old clock and mottos

Because I have lived in so many places, I have been thinking about what is a ‘home’ – as opposed to a space you live in.

I was born in Dublin and then, because of my job, I moved overseas and lived in hospital accommodation. I had my own  place in Switzerland… in hospital accommodation in Norway… then back home.  A hospital in Scotland…. a house in Scotland….and back home again. Then a shared house in New Zealand.. a flat in New  Zealand… and then a temporary flat ( twice) in New Zealand, and back to  my parents-in-law.

Then we got our own house.. then a new-build… and finally now here.

It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, as they say. Your job, and different  things, take you different places.

Busy kitchen in Ireland

New Zealand is an incredibly beautiful country.

When we first flew out the first thing I saw was houses with swimming pools. That was quite a shock. To have a swimming pool in Ireland you  would have to be mega rich. 

We then flew straight to Queenstown where there are these massive mountains called “The Remarkables’ and I felt very hemmed in. I’d never lived in a sort of valley before. I have always been before the sea. Over time I got used to it but there was a sense where I felt shut-in.  

With tourism the population there expands from 12,000 to 30,000  – probably more so now. Because of the ski season there is tourism all year round.  It’s part of Asia-Pacific rim so there are a lot of Asian-owned hotels  and a lot of Japanese tourists. You see signs in Japanese. I know  people find Irish signs strange but Japanese is very ‘different.’  

In New Zealand the houses are very individual. They don’t have coal fires they have wood-burning stoves so they have these funny metal chimneys. 

People don’t really sit much at home they are always out… trekking.. hiking. Because of the children we were always down at the lake. The weather was so good most activities were outside.

postcard images of New Zealand
Postcard collage from New Zealand

Where we lived wasn’t a very Maori area, although someone told me recently that all of the coast in New Zealand is owned by the  Maoris and you have to get permission from them to build. You never actually own it. You just get permission. It’s their ancestral  home and they have spiritual beliefs about the land Aotearoa ( the land of the long white cloud). 

When we came back to Ireland I thought the homes here seemed much larger. Huge, stone edifices. Everybody is very possessive about their  homes but quite proud of their gardens – and no swimming pools. 

In Norway the houses are built with wood and metal. They are painted bright colours; oranges, yellows  and reds. When I first arrived it was winter so it was dark all day and  in the summer it was daylight all day. I found it very hard to sleep because you couldn’t be sure of the time. Life goes on nevertheless. 

It’s a very outdoor life. They knew how to travel in winter.  Here we don’t.

I remember Norway in the snow… the silence. You couldn’t hear a sound. There was white everywhere. You would hear your footstep  crisp in the snow. It was beautiful.

I was thinking: ‘Home is where the heart is’ and ‘ There’s no place like home’. We say all these things.

painting of New Zealand
New Zealand

When I was away and would think of ‘home’,  it was my parents home. That’s ‘home’.  

I always thought of Ireland as ‘home’ – even  when we lived in New Zealand. It’s where the people  are that you love. It’s not necessarily the space.

There’s the Irish expression: Níl aon thinteán mar do thinteán féin. “There’s no hearth like your own hearth”.

And WB  Yeats said  “I will arise and go now  and go to Innisfree and a small cabin  build their of clay and wattles made“. And that was his ‘home’. 

Harp from Ireland

I will always say I am Irish. And I am  proud of my heritage.

I am  resident in the UK but I haven’t actually got a UK passport. I just feel I  am Irish –  but I am not militant. I wouldn’t be a rebel or rebellious in that way.

There are lot of things I  remember about the home that I was brought up in. In our living room there is a poem  ‘Kindness’  which used to be on the mantlepiece of my parents’ living room:  

“ I shall pass through this world but once; any good thing I can do let me do it now, let me not defer it for I shall not pass this way again’. 

That’s something I’ve always held in my life.

Religious verse
The foundation and cornerstone of my life and home

I believe in the goodness of people and if you can help them I think it’s something we ought to do because it not only benefits them but it benefits you.

We all need help at different times in our lives. It mightn’t be anything big, it could be something small  You could be the only person they speak to that day. It’s very important.

Looking through reflective window

We have a  four bedroomed semi-detached house with a driveway and a front and back garden.

