet I have thought about Home, somewhere in the back of my mind, in half-formed thoughts and unfinished sentences, in a slight change of mind, in a fleeting feeling. I think it has something to do with the beauty of telegraph wires.
A few years ago we went to visit my friend Rachel in Switzerland. The instant we arrived at their home in the middle of all this breath-taking beauty, I attached myself to it as an ideal for where to live. As my eyes took in the mountains and the barley fields and the views out their apartment windows, panic started to rise… HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY RAISE CHILDREN ANYWHERE ELSE?? I was living the wrong life, in the wrong place and how could we ever bridge the gap?
Of course I knew then, but I believe it more properly now, that living in Switzerland is amazing, and hard. Just as living in a small, mouldy terrace house in Ballyclare is amazing, and hard.
Whenever Olivia was a baby and she reached a stage where she always napped at 9am, I used to put her in her pram at 8.55am, grab my book and walk to Woodsides. And I would think to myself … well, it’s not a cool café in New York, or Budapest, or Melbourne, or even Belfast … but, when I’m drinking my tea and caught up in my book, it kind of is.
I can feel the exact same thing I felt in all the interesting places I have visited or lived, as long as I have a good book, a pot of tea and some kind of people to watch.
I know this. I have it in me. But I have suppressed it a lot in my quest for Home.
So slowly, one walk at a time, this maternity leave I have tried to feel where I live. I have tried to have the Woodsides attitude to all of it. Or at least, more of it.
I have noticed that where I live feels more like home, this time around. I guess a town feels like home when you see your window cleaner out walking his dog, when you bump into your previous neighbour, when you go to the library and you KNOW three people there, and their children.
I have tried to pay attention to the beautiful bits, and the bits I just like. I have tried to pay attention to familiarity, to feelings of home just because I pass here or I shop there or I walk here time and time again.
Sometimes it’s hard to like it. There are too many flags fly here, too much of the year. There are dull bits, and desolate bits, boarded up shops and a yucky old river. The cherry trees in the park are exquisite in Spring, but we have to dodge the dog poo on the pavements to get there.
But as I have walked these pavements and half-thought these thoughts over the year, it has felt just right, actually. It has felt, like me. It has felt, like life. The beautiful bits, and the shitty bits. And maybe it’s easiest to live somewhere that reflects it all.
Our house is exactly like this too. There are bits that we LOVE and bits that we hate, and bits that don’t really matter. There is room for improvement. There are a lot of crappy bits that have already been transformed. This bit here, gets mould. But look at the bookshelves, they will make you happy. And remember, these are the floors where we walked our babies, this is the room they were nursed through the night. This house IS home, and it’s beautiful and it’s mouldy, just like us all.
I am the most nervous driver, in the history of drivers, anywhere. For a long time after I learnt to drive, my hands gripped the steering wheel and did not move. They did not waver to adjust the heat or change the radio station. I held on, I clamped my teeth and stared straight ahead. I saw cars and road markings and signs, but I did not see the place in which I was driving. Only recently, have I started to enjoy a couple of the scenic roads near where we live. Only recently, have I stated to feel like I am in the middle of scenery at all. I missed it all. I was not driving down a road with trees, or sheep. I was not driving IN a place, only ever TO a place.
And actually, sometimes I live like this. I grip too tightly, too tensely and I never lift my head. Too busy, too focused, thinking too much about someplace else, trying to get out of here. So most of all Home, for me, is about living in a place, this place. I don’t want to miss it.
The truth is, I couldn’t pick my ideal Home, or even house. These little flickers of discontent, of idealising, they clash and they contradict and they come and they go. I want to live in the country AND the city AND beside the sea, no wait, the mountains, oh and Tesco, I mean, a small village shop. I want to live nearer to church, I want to live nearer a pub. I want to be able to shop, I want to be able to walk. I want to live on the other side of the world, I want to be able to pop into my mum’s for tea. I want a turn-key new-build, I want an old random fixer-upper. I want carpets, I want wood. I want space, I want character. I want familiar, I want different.
Usually, I don’t know what I want. Or I want too much, or I want the wrong things. Sometimes, there’s good in just having, and deciding what you’re going to do with it.
When I’m not being inspired with my thoughts about cherry trees and dog shit, I slip back to my hopes about Home. How, when I strip back all the idealising, they are modest hopes… for a little garden, for a room with a proper window for the girls and, most of all, for no mould. I secretly believe Jesus would want me to have these things. I hope we do, someday. But I also KNOW that if we are forced next year, and the year after that, to be creative with our space, to keep treating our walls, and counting our blessings and remembering the actual poor… I know there will be a lot of goodness in that. It’s a blessing I don’t really want. I don’t want to have to go out every time we want to be outside, yet grudgingly and grumpily, even as I type this, I can sense the fun and adventures this will force us to have.
In the middle of Autumn this year I was walking to breastfeeding group at the end of the park, on my inner campaign to see the beauty in my town. I entered the park thinking something like ‘well it’s not quite that park we lived near in Melbourne, but it will do…’ and encountered one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen in my life. The autumn colours and the sun set the whole entire place on fire. The light and the colours danced and shone and enveloped us as we walked. It could not have been more beautiful. I felt silenced. I felt told.
Sometimes beauty blazes like fire, and sometimes we have to look really hard for it.
See there, out the bathroom window? Above those rooftops? See the fields? See the country? You’re not in the middle if it, but you’re not in the absence of it either.
See the little glimpse of beauty? See up there? Crane your neck. See over there? In the distance. See right in front of you?