Saturday, 18 October 2008

The bohemian (with a lower case b)

This approach to the house as outlined in my previous post is I suspect a coming together of a number of influences and aspirations. As ever in talking about such things in this blog I find myself looking back at childhood influences. I confess that I have always loved those homes which displayed the artistic and individualistic, that were comfortable in themselves and what they said about their owners. In fact I loved the bohemian before I ever was drawn to Bohemia.

A major influence was the home of my creative writing teacher. Her house was down a steep lane near Painswick in Gloucestershire – a Cotswold stone house in a runaway garden. The house was decorated with angels in all sorts of forms – indeed “you turned a stone and found them there”. The main sitting room was full of books, in bookcases, in piles on the floor and on tables. Also in piles were pieces of paper filled with some form of creation – musical or poetic, by her or by some protégée, often myself. On the walls were all sorts of pictures. The furniture was old, some of it probably valuable, all of it comfortable and lived in. On the surfaces not occupied by books or papers was an eclectic collection of decorations. Antiques, stones of unusual shape or colour, little presents from children, reminders of trips to her beloved Greece - all jostled for space.

The kitchen had a bare Cotswold stone wall on one side and whitewashed walls on the others and a large kitchen table around which we sat. On the shelves were tins and jars and books. Work was needed on it, I don't recall it happening, but I do remember the smell of her cooking and herbs (she had a fine line in stews). Outside the kitchen window she had decorated the wall of an outbuilding with a Greek scene. Upstairs at the very top of the house was an attic full of costumes (for the plays which she directed us in) racks and piles of them. When you went up there you would feel your way through, with memories of Shakespeare, Christopher Fry, Euripides, Dylan Thomas and the annual pantomime hitting you in the face and nostrils. I felt very at home in her house. Several years later I was reminded of her home, when first I stepped into the Blackheath flat of my Czech puppeteer friend.

It seems to me looking back that my teacher's openness to the collection of objects which occupied every cranny of her house was symbolic of her openness to everything, to the potential which she saw in us and to the beauty of the world. And I loved it and have tried to live my life with my eyes open, with a willingness to turn stones and seek angels in the unordered order of God's good world.

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