I am struggling to believe that a whole year has passed since we were told by our government and their expert advisors, that home was the best place to be, and where we should stay, at all times, if possible. For some this has been a time of extreme isolation, my own elderly family are suffering being alone, unable to partake of the smallest social interactions due to the risks involved, and one has told me that she feels like Robinson Crusoe, marooned on an island with all hope of rescue dwindling over the horizon.
For me, lockdown has meant hard work and learning. For the first time in a long time, I cannot get ahead of myself with anything. This is a new and unfamiliar experience, as usually with work, I map the pathway through the whole year in advance, sometimes modifying the route and steps, but always knowing the final destination. With exams and assessments and expectations around judgements of young people’s worth constantly shifting, the year has felt like an uphill struggle through quicksand. I know I am not alone in these feelings, and as we are now back in school face to face, behind the mask of getting on with things the eyes of my colleagues, students and the parents I see at my own children’s school often reveal an entirely different story. Stories are important, as is where they come from.
The year has certainly brought home into a sharper focus than ever before for me, with the possibility of being elsewhere being an unattainable day dream. I actually love my home, it is a fairly nondescript 1930s terrace, sandwiched between other brick and cream painted houses, on an Oxford estate. It holds a long history of nearly 100 years, from drained marshland, to residence for the Welsh community coming to work in Oxford for Morris Motors in the 1930s depression, to the thriving family neighbourhood I know today.
Before lockdown, like many, I had always thought of a home as a place to rest in, rather than a place to spend my days and really inhabit the space. It seems odd when I write it, but from young childhood, the activities I was involved in took me out of the family home most of the time. I went over the fields on the back of a scruffy, hairy wild-eyed pony, into the mud of a farm yard, and washed and smartened up, into concert halls and theatres, under the fresnel glare, or behind a music stand. I can remember a clear turning point in my teenage years, when I suddenly did want to be home and have relaxed weekends of nothing to do, but our family life wasn’t like that. I took myself out in the evenings then, thinking about becoming more independent, into gigs and parties, along canal banks and into late night parks and graveyards. I thought I was being daring and dangerous, but I knew that if I kept money for a phone call made from a blocky, scarlet public payphone, my Dad would always come and get me and a crowd of assorted friends, and would ask no questions.
Because we are a family of five, our space at home is snug and sometimes chaotic. We all have a lot of things, books, toys, musical instruments, wellies, garden tools, odd bits of furniture, mixing bowls, a variety of handwoven baskets, art work, and of course, more books. Though I have read extensively about the Marie Kondo method of organisation, and being joyful at home, I know that my family will never be minimalist. An example of the conflicting ideas about how space could be used came when I cleared a space which I thought would be great for displaying vintage style cake tins, and my husband promptly filled it with bottles of wine, which rested on their bellies and eyed me ruefully with their corks.
Being here more than ever before, I have finally started to think about the simple things that make a space home for me. The people who are there too are the obvious part of the equation, but what else? I have come to understand that some very simple things go a long way towards me feeling happy in a space, and it’s not necessarily about tidiness, though some sense of things not being all over the place does help. Because I find my happiness in the small changes I see in the natural world, I like to bring evidence of their passing in. This means that I have catkins in jars, I grow bowls of daffodils and brave little irises. I am all about keeping the light going, so I love candles, lit first thing in the morning as the sun rises over the back garden, when I carry out household chores, and when I am writing. I like books to hand, and a comfy place to read them. I actually love the messes made by children at play, and the spiralling creativity they spread everywhere, though not when I fall over it. I like there to be space to make things, and in our house, that’s the kitchen table, where words are written, stories are shaped, stitches are sewn and all manner of foods are assembled from their base elements. I like there to be good smells, of flowers, baking, and home-cooked food.
I spend a fair bit of my work time thinking about the needs of others, and a lot of my personal time is also taken up with this. It is rare for me to think about what I need for myself, to the extent that when my husband asked me a while ago, I actually couldn’t answer. I am clearer on it now though, with surety that aside from Maslow’s most basic suggestions, the things that are important to me are how I use the light, how I bring a connection with the natural world in as a constant reminder, and how my own feelings create the atmosphere as much as all external props. It makes me mindful that what I give my children and tell them matters, may not be what they need, so I plan to ask them. I want them to think about it and dream about it, until I know from the big ideas and aspirations, what their feelings are. Maybe these precious feelings can then be distilled into actions to nurture them, like place a jug of sunny daffodils on a bedroom window sill.
As a postscript, I would like to add that I have written about the concept of home before, and had the pleasure of writing a guest post for Peter Raynard’s inspirational Proletarian Poetry site. If you would like to read more of my thoughts, there’s a link to the post here https://proletarianpoetry.com/2018/05/23/guest-post-by-ali-jones-is-home-really-a-choice-with-poem-overspill/