Is home where the heart is, the hearth is, the other half is, wherever you lay your hat, where your treasures are hoarded and hung, a place to pile accumulated clutter, the stage to craft future memories, or nothing more than a ruffled bed to crash as you flit between work and friends? Spending the last month unintentionally catching a glimpse of other people’s lives while searching for a room to rent, I found it’s the home attached to the room that can be the hard part to find.
The first I viewed was the new build, in the old hippy quarter. I was too busy admiring the skewed roof angles and clashing layers of paint along the street to notice I had cycled right past the uninspiring house I was supposed to see. High white security walls amongst tightly packed ecletic terraced houses, built and smog coated from every decade past. I was apparently unnoticed and unexpected too. The housemate didn’t know that the other had even advertised the room. I sat in awkward silence under house arrest, burnt the roof of my mouth sinking back the scolding tea and left as fast my bike could carry me.
The next were the two outdoor types, who left me waiting out in the cold and rain for 40 minutes - homeless. It felt colder inside than it did out. The upholstery felt damp to touch, water condensed on the window, the droplets slid down and absorbed into the sodden wooden frame. I knew the routine here, counting down in quarter seconds underneath the duvet, before throwing back the covers and braving the sprint to the warm embrace of the shower. University had proven I could hack an environment like this. Now it had nothing to warm too. I have a love affair with the outdoors, but not enough to invite it into my home.
Then there were the two twenty year olds who forgot about the 10am viewing invite after a drunken bender the night before. They answered the door flustered with parakeet quiffs and bloodshot eyes. Their laughter couldn’t detract from their home - as wild as their night.
Then the sterile slick city apartment, and the probation officer who worked in the same office as my best friend. Turns out the big bad smoke was just as small the countryside I had left behind. Too close to home.
On the verge of sticking my white flag in the air, came the final house. Rows of bay windows invited my glances as I walked up the road. The young family sitting down to dinner, upturned plastic garden furniture and weeds outside the student flat, a white haired pensioner engrossed in his book. Lives living back to back. The owner answered, every bit as eccentric, rough around the edges and inviting as the home in which he stood. Woodfield Road. My sanctuary on the cusp of the city. I knew before the door had even shut with its satisfying click behind me.
Late at night, I hear the walls creek and sigh under the weight of life which has lived here. The couples councillor, the Chanel counter girl, the charity worker, the frustrated musician searching for his muse. Muffled echoes, exchanges of nothing in particular talk. The low rumble, barely audible, of the rush hour traffic, and the deep sleep snores of the housemate next door. All this life, crammed inside four sturdy walls. I lean on both for support.
The place where players are free from attack. Where something flourishes. From where you originate. It’s warmth from the inside out - more than the fireplace, the dog, the sofa which swallows you whole – when you know your home.