When does a house stop feeling like a home? When an electricity breakdown steals its heat and light and plunges you into a cold, dark threat? When the person you share it with turns on you and locks the doors? Or perhaps, when the waters rise to claim it back, and remind you that you are no match for Mother Nature, even when it comes to bricks and mortar.
Watching the stricken faces of flooded-out families this week has been a terrible reminder of just how crucial to our peace of mind and sense of self a safe home is. When things are good there, home is a retreat, a warm hand which scoops us up from hostile outside elements – aggressive weather, stress at work, troubled romance – and puts us down in front of a glowing fire, in a sweet hot bath or under an enveloping feather duvet.
For those of us lucky enough to be born in countries where houses are strong, home is a shelter; permanence in a transient world. The small act of closing the front door is a key ritual in maintaining some kind of psychological foothold in our lives. I have some experience of working with homeless people and it's usually very clear how enormously the loss of a secure base from which the rest of their lives can begin to take shape has attributed to what is often a very damaged, disconnected psyche.
For the privileged majority, it often takes a burglary or a natural disaster for us to realise just how reliant on the idea of home we have been. To have our home betray us, to go from being a haven to a testament to dispossession and disempowerment, is to have our own foundations shaken to the core.
No matter how much people are suffering, there are, of course, always 'know-betters', who can still sleep like babies if they convince themselves that bad things only happen to bad people. Thus, there has been a small but persistent tide of voices telling us that flood-hit homeowners must have recklessly tossed aside house surveys warning them of the danger of rising rivers. QED they're not worthy of more than a few minutes of casual, unimpinging sympathy.
We heard this shrill Calvinistic note when Madeleine McCann's parents first trembled in front of TV cameras; 'I feel for them, but I wouldn't have made that mistake. That would never be me.'
Never mind that history assured the new generation of flood victims that it would take unprecedented weeks of unceasing rainfall for their street to be affected. Or that lots of them are renters, and thus not privy to surveys. Or that nice people take little risks all the time, because that's what human beings are like and so what if they are?
For David Silvester of course, none of this is a surprise. According to the Oxfordshire UKIP councillor, the floods were inevitable as soon as David Cameron endorsed gay marriage. Silverstein implied that he himself is probably the last person God's wrath will rain down on as he alone did the decent thing and 'wrote to David Cameron in April 2012 to warn him that disasters would accompany the passage of his same-sex marriage bill.'
Shockingly, Cameron still went ahead and, thus, as Silvester makes clear, 'It is his fault that large swathes of the nation have been afflicted by storms and floods.'
'There but for the grace of God,' said most of us as we watched the flood footage this week. But not all of us. 'It often takes a burglary or natural disaster for us to realise just how reliant on the idea of home we have been'