Aware of a deadline for an open exhibition I wanted to enter, equally aware that I hadn’t even started thinking about what to make, I opened our blue front door to welcome a friend, and as I stepped back, realised that I’d only ever lived in left handed houses.
What I mean by that is that all the houses had the front door on the right hand side, so that when you enter the house, you turn left into the rooms – otherwise you’d go splat straight into the party wall, which would hurt, and might upset the neighbours.
I’ve never been much of a mover. I don’t travel light and have way too much stuff. Books and fabric and records and pictures and ornaments and nicknacks and just stuff! I read, sew, draw and paint, garden. I didn’t always garden, I did when I was small, helping Mum, and even having my own little patch to grow tiny radish and carrots. But then music and dancing took over and it was some years before growing things became important again. That was after I bought my flat. Planting a tree makes it even harder to move. Eventually though, we (for it was ‘we’ by then) dug up the nectarine tree, and the peonies, and an artichoke or two, and moved on.
This house we moved to, is only the sixth house I remember living in. There was a house when I was tiny, and I’ve seen photos, but I do not remember it. I know it in terms of stories: the kitchen-hatch my Dad made, the mice my brother loved to watch careering round his bedroom floor, the neighbours my crying drove demented.
I can’t draw that first house. I know the road name, but not the number. There were trees in the road, but the trees in the road I grew up in had spring blossom. One had both delicate white blossom and green leaves, together with heavy blousy pink blossom and plum coloured leaves. The trees have not fared well these past few years, and the gutters no longer fill with fallen blooms. We had a green front door, and a pyracantha tree in the corner, which my Dad kept trimmed to a lollypop shape.
When I finally started going Out, I stayed at friends and boyfriends, in Camden, in Kings Cross, in Haringey and somewhere in West London that involved a complicated process of hiding under a van to gain access to the house; going home to my parents for a change of more or less identical artfully ripped black clothes. My friends (and boyfriends) meant visits to Sheffield and Glasgow and Manchester. But my ‘stuff’ all stayed at my parents. My room was always there, and after a hot dinner, a warm bed, and maybe a Dynasty with Mum on a Friday evening, I’d head back off again. Sometimes I turned up and someone else had eaten the dinner and nabbed the bed, as my parents always looked out for our less fortunate friends.
After approximately 8,431 days, I moved across the River, into a room with my boyfriend. It was a big house with no shared living space, 15 miles north from my parents. My Dad drove me there in a car full of stuff, lit a cigar and laughed a lot. He hadn’t smoked for years. The boyfriend and I stopped talking to each other around 182 days later, I found myself another room in a different shared house, less than a mile away, and wonderful new friends. It was an unmitigated shithole, but with a pint of red wine in one hand, a big old funny cigarette in the other, and helping hands all around, I moved in. It had a big rambling hedge, that was never trimmed, and I think had a gate – or at least a gatepost, when I arrived. It was gone by the time I moved on, about 1,187 days later.
My next home was just around the corner, not even a quarter of a mile from the last, with, as usual, more people most of the time than actually lived there, plus four cats and two dogs. We had the offy on one side, which was very handy. I never saw the neighbours. Probably just as well. They must have suffered. The garden was crazy-paved all over, but had a tree. The huge ground floor bathroom had French doors. The offy had a German Shepherd dog that sat in their yard and howled, generally whenever things seemed quiet enough to chance a bath on a sunny day with the doors open.
Sleep began to seem a more attractive and necessary idea, and I began to think it might be nice to have somewhere of my own, maybe a garden. 912 days later, I found my flat, two and a half miles uphill.
My brother borrowed a van from work and arrived to help me move, as by then I had rather a lot of stuff, including a wardrobe and shelves to contain it. He said “we’d better unload the van first”, as it was pre-loaded with all stuff from my parents’ house, plus some things they thought might be useful and a small white table and chair from Granny. My parents’ house breathed a brief sigh of relief, before my parents set about filling all the now available space with yet more books and ornaments and records and things of their own.
I met my partner, The Engineer. He lived in Nobby Van, had a motorbike, tools, a couple of cassettes, but no stuff. He built a workshop on the back of the flat, and we took over the garden next door as our allotment.
4,716 days later we were moving on, 163 miles East to the seaside. Everything went into storage as our new house wasn’t entirely habitable, some might say it still isn’t. The Engineer was astounded and horrified by the sheer stuff volume: it kept appearing: cupboards disgorging their contents like Tardis. Added to which by then was his Edwardian safe, my full size kiln, and other death-defying one ton objects of a whole new level of stuffness to move. And my greenhouse – a leaving present from my last ever proper job some years before. That didn’t want to move. It had taken root along with the white peach tree and the big pink rose that bloomed all year, the magnolia and the apple trees, and the um, Japanese Knotweed.
So here we are, 4,836 days and counting, in my sixth left handed house, with a Cat That Isn’t Ours, and lots and lots and lots of stuff. One day it will all be in the right place, neat, tidy, accessible. Ha ha ha, say the Fabric Friends.
Six little houses, all in a row. Stitched by hand and machine, onto fabric from the stash. I had so much stuff I wanted to squeeze into this piece – names, and latitudes and longitudes, and dates and times, and distances. I wanted to map my infrequent moves, my travels with my stuff. The houses weren’t having it. They’ve formed themselves into a single terrace, stuff firmly behind closed doors.
Six little left-handed houses, with their post codes. I’ve only moved one degree East, less than a degree North or South. And I’ve never lived in a right-handed house.
I’ve only ever lived in left-handed houses. Machine and hand embroidery and crayon, on old bedlinen.