Archive for March, 2022

House? Home?

March 26, 2022

I have thought of the word a lot lately: Home.

I count the number of houses I’ve lived in. I start: two at Kima; two in Naivasha and then later, much later, a young girl in London … Elizabeth Close; Upper Brooke Street; Finlay Street (seven in the end, in 3 years). I partied too hard in some, spent too much in most and had my heart broken in one.

And since I’ve been married – how many since I’ve been married? I run out of fingers. Fifteen. Sixteen. Nineteen? And almost half of those in six years.



Even onomatopoeically they are different. The words. House speaks to me of straight lines and sharp corners, of bricks and mortar. Of functionality. 

Home is entirely different; I can sink into it. Snug. It fits. Home speaks to me of belonging.

I lived in a House in Lusaka. Ant knew it was the wrong one when he saw my face. Newly arrived from the airport, I didn’t mean to look crestfallen. I certainly didn’t mean to cry. I knew how hard all of this had been for him: change and separation and new jobs and finding a home for us both in my necessary absence: he woking in one country, me in another.

‘I can’t live here, Ant’, I said.

All glass and chrome and drawers that slid shut silently, doors that closed with polite little clicks.  No draughty corridors that made every portal slam when the wind got up so I knew a storm was on its way. 

It was a beautifully built house. 

I tried to make it home for the briefest six weeks. 

Until I found something that fit our shape better: a little dog-eared, mostly badly planned, plenty of slamming doors and sticky drawers but a garden that spilled chaotically and a kitchen that looked out onto it so that sunshine poured in. 

I have an urgency to nest as soon as I arrive somewhere new. To put down little roots that might worm their way deeper and ground me even when everything else feels upended. As it often did in those six years.  I have arrived in new places long in advance of containers full of furniture with two dogs, a cat, (twenty quails once, cheeping and crapping anxiously in a box) and always, always dozens of framed photographs. So that I can populate my space with the people that make me feel anchored.

I have stood with Ant in derelict houses and said, ‘this will do’. And then we relish the resurrection of what was once somebody else’s home and I wonder about them then as I run my hand down aged wood or unearth a garden planted with such love so long ago which has been swallowed by a scramble of hungry weeds.  Did they love it here too, I wonder? Raise families here? Fight, love, laugh?   Did they sit in the garden – which spot in the garden? – and watch clouds bump up against Kilimanjaro’s crown as mum does now, remarking every few minutes on how fast they move or change shape?

There is something necessary, of course, in renovating a house as home. But some I have rebuilt have not lasted. I look miserably upon a tangle of bush where a beautiful home once stood, reduced now as rubble and dust and a stubborn foundation. I only know it was mine for the flare of a bougainvillea I planted.

Who planted the avenue of Bird of Paradise in the home I love now? Great clumps of them down the drive that have burgeoned over the decades so that I could greedily pull them up and transplant them. 

There is generosity in planting a garden and belief that something at least will last: no matter what happens to the house, those little bulbs, those determined, resistant roots, will spawn year after year after year; you will always leave something for the next person if you plant a garden I have found …