We Haven’t Switched The Cooker On

I don’t think I’ve ever anthropomorphised a house before.

That’s an impressive one, even for me.

Anthropomorphism is the tendency to attribute human characteristics, personality, feelings and so on to non-human animals or inanimate objects.

I do it a lot. Perhaps it’s the part of me that tends towards animism; or perhaps I’m just neurotic in a particularly weird sort of a way.

When I was a kid I’d feel guilty about throwing away old pencil stubs, or if I accidentally broke something. There’d be a combination of guilts. One would be a faint sorrow that I’d broken a thing that someone else somewhere might have taken care and pride in making for me to use or enjoy. Probably nonsense: very few of the things I’ve ever owned have been made for me – and most of them were mass-produced by machines anyway.

But on top of that there’d always be the guilt that, somehow, at some level, I’d hurt the thing itself. Not only by the physical harm done — wearing it out or damaging it — but by abandoning it just at the moment it probably felt the most vulnerable and distressed.

Yes, this is how I used to think about pencils. Still do, if I don’t check myself.

And it’s not just when I break or lose things, either. I remember a long-ago holiday by the seaside, walking out on a stone jetty in the harbour of a small fishing town in Scotland. And in the water, bobbing along all bedraggled, was a small pink elephant plushie toy. Maybe jettisoned or dropped from some kid’s pram, however it had ended up in the water it was well out of my reach. Nobody seemed to be looking for it. And I watched as the little pink elephant drifted past my jetty wall and out into the bay.

I got quite upset about that elephant. I mean, clearly I did: it must have been twenty years ago and I’m still going on about it. But I remember being upset not only that someone may have lost a much-loved toy friend, but that the much-loved toy friend may itself be distraught at having been separated from whomever it was a much-loved toy friend to.

So this week we’re on a most-of-the-week-and-weekend away and we’re staying in a little house we’ve rented; a kind of cottage in the midst of a tiny rural village, and it’s lovely. It’s a really nice house, and the back garden seriously appeals to the part of me that loves things Arcadian:

This isn’t the house. This is like a shed thing outside, but isn’t it gorgeous?

The house is well-appointed; very neat, obviously well-cared-for, and has been made nice for our arrival by hosts who weren’t able to be here to meet us. They’ve left us the keys and notes on how to do various things, how to work the TV, the cooker, and so forth; and they’ve given us helpful suggestions on what we could find to do in the area… and we’ve ignored all of it.

Not maliciously: it’s just that we know where we are and what we’re here for and, to be honest, all we really needed was a room to stay in.

So we’re not using the TV. We haven’t switched the cooker on. And part of me is starting to worry that we’re making the house sad. I mean, it got ready for us. Its person or people made it all nice for us to stay in — and what if it gets excited about the thought of having new friends to stay? What if it looks forward to people coming to visit and wants to feel, even just for a few days maybe, like someone lives in it again?

I’m worried that when its guests are people like us, who know what we’re doing and are out almost all the time, bar when we come back at night to sleep, the house is disappointed. That it feels insecure or inadequate; that it worries it’s not good enough or that it’s done something wrong.

I wouldn’t want to upset the poor place. I mean it does look lovely, and it could, I’m sure, be a really cosy place, if it were lived in. And maybe it feels that too. Maybe that’s all it really wants. Maybe it hoped we could let it have that, if only for a few days.

And this is how I make myself sad worrying about the feelings of an actual, literal house.

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