Wednesday 1 January 2014

New Year's Day

So much has happened in the last year: the first anniversary of my second marriage; the monthly deadlines and daily decisions at work; and, in the week before Christmas, leaving a much-loved family house, after over a decade living there. As it happens (and doesn't it so often happen this way?), the builders hadn't finished the house we were supposed to be moving into, and so I put all the furniture into storage, and departed Crouch End with eight suitcases, in a sudden flood of tears.
Since then, I have been hither and thither, until arriving in the Highlands for Christmas and the New Year, whereupon there has been feverish activity (unpacking suitcases, wrapping presents, last minute shopping in Ballater, and the discovery of a wonderful bookshop there, which I highly recommend to anyone with a love of Scottish literature, gardens and history).
And in between these bursts of energy come the inevitable moments of exhaustion, and the occasional yet piercing sense of homesickness. All of which has reminded me this afternoon of Freud's essay, 'The Uncanny', and his quotation therein of the saying, 'Love is homesickness'. In Freud's analysis -- or rather, in my reductive version of his more sophisticated approach -- a man's longing for home might represent a desire to return to his true place of origin, his mother's body. (Intriguingly, the link in Freud's essay between that which is eerie, and yet also uneasily familiar, comes from the German, unheimlich -- meaning uncanny or seemingly supernatural -- and heim, meaning home.)
So where does that leave me, exactly? I have come to love Tillypronie, this house high in the Aberdeenshire hills, surrounded by heather-clad mountains and deep, peat-dark lochs. The first time I came here, in the summer of 2009, I felt an odd -- and yes, almost eerie -- sense of recognition, although perhaps that was because I was already falling in love with the man who brought me here, and who was to become my husband.
Yet the house has always seemed like another woman to me; a maternal guardian, perhaps, to successive generations who love returning here, in every season of the year. All of them have their own memories and childhood associations with the fabric of home; each has a deep and abiding relationship with this peaceful, hidden place. Might that also be true of other houses where I have lived? Certainly, I feel comforted by knowing that my former home in London now belongs to another family with children who will play in the garden, just as mine did in the past; as did those of the previous owner (and doubtless others before them, too).
I'm not quite sure where any of these musings might lead me to on New Year's Day, 2014 -- nowhere in particular, except for the knowledge, as I grow older, that in endings there are also beginnings; and apparently familiar stories can evolve into rather different, unexpected narratives. Here I sit, as winter darkness falls outside, safe within the shelter of ancient walls; where the scent of hyacinths is filling the room. And with that scent comes another remembered fragment -- not Freud, this time, but T.S Eliot:
        Frisch weht der Wind   
        Der Heimat zu,   
        Mein Irisch Kind,   
        Wo weilest du?   

“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;     
They called me the hyacinth girl.”   
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,   
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not   
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither   
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,     
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.

The German lines in that passage of The Waste Land come from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde; the translation, so I am told, is: Fresh blows the Wind/ To the homeland./ My Irish child,/ Where are you dwelling? Like Freud's Uncanny, Eliot's Waste Land continues to confound me, with every passing year -- but somehow, both seem resonant on this, the first day of the year, when the past seems as close as the future, and the world keeps turning, even as we look back and yearn for safety, before moving onwards again...


kairu said...

Happy new year, Justine! What a year of love and adventures it's been, and here's to another one ahead! Hard to say goodbye to a beloved home, but soon enough the new one will become as familiar and as beloved, in a different way...the hermit crabs understand this. And the snakes understand this: that the old skin must fall away, leaving us naked and vulnerable for that brief time before another one grows in, but we know it will come, soon enough.

Justine Picardie said...

Thank you, Kairu. I've been thinking of hermit crabs quite a lot in the last fortnight, as I lug my suitcases around. Here's to a new home!

Lilacs said...

Hello Justine, you have been busy. Your new house when it is finished, will become a home as soon as you start to fill it with memories and people you love. I have hyacinths on their way, but my paperwhites are already here and gifting us with their heavenly scent. Hope for me is not the thing with feathers, it's the thing with fragrance and delicate blooms. It tells me that this January/weather too will pass. A very happy 2014 to you. x

Justine Picardie said...

I love paper-whites too: we have them inside the house in Scotland; a reminder that spring -- and lilacs -- will return.

Natalia | Look-A-Porter said...

