I first met Jennie at a book launch – you can read my gaffe of the American introducing herself in my book Finding Myself in Britain. I didn’t know then that I was meeting a wonderful woman who would become the editor to that book – one who had lived in the States for five years and so could speak both languages. And a consummate tea aficionado, who helped hone that chapter on tea. But she’s more than “just” an editor, of course; I picture her with a smile and a ready laugh. I love how she embraces life, thinking deeply about her faith, with joy oozing from her. I don’t think I could live with her – I couldn’t handle her tolerance for clutter, as you’ll see below – but I love counting her as one of my friends.
We first met at a Starbucks in central London. He’d seen my profile online, we’d exchanged a couple of emails and now we’d found a quick half hour after work to meet. Time was of the essence, especially for him; we had to make a decision fast. Sure, we were complete strangers but… could we live together?
No, this wasn’t speed dating on – er – speed. He had found my profile on a Christian flat-hunting (apartment hunting) website. I had listed the area I wanted to live in and the maximum price I could afford, he had found a flat that fit the bill and needed someone to share it with.
[A note for readers living outside of London: here it’s not a big deal for guys and girls to share flats/apartments. It is very common, and culturally totally appropriate. I’m aware that’s not the case in most other areas!]
So we met and tried to size each other up – what do you do for a living? Do you like to have friends over or go out to socialise? Do you smoke? Do you drink? How much do you care about tidiness/clutter? In other words, what does ‘home’ mean to you?
Our conceptions seemed compatible, and the flat, though a dark, damp, rather chilly basement, was in an incredible location right in the centre of London, so we moved in.
We’ve now lived in that flat for seven years. I’ve loved the location, loved (in the summer months) my ‘writing cave’ in one of the old coal cellars and loved the fact that, for the most part, my flatmate and I have passed like ships in the night (often literally, as I have been coming in from an event and heading to bed, just as he is adjusting his bow tie in the hall mirror and going out for the evening!).
But now it’s time to go our separate ways. He is being posted overseas for work, and I am flat-hunting again.
Now, of course, I’m seven years older, and my criteria have changed somewhat. Then I cared about location, price, and flatmates who didn’t smoke. Now in my 40s, those things are still factors, but given that I don’t want to have to move again any time soon, I definitely want this next place to feel like home.
So what does that mean now?
In no particular order, here are four things that I have come to value (or realise I value):
One reason my flatmate and I got on so well is that we both have a similar tolerance to clutter. The various tables and work surfaces were always strewn with newspapers, letters, books, empty tea mugs, Amazon packaging and various other oddments. We both had books double-stacked and DVDs in teetering piles on the bookcases. The kitchen worktops always held the dishes and utensils we most often used and… you get the picture – we liked clutter. Home to me is somewhere where I’ve got my stuff around me and it’s OK to leave it there for a day or more until I next need it.
I want my home to be a place where people feel welcome and want to come to eat, to relax, to hang out or to stay. I wish I’d made the effort more often to invite people over here, but apart from a few dinners, a couple of parties and the occasional Life Group meeting it hasn’t happened very much.
Part of the difficulty is that I’m not a natural ‘gatherer’. It’s hard work getting people to come to anything I organise, especially spontaneous things with no real purpose. Perhaps this time I need to choose flat mates who naturally draw others to them – then I could do all the cooking and preparing while my flatmates drum up the crowd to share it with.
On the other hand, maybe I should live alone because I also value…
3) Alone time.
I loved those weekends, and occasional weeks, when I would get the house to myself. Even though we rarely saw each other, it was nice just to know that the house was empty, and would be when you came home. I could leave the washing up in the sink for days, eat things like fish without feeling guilty about the smell, and not trip over his shoes when going to the loo in the middle of the night!
Ah, little luxuries! Speaking of which, there’s one more that was never on my list before but is now right up at the top:
This cold, dark, damp basement has been fine for most of these seven years, but for the last 18 months or so it’s been starting to get to me (particularly as I now work from home three days a week). I’m tired of having no idea what the weather is doing. I’m tired of always having to have lights on. I’d like to be able to see a sunset or hear the rain. I want to be able to curl up and read in the patch of sunlight falling across my chair. I want to not live in a cave!
This flat has been wonderful. I have loved being able to walk to St James’ Park or home from the West End, I’ve loved lying in bed listening to the chimes of Big Ben. My flatmate has been almost ideal, and we’ve survived seven years with barely a difference of opinion. He was a total hero when my ceiling fell down and had to be replaced while I was in hospital. He has borne being in the darker, damper, smellier room with fortitude, and his foibles have been odd but – I’m sure – no more annoying than mine.
God provided an amazing place that has been home for nearly a sixth of my life – the second longest I have lived anywhere. As I look for where – and with whom – He will take me next, I’ll be grateful for His provision whatever that looks like, but I’ll be seeking to add these little touches that make a house my home.
Jennie Pollock is a freelance writer and editor who says she’s a ‘book-loving, blog-writing, tea-drinking, London-adoring, cheerful, joyful, trying-to-be-more-prayerful, image-bearing child of God.’ She has an MA in Philosophy, a BEd in English and a commendation in tea-making from several former colleagues. Alongside her freelancing, she works part time as Director of Communications for Kings Church Kingston. You can find her online at jenniepollock.com.