Saturday, June 30, 2012
Kettle's Yard: corners, spaces and objects.
It was like suddenly, unexpectedly entering my ideal home...everything seems casually placed and yet perfectly placed ... I used to spend hours there on winter weekends, thinking how on earth can I replicate this?
that was how my old friend Glenn, who showed up in the comments here on the first Kettle's Yard post, described the impression the place made on him as a very young man living in Cambridge. It does have this effect on people. The 'how on earth can I...?' when someone like Glenn asks it is probably in a spirit of positive and constructive aspiration which would then be worked on for years, with the ideal held and cherished in one's heart until something close it is achieved. For someone like myself, it tends to lead to despondency and a sense of failure, the kind of feeling evoked by interiors magazines, books and programmes, only worse in a way, because I know to mistrust those as consumerist and meretricious, whereas Kettle's Yard is the real thing, the life work of people of real integrity and sense of beauty in every aspect of their lives.
Then good old Zephyr made me laugh with something of a sense of relief though, when she commented:
The first thought i had: Oh! i must artfully arrange some of my pebble collection!
The second thought which rushed in so quickly it nearly cut of the first thought: Jim and Helen clearly did not live with cats.
Cats, agents of chaos and misrule. Some people, I know, my sister being one, Glenn and Zephyr quite possibly others, do manage to live lives of order, beauty and harmony which include cats, but even they have to stop short of perfectly arranged spirals of rollably round pebbles just in front of a window at perfect cat-jump height. Cats, knocking things over, leaving fluff, chasing around, rejecting the warm and agreeable convenient spaces we set aside for them and finding their own less convenient ones, regardless of what else has to be displaced or slept on (our old Ginger we had as kids was once found sleeping on a newly baked sponge cake set on a rack in the kitchen to cool), represent that which can't be controlled and set at nought our hopes for a perfectly arranged life. But they bring their own beauty, and we love them.
In fact if Kettle's Yard really does represent what it looked like when it was inhabited, there are a number of inconvenient and untidy elements of ordinary life, even that of the period - 1958 to 1973 - when it was lived in which seem to be absent. Though there was a bit of visible plumbing work, I don't even remember seeing a kitchen, I suppose there must have been one somewhere. And there just wasn't any clutter. And everything went with everything else, however different in style and period they are. And who dusts all those pebbles?
I love my home; we have built it largely from scratch over a long time, but Kettle's Yard it ain't, or anything like it. Looking around, there are piles of magazines and papers not dealt with, half-done mending jobs and half-finished drawings, a couple of old plastic fly-swats we can't not have to hand (I cleaned the windows the other day so there's not too much evidence of fly-swatting on them just now but sometimes there is). Near the door there is a laundry basket for the washing out on the line - plastic, though I do have some more tasteful wicker ones - with a broken corner which I don't like to throw out because it's still usable and I hate the thought of all the waste plastic in the world washing up onto beaches in the Indian Ocean or breaking into tiny pieces and killing the turtles. There are mishmashes of half-full (note, not the inverse, so I'm clearly not entirely despondent in every regard...) bottles on the shelf, and of workboots, wellies and sabots on the mat by the French doors. There are boxes of tissues and matches and fire-lighters, a pair of ear-rings that need new wires, a map of the area from Rennes to Granville, on sundry surfaces. We have no cat but we have a dog who, along with the above footwear of ours, walks dirt, dust and vegetation indoors from out, drops large amounts of black fluff and who claims and acquires as many corners and surfaces as she likes, which then require cleaning and/or protection from black doggy grubbiness, bless her.
Then there are the trappings of the age: mobile phones on charge, remote controls for TV, DVD, Digibox; a spaghetti of leads and cables and adaptors. There is an awful lot of plastic.
I try to think of myself as an aesthetically aware person, though I know I fall very far short of many people I know; I try not to acquire ugly and mismatched things, but sometimes it just seems to be necessary to get the available thing for the job in hand, which are tolerable to both of our tastes at a price we can afford. Compromises and clashes happen.
We try to keep on top of keeping things clean and tidy, but it seems to me that, despite how effortless it appears, simply maintaining a even a smaller place in the state of pristine beauty of Kettle's Yard would take so much time and energy and be so unremitting that one would never have time to sit down and read the fascinating collection of books or listen to the records, and would only be able to give the pictures and pebbles a cursory glance while running the feather duster over them.
The other thing a number of people have said of Kettle's Yard is that as soon as they walked in it felt like home. As I keep saying, many people have better ordered, more aesthetically accomplished homes than I do, but I can't imagine too many of them quite match up to this most harmonious and authentic, yet warm-blooded and inviting of house museums. We don't live in museums. But I must learn to love not resent the people and places who offer a pattern, an ideal in this way, and even if replicating it, to use Glenn's term, is impossible, I can find small ways of emulating it, even if only in isolated objects and spaces.
So, with that, a final slew of Kettle's Yard images of corners, spaces and objects.