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The Rites of Spring – as practised in suburban England

April 19, 2018

Spring is finally here, and it seems as if half the people in my country are engaged in “projects”: cleaning, renovating, buying homes and selling them. At least that’s how it appears as fleets of delivery vans take to the road and the DIY shops are packed with builders’ bums and memsahibs hunting for bedding plants. The rest of us, I guess, are busy knifing each other. But enough of that negativity. It’s a glorious sunny day.

I imagine there’s much to be said for coming from an old aristocratic family and owning a massