Madeleine Bunting is an award winning author and journalist. Her books have won several prestigious awards and listings for major prizes. She has also won several One World Media awards for her journalism on global justice, and has had positions as a visiting professor at the universities of Manchester, Cardiff, and LSE.
MB So the question I think I sort of put myself really, is that the main driver of much of my writing is around home and making home. A few years ago I remember kind of coming across that much more sort of American term ‘homemaker’, and thinking that, you know, in a way you could sum up a large part of my life activity has been a homemaker, and I liked that sort of I see it as a bit of a sort of suitcase phrase; one of those phrases that actually you can unpack in all sorts of ways. But it had a sort of emotional resonance because I think one of the reasons why I first ever heard of the word was a very good friend of my mother’s who was American, so she used the word. She would have definitely seen herself as a homemaker. I still am in touch with her and I remember as a small child the way my mother and this other woman talked about their creativity and their projects. So they were both raising children but they were both very, very creative people, and they were creative in visual arts. So my mother was a ceramicist but actually she just turned her creativity to absolutely everything. I remember when I was a very small child she decided she wanted to decorate the bathroom cupboard, so she started cutting up magazines to make a collage. She had a sort of natural creativity that just spilled over in every direction – anything she could paint or decorate she did, and she was sewing all the time, so she was always making patchworks. She had this kind of furious sort of crafting process going on all the time, and much of it was about making a home out of very limited financial resources.
My parents were sort of impoverished, artistic kind of bohos. They’d sort of gone to the country and had next to no money, and it was all kind of trying to sort of make ends meet. So they both had a habit, actually both my mother and my father are kind of resourceful, adaptable. This same friend of my mother’s had a wonderful anecdote about my father. When they first moved into this derelict Yorkshire farmhouse my father, who was a sculptor, spotted a chair seat and took the chair seat away from a derelict broken down chair, and returned it the later in the day as a chopping board for a meat roasting board, so that it had the runnels carved into it for the meat juices. My father had sort of adapted a chair seat into this kind of Sunday roast type carving board. So that was my parents’ creativity which kind of influenced the whole sort of world of my childhood; this constant making, and that was professional and domestic and I think I began from a very early age kind of using words and loving words and you know, reading voraciously.
And again, this idea that home is something you make, it’s not something that just sort of arrives ready made. It is a profoundly personal creation. And you know, if I look back on books that I read as a child, the books that were by far the most important for me were the Lorringles Wilder series, which is Little House on the Prairie, and it became very sentimentalised when it was put on to telly. But actually the sort of American pioneering travelling across the Midwest, constantly making home, and then remaking home because they kept moving – so they made log cabins and then they had to move on again, and it’s an extraordinary practice of home making. They were sort of virtually nomadic at that point, because the way America was settled by white people across the Midwest, from Kentucky through to the Prairie country and beyond. And again it was about how you made yourself at home.
And I wonder if part of why that resonated for me was because my parents were Londoners who’d arrived in North Yorkshire for work you know, my father was going to teach at a school while he did his sculpture, and they had this dream of sort of a house in the country and growing vegetables and all the rest of it. But we were acutely conscious that we’d arrived in a very complex social milieu in which we had no place because we were Londoners – my mother was Jewish, we were Catholic, my mother had converted. We just didn’t fit any kind of Yorkshire County categorisation. So this was North Yorkshire in the 1960s and 70s, which was rigidly class stratified and in our village of 250 people, everybody knew exactly where they were in the pecking order and an understanding of our rather precarious middle class status I think was, you know, my parents kind of obsession. They’d just, you know, they were terrified. They didn’t want us to develop a Yorkshire accident. So we had to constantly be reminded of received pronunciation, and that sort of sense of ‘are we really at home here? Is this really home?’
I think it was a sort of undercurrent and when I came to write the plot, a biography of my father’s English acre, I was writing about that Yorkshire. In the course of the research for that book, there was this really extraordinary moment when I was in the kitchen of this Yorkshire farmer whose family had lived in that farm for generations and he had an acutely vivid sense of being in place. Actually, I mean, I think he was an extremely interesting and intelligent man, and I think he’d made some rather large compromises in his life in order to stay on the farm, which was very unproductive, you know, marginal agricultural land. But he turned to me in this the kitchen and said something about, you know, for those of us who live around here, who come from around here; and then he stopped mid-sentence because he suddenly realized well, actually you come from around here originally and yet you’re not part of here. He recognized both the way in which I didn’t belong, and the way that I could make a claim to belonging, and we both sort of slightly laughed a bit awkwardly. Because I was writing a book about a place that I was born into and grew up in, and yet actually he was, you know, reminding me yet again that I didn’t really belong.
So I, but I think these kinds of experiences of different forms of migration are pervasive now, everywhere people have this experience of some form of migration, and when I look back through my parents, my family history, it’s Jewish migration from Germany, it’s Irish migration from Ireland and it’s Scottish migration from Scotland. You know, the different histories of migration have been meticulously maintained in my family for, you know, a mixture of sentimental or reasons or sense of duty, and you know it’s quite an interesting sort of family history. I mean, the Scottish ancestry is four generations back, but it is the surname because it was my grandfather. My paternal grandfather is a Farquasson, and so my mother brought us up absolutely clear, you are quarter Scottish. And it was only when I looked into the history of it that I discovered that my grandfather was born to a Gordon and a Farquasson, both of whom had been born in Hornsey, north London. So he was already a second generation Scott. So that means I’m fourth generation. But you know, it’s such a kind of tenuous link, and yet my mother believed it was important. So where did I belong? And that’s, of course, in Love of Country, my book about Scotland and about the Hebrides where I’m exploring exactly that issue – which is, you know, is that fourth generation Scottish kind of link? Does it amount to anything?
KP Was it the Hebrides that your family originated from then?
MB No, but it was Galic, so Farquasson is a Galic name. They fought at Culloden, 500 Farquassons. This is all really important in the family history there’s; there’s those sort of stones for each of the clans that fought at Culloden and the Farquassons have their stone and 500 of them died at Culloden. Actually I think it’s Western Aberdeenshire where the Farquasson name is from.
KP Ah, Aberdeenshire is where I would probably call home. It’s where I mostly grew up. What I hear you talking about is really a sense of belonging, and that belonging comes from a history, but also connection to the land and of being accepted. Those are all things that feed into this notion of home. If we were going to do a word association, what words, concepts, ideas would pop to mind first for you when talking about home?
MB I find belonging a rather complicated word actually. I think, and in fact I think in the Love of Country book, I do go into the etymology of belonging and because it’s not it’s, I think it’s about commitment. So I can’t remember now the sentence, but I think what this is all about is security.
KP I have a line that you’ve written in front of me ‘Belonging is about commitment rather than possession’.
MB Yeah. So I think that the emotional driver here is about security, a sense of security.
KP You observe quite rightly that many of us feel alienated from the places that we live or that we don’t quite belong because we don’t have a sense of security. There’s no doubt myriad complex reasons that that’s the case. But one of your observations in talking about home is that it gives us a sense of coherence and story in our lives and that really resonated with me. I wonder if whether we’ve become increasingly mythically deprived, detached from grand narratives and religious narratives we maybe grew up with, and that has fed into kind of global economy where we move around at home is where you hang your hat and so on – and that part of losing the big narratives and stories in our lives has given us a kind of sense of homelessness.
MB Yes, well it’s, that’s possible. I mean, there are times when I would, I think, have completely agreed with you about that. I’m just sort of, you know, I’m just kind of really mulling that one over, because I was brought up within a very powerful sense of a grand narrative, the Christian grand narrative, and the loss of that has been a very, very significant for me and, as often, a quite sort of tangible sense of grief and loss. But I’m not sure how you know, I don’t know how it affects this issue about security. Rowan, um gosh, who’s the former Archbishop, sorry, Rowan Williams, yes, Rowan Williams once talked about a sense of, it’s not quite entitlement, because entitlement is such a sort of loaded word that I’m not nervous about using that. But he said, you know, to feel that you’re allowed to stand on your little bit of the earth and breathe the air that you need – that it’s okay to do that and be that, and have that. And at the heart of that is a sort of understanding of entitlement, but at its most essential kind of human thing, not the class entitlement that is so problematic. It’s a kind of entitlement that, yes, I can live this. You know I’m allowed to live this life. Do you understand what I’m saying? I’m making myself clear?
KP I think I do. It sounds like it’s similar to what you talk about when you talk about belonging. As you say, you’ve got permission to be here, to feel committed, to feel like you’ve got a right to it. One of the questions, and I wonder what you take from this is that since we’ve become kind of more atomised in our communities and we move around for work and so on, there’s a greater sense of homelessness and disconnection. But part of me wonders whether it runs quite deep, whether the sense of home is something we’re always going to be looking for in adulthood, because home is associated with a kind of safety and security of childhood. So it’s always a chimera. And maybe even your Yorkshire man with generations in the land, maybe there’s still the sense of longing. It’s the story in a sense of the fall in Genesis you belonged once and now you’re alienated and trying to find your way back. That seems like a kind of common human experience. CS Lewis has that lovely line about sensing the smell the scent of a flower we haven’t seen, and the echo of a tune we haven’t yet heard, or news from a country we haven’t been to before. And there’s even that German word ‘fernweh’, which I think means homesick for a place we’ve never been, and so this idea of belonging and acceptance and rest maybe is freighted with what it means to feel at home. Maybe that’s just a reflection of my own experience of being a kind of 20th century nomad who actually really wants to belong.
MB Out of what you’ve just said, the word that just really sparked me off is rest. Yeah, and that’s why I’m sort of you know, I’m slightly putting belonging to one side, because I think that if belonging is about commitment, then you know, one can very committed. I mean like I lived in Hackney for 20, 30 years, I can’t remember now. I mean I lived in Hackney and I was very committed in various ways street parties, food banks, you know lots of different forms of commitment, but I think that the really, really crucial thing is our desire for safety and security and rest. What security gives you is rest. I mean, I kind of think peace is such a kind of crucial idea that we have so little grasp of in our own lives, let alone geopolitics. But you know what does it like, what does it mean to lead a peaceful life, and you know a life that expresses peace?
So you know that interests me a lot and you know I’m wondering when, when you’re talking and you’re raising lots of really interesting issues, that I wonder whether I mean my family home was a very fraught place. It was a kind of dangerous place and there was a lot of anxiety, I think I absorbed a lot of anxiety around the conflict of my parents, and my father was a catastrophist, no doubt about that, and he thought the world was always about to end and he thought the hillside behind our house was going to, there was going to be a landslide and it was going to slide into the back of our house. So my understanding of home was precarious. It was always balanced with this landslide about to arrive, so that kind of you know there was. There was quite a sort of theme of landslides in my childhood in a number of different ways. So the land is not steady, and we perch our homes on this unsteady land and they’re always slightly makeshift, and you have to make them and keep remaking them. It’s not a sort of one off task. You can then sit back. So it’s a kind of constant work, if you like. Yeah, so there’s this. There’s some very sort of rich questions there about peacefulness, I think.
KP That’s really interesting. In your radio three lecture series ‘Home Sweet Home’ you observe that the home has moved from being a place of work and care to a place of leisure. It used to be a unit production, now it’s much more unit of consumption. Education, for example, used to happen at the home and no longer does. Looking after elderly parents parents used to happen at home, now that’s outsourced for the majority of people in the UK. But at the same time the home seems to have become less restful in some significant ways.
MB Well, the interesting thing is, since I wrote those essays for Radio Three, the home has become more of a workplace than ever before. We have been through a complete revolution. I mean, my God, Covid, what that did to our understandings of home and our experiences of home. We were locked at home, and what an extraordinary sense of confinement. That was utterly shocking. And then, of course, now everybody’s been told to carry on working from home. So actually what happened was the most astonishing shift in working culture in the space of a few days, literally with lockdown. So yeah, I mean quite what the implications of all that are. I still think it’s been so dramatic and so sudden. I’m sort of flabbergasted by it. Actually, I went to visit a friend last weekend who lives in a flat at the top of a block in London. She’s on Zoom sort of dawn till dusk and she’s, you know, crunched over the same table. She says she’s barely moving. You know she’s not moving her body at all. She’s sitting there at Zoom and she’s obviously not got office equipment so it’s not ergonomic and it’s, you know, it’s basically crippling her upper body. So it’s not a place of rest at all and I don’t know how one boundaries one’s work.
You know we’re going back to 18th century experience where work and leisure just kind of, you know, they sort of didn’t have clear demarcation. How does one put the boundary into place when people are basically often working in their bedrooms, you know, and you can see the bed in the background on the wardrobe, and, and there’s somebody on a zoom meeting with their boss. We’re losing our sense of privacy and refuge around the home. Unless you, you know, cover up your background, people start looking in the back, thinking, oh yeah, what have you got there? You know what’s going on. So, so our understandings of home as a private place are shifting as well.
KP You’re listening to the examined life podcast with me, Kenny Primrose. Today I’m speaking to the writer Madeline Bunting about the meaning of home. When we return to the conversation in just a minute, we’ll discuss how home has changed over the years, the importance of memory and relationships to the past, and the centrality of hospitality and what the boundaries of home are.
You use the word refuge, which I think is a helpful word to associate with the idea of home and with rest. It seems like we have increasingly geared our homes around convenience. Because convenience is convenient, right, it removes some labour for us and that’s not necessarily altogether good, I think in some ways. There was a philosopher called Albert Borgman, who talks about focal things. In the house you’ve got a fire in the background and that would have been a focal thing. People would sit around it. But with central heating we can all sit in separate rooms, or even the TV that was a focal thing. People don’t even sit in the same room to watch TV, let alone watch the same program anymore. And so there is this sense that convenience has atomised life, even in the home, the people who live together in a house, and I suppose part of a sense of safety or rest is developed through strong relationships which come out of family rhythms and so on. Does that resonate with some of your thinking on this idea of home?
MB I find that point about a focal thing really interesting because I would say in our house the focal thing is the dinner table. So my husband’s a great cook, the kids love the meals he cooks, so the dinner table becomes the place where we gather around and eat the food together. And that, of course, is absolutely kind of central to the home making of both the Jewish heritage, but also the Catholic. Both of them make meals into something that’s sacred, which I think is a very interesting similarity between the Jewish and the Catholic. But recently I was with one of my kids looking at a place to buy, a flat to buy, and there was nowhere to put a dinner table and the estate agent said, yeah, well, you don’t need that because nobody uses dinner tables anymore, they just eat on their laps in front of the telly. So now the home is a kind of space that people share and what does that look like? I mean, I’ve always been fascinated by that because in Italy people carry on eating with their parents, right up into adulthood without stopping; whereas teenagers in the UK by a very, very large margin, stop eating with their parents. And there’s been some really interesting research material connected with that about how people develop a capacity for conversation, for difference, for disagreement, the quality of the relationship with the parents. All sorts of conversation is made possible around food. So you know, food and the preparation of food is, is of course a kind of central part of home.
I remember once I’m going to interview Gloria Steinem in New York, famously she didn’t have an oven. You know, she stored her shoes in the oven or something. I mean, she just never cooked. And that’s quite common, and you know has always been the case in New York, so many places you can eat. While I have a kitchen, you don’t need one. So I guess, if you’re, you know the components of home, definitely the kitchen, would you know it’s, it’s, that’s the heart of the home, isn’t it? It’s the kitchen, that’s the, that’s the real kind of focal point.
KP Yeah, so food and hearths and fires, the places that people gather. But also it seems like as we simplify our possessions because we, you know, we we lack space or we have kindles instead of books and so on, we lose something in that process. There seems to be a kind of sense of memory or layered relationship to the people, the places you’ve been, to, your own history, and the modern house becomes kind of more minimalist, and seems to be jettisoning a lot of what gives one a sense of who we are, of kind of coherence, if you like. I mean, perhaps it’s just a personal taste thing, but there’s something in the way that we organize our house now which is towards efficiency.
MB Yeah, I mean I, I feel that, but I do wonder sometimes. I mean I kind of, you know, there’s always a question in the back of my mind about you know, am I being sentimental? I mean I have, one way or another, accumulated various bits of family stuff from different parts of my family and I look after them very, very carefully. They’re very important to me. So, for example, I have a portrait on the wall of my great uncle who died in the first world war and you know he’s definitely keeping an eye on me. I mean he has. He was 21 when he died and the portrait he’s probably about 20. But there’s a way in which he’s kind of keeping an eye.
