My parent’s house is one of only two houses in their street that has a second storey. It’s easy to tell this because there are, in total, only thirteen houses in the aforementioned street; you don’t have to count very high. I can name all but two of the families that live in those thirteen houses and all the resident dogs consider themselves to be a gang. It’s a nice place to put a house.
When you look at my parent’s place on Google Earth, it shows up as a tiny explosion of green. Trees ring the block and have started to tiptoe out into the centre of the backyard as well. The veranda is overflowing with herbs in pots and the chicken house (built by my godfather when my mum had appendicitis) is now sagging with the weight of the grapevine.
Inside the house is similarly cramped with things. On almost every wall there is something beautiful. Above the staircase is a collection of masks which my parents bought years ago in Bali. In my parent’s room are two masks from Venice, one bought when they went in the 80s and another from our trip there as a family in 2009. Tiny paintings and prints sit in the strange little spaces between rooms and beside doors. There are several watercolours of English cityscapes painted by my great uncle, an artist of very small renown.
My favourite wall at home is the hallway. All along the thin, dim passage are haphazardly arranged photos. There’s pictures of my parents when they were younger, of my brother and I at various ages. There’s a black and white photo of me as a toddler, holding out an Easter egg to my dad behind the camera. Another photo shows a huge, deserted beach and my brother and I squatting in one corner, carefully burrowing crabs out of the sand. In amongst them all are older photos: my mother as a toddler on a beach in England, my grandparents and their children spread out on a picnic rug, my great (great?) grandparents and their family posing in a garden. I love the way I can walk down the hall and see all these glimpses of where I came from. I like that I remember when some of the photos were taken but that most of them are outside my field of memory.
There are a number of things in the house which are, I will admit, objectively odd. I could not, for example, manage to explain the cabinet full of dead things in the spare room without making it sound creepy. My dad used to cover the cabinet (full of tiny skulls, snake skin, birds nests and beetles) with a table cloth when people came to stay.
Similarly, lined up along the pool fence are several dozen small domed objects. Some of them are ceramic and some are glass and they range in colour from brown to green to purple to grey. In their natural habitat, these sit on the top of telegraph poles and insulate things (they’re called, imaginatively, Insulators). And they’re kind of crazy beautiful.
Most people don’t even know these things exist but my mum collects them.
My mum also makes bags out of vintage tea-towels and tablecloths and chicken seed bags. One of my goals in life is to have a kitchen and pantry as well equipped as my mum’s, so that I can cook almost anything on a whim. Another is to amass huge amounts of surprisingly useful general knowledge the way that she has.
My dad collects surfboards. He does this because it is very important to have the right kind of board for the current swell conditions, whatever they might be. There’s a board for big surf and a board for small surf and a paddle board for when there isn’t any surf at all. Plus he has a motorcycle, for the places you can’t go with a surfboard.
Over Christmas, dad replaced the radiator in his car. The whole radiator. And he did it so quickly that we still had time to see The Hobbit in the afternoon.
He’s pretty clever, my dad.
Driving back to Newcastle on the weekend, I suddenly realised that I’m moving an awfully long way away from my family. Going home isn’t something I could do in a weekend any more. And there’s that word again: “home”. Already I’m struggling with it again
because another city is about to earn the title and I’m not really okay with that yet.
A lot of homes are temporary. But in all the time I’ve spent thinking about the complicated, slippery word I’ve never thought to question the fact that this house is home.
Don’t forget to do the survey. It’s super easy, super quick and there are even prizes. Everybody wins!