I live here with my two sons and a daughter. We moved here in April/ May 2015  

It has a slate roof with solar panels – which we installed.  There is the hall with the stairs going straight up. To the right there is the living room/dining room/kitchen. That was a change I made  because I opened up the kitchen living room to make it open-plan. There is patio  doors onto the garden. I have wooden floors –  I think they are oak.  

I have gas cooking and heating  controlled by a thermostat.  The stairs  are carpeted with a wooden handrail and that leads onto the  first floor. The main back bedroom with en-suite has a  built-in wardrobe and wooden floor. There is an airing cupboard as you come out and a bathroom with shower. 

Originally there was a bath but we changed it to suit our style of living. There is a front bedroom with an built-in wardrobe. The box-room which has been converted into an office for my son. We have stairs up the next floor and a converted bedroom, that was done before we moved in. 

two paintings and decorative cushions

I describe my home as modern and  homely –   but definitely not minimalist.

I like things around me that I have collected over the years – my books, personal items from travels. 

I liked this house because it was smaller than the house I had been living in. It was compact and more manageable  and I wanted to have neighbours and people around me. There was a lovely garden space – especially in the back  which was suitable for my dog. And I loved the trees and greenery all around. The bedrooms were a good size for us and the bathroom was adequate. 

I was a bit concerned about the stairs.

At that stage I had knee issues but nothing like what I have now. It was quiet too. I like the quiet. It was on a bus route and there were  families around, neighbours and a neighbourhood watch scheme, which I thought was useful. So those were kind of the things I was thinking of.

I knew there were  things I could do with the house to put my own stamp on it.  I could  see the potential. Sometimes when you  go into a house you think: no, I couldn’t do anything with that. And  also, I have to say, it was in my price range. That was a big factor. 

Because of  the house I lived in before I knew I wanted light so that’s why I went for the  open-plan.

Interior view open-plan
Open-plan kitchen/dining room through to living room

I opened up the kitchen and living room.

The patio doors are directly facing the front window so I’m  getting light directly through all day. In the back garden I have the sun from when it’s up, right round to the front  in the evening. So, there is sunshine coming through all the time.  From my bedroom I have the sun in the morning which makes it warm,  and the boys get it  at night. Although, in the attic room it’s roasting in the summer and freezing in winter. 

Generally I  find the house quite warm. With having a next door neighbour there is a transfer of heat   – and noise of course.  But that’s not a big thing.

I was used to being in a detached house so it was a bit of a learning curve for us. We  couldn’t be up at all hours of the night making a noise, we had to consider the neighbours. That was something very new.

We had some solar stuff done in our previous house and I knew that would probably be a good idea. I had the money  and thought I would put it into solar panels and I am very glad I did. Because it does help with the heating and cost. 

Basically, what happens is: any extra energy that we get is sold to the grid. We get that back in payment.

The sun is charging up the solar panels  – even on a dull day believe it or not. On the bright days it’s fantastic, a lot of energy is stored up and transferred to the grid, so we get a payment £7-800.  You have to wait a number of years for that investment to pay back. It’s not instant but I think it’s worthwhile. I think it  will be of benefit with the coming measures. 

We had a good summer this year but generally it depends on the weather.  In fact, when they came to check it they said we were doing better than predicted. I’m very pleased that we’ve done it.  We feed them back information so they don’t even have to come and do that. It’s not difficult.

bathroom

When we moved in  the bathroom was very dark, it had dark tiles. Again, it had that claustrophobic feeling. Sometimes you just get this feeling of being hemmed-in. 

The first time I took a bath – just after I had done a marathon ( not running, I walked) the bath leaked right  through into the living room. We took the bath out and put in a shower – which was more suited for our lifestyle. For adults it’s quicker to have a shower.  I had the whole thing tiled sort of like a wet room wall to floor. 

I would have liked a  downstairs toilet but that wasn’t possible at the time. It’s still something I’d like.  With advancing age getting upstairs to the toilet isn’t easy. I’m on crutches at the moment and it’s difficult. If you have guests it means  they wouldn’t  have to go upstairs. 

Family sign copy of original from family home
Bathroom message from my childhood home

I am probably the one  who chooses everything for the house but I do consult with my family.

