Feel the roots of the house move

I dream a lot about houses, my own, other people’s, houses I know and houses that exist only in dream-towns. In waking life, I’m intrigued by the faces houses have, the patterns of their doors and windows, and the glimpses of life within.

I was in Amsterdam in early March, just before the lock-down and it was a chance to admire the canal houses with none of the usual crowds of tourists and also to visit the House of the Heads, which holds the astonishing Ritman Library. Every room in that building is beautiful, in its proportions, its collections and the extravagant vases of tulips and delphiniums.

On returning home, I read Jessie Burton’s compelling novel The Miniaturist which describes life in a household of bizarre characters in Golden Age Amsterdam and a house-within-a-house where miniatures of people, animals and musical instruments have a parallel and sinister life.

Of course a house is a potent symbol of the self with its attics and cellars, its boundaries, and potential for both sanctuary and secrecy. The events unfolding in the world at the moment are shaking the foundations of many of our houses, and a poem that kept coming to mind in recent days, especially after restless, dream-filled nights, is Ted Hughes’ Wind from his 1968 collection ‘Hawk in the Rain’.

There’s a sense of holding on tight, some claustrophobia, and when the wind isn’t howling, an eerie quiet. We’re safe and snug in our own houses and ‘far out at sea’ simultaneously.