House & Garden | Diary of a Somebody

John Pawson

Back from Cambodia, the architect reflects on his relative good fortune

John Pawson

Image: Cindy Palmano

January 12 2011
John Pawson

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I feel irritable and bad-tempered today. It’s partly jet lag, but perhaps more the frustration of feeling that when you are away on holiday everything seems possible and when you get back nothing does.

There was not much talk of New Year's resolutions while we were away, which was a good thing in my view. Perhaps the absence of the usual lists where the focus is all on self-improvement had something to do with where we were. During our time in Cambodia we had dinner with a woman forced into exile when the Khmer Rouge took power, thus missing out on spending the main part of her life in her homeland. She now lives in an authentic timber-panelled house filled with period furniture. Recreating her grandfather’s home is one of the ways she has dealt with her history on a personal level, but she also supports the traditional dance schools for children set up by the Nginn Karet Foundation to help deal with the enduring social legacy of the genocide. The hypnotic power of the performance we watched has stayed with me. Our life experiences seem so untroubled by comparison.

I gave up alcohol nearly a year ago, not because it was a real problem, even though people tend to assume that such choices spring from drastic circumstances. Arguably this wasn’t an entirely selfish decision. My wife Catherine is certainly much happier because it means that I snore quietly, don’t goose her on the house steps, am only calculatedly rude to people and I can remember what I said the morning after the night before – truths I find myself reflecting upon as I prepare to attend the Wallpaper Awards party.

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