I  had actually picked a bigger  house in the neighbourhood but at the last minute they pulled  out. We couldn’t renege on the furniture that we had bought so some of it is probably a bit larger than we would have liked, but it’s fine. 

There is a large dining room table  and one of my sofas is quite large, the other one is small and fits in. We had to move things around at the beginning to decide where we finally wanted them to decide what is right. With the open space into the kitchen you can’t put something to block it because that would spoil the whole point.

We do have a large TV but I am delighted with it – certainly for sports.

You have  a birdseye view of Wimbledon, rugby, football whatever. It’s better than if you have a grandstand view. 

My lamps are a bit like  the theodolites surveyors use, with a lampshade on top. I just took a fancy to them, I don’t know why. I saw them in a magazine and thought they are quite nice. So I got two of them.

tripod lamp

Before I moved in I had to get the house repainted because I didn’t like the colour schemes.

My bedroom was a very strong blue – it was too strong.  I’ve gone magnolia throughout. It’s my go-to colour because I think you can put your furnishings, pictures and stuff and it doesn’t interfere with the colour.

I like neutral colours. I’ve got neutral coloured curtains that I like and wooden curtain poles. A lot of that probably has been influenced by my travels. In Norway their houses are wood inside and they hang carpets up on the wall. They are beautiful.

The kitchen is small – which I like.

It’s like a galley kitchen and you don’t have to  walk too far to get to things. I’m  finding that very helpful  at the moment because with the crutches sometimes when I stand in the kitchen  I don’t have to use them because I can reach from one side to the other.

kitchen - view to window

I’m learning to be very economical with my physical  energy.

I’m appreciating more and more what disabled people particularly have to manage with. Bending down  can be tricky. Having ovens at waist level is good. 

My son helped me rearrange my cupboards because I had plates down low and so we moved  them up to the top. Why did we now do this is the beginning? You are bending down all the time, stuff you use every day.  If you put it up high it’s so much easier! 

For me, with the osteoporosis, it’s weight-bearing while you are standing. I’m avoiding bending because it probably wouldn’t be so good for my back. So it’s ergonomic.  

Washing and  all those daily activities are all good exercise. You don’t realise how much  you are physically using your body to do things.  It’s only when you have  had a period of prolonged bedrest that you  appreciate how much you actually  do with your body, all those daily things. It has taken a while for me to get back to… getting up to have the shower, to come down the stairs to do these activities without getting exhausted. 

Even getting up and down out of a chair can be a challenge depending on the chair.  

I like my kitchen chairs because they are good and firm. They have good strong backs. My sofas are a  bit tricky, they  are soft and you sink into them. Because we have been here seven years they are getting a wee bit worn. But our dog L. likes them. 

dog bed by the window

L. is my faithful  friend, every present, ever-loving unconditional love.

She is just amazing. You  wake up in the morning, there she is… the tail wagging. She is happy  to see you. You can come in in a bad mood and you see L. and your mood  changes. Dogs sense your moods.  

She watches everything from the front window. She tells you what’s going on before you know it. If a car is passing or if there is someone she doesn’t know walking along… or even ones she does know.  She spots the cats –  she  knows them all. 

I can go out and give her a walk and the exercise is good. It  actually provides social contact because when people see  you with a dog I think they think you are OK. They will come up and talk to you.

I have met so many people here through the dog.  

Often I know the dog’s names before I know their owners’ names.   We always chat about the dogs.

She’s 13 now so she is getting on.

For her the house is proving a little bit difficult and the stairs are becoming difficult. She does sleep  on my bed so jumping up on the bed is getting awkward.   She now has a cage and she likes that, it’s her own space, her ‘ tent’. She goes in there when she wants to be alone, or if she feels unsure. If people  come in that’s where she can go if she doesn’t feel safe.

dog cage
Where she feels safe and secure

I have a ramp for her but she doesn’t really like it yet so I will have to teach her. It’s like a deckchair.  You’ve got 3  ways of adjusting and it’s hard so she can walk up it to the sofa, or to the bed, or if it came to it, to the car. 

She is my dog-friend whom I love. She has helped me to keep active and now it’s my turn to take care of her.

Her joints are  stiffening and she has pains.

But, we are all getting old.

It’s like the seasons. I’m probably in an autumn phase now,  there are things falling off, and then there will be the winter. 

