Monday, April 27, 2015

Houses and homes

DSC00512 (1300x867)It’s a Swedish Morning in Dorset.   The air is still, low light highlighting the leaves.  The sky’s a smooth blue wash, the air cold and the sun warm.  It evokes feelings of the Archipelago, reflections on lapping water, rounded rocks bordering dappled forests, the boats tied at rest.

DSC00531 (1300x862)It’s a Seattle Morning in Dorset.  Upstairs, there’s a queue for the bathroom, downstairs a rush for the kitchen. It will be an hour before hot water replenishes.  I remember calling the time up to the kids, 20 minutes then 10, before we had to leave for school.  The moaned responses, gathering the things for the day, organizing the family’s tasks.  Do we need dinner; what time should I pick you up? 

Home is where you are made welcome, where you feel needed, where you find your peace.

DSC00529 (867x1300)Should house, home, life, be clean or cluttered?  Two columnists exchanged letters in FT Home after visiting one another’s spaces.  One aspired to Kondo-style austerity: Anything that doesn’t make you happy or isn’t absolutely necessary should be touched, thanked and sent on its way.   The other embraced Freddy Mercury style disorder: I want to lead the Victorian life, surrounded by exquisite clutter.

I tend towards the latter.  Disordered spaces feel more personal and creative (as long as they are clean). Atalier The workshops and atelier's of artists and writers are dens of chaos, filled with inspirational memorabilia collected from travels and friends.  It’s cozy to be among the soft furniture, shelves of knick-knacks, and displays of art and photos that chronicle a life richly and happily lived.  It suggests, too, that the owner will have similar embrace and care for future times and peoples.

“I discovered that having each thing in the right place was not the well-deserved reward of an ordered mind, but a pretense to hide the disorder of my nature.”  ― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

DSC00520 (1300x862)There’s a comfortable clutter of people too.  The cardiologist waves and rushes to clinic; the kids’ come by asking about forms they are filling in.  I set aside a NY Times article about whether ‘roommate groupings’ might fit lifestyles where people want to live their own life, do their own things, but return to a familiar home base each evening. Cohousing mixes shared and individual spaces, diverse professional residents, combines privacy, community and sociability

For the moment, it kind of works. Its better than rattling around the empty house, warmer and larger than an apartment where I only pass neighbors in the hallways.

The Greek mom joins me for a coffee in the garden and brings her hyacinth out for some air.  She offers to make dinner for everyone this evening.  Language differences prevent much conversation, but we can agree it’s a nice morning to enjoy a half-hour’s quiet before the day truly begins.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Stubbings House gardens

DSC00487 (1300x867)In 1940, Dutch Queen Wilhelmina fled the Netherlands ahead of the advancing German army, landing in the United Kingdom to maintain an independent Dutch government.  She broadcast messages back to the Netherlands as Radio Oranje, actually air time granted on BBC transmitters.  Loyal, outspoken and sometimes controversial in her criticism of the Dutch political leadership, Churchill once commented that she the only real man among the governments-in-exile in the UK.

Koeningdag will be celebrated on Monday in the Netherlands, a date set aside since Juliana’s ascension to the Dutch throne following the end of the War.  In Wilhelmina’s day, it was held on August 31, popular as the final day of school summer vacation.

Wilhelmina 1942 Wilhelmina and Elizabeth

Among the places she lived while in the UK was Stubbings House, pictured above, now a private residence and garden center in Berkshire.  The gardens were open for charity this weekend, and so ‘off to see the 18th century Georgian building and the surrounding rare trees and woodland flowers.

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The fields beyond the Ha-ha (a novelty trench designed to keep cows out of the crops) were yellow with blooming rapeseed, and the woodlands were sprinkled with primrose and buttercups amidst the remaining bluebells and daffodils.  The signage could have been better the Iron Age ruins and Ice Pit were impossible to find.

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The rain held off long enough for a good walk through the estate, cake and tea in the greenhouse, and browsing for a few plants among the flowering trees to take back home.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

The World’s ‘State of Happiness’

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Gorse and heather are blooming along East Cliffs, luminous against the sea.  Beyond, the Isle of Wight shines at the mouth of the Solent.  It’s a warm, windy evening near Bournemouth, perfect for a walk, a coffee, and a bit of scribbling.

The UN ranking of the world’s happiest countries is out – the Dutch have fallen to seventh from fourth, overtaken by Norway, Canada and Finland.  The US is 15th; the UK is 21st.  There are lots of interesting sub-statistics: In general, younger people are angrier, middle-aged worry more, and older folks are sadder (all to a slightly greater extent in women than in men).  Stress and income drop with age; generosity and pain increase.

DSC00449 (1300x844) The report concludes that there is a growing body of evidence on the importance of building social capital to build national happiness (well-being and economic success).  They speculate on the policy implications: how virtues  might be nurtured among citizens to achieve better outcomes for society as a whole.  Their (somewhat scary) list is:

  1. Life- and social- skills training in schools
  2. Universal access to education
  3. Specialized training in compassion
  4. Professional codes of ethics that are socially constructive
  5. Effective state regulation of dangerous anti-social behaviors
  6. Focused efforts to reducer public-sector corruption
  7. Public policies to narrow income and wealth inequalities
  8. Adoption of strong social safety nets and universal social benefits, without means-testing
  9. Recovering ethical voices who lead moral discourse in society
  10. Strengthen deliberative democracy
  11. Accurate reporting of pro-social behaviors and correcting falsely pessimistic views

DSC00451 (1300x857)I like 2,4,6,7,8,10, and have significant doubts about 1,3,5,11 – the latter seem ripe for creative division if people disagree about basic moral principals or manipulate the system.

and the value of sunset walks along windy ridges should not be underestimated…