I’ve been coming here for more than half of my life. If you add up all the days I’ve spent here, it won’t add up to much, not compared to all the other days I’ve spent in other places. But it’s the coming back, that’s what’s important. That’s what makes it feel like home.
Look around and there’s nothing of me here. No, not nothing – there are odd bits and pieces: the big brass coal bucket that’s too big for our fireplace at home, but looks great on the huge hearth here; the box of paper and drawing materials that we bring out and put away every time we come with the girls, full of pictures they’ve drawn that they laugh at when they come again, a year or two older and wiser; the picnic things – not the first set we’ve had here – ready for day-trips with kids too young or fussy to be any fun in restaurants.
Where else am I? Perhaps in the garden a little, though you need to be here more regularly to make much of a mark in a garden. In the visitors’ book, thanking, recording the little incidents of our stays. And in the little house, Mon Rêve, in spirit, because of the pleasure of the hours I’ve spent hidden away there writing.
What makes it feel like home is familiarity, I suppose. I know how the house works. I know where things are, though I also know I don’t necessarily put them away in the right places. When I drive through each town on the way, turn the familiar turns, pause with the house beside me and the view in front before getting out of the car, I think, yes, here I am, this is the place.
And from visit to visit the house has changed. Sometimes it’s little things – Where’s the teapot you always use? Ooh look, new outdoor furniture! Hey, there’s brilliant wifi here (that’s the kids!). Sometimes big things – the house expanding into the unfinished shell of a building next door; the beautiful Mon Rêve; the orchard.
I’ve come here with friends and family, but most often with Robert. This place has been part of him and me as long as we have been Robert-and-Claire. Our children have spent time here from when they were tiny babies who would not settle in their beds in the hot rooms upstairs while they could hear us on the terrace below, through toddlers we had to watch constantly as they negotiated the stone steps and the open staircases, to teens who lurk in the far reaches of the house, eating BN biscuits while glued to the internet that’s so much better than at home. It’s a house to be together in, to have lunches than stretch out until who knows when, because after all, who’s wearing a watch, and dinners that end with sitting watching the stars and talking about everything. Is this what everyone looks for in a holiday? It’s what I want: gather the people I love and listen to whatever they have to say.