Sometimes  my children say: ‘Mum there is too much clutter in here you have to get rid of those things’.  I have got rid  of a lot of stuff. So it’s a case of just going through things.  

As you go though  life…  experiences, cycles and things…there are things you don’t need any more. I have done a  big root-out of my wardrobe. Lots of things.

As you get older  you change  physically, your palette changes and your colour so lots of clothes have gone. There are things I don’t  use any more. 

My mother  was a hoarder. She kept every plastic container, knives and forks. The cupboards in the kitchen were full of them. But there was a reason for that, and I understand that. It was not so much in the rest of the house  but in her own personal space and the kitchen. We used to say could we not help?  But no, she couldn’t part with these things. 

bear sculpture garden ornament
My garden Teddy

So there is a time when you can give things away. You can’t just part with it straight away. Some things I regret giving away, or throwing out, but it’s fine. Now I have a more mature view and I’m  looking to the future. It’s more productive. 

At my age I don’t  want to leave my family to deal with a load of stuff. That’s in my mindset at the moment, preparing for old age – a time when I am not able to  be so mobile, and ultimately death. These things are in your subconscious, but not in a bad way. Preparing you.  

two sofas and standard lamp

So that’ why  we say: ‘Carpe Diem’. Make the most of every day.  

At home I’m  up usually quite early, anything from 6am onwards.  I am down in the kitchen doing  bits and pieces … the dishwasher is on, the washing machine. I have a little quiet time which is my faith thing where I read scripture and pray. I always  have the radio on, Radio 4. I love to listen to Women’s Hour  when I’m doing housework. Sometimes I’m dressed before I come down, sometimes I shower before I come down, sometimes not. 

I read a lot. I would be out with the dog,  take care of meals, planning groceries and delivery.  The boys do it for me on the computer. I might be  out with friends and I go to  a “ Healthy Bones” class now, for my osteoporosis.   I love letter writing, letters and cards and all  sorts of things like that and making plans for Christmas. My daughter  was home from Australia recently so I did a lot with her.

white rose in garden

I do enjoy the garden, and I didn’t really before. 

 I’ve  taken a lot of things out because I couldn’t manage it so I have it  pruned right back. 

Because it gets the sun I sometimes sit out and get my vitamin D  and have my tea and breakfast in the garden. I love the birds. There is a robin on my  fence the other day and it was just  such a delight.  There are far more  birds here than in my other home.  The blackbirds and collared doves.  We always had starlings in Dublin.  

New Zealand was wonderful for birdlife, lots of tuis and waxeyes  little green and  yellow birds with  white around their eyes. And their song…  

Birdies home in my garden

Whenever  I’m talking to my daughter in Australia you can hear in the background the songs of the bell birds, it’s just beautiful. We have lots of berries on the rowan trees so I hope it doesn’t mean a hard winter. There’s one opposite me and the birds are down at it first thing. 

Energy costs are a challenge.

I’m going to  set  my thermostat at about 18. It’s better to have it low  when you go out rather than turning it off until you come back because your boiler has to heat up again.

I use a gas heater (calor gas) in the mornings and I also have a camping gas  cooker, just one ring that I  have been using to cook my porridge on in the mornings. If I am only using one ring I  would tend to use that.  I also have a slow cooker that I use.

I changed my curtains. They are a bit better, but not great ,and I am going to get some draft excluders. My son was suggesting to get the windows looked at. My insulation in the attic is OK.  I have the right type of light bulbs, energy efficient and I have  candles in stock in case we have power cuts. There is nothing  we can do about the fridge.  

I think this will make people will be more entrepreneurial. They will come up with ways of managing.

I don’t think  this is going to be solved quickly. It will be an on-going thing. If you have surplus of something you could   pass it on to a neighbour. People might not like it because they might think it’s an invasion of their privacy but if we had a community link we could offer things that way… clothes.. anything. If somebody needs them why not?

I think in the street  we could do things as a community to share more. 

It’s part of my faith to have ‘home’ in your heart, a spiritual thing. In French it’s ‘abri’  ‘a shelter’ from the storms of life. It’s where I feel  safe and protected. God is part of that. 

personal motto -
One of my maxims in life

All Photos by the Respondent

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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