My last few weeks in the UK – at Oxford – weren’t entirely ideal. I spent two weeks sick: feeling tired and uncomfortable if I was out of bed for too long and being unable to eat much of anything. This came after the pick-pocketing incident and I was still dealing with that aftermath. My mother had sent me a new credit card, and my passport worked as ID, but I couldn’t get cash for anything and I couldn’t prove I deserved a student discount. Plus, since I’d waited until the last minute, I had to worry about writing a review after EVERY play we went to, including Titus Andronicus, which I would pay anything to never have to think about ever again. Don’t misunderstand me: I was still enjoying myself, but stress was starting to creep in too.
This was the mood I was in when I discovered Oxford has something called The Story Museum, and I was immediately determined to go to it. Each room was a lifesize display of a children’s book – most of which, I had read. I walked through a wardrobe and into a snow-covered room to cower before the White Witch. I saw Tink at the Darling House and Max where the wild things were. But one room stood out above the rest.
It was tucked away in a corner and, though the fireplace wasn’t real, I could still feel the warmth. It was a lived-in little kitchen, with pots and pans and the feeling that the homeowner was about to jump up and start cooking for his guests. There was a large green armchair against the wall, facing the fireplace, and it looked as cozy a spot as any.
This exhibition involved children’s stories, but ones that had been picked by other children’s authors, who then dressed as a character from the book. The Wind in the Willows had been chosen by Neil Gaiman, who was featured in the room dressed as Badger. It was his home I was visiting. Sitting in that armchair, already feeling like all I needed was a blanket and a mug of tea to feel perfectly at home, I hit play on the tablet that was sitting beside me…and heard Christopher Eccleston, my Doctor, reading the passage about this home I had stepped into.
I hadn’t read the book before and, after having an introduction that emotionally charged, I had to wait until I found a pretty copy of it. When I did, I had to wait still until I was in the right mindset to read it. I’m glad I waited until now; it’s brought me a lot of comfort this week.
At this point in my life, home is hard to define. I spent a long time planning an imaginary one. I’ve spent even longer living in someone else’s, unsure when I’d be able to make my own. I’ve joked that it’s where your cats are or your books are, but those are things you put in a home. A home is, I think, somewhere you can go to and know you can’t be touched, or hurt, or lost. It’s a place you feel safe and accepted and warm and cozy, like that room in The Story Museum: you feel like you can take a nap and everything will be all right when you wake up again. You feel like there is something, some invisible barrier, keeping out all the things that could ever hurt you.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame gave me a glimpse of that feeling this week, even in a place that scared me a little. It’s nice to know I can still feel at home between the covers of a book.