I don’t know how to write this piece without causing offence. My hope is that it will it be read by no-one that lives anywhere near me, because this writing business is quite a clandestine affair as it is. My mum probably thinks I’m on the laptop so often because I have some indecent habit, and I don’t know what my dad thinks, except that he disapproves with disapproving looks. My brother thinks I am the embodiment of evil because I monopolise use of his laptop. And most people who know me, in my neighbourhood, think that I am just another of the countless ubiquitous polytechnic graduates, whose delusions have finally subsided to bitter reality (which is partly accurate, but misses the point anyway). So, the blessed cloak of anonymity must never be lifted. Let me drift serenely in the shadows.
The spotlight is petrifying and I don’t want to be in it. Especially because I have something controversial to say about our urban landscape, and it is this: I’m absolutely convinced that one of the reasons so many people around here suffer from depression is because of the housing. Row upon row of terraced houses, squashed into and suffocating each other. Grey, sickly, meek houses; with what could only very generously be described as gardens- carpeted with concrete slabs where thorny weeds jostle to grow. In this environment, it is unsurprising that people want to build extensions, or buy the property next-door and knock small sad-looking edifices into one big one. So now we have bigger houses, which only makes for a more pitiable sight.
I should emphasise that I have no gripe with any particular form of house. Houses, like people, come in an array of shapes and sizes, and neither is better or worse than another, in an absolute sense. To be precise, then, there are two problems:
1) abnormally narrow houses and;
2) The sort of treatment people inflict on houses- abnormally narrow or not.
This morning I was delivering some newspapers in the local area, which allowed me to take an extensive survey of the sort of abominations I want to moan about. Whether terrorist, detached or semi-detached, people are very fond of improving their houses. Least noticeably, this is manifested in the phenomenon of porch-building. Everyone, it seems, is building a porch- my area is the closest thing to a living homage to PVC on earth. There has been for some years a mad rush to build silly, elaborate porches; which would not be complete without incinerating the front garden to make way for concrete slabs and tarmac. What has been lost is only apparent when you walk around and see, tucked away in this aesthetic malaise, humble little houses from the England of bygone years. And not many remain, so you have to really look.
What was so great about these houses? Nothing, that’s why they were so great. The ones that remain bear witness to the splendour of simplicity. They are delicate and elegant, infused with the charisma of the men and women who bought them to life- dainty and introverted things. They each, individually, had a character. And yet they did not vie to stand apart, but complemented one another, coexisting in harmony. They were built in human proportions, and also in proportion. There was always a garden, with a lawn, adorned with plants native to these shores- peonies and roses, bluebells and buttercups. (For a more eloquent characterization, I would recommend Roger Scruton’s, England: an elegy). Those houses that remain are so much more charming then, for being the last survivors among a species almost extinct.
They say that an Englishman’s home is his castle, but this can easily be misunderstood to mean that an Englishman should reside in some offensively ostentatious dwelling. Unfortunately, I think this is what most people who have embarked on some home-improvement have understood it to mean. It seems as though people improve their houses not so much to make them better to live in, but better to be admired. To begin with, porches only desecrate the faces of houses. They improve the look of a house in the same way plastic surgery has improved Jocelyn Wildenstein’s face. It is a regressive measure. Some porches I have seen are completely absurd: with colonnades, and plinths upon which marble-carved lions sit. Not to mention the spindly, towering electronic gates with pointy elaborations. As a feature of a detached or semi-detached house, this is garish; as a feature of a terraced house it’s simply a callous blow to the aesthetic sense.
More conspicuous are the mini-mansions that people are building. They are Ziggurats built for ego-worship- like little gods we build temples, and offer them as a votive to ourselves. These absurd buildings invade all space and consume greedily the visual field. It’s all an empty, bricked-up space- just piles of bricks in various bizarre arrangements. And there is always a cavalcade of high-powered automobiles sprawled luridly about, all made to look miraculously indistinct: jet-black bodywork, spoilers, tinted windows, that kind of thing. They have gobbled away the enchantment of England.
Why do people build such things, which trace their lineage to nothing, and belong nowhere? You could take them and transplant them in any place in the world, and they would find their home nowhere- except perhaps some soulless place like Dubai, where such things are glorified. We have rejected continuity from the past that would allow our buildings to grow organically into the present. Rather, most of us in this place do not even know the past, or what it was about it that made this country habitable and harmonious, what it was that made it enchanted. Instead, what we have now is the unadulterated, uneducated whims of the self, building for itself grotesque structures that have no roots in any thinking or tradition. And that is why- amongst other reasons- we live in houses, not homes. That is why the koti’s are rising and our communities dying.