I have a big thing about ancestors, about the way they, they I don’t, you know, it’s not, it’s not that they speak to us, although in some ways it does kind of sound like you know they do. There is some way in which their example, their experience informs our lives and it can inspire. It’s kind of like, you know, the voices are there if you want to listen to them, and if you listen to your ancestors, there are all sorts of things that I think, become available to you in terms of insight, of understanding about the shape of your family and your parents and your previous, you know your kind of grandparents. So you understand the continuity of family life from generation to generation, and that all has to happen in the home. Actually, I’m not sure where else it would happen. So those, those fragments of your ancestors, the material fragments of their lives, which end up, sort of, you know, in cupboards and, and some of it I’m not talking about sort of you know, grand stuff. Some of it can be very modest, but my I’ve started writing recently about my mother’s sewing basket and how she’d inherited that, actually from her nanny who had inherited it from this great uncle who died in the First World War. So my mother and the nanny had used it as a sewing basket, and my great uncle had used it as a box, a bag for collars at his school you know to have, you know, Edwardian stiff collars. So this is, this is a material object which has a history, and as a child, my mother explained this history to me when she was using this sewing bag. I think there’s all sorts of things around in my house which have these histories, and it’s like the objects help trigger the histories. So here I am in a home which I feel has traces of great uncles that I never knew, grandparents, great grandparents, particularly my great grandmother – she’s very present and my grandmother, they’re very, very present because they were homemakers. I mean, if there was one thing that really motivated my great grandmother, my grandmother, was their homemaking. You know, my grandmother would have been an interior designer or something. I mean it was the most important thing for her was looking after her home. She lived in the same house for 70 years, and it was just such an important stage for her performance. I mean she understood life as a performance. She was an actor, and the home was a stage on which she played out that performance right up to 100. She never left her home. She died still living in the same house that she’d moved into in her 30’s, and I don’t think she could have done the performance without the home. She was sensible to realize she couldn’t move out of her house because everything would have crumbled. She would have crumbled and the performance would make no sense anymore. She was one of those rather sort of intimidating matriarchs, you know, born in the Edwardian times but actually kind of really shaped by Victorians, and she died in 2007. So it was an extraordinary sense of history that I knew through her and now, having inherited some of her things, all of that is with me on a kind of daily basis, so that sort of understanding of the past that the home, my home, represents. And then I go and visit friends because you know I have to do that. I stay with them and they have nothing on the wall, they have nothing that isn’t sort of older than 10 years, and you know that’s fine for them, you know it works for them. So I don’t understand why it works for them, but it does work for them.
KP Yeah, so part of it’s kind of personal choice and subjectivity and so on. But this idea of home you can see trends in what that means over time. I wonder what are those things that concern you most?
MB Well, I think, politically, I think one of the, you know, the huge crises in this country is around housing policy, which we have just failed to tackle. So I worry a lot about how unequal, how desperately appallingly unequal it is, where you know, ah God, I mean, where does one start? Not just homelessness, but lack of affordable housing, so people can’t afford to buy anywhere. And when they do buy somewhere, they’re absolutely crippled by the scale of the mortgages. So London has become an unlivable city. I can’t think of, you know, any youngster who’s going to be able to buy a home in London unless they’re doing a very limited number of jobs.
So the the kind of the way in which the inner city is becoming absurdly expensive and it’s not just London, it’s Edinburgh, Manchester, it’s, you know it’s those kinds of questions and the way housing wealth has accumulated amongst an older generation, of whom I’m, you know I’m one. I’m a sort of baby boomer who benefited from rising house prices. But talk about kicking away a ladder underneath you. You know it’s. It’s madness. It’s madness what’s been allowed to happen. You know, all the time I lived in London, 35 years, house prices were going up and I can’t believe the sort of insanity of it because it’s, you know, it just drives so many problems.
So I’ve just finished writing a book about this English seaside and the you know the kind of problems around housing evident in almost every part of the English seaside. The English coastline is so striking. So you know, how do you kind of improve the dreadful poverty of east Kent, Margate, Ramsgate, Folkstone? Well, you know, you gentrify – you build some nice art galleries, boutique hotels move in, at which point house prices shoot up and locals are like hang on, this isn’t working for us, we can’t now live here. So what model of regeneration is that that enforces locals out of living in the town? You know rents. So everyone wants to do Airbnb. I mean, we haven’t talked about Airbnb, which is a fascinating, fascinating interpretation of home. That’s because we talked about home as a place of rest. We’ve talked about work, home as a place of work. Airbnb turns your home into a business. You know, it’s a place of work and it’s a place where you’re actually kind of, you know, using it as a business.
