full circle

JournalAlexandra ListerComment
AESME Blog | cottage interiors


Perhaps it is the branches shivering in dappled sunlight over the doorway or the restlessness of the early afternoons - in any case, something about this house always makes me think of the Dashwoods. Of Austen heroines watching the rain and mist in the valley, drying damp skirts beside the logs in the drawing room. The soundtrack Bach, of course. I mostly wear slacks or dungarees at home, a sweater of my fathers, old tennis shoes, but I always feel this is a long dress, bonnet and buttoned boots sort of house. Sprigged rosemary, a chipped saucer and tea cup on an embroidered tablecloth. It cannot be styled; it is what it is. No amount of Apple Mac computers or  M.I.A. can make it anything other than 1811 here on a quiet midwinter afternoon.

The cottage is still new and foreign enough to feel just that. We have never had a spring here yet. Nor a summer. I am still acquainting myself with its nooks and corner-cupboards, still breathing in its peculiar cedar-y, beeswax smell and its darkness when I come through the door in the evening. I scrape the heavy curtains across their poles and take a deep bath with the branches of the tallest leafless trees in the orchard tapping the skylight and stand in our cavernous bedroom looking at the dent in my husband's side of the bed and listening to the silence. Because mostly there is only silence. Silence under the trees on the drive. Silence out by the cars, in the log shed. And when there is noise, it barely dents it. Mice in the attic. The crackle and tumble of logs in the grate. Somehow I was lonelier in the city, alone in the easy reach of other people's rhythms.


It seems an age since it was summer, last summer, the midnight alchemy, the summer of peaches and silk organza and a golden Greek suntan that only faded with the light. I had taken to wearing a complicated stack of mismatched rings that left slivers of white underneath the metal bands and I watched autumn even out the cream and the brown until the stripes were gone and the skin was even-toned again.


I like to imagine how it will be once it is spring. Green leaves. We will listen to Greensleeves, Coleman Hawkins, saxophone. Walking out toward the wood in the evening, pale-legged, foraging branches, wearing gauzy shirts, less make up. Bees and the first dew-drenched morning that the windows are left ajar and the breeze of the gathering day that comes in, fresh and woody. Milk white cotton. The Botanic Gardens and creamy magnolia blossom and the blue light on old stones that we have here that perhaps is one of the reasons I never left Oxford.


Sometime in the space between spring and summer this year, I went to Brooklyn, New York following the shadow of an infatuation. I went to find out, to test my resolve, to be inspired or disappointed- I knew not - I wanted to see if what I felt was real. Something had begun that needed resolving. And so I went, transatlantic, one bag. Not for a man, you understand, but for the flowers. I went alone. It was cold there; a rite of passage. I stayed in Sarah's apartment not far from the water in Red Hook. I worked in the Saipua studio and walked a lot - a LOT. I learned to navigate the subway. I read Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch at night in the kitchen eating takeout from a Mexican in Brooklyn who sent quesadillas and little pots of what they called 'crack sauce' with a tattooed delivery man in a backpack. I bought some camellia oil from a small, quiet Japanese lady on a small, quiet street between Broome and Grand in Little Italy.


Christmas. 2014.

We decorate the stairwell with fir and wide red ribbon and twinkling lights and hang boughs of silver-frosted blue spruce over the doorways and press crunchy presents into shooting socks for stockings. We hang our first ever Christmas decorations - my now-husband makes great ceremony over this - imagine, our children will grow up with them! - blue baubles as delicate as glass bubbles and little silver acorns on green thread- and remember them, as I do the tinkling bells and tiny gold lame sacks of lavender and Nordic wooden stars from my own childhood, borrowed from my parents in a shoe box. Quite extraordinary how nostalgic dressing a tree is the night before Christmas; I can almost picture us as children, flushed and elated, reaching up through the scratchy branches with thin little arms. I would have been wearing the navy velvet dress with the smocked bodice, E chocolate-stained corduroy.  I sometimes wish we had met as children. I would never have bothered with anyone else.

Christmas Eve and the house glimmers. Everywhere little bowls of nuts or tangerines, chocolate coins glinting in their foil by candlelight. Christmas Eve is always so magical, so industrious and good-natured, the day that families gather, a day of arrivals, of luggage and laughter and anticipation and in the evening a new dress, wine, whiskey, a meal the first of many, a toast, familial gratitude. The day itself always seems to me fearfully disappointing in comparison.

This year is my first to host Christmas. All the days before I carry more baskets of laundry up the stairs that I care to remember, weigh out more flour that I care to recall, dust, buy flowers. Bake - cakes and breakfast muffins that come out like ciabatta rolls ( I still have no idea why). My frequent forays in the kitchen of late seem, more often than not, to result in plates of food that have no bearing on the recipe that I started with, pored over, the grocery list I drove out with and ticked off. I don my apron, stoically determined to accurately weigh each and every ingredient, follow temperature instructions as one would a science laboratory experiment but somewhere down the page I always drift and add this in place of that (more butter) or oooooh, now that would be a triumph (more cream, rose water) and end up with something sweet instead of savoury or worse, vice versa. I do wish I would be more obedient to my cookery books.

But then there is always next year.

And who knows what 2015 may hold. Few things in life are certain. Love is one. Another is that come Spring there will be cherry blossom and come December amaryllis, and in between all manner of other flowers.