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Home - Conscious Walls? by Eleanor Jolliffe

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The AJ Writing Prize 2014: Entry

This is the narrative of a home, built out of its landscape, and of years of inhabitation layered and learnt.

The home lies on the edge of a field, hugged by a single track road, mostly quiet. The yard to the front is cobbled in stones and rubble, a brick path navigating from sheds to door. To the side and rear grass rolls into woodland, and back again to field. It is a hardworking home with a roof pitch that remembers its original thatch and windows designed by necessity rather than delight.

A large slab lies in front of the door, both inviting muddy boots to be left outside and daring the uninitiated to cross it. This is no longer the public realm. Crossing the threshold is an act of discovery, almost of voyeurism.

Moving through the closed hall a ledged and braced door leads to the kitchen, the thick wooden floor trim demarking another boundary. Here a scene of domestic ritual unfolds: this space where people cook and eat marks a point at which memory is made and habits and customs crystallise over time and shared experience.

A dresser stands against the outside wall enclosing a collection of objects both useful and precious: blue and white china, a jar of polished stones, a crumbling corn dolly. To touch and explore these objects and their placing is an intimate act. To understand their purpose and their placing is to understand something of the gestural sequences of the person who put them there, especially in a kitchen so definitely arranged.

This kitchen is a theatre of operations of the practical arts and as this one is explored a passive recognition of these arts takes over. Muscle memory of an action never performed creates an intuitive need to lift the kettle onto the hob, or sink into that chair to unlace a pair of outdoor boots. The ritual usage of this space over time has left its mark: both tangibly, in the arms of chairs polished by years of use; and intangibly, in the distance between sink and hob measured in thirsty feet gasping for tea. Upon these repeated acts the culture of this home rests.

Leaving the kitchen behind and crossing back across the hall, another door and another boundary. In the room a fireplace dominates, chairs group conversationally around, as if remembering primitive storytelling around a campfire. The Sitting Room is a small and intimate world, directly experienced through the warmth of the fire; the smell of polish and lingering wood smoke; and the sound of murmured voices.

Here one is encouraged to sit and muse, to discuss and to dwell. The memories of this room indulge a curiosity for the worlds of others, and thereby a confirmation of existence in humanity. For a moment there is an opportunity to live in another’s private world, peering through the fabric of our own, the communal human identity magnifying and inscribing the rituals of the household, almost visibly, into the walls themselves. This room, its dreamy warmth, and small windows is sufficiently removed from the great outside to explore these worlds whilst remaining connected, to contextualise the resulting musings. It becomes the dream public space- in which all the passers-by have beloved faces.

Leaving the murmuring voices of the Sitting Room behind a tight, winding stair beckons from an alcove, drawing up and away. Its very form speaking of the privacy of the spaces beyond.

Following the stair and turning along the corridor beyond, feet begin to miss their mark where old timbers have warped the level of the floor. A door ajar invites exploration. A bedroom, that most intimate of spaces, where people lie at their most vulnerable, and where sleeping, sex, and death lie unsettlingly close.

However, this bedroom lies dormant- waiting for a guest, remembering the past. In its long emptiness previous lives seem to resonate more clearly, the cue to light a fire in the evidently long dormant fireplace weighs strong, engendering a feeling of otherness and unease. The story of previous occupants struggling against the sterile banality of a guest room, the Home fighting for a more emotive narrative.

This Bedroom is discovered in the uncanny: always waiting in the corners for the light to be extinguished on a never-ending winter’s night; or the sound of a footstep on the creaking floorboards outside pausing at the door. It is discovered in the draught that creeps across the room from the cupboard in the wall; the eyes of the hunter in the print on the wall; and the yawning emptiness of the fireplace. The stories of the room, passed on from grandchild to grandchild, grow and blossom in the mind till the curtains billowing in the draught from the window become terrors beyond imagining, felt more keenly in this protected space that hovers between dream and reality, sending a shiver of fear and excitement down tired spines. The Bedroom encloses its occupant in safety, yet its otherness alwaysthreatens to engulf.

Along the landing, hidden behind a door, another staircase follows, tight and twisting. Climbing it, objects pass: a pile of dog-eared paperbacks; a broken umbrella; a tangled extension cord, the debris of life lived.

A dark room opens up ahead, no outside world penetrates the silent, darkened, depths of the Attic. Woven hats and musical instruments hang from a rafter; toys that have endured three generations, and sixteen childhoods; a treasure-trove of dusty memories.

The Attic is infinite. Though quantitively smaller than the outside world the experiences in this space stretch across decades. As objects are encountered flashes of memory surface, illuminating the dark with the narrative of the recollected. Here refuge and repose can be found in the past. It is physical memory- the mind of the home, and of its family

The home slowly transcends context and becomes character, an emotional state in itself. It is a collection of images and memories held together by timbers, wattle, and daub. It is as much a manifestation of its family as they are of it.

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