Thursday, 25 October 2018

Why Our Homes Are Important

Home Is Where The Heart Is

It is something that every domiciliary care worker knows: there's no place like home. Have you ever thought, though, why it should be that our homes are so important to us?

Just on the edge of the Exmoor National Park there sits what must be one of the most beautiful villages in England, Dunster. Dunster puts the quintessence into the quintessential English village. In this village, there is a church, the Priory church of St George. The Priory church of St George is quite well known in the area for its bell ringing. On Tuesdays, at four hourly intervals, you can hear ring out the well-known tune, Home Sweet Home. Many years ago now, when I first heard the church bells ringing out this tune, I recognised it but thought it was called There's No Place Like Home. Those words do form part of the song's lyric, but not its title.

It is, perhaps, not surprising that there are innumerable fields of human endeavour where the concept of home has been, directly or indirectly, a subject of consideration. It is unsurprising because the evidence that we have suggests that human beings have from earliest times made homes for themselves. Home is a physical thing that produces psychological states. Our homes are much more than a protection for the frailties of our human body. Our emotional reactions and attachments to our homes are complex and manifold. Of no little importance, is the sense of well-being that we get from having in our lives these tranquil harbours of defiance from the stormy seas of existence.

Home is where the heart is

The saying that "home is where the heart is" was, it would appear, first uttered by Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE). I think it is equally true that our hearts are where our homes are. Many of us may have several homes during our lives; something that is increasingly the case. No doubt we will have our favourites, but it is usually the case that where we are we make our homes and that is what I mean by our hearts are where our homes are. Of course, the opposite is also the case. Our hearts do not settle where we do not want to be. We can be staying in luxury, but if we do not want to be there luxury becomes misery. The most opulent hotel can become the most oppressive institution. I think Charles Dickens meant something very similar to heart is where the home is when he wrote: "When I speak of home, I speak of the place where in default of a better - those I love are gathered together; and if that place were a... tent, or a barn, I should call it by the same good name notwithstanding."

Talking of luxury hotels, how often have you come home from holiday and told friends what a fantastic time you had but "it's good to be back home", which is exactly what Simon and Garfunkel sang:

" Gee but it's great to be back home
Home is where I want to be.

Our homes are part of us and we are part of our homes. For many of us, especially as we get older, a sense of place is important; our homes give us that. Our memories are important; our homes are memory storerooms. Our individuality, autonomy and independence are central to our identities; our homes give focus to how we see the world. This individual, emotional, engagement with our homes has been called "autobiographical insidedness". The term is a little clumsy but it does encapsulate something many of us will experience. The engagement we have with our homes is personal and different for each of us. 

When I Was at Home I was in a Better Place

There is a great deal of truth in the old maxim that familiarity breeds contempt. Many of us are guilty of failing to respect as we should those activities that we do over and over again. How often have you found yourself driving far more cautiously in an unfamiliar area than you would on the roads where you live. There is a saying about never meeting your heroes because once you get to know them (familiarity) you may well lose respect for them. However, familiarity is not always a bad thing.

Someone once said, words to the effect, that the "...harder I practise the luckier I get". There is some dispute as to who said this. Some say it was the golfer Gary Player. It doesn't matter who said it. It is far more important to appreciate exactly what it means; quite simply, becoming familiar with something can help us do things better. Can you imagine actors going on stage without rehearsing?

It is often a very good thing that we become familiar with our homes. We know that we have to turn the key just so to unlock the front door - that lock's been the same for years. Knowing our physical environments well can be particularly important as we get a little older, especially as our physical selves begin to let us down. And perhaps more importantly as our mental agility declines. There is substantial evidence to show that for people living with dementia a familiar environment, and a familiar routine reduces stress and enhances well-being.

It is, perhaps, important at this point to say that our communities are an extension of our homes. When we have lived somewhere for a while we make connections with people, places and institutions; we make connections that are social, formal and informal; we make connections that contribute to our well-being and contribute to the store of community well-being. Our community connections help combat the scourge of loneliness.

