Naming My House

I have long felt ambivalent about house names. Which is to say, I liked the idea, but feared being derided for it.

There are, it seems, three levels of house-naming. There’s the housing-of-the-nobility type, where your ancestors named it centuries ago: Blenheim Palace, for example, or Windsor Castle. Or El Escorial (although who came up with the idea of naming a magnificent palace complex after a slag-heap I do not know).

El escorial blick von obenThen there’s the houses of the upper middle class, often appearing in Sherlock Holmes stories. Frequently named after plants: Copper Beeches, Wisteria Lodge. The Elms, that sort of thing. Not quite posh enough to be aristocratic, but definitely above the mere house-number.

And then there’s the lower end of the scale: little houses of, perhaps, lower middle class retirees, which they have given a cutesy name. Something cottagey, such as Ivy Cottage or Lilac Cottage or Bluebell Corner. Or something cheesy, like Wyshcumtru, Mon Repos (even if not Francophone), or Dunroamin.

Not having the kind of ancestors who qualify for houses ending in “palace” or “castle,” and not having any particular plants of distinction (“Next But One To An Enormous Pohutukawa” is not a catchy name), I am forced into the third category.

Mkermadecensis1727
I don’t think of our house as a cottage, although I suppose by some definitions it could be considered one. It isn’t rural, but it is a smallish house (99m2 or just over 1,000 square feet), built to house a working-class family. According to Wikipedia, being a terraced or “row” house does not preclude cottage-hood. (Wikipedia: learn something new every day.) However, my overdeveloped sense of aesthetics prevents me going down the cutesy and/or cheesy road. (How does “Cheesy Road” sound for a house name? Perhaps not.)

So I had to strike out on my own, and come up with a name I not only liked, but would use. I did consider The Abode of the Blessed (Makarios meaning blessed) but it was a bit too unwieldy. “I’ve just got to take the shopping back to the Abode of the Blessed and then I’ll come round for a cuppa.” I don’t think so, do you?

So then I was thinking about what I wanted the house to be like to live in, and I thought of the name Narrowhaven. Our house is tall and thin: two stories tall and five and a half metres (18 feet) wide – hence the Narrow part; and it is a peaceful house, both for us and, I hope, for those who come to visit us – hence the Haven part.

Pigeon Tower in Rivington - geograph.org.uk - 501205
Narrowhaven is also the biggest town in the Lone Islands (attached to the kingdom of Narnia) and is the centre of the slave trade. Not such a good association, true, but the town’s one appearance in the Chronicles concerns the abolition of slavery by Caspian X, and I am a big fan of the abolition of slavery (despite what the Gumpases of this world fear the effect on the economy might be).

I suggested the name to the Caped Gooseberry, and he seemed to like it too, so our house is now (un)officially called Narrowhaven. I haven’t worked up the nerve to put a sign on the gate yet – I’m not even sure that I want to, really. The last time I put up a sign it said “No Admittance Except on Party Business” which is a terrible name for a house, but a great sign for a mathom-party. We’ll see…

the Mathom-Party

What, I hear you ask, is a mathom? (If I hear you asking what a party is, you need to get out more.)

Day 363 - Party of One

Tolkien explains in his prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring: “…anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.”

I am not advocating that we refuse to receive gifts – that would be churlish – but using one’s birthday as an opportunity for generosity is a) very hobbity and b) a good way of redressing the balance of items in one’s home.

Besides, gifts, as previously mentioned, are a joy to receive. Particularly if, like me, you have friends and family who support the pruning scheme and therefore give you a) consumables and/or b) things you really want. Of course, you can’t choose your family, particularly your family of origin. I got lucky. (We shall draw the veil of charity over the time they got mistaken for a troupe of Russian folk singers.)

Kelly Family 1989

Anyway, back to the hobbits. Having lately had a birthday, I decided to try out the idea of a mathom party. The general reaction was a) what is a mathom? followed by b) what a good idea! Thus encouraged, I proceeded to put aside suitable items from the purge (see what below if interested). I also invited people to bring their own mathoms along if they liked: after all, one hobbit’s mathom is another hobbit’s treasure.

The day before the party, I put ribbons and bows round the items. This serves two purposes: it makes the mathoms seem more gifty, since you can’t wrap them unless you want a lucky-mathom-dip-party; and it draws a convenient distinction between the mathoms and such possessions as you actually want to keep. (Make sure no-one you are attached to is in any way done up with a ribbon.) Have a few extra ribbons on hand if people are bringing their own mathoms.

And of course, you must have food and drink. Nothing hobbity can be done without food and drink, and, preferably, music. Our party was much improved by the concurrent baking of The World’s Best Peanut-Butter and Chocolate Cookies (both gluten-free and dairy-free, if you use suitable chocolate) – recipe in this book, though not under that well-deserved title.

pruning-shears-24437_640

As for what mathoms I pruned (did you think I had forgotten this month’s list?) there were: a duvet cover, a set of steak knives, a casserole dish, a cake-slice, a set of salad-servers, a small assortment of collectable stamps, a CD, a book of famous last words, and a box of games.

At the end of the party, any mathoms unclaimed are then donated to a charity of your choice. It may pay to tell your guests this as it can be peculiarly hard to persuade people that you really do want them to take things off you for your birthday. Promising to cart it all off to charity convinces people that you are not secretly longing to be left with the lot.

Oh, and one more hint for the success of your party: try to avoid being born during (or shortly before) exam week. Exams are very un-hobbity and may affect turnout.