And the other thing we haven’t talked about I’m jumping around here, right so we haven’t talked about hospitality, which I think is an extraordinarily powerful and important idea, but which has got so sort of obscured in English culture. But if you think, I mean I traveled a lot in my 20s time and time again I was, you know, blown away by the hospitality of other cultures and their ethic of hospitality which was so warm-hearted and so generous. And you know, we, we’ve turned hospitality into a sort of, you know, intimidating exercise of etiquette or something. I don’t know. It’s either that or it’s nothing.
So the idea of really making someone feel at home and it’s an incredibly generous thing to do, hospitality, because it’s opening up your home, so you know, it’s kind of, it’s kind of giving you, giving people your privacy in some ways. So hospitality is, I think, is it sort of the way it’s practiced in places where I’ve traveled in Africa and and Asia. It’s, it’s such an astonishingly generous act. And you know that there is ultimately, you know, the big issue of hospitality around asylum and offering safe haven and allowing migration into the UK. And there we’re into another massive political subject which, of course, has become toxic. You know we’ve lost an understanding as a nation as to what it is to be hospitable. We, you know we used to get, we used to have that. We don’t have it anymore.
KP I feel like that’s partly perhaps due to the loss of mythos of these big stories that can help us as as people, as families, as communities, but also the nuclear family where you shut the front door in the outside world. High walls make good neighbors kind of thinking, and with that kind of privatised, individualised sense of home you no longer have. This takes a village to raise a child, kind of mentality that you still, you know, see in probably most of the world, and hospitality seems to be a casualty of that. Interestingly, hospitality seems to be, you know, far better practiced in much more impoverished parts of the world whereas here, if we’re going to invite you in then I want to use that as a stage to shape the way you see me.
KP It’s almost like you know, social media functions like that. ‘Don’t mind the dirty washing’ is not something you often hear. I was chatting to someone the other day about this. We were talking about Christianity and stories, and someone had made the observation that Jesus is only recognized after the resurrection, around the dinner table, when sharing hospitality, whether that’s the meal after the resurrection or eating breakfast with Peter. It’s a kind of really charming detail that seems significant to me.
MB Yeah, that is, I agree, a charming detail. That’s a really good point that it is in the sharing of food that you have a moment of real encounter, that you can see the person in a way that you can’t otherwise.
KP I think that’s a really really nice point, yeah, so you’re kind of driven by this question, or have been, and you have a recent book that came out in May, the Seaside, England’s Love Affair. How is this notion of home woven into that? How did it kind of drive this particular inquiry?
MB Ah, that’s interesting. Well, I think I’m trying to explore the edges of Englishness. Really, that’s what the book is about. It’s about, I mean, home has a boundary, it always has a boundary. Sometimes it’s a wall, sometimes it’s a fence, whatever, but it is a boundaried space and the coastline, of course, is a boundaried space. You know, this is, this is the way the nation is, in part, defined. It shares a land border with Scotland and Wales, but most of its edges are coastlines.
So I think what I got very curious about really is how the tides deposit tide rack on the beaches, and then they kind of the tide pulls back and you see that line of sort of rubbish and seaweed etc along the shoreline and that’s the kind of tide line. Well, I was intrigued by whether there’s something that also propels out from the centre to the edge, and you know, what is it that you find along the edge of the coastline that has kind of come from the interior. So you get this idea that this is a sort of liminal area between land and sea, but also it’s well, things get washed up on both sides. They get washed up from the centre, they get washed up from the sea and, as as is often the case, I felt that, just as geologically, you see the land exposed because the sea erodes the cliff and you see the layers of rock and earth. It sort of exposes something about the land. So, similarly, exposes something about the nature of the society, and I think what I found in those seaside towns was such appalling levels of poverty that are now 30 years in the making. I think that the seaside is a place of extraordinary inequalities, because the wealthy go to the seaside to retire with their big sea views, but so do also the poor go to the seaside to escape their demons and end up in the kind of cheap hotels. So going around the English coastline you go from wealth to poverty, back to wealth, with some of the biggest gaps in life expectancy of anywhere in the country, you know, 10 years, 11 years, 12 years. Blackpool has the lowest life expectancy in the whole country, and it was all these kind of sharp contrasts that kind of get exposed at the coastline. So there’s something of a lamentation that I think plays out on the coastline and it’s deeply nostalgic.
I mean, the coastline is a very symbolic space. You know, as liminal spaces are, it’s a symbolic space where we go often in grief, often in joy, for celebrations and you know, in a secular society it is actually often where people go to mark a death. So there’ll be flowers and plaques on benches or just some sort of memorial, lots of impromptu personal memorials on all sorts of piers, you know, in all kinds of resorts I went to. So I was fascinated by the symbolic space and by the social economic situation. That sort of sits alongside that, the kind of nostalgia – I think nostalgia is a really really fascinating subject – it’s both deeply sort of emotional, laden with emotion. It can be very reactionary. I think it can also be a very important kind of feeling and emotion. You can’t repress nostalgia. I mean it feeds very much into this sense of home. Nostalgia is that sort of yearning for home and rest and security, and in a way yearning for the place that we have never known and never will know, kind of thing. It’s always incoherent nostalgia. I don’t think it can ever be kind of pinned down as a powerful emotion, it has no kind of rational explanation. It lands on particular places and subjects and it lands on the seaside in probably, I think, some of the most potent ways. People get nostalgic about the seaside and it becomes a metaphor of national decline. You know, the collapsing piers, the impoverished neighbourhoods, the struggle to try and regenerate. It sort of speaks to a sort of wider national story. So it’s, you know, it was a very rich subject.
KP Gosh, there’s such a lot in that Madeleine, we’ve touched on such a lot that relates to home, and I wonder if I could just home in, as it were, on a final question, and that’s kind of maybe a personal what kind of home do you personally aspire to, and what words would you associate with home?
MB Oh well, sort of two questions there. What kind of home would I aspire to in the future? What are the words? It’s funny how I’ve always wanted home to be a very creative space and I guess that goes back to my sort of childhood memories. So, you know, I love the making involved in home, and I’ve kind of reconnected to that in the last few months in a way that I hadn’t done since I was a child. So I’ve gone back into making things, which I always did as a child, and now I’m doing a lot of it now, and so I’m replacing words with, with the making and using my hands. You know, having used words so much over the last you know four decades or whatever, I’m enjoying sort of resting the words, if you like. You know I’m not writing as much, but I’m looking at my fingernails and actually they’re stained because of the making I’ve been doing this morning and you can’t quite see, but actually there’s stuff all around me and I get very distracted from my desk because there’s a sewing machine, interior line, printing. You know it’s honestly all around me. I have this kind of you know space where I’m making everything.
And then the other thing is growing. We’ve got a vegetable garden, and this is a very interesting time of year because one’s itching to start planting, start sowing seeds, but because it’s been a very cold early spring, you know, it’s kind of like one’s at the starting point of the race, you know, and you’re kind of waiting for that starting garden and it’s just not coming.
KP That’s a very wholesome place to round off this conversation. Home as a place of generative creativity, of making and growing and sewing, which are all things I would like to be present in my own homestead a bit more. I’ve so enjoyed hearing your thoughts on this incredibly rich subject of what home means. It’s given me lots to think about. So thank you very much, Madeleine. It’s been a pleasure talking to you today.
MB And you, and you.
KP Ihope you’ve enjoyed listening to the eighth episode of The Examined Life Podcast. Madeleine Bunting’s book this East Side England’s Love Affair was published by Granta in May and can be found wherever books are sold. I’d encourage you to seek out her writing, which I’ve always found compelling and insightful and full of wisdom.
This has been the final episode of the first series of the Examined Life Podcast. I hope to produce a follow up episode with some concluding highlights and thoughts. I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to this series and that it’s made you think. I’d love to know what episode you’ve enjoyed the most and why. I hope to create a second interview series later on this year. In the meantime, do please share this episode with others, rate the podcast and get in touch with any feedback. Please do subscribe on the website, if you haven’t yet, at www.examined-life.com. I really do try to ensure that everything I send out to the mailing list is helpful and relevant and there’s not much of it to be honest, once per episode and it shares the same intention as this podcast, which is to provoke and feed your curiosity about what it means to live well in this cultural moment. Thanks again for listening, wherever you are. I look forward to reaching out to you again in the future with more insights from today’s most influential thinkers.