Dear Justine, I think, for the first time, I might have found an answer to why I often go back to my past and the placed I live in. I call it "nostalgia", but I guess it does have something to do with craving that something that once made me - ME. And it is the sensation and the memories that make me miss my first home and love it the way it was, with all the scratches and imperfections, so to speak. :)

But the most wonderful thing about memories is that we can make new ones, just as precious and meaningful as the rest and simply treasure them whilst living here and now, appreciating people and things that surround us.

I did follow the man I loved, too, though he happened to live in a country thousands of miles away from mine… I know love makes any changes easier and I think as the time goes by, the new home will feel like a warm embrace, not "another woman". I would understand if it was a soulless "new build", but you are lucky to be a part of something beautiful, a visual treat you can live in.

Just learn to love it, care for it the way you would for a friend. I think the place must be incredibly fascinating to learn about, discover and cherish - don't rush for you should never rush when it comes to love, but live one day at a time and I am sure the new house will feel like real home before you know it.

Happy New Year to you! Let it be a very special one!

P.S. I am sorry for such a long comment…

enid said...

Oh how lovely to have you back I have missed you. I agree re old homes and often dream of my childhood home. I love the line Life is only worth living because we hope it will get better and we'll get home safely from Deborah Levy's book Swimming Home. The question of what is home is such a difficult one to answer. Fill your new home with the things and people you love and it will be a real home. I am so pleased to have you back in blogland and wish you a wonderful 2014.

jaywalker said...

Lovely to hear from you again. I'm sure the new house will soon become just as much home as Crouch End. I'll always have memories of it, however brief!
I've just finished Intimate Lies (missed it somehow in the past) about F Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graeme (another journalist and columnist) and it struck me while I was reading it that some people never seem to have the need to put down long-term roots while others couldn't live any other way. The number of houses and apartments they passed through seemed enormous.

The Fitzgeralds were lifelong vagabonds as was Graeme. Perhaps in tune with their restless natures.

Unknown said...

Happy New Year Justine, enjoying your posts and lovely writing.We had so many adventures in Scotland (11 years in Borders and two children born there) but now back in Yorkshire near Hebden Bridge, also lovely! Life is good ( not without challenge - but it'd be boring if it was all plainsailing) love Viv Wade (nee Hall)

The Scrivener said...

I think you can still just about say Happy New Year, so I'll get it in under the wire while I still can. Happy New Year, Justine! And HNY to everyone else who follows this blog!
I have missed your blogs, Justine, but have felt like I have kept in touch with what you are up to by popping by your Twitter and catching up - love the pics from the shows. And through your Twitter I found Kairu's and now sometimes I pop by there too - hope it's not weird for non-tweeters to read Twitter, I confess it does feel a bit lurker-like as I can't respond - and I really am aching to sometimes! Anyway, it has helped keep the threads of connection intact. Perhaps I will relent and become a tweeter one day...

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Unknown said...

Happy New year my old friend... of course it's March, hope your Paris trip was wonderful. I still so love your writing and will be bringing your Daphne with me on holiday, all my love

Read Me said...

Dear Justine,
With your interest in Charlotte Bronte and Daphne du Maurier, I thought you may be interested in my latest post on my book blog called Read Me where I have posted my review of 10 Great Classic Books and Books That Relate To Classics:
I hope you enjoy it.
Best regards,
Louise Owens

Judith Kinghorn said...

Hi Justine, just stumbled on this gorgeous post - which resonates so much with me... When we moved into our house in Hampshire I somehow knew it had been inhabited by women, and later, after much research, began to use these women and their lives as inspiration for my novels. But I also became acutely aware of the passing of time and, strangely, how insignificant it is to the history of a house… the comings and goings, changing fashions and passing of seasons. Years may change their number, but the past lingers on within walls... And now, after fifteen years, I dread leaving this place.

By the way, and as you already know, I loved your 'Daphne'. One of my favourite books EVER.
A VERY belated Happy New Year. I hope it's been good to you.
Judith x

Judith Kinghorn

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Anonymous said...

Hi Justine - I came and heard you speak about 'Daphne' at the Oxford Literary Festival, bought a copy which you signed (!) and loved the book.
Looking forward to following your blog in 2015, which I hope is successful for you.

Read Me said...

Dear Justine,
I have reviewed your fabulous book on my book blog, Read Me here; . Please feel free to share this link with anyone who enjoys reading great books!
I was wondering if you would be interested in doing an interview via email for my interviews page: ?
This would involved you answering 10 questions via email and then emailing the answers back to me with a photo of yourself. I would then link the interview to my review of your book and post it on Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and Instagram. Could you please let me know if you can do this interview and I will email you back the questions.
I look forward to hearing from you as I would really like to highlight you.
Best regards,
Louise Owens

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