from the Architects Build Small Spaces exhibition
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Last summer, I took a picture of this small treehouse:
described, by its Japanese creator, as Beetle's House.
The charred pine exterior of this elevated teahouse
resembles the tough, blackened shell of a beetle.
Tomorrow, we sign the papers that will put The Barn on the market. After five blissfully settled years, we will somehow gather our things and move them . . . again. I immediately have a visual image as I write those words: Just how large would a two-arm's span need to be in order to gather up all of our multitudinous belongings? The size of a small English county, surely.
Last night I had the first (of what will probably be many) "moving" nightmares.
Eleven years ago we bought The Barn. My husband likes to say I cried, (because it was so ugly and needed so much work); I don't remember actually crying, but I'm sure that I wanted to. What hideous rows we used to have in front of the architect. And even before, before the decision had been made: when I said, "but it's so ugly" and Sigmund said, "yes, but it's a lot of house for the money."
After a year of work, the house became a place that I wanted to live in -- but even as we moved into it, there was rumbling about a new job, another move.
And so we moved, back to Texas -- but we kept the house, for five long years, and never really expecting to live in it again.
Five years again, (and six houses in the meantime), we moved back to The Barn . . . and the refiguring and refashioning began again. This time, I concentrated on creating a garden. We moved the garage around, and so many square feet of gravel became herbaceous borders. Grass was dug up to make herb beds. Roses were planted. You know that Joni Mitchell song about paving Paradise and putting in a parking lot? Well, we did it the other way around.
In June, (although certainly not in February), it looks something like this:
Best to sell a house in June, but better to leave it in January.
We have created this little paradise, and the house encases us and our things nearly perfectly, but it is not in the right place . . . and it never has been. I've never really liked where we lived; it's never felt quite right to me. I've never felt quite right in it.
In almost twenty years, we've never moved just because we wanted to; such decisions have always been a job-driven and imperative. I guess that's true of most people.
But now we live in a place where we have no jobs, and soon we will have absolutely no reason to be tethered to it anymore. Familiarity, yes; and after five years, some friends; and a garden that still hasn't matured. But we've decided that what basically amounts to inertia (a comfortable inertia, true) is not quite enough reason to stay.
Everyone asks me why we are moving to Oxford -- a place of notoriously high house prices.
Because my daughter is going to school there (the most obvious reason).
Because our teenagers need a town, and more scope for independence -- and we are tired of driving them everywhere. And speaking of cars, we don't want to be so dependent on them anymore.
Because I want to ride a bicycle.
Because I want cinemas, and museums, and bookstores, and parks and cafes and concerts and something to do on rainy days. Because there are so very many rainy days in England.
I've been looking at houses in Oxford for more than a year. I know the offerings by heart; I can tell you which houses have been on the market since last summer and why. (Any really nice house will hardly surface on a property website; and if it does, it will disappear in a week.) I realise that we may have to rent for a year, so we (too) can pounce as cash-in-hand buyers. I realise that, no matter what, I won't have a house as capacious as this one. (The dining room furniture will definitely have to go. And where will we put all of the wedding china, and the crystal glasses that my husband loves?) Compromises will have to be made. But still, I want a bicycle -- with a wicker basket in front to put the shopping in. I want to know bookish people, because I've never really fit in with the horsey/shooting types who vote Conservative no matter what.
I want this move, but I'm a veteran when it comes to moving and I don't underestimate the cost of upheaval.
It would all be so much easier if we could just fit into a little treehouse . . . or like the beetle, take our house with us.