Loneliness does not discriminate. It is a state that has no sympathy for illness, for gender, for status or age. Though it is an state to which age makes us more susceptible. There is a burgeoning body of evidence that strongly supports the potential of social prescribing for reducing loneliness. Social prescribing involves health professionals prescribing for people non-clinical activities that are typically available in the community.

Perhaps, Shakespeare's Touchstone, speaking in As You Like It, knew something when he said that he was in a better place when he was at home.

Our Homes, Our Family, Our Lives

For many of us, our homes are inseparably connected with our shared lives; the lives we live with our closest friends and nearest family. Charles Dickens knew this well.
To say that Dickens’s family life was not always happy is, perhaps, somewhat of an understatement. His father was imprisoned for debt when Dickens was just twelve; his marriage was anything but harmonious, and his sons had their own financial difficulties. And yet in Dickens’s writing we often find descriptions of home and hearth that make us long for roaring log fires, extended families and domestic happiness. 

One such description is found in a later novel, Great Expectations. Although the novel is one of Dickens’s most popular, the characters I’m about to describe are not, it is reasonable to say (with the exception of the main protagonist), from the premier league of the great man’s dramatis personae. 

Pip, the main character, is first introduced to John Wemmick towards the end of chapter 20 of the novel. Wemmick is Mr Jaggers Clerk. Jaggers is a lawyer and Pip’s guardian. Wemmick lives with his father, whom he refers to as “aged P”, “aged parent” or sometimes just “aged”.  Pip gets to meet Wemmick’s father in chapter 25. 

‘“Well aged parent,” said Wemmick, shaking hands with him in a cordial and jocose way, “how am you?”

“All right, John; all right!” replied the old man.

“Here's Mr Pip, aged parent,” said Wemmick, “and I wish you could hear his name. Nod away at him, Mr Pip; that’s what he likes. Nod away at him, if you please, like winking!”’ 

The aged P is one of Dickens’s comic delights and the favourite grandfather you might  (be lucky enough to) have or always wanted to have. When Pip is hurt by the evil Miss Haversham, Wemmick suggests as a remedy “a perfectly quiet day with the Aged”.  

John Wemmick lives a life that today we would describe as hitting a pretty good work life balance. By day Wemmick is Jaggers’s henchman. He is business-like, slightly feared by those owing money to Jaggers and somewhat clinical and stern. At home he is very different. He is caring, loves his home, loves his aged P and has an engagingly tender side. For Wemmick, work and home are different spheres that never connect. 

Wemmick looks after his aging father. Here is a touching scene of filial warmth and devotion:

“…Wemmick said, ‘Now, Aged Parent, tip us the paper.

Wemmick explained to me while the Aged got his spectacles out, that this was according to custom, and that it gave the old gentleman infinite satisfaction to read the news aloud. ‘I won't offer an apology,’ said Wemmick, ‘for he isn't capable of many pleasures - are you, Aged P.?’

‘All right, John, all right,’ returned the old man, seeing himself spoken to.

‘Only tip him a nod every now and then when he looks off his paper,’ said Wemmick, ‘and he'll be as happy as a king. We are all attention, Aged One.

‘All right, John, all right!’ returned the cheerful old man, so busy and so pleased, that it really was quite charming.”

Dickens didn’t just tug at the heart strings he stretched them with a winch.

So Why Are Our Homes Important?

I don't think there is one simple answer to this. What is written above certainly addresses many of the reasons that our homes might be important to us. However, if I was going to sum it up in a few words I should simply ask: how would you feel if you had to leave your home?

Winston Churchill described this emotion well in one of his many letters to his wife, Clementine, “As usual I did not leave Chartwell without a pang”. Chartwell, located in Westerham, Kent, was the property that Churchill purchased in 1922 which remained his family home for the rest of his long life. It was the home that he cared for, where he loved to stay and where he longed to return when absent.

Churchill was talking about temporary absences. How much more intense is the pain of permanent absence. But why should we be surprised?

Home is where the heart is.

Garry Costain is the Managing Director of Caremark Thanet, a domiciliary care provider with offices in Margate, Kent. Caremark Thanet provides home care services throughout the Isle of Thanet. Garry can be contacted on 01843 235910 or email You can also visit Caremark Thanet's website at


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