Call me old-fashioned, but I like doors and think every house should have them.
On my way home from the swimming club as a child, I’d often visit my next-door neighbours, a nice old couple who loved playing canasta, and who owned an ancient Triumph Dolomite and deep chairs with high backs, which you could sink in up to your ears. They had a coal fire which I’d crouch beside and dry my hair while my parents lost again at cards. My neighbours were, being old, seriously old-school in all their tastes. Their house, a 1930s semi in the north of England, had changed little since it was built. It had, in most rooms, and all the way up the stairs, dark wood paneling on the walls, or wainscotting, as I later learned it’s called. I liked it. I still do. Though I only ever see it during rare visits to stately homes. My good and gentle neighbours eventually passed away. In their wake came a new family, who stripped the house bare, including the wainscotting, whereafter they advanced into the garden demolishing two great apple trees, and every bush in sight. That was the back. To the front, the once established garden is now a car park the colour of Germolene.
Each to his own. But I did mourn the passing of one era and the rude arrival of the next. My old neighbours, in the 1970s, had been disconcerted by my routine wearing of training shoes, although they eventually got over their surprise. I shudder to think how they’d feel about how things are now.
Now I don’t mean to be awkward, but anyone who likes wainscotting is, if you pardon the vanity, heading pretty much in the opposite direction, taste-wise, to nearly everyone else on the planet. For the last thirty or forty years the general trend has been away from what I see as the mystery and nostalgia embodied in such things as wood paneling, towards a brave new world of cramming as much light and fresh air as you possibly can into your house, office or school. In such a world one is made to feel that a dark corner is a crime, a curtain drawn too early in the evening the sign of evil/terrorism/growing cannabis. I understand the Nazis instructed people to inform the authorities about such behaviour (true, according the BBC’s The Nazis, A Warning From History). With carpets now only being bought in either oatmeal or barley, or any subtle colour in-between (about seven thousand contrived shades), I’d hesitate to order a good rich blue, or a plum-red weave, for fear of a knock on the door in the early hours, and being tossed into a prison cell only to find a revolting shade of Tuscan Harvest underfoot.
To decide on the best carpet today you simply need to ask the shop assistant which shade is most easily marked by an innocent slipper touching it more than three times in the same place.
Don’t get me wrong. I do like light. And sun. I’ve lived in Spain for chrissakes. Only I like that light and sun outside, although we are often short of such simple human pleasures in the UK. But inside I like to feel secure and homely and well – frankly – as if I’m holed up with Sherlock Holmes in 1895. I don’t smoke a pipe, mind. Or deck myself in tweed. Neither do I have a house-keeper, although I’d love one. In most ways I am ever so normal. But I can’t understand the drive for recreating the outside, inside. I once shared a house with a woman who slept with the sash windows fully up, often in winter. That’s about four square feet of the outside, inside, all night. If you need that, go and live in a field. Or take the roof off. And lay a meadow beside your bed, while you’re at it.
Neither is this a class thing. My new childhood neighbours were working class. I know others from the middle-class, who visibly frowned at a flat of mine because the windows were an inch smaller than that on the bridge of the Titanic. The impertinence!
A strange solution
I’ve lived in many rented, shared houses in my time. The thirst for air and light has reached the heights of illogicality, especially in our usually draughty, damp UK climate. Recent years have seen rented terraced properties being deemed too small and cramped for humans. Yet the owners need to pay their mortgages. Solution: take off many of the internal doors. To the kitchen. To the lounge. The drive for space and light is insatiable, despite the consequences. They sometimes even take out those silly old stairs, which have served us well for about two millennia, replacing them with a spiral contraption which actually acts like a chimney, channeling any remotely warm air you’ve purchased at great expense, from the lounge and straight upstairs to keep the spiders warm in the loft.
Taking doors off can be useful and logical… in Mexico or Spain, or anywhere where the average annual temperature rises to at least a degree or two higher than that which is favourable to the survival of life forms from ameoba upwards. But not here. Seriously. Not when doors keep out noise and kitchen smells, and keep heat where it should be: around me and not dissipating across the heavens.
Perhaps the only hope I have – to retain my sanity – and if I want wooden paneling, an enclosed space, small windows and wish to avoid carpets that match my porridge, is to kick my current neighbour’s dog from its kennel. Indeed, this one would do. I fear, however, that my friends would think I’m barking mad.
Copyright © 2012 David Hansard / davidhansard.wordpress.com
All articles on davidhansard.wordpress.com are written by David Hansard unless otherwise stated.