Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Home Sweet Home

It isn't fair to share grumbles with you, the purpose of these letters is to give you a laugh. But even if, strictly speaking, this isn't a laughing matter, may I download a growing concern, a sense of sadness?

I don't know whether you've noticed, but no-one has a 'house' any more, they own a 'property'. In much the same way, the concept of 'home' seems to have been downgraded (or upgraded, dependent on how you look at it) from a place of personal space and security to a place with a commercial value.

What has crystallised these niggling anxieties so that I'm now forcing them on you?
It's the fate of a neighbouring house, one that I see every day. A large, Victorian building, it recently changed hands for what must have been a considerable sum. Since it was sold it has never been free of an army of workmen. The building has been gutted, the windows have been replaced, the interior (clearly visible through the enlarged windows) has been modernised.

Yesterday, as I walked past, I noticed that the room overlooking the street was now a kitchen. It was full of the latest in kitchen furnishings. But what really caught my eye was the bevy of young women, all dressed smartly in white coats and rubber gloves, who were carefully unpacking a towering pile of very large cardboard boxes. Out of these boxes came china . . . and cutlery . . . and saucepans . . . and jugs . . . and glasses . . . everything that a household could possibly need. Quickly and efficiently, the young women were stowing these goods away in the newly-constructed cupboards and drawers. Within a matter of hours a fully-equipped kitchen, complete in all that any household could desire, would be ready for occupation.

Not once, as I've passed the house, have I seen anyone who might have been construed as the new owner. Not once have I noticed anyone other than workmen or, in this instance, workwomen. Has the purchaser, who presumably paid a vast amount of money for his London home, no interest in what is going on? Has he, or she, no desire to see, far less select, the china and kitchenware that they will be using? Seemingly not, for the very reason that it isn't looked upon as a home. It is a property, a highly-desirable property that is now worth even more than the amount paid for it just a short while ago.

I have an unfashionable, comfortable and cluttered flat. It wasn't designed, it grew. I look around me at the possessions acquired over the years . . . at the fading Persian carpet, given to my parents as a wedding present; at the stool that I sat on as a child when visiting my aunt; at the attractive grandmother clock - it decided to stop working when I was ten, but is still accurate twice a day!
I look at the bookshelves, at the treasured books accumulated not just in my lifetime, but also in that of my parents. I look at the ornaments, mostly from friends, each with its own story. I look at the house-plants, some inherited, some received as gifts, many over twenty years old, all cherished. What are these possessions worth in monetary terms? I should imagine, very little. But that is not the point. It is home . . . and I love it.

All of which leaves me with a nagging question, have we, as a civilisation, reached a stage where we now feel compelled to put a commercial tag on anything and everything before we can give it worth? Where we readily recognise price, but find it hard to assess value?

There, it's cost me nothing to get that off my chest. On the other hand, the value I place on your patience in listening to me, and in sharing these anxieties, is absolutely priceless!