Other people’s houses


I can’t tell you how much I want to live in a converted barn. One day I will. One day.

A little slice of whimsy…

There is one advantage to being a panic-stricken cowardy custard who can’t bear the idea of driving (hurtling around in a metal box, dodging other hurtling metal boxes? Do you people not understand the potential for death and disaster?!) – well, two, actually. One is that I’ve never had to join a gym, and the other is that I get to have a nosy at people’s houses as I stroll past their front windows. Yes, I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo, I’m an interior design pervert.

It might be the need for my own space really kicking in – but let’s face it, I’m probably never going to be able to afford a house. And anyway, being responsible for an entire building seems like quite a lot of hassle. But I’ve done it for as long as I can remember. And I can’t be the only one; everyone loves a quick peek into other people’s lives. I remember Saturday morning riding lessons, clattering past flint cottages with thatched rooves in the depths of rural Sussex. One house in particular stands out in my memory, not for grand reasons, for small ones: there was a table by the window, and on that table was always a newspaper folded, open at the crossword page, a pen, and perhaps a cup. I don’t think I ever saw anyone sitting at the table; maybe their weekend routine was subject to constant interruptions.

We’re in prime window-nosing season, because lights go on early, and every house looks warm and inviting when you’re walking along a cold, dark road. And my favourite time of year is pretty much upon us, when Christmas lights twinkle at almost every window and streets are dotted with flashes of red, green and gold. I walked down to Drummer Boy’s house on the evening of Christmas Day last year, and caught sight of a family congregated in their kitchen, holding mugs and chatting, the remains of their Christmas lunch on the counter. It looked so comfortable – I could picture them having all dozed off after lunch, then coming to a couple of hours later, and deciding that the obvious answer was tea, and maybe a cold roast potato, or a couple of Quality Street. (I’m basing this entirely on my own thought processes during the later hours of December 25th.)

There’s a house on my route to and from work that I’m currently a little bit obsessed with. It’s recently been completely gutted and re-done, after seemingly standing empty for months, but now, it’s beautiful. Boden catalogue, White Company levels of beautiful. Whoever lives in it has put a window seat in the kitchen – the audacity! Who has the time to lounge on a window seat in the kitchen? The rest of the house – well, the bits I can see, peering through gaps in the hedge as I walk past – matches the kitchen: shiny and white and glossy. God, I want to live in that house. There’s a place a few yards along from the Dream House that’s set back from the road, but I can see a hallway, walls painted cherry-red, with a piano in it. Red would be a good colour for a kitchen, I think – it matches all the best things you’d find in the kitchen: wine, tomatoes, chorizo, jam.

Having read some of this back, I’m starting to think it’s not houses I love, but kitchens. If there’s one room that represents a family best, it’s got to be the kitchen. Ours is incredibly tidy, verging on show-homey, and our toaster is kept in a cupboard when we’re not using it. Which is so typical of my mother – you put something down for a minute, go back to it, and she’s whisked it away and put it somewhere “useful”. Drummer Boy’s kitchen, on the other hand, is rarely tidy, but it’s always well-stocked. There are always leftovers of something tasty, or some good cheese, or double salt liquorice – which you have to actively learn to like. I don’t think I’d ever met anyone who genuinely liked liquorice until I met DB’s family.

But it’s not all about food; I like living rooms too. I appreciate seeing a good sofa, a few cushions, throw rugs, open fire places, a sturdy wooden coffee table. And bookcases. Show me a living room with a packed bookcase, and I’ll probably approve of it heartily. I don’t think we have any books downstairs, but I’m running out of places to put them in my room. They’re on my desk, my window sill, my chest of drawers (which doubles as a place to keep my ridiculous amount of make-up), the floor. And that’s just the start – the vast majority of my book collection is in the garage – ready to be loaded into a car for when I finally get to move to Bristol. Or Bath. Or even back to Belfast (basically, if it starts with “B”, I’ll go there. I draw the line at Basra though. And Birmingham).

Hopefully, it’s not going to be too long before I can have a place that’s sort of mine. A little flat – that’s all I want for now – stuffed full of books, with somewhere I can put my desk by a window. “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” – can’t argue with that, Virginia Woolf. I think the same applies for women who veer haphazardly from vague attempts at seriousness to little doses of whimsy.

I’ve listened to this so many times this weekend. It is perfect.

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