Why home is where the heart is...and all our happy memories, too
An interesting thing happened on Love It or List It this week. Hear me out. If you aren't aware of this clumsily titled Channel 4 programme, it's basically just another way to show footage of Phil Spencer and Kirsty Allsopp wandering around people's homes.
Except, in this case, it's a competition - Kirsty is renovating a house to persuade a family to stay in it, Phil is looking for a new place to lure them into buying.
It doesn't sound the most gripping of premises, I grant you. But sometimes it reveals the deep-down reality of a marriage (we almost had an on-air separation on the first show, when the big reveal exposed a chasm bigger than the Grand Canyon between the thus far courteous and ostensibly jolly couple). And this week a different kind of psychological struggle was inadvertently tackled, with a thought-provoking result.
Charanjeet, his wife Ash, and their kids have lived in their house for two decades. It didn't look as if anyone had ever run the place over with a Hoover, never mind tended to its broken guttering, its torn carpets, or its stained walls.
It was far too small for the family - two teenagers shared a small room which also doubled as office space for the parents. It was, frankly, a ridiculous home for four people to wrangle over. But Charanjeet was insistent on staying because "it has so many happy memories".
I had particular sympathy for Charanjeet, as I'm in the middle of the buying/selling process myself and find I'm becoming increasingly attached to those parts of the house which most effectively spark nostalgia.
The kitchen wall where we've documented the gradual height rises of the kids is the most obvious example, but there are many others which sometimes catch me off-guard.
The dining-room door with the low glass panels, against which my toddler children used to press their noses on Christmas morning, eyes the size of moons.
The two tiny plots we bestowed upon them during a brief, enthusiastic gardening phase; one patch enjoyed a summer of multi-coloured pansies, the other failed to respond to a perhaps over-exuberant planting of 100 sunflower seeds.
The orange-flamed living-room fire, which has formed the backdrop for so many late night drunken waltzes to Leonard Cohen songs (by my husband and I, not the kids). Suddenly the thought of leaving it all behind feels like a bit like a bereavement.
In the end, Kirsty's fabulous upgrade persuaded Charanjeet's previously reluctant wife to stay. What struck me though was that the renovations were so drastic - she had ripped up the whole building and started again - none of its previous elements had survived. Not a door, not a carpet, not even a wall, was the same.
The huge extension and restructuring had created, as Ash said, a completely new environment, unrecognisable from its previous draft. Yet Charanjeet was supremely happy, because the new house delighted everyone else.
What did remain, unchanged, were the memories in his head, the still-burning pictures of years of familial ups and downs. The space itself, it turned out, was just a safety net.
All of us fear losing clarity of our memories. I'm haunted by the idea of not being able to summon the sound of my children's infant voices, or the way they laughed when the world was still a place of benign, happy pleasure and injustice, or cruel misfortune unknown to them.
But the truth is, life is about movement, change its only positive dynamic. The stuff of life isn't in the furniture, or even the walls. It's somewhere much more secure.
Bono with his Mysterious Ways
This week, Bono was explaining the thinking behind the new U2 tour. He is clearly still smarting over the scathing backlash the decision to place the last album in everyone’s iTunes library, whether they wanted it or not, provoked.
One chap compared the experience to waking up and finding 11 dog poos on his lawn.
U2 had got too unwieldy, their concerts too showy and complex, Bono opined. He wanted to simplify things, strip it all down, on the new tour.
Which was why he’d come up with a three-act concept based around a back-to-basics theme.
Oh dear, Bono. Couldn’t you just, like, play a gig?
Bankers cash in while we all suffer
Brass neck is often to be celebrated — it can mean a bold, undaunted spirit having the guts to do something audacious, something that might shock people, because he/she believes in it.
The bank traders who formed a private cabal in order to rig international exchange rates certainly had brass neck and believed strongly that what they were doing would benefit people — themselves and their mates, mainly. At the very time they were publicly hanging their heads and obsequiously apologising for bad practice, these bankers were quietly behaving even worse behind closed doors.
The bare-faced cheek and grotesque immorality of it really does take the breath away.