Here’s a thing. If you show up unexpectedly at my front door, I will be delighted. (Bear with me, this is a theoretical exercise. If you actually show up at my door I will be delighted but I also haven’t tidied up, so it’d be that special kind of delight that borders on panic.)
In principle, anyway, you coming to my door uninvited is in all ways a very good and a very great thing that would make me happy. Really delighted: I’m beaming at the thought. And promising myself I’ll hoover. Since it’s you, I might even dust. Could you pick up the corner of that carpet for me?
If, instead, I show up at your door – well, no, that’s just not going to happen. This isn’t you, this is me. I cannot come to your door unexpectedly or without invitation unless I have a really good reason. “Excuse me, are those flames coming from your roof?” My just turning up as me, not with a message or a parcel or a purpose, I cannot do it. It will never happen. No matter how much I enjoy talking to you, I just can’t do that. I don’t know why.
So when I do go to someone’s home, when they have invited me, I find that very special. It doesn’t matter if I’m there for some practical reason like a meeting or because I’m picking you up to give you a lift somewhere. You don’t let someone you dislike into your home – not if you can help it anyway – so I am alert to the fact that you are welcoming me in. I get the compliment and it’s a big thing to me.
I have had meetings in friends’ houses recently and I’ve felt all of this. There’s a project I’m working on where we tend to have day-long meetings at a particular friend’s house. She actually apologised this week, said she knew it was inconvenient for us to schlep over there and I explained she is insane. It is a treat for me. I think it’s a privilege.
There is just something about how we are all the same and we need the same things, we do the same things, we have the same things – we have kitchens, we have loos, we have books – but everywhere is exactly and precisely as different as everybody. What you choose to have in your home. The spoken and unspoken rules, the way that you choose to cook, the spaces where you work seriously and the spaces where you relax. It fashions a specific environment. It’s an exo-skeleton, a body around your body. It’s the contents of your head and your taste and your past made corporeal and physical and made to be right there within touching distance.
Maybe I’m just groping toward the cliché that a home is someone’s castle but I think your home is you.
Appropriately, my mind has just darted off thinking that I must have a very untidy mind.
But anyway, the other night, Angela and I picked up a friend from her narrowboat on the canal and I felt all this even more acutely. It’s a huge boat and I want it, I want writer Elisabeth Charis‘s home exactly the way she has it, but also it’s closed in enough, it is small enough, that all my feelings about being invited in somewhere were concentrated.
Angela said it best: she said the boat hugs you.
There is a cocoon feel even as the boat rocked a little in the wind. You felt distinctly separated from the rest of the world especially as you could see that rest of the world bobbing outside the window. It helped that you could only make out the rest of the world because there was street lighting near the canal. Otherwise, it was dark out there and it was warmly bright inside.
Equally, from the outside as we walked up to it, I wasn’t sure Elisabeth was even in. The boat looked dark to me. It looked like every other narrowboat I’ve seen on canals and now I wonder if they were all occupied, all the time. They look cold and forgotten. Interesting paintwork, yes, but also somehow alone and closed, bumping next to to the towpath. Yet maybe every one of them was this alive and warm on the inside.
All those boats, all these houses on the street, all these homes in the world. Maybe this is just on my mind because we had a good night. Maybe if Angela, Elisabeth and I hadn’t had a fine natter I wouldn’t be thinking about the bubbles we form around ourselves and about the membrane between outside somewhere and inside it.
I do like houses and homes and I do like property TV shows like Grand Designs. And I think I may be being pretty grand here myself, I may be overblowing things yet I feel it: being invited in to someone’s home is special.
Mind you, maybe I’m only thinking about this because Elisabeth is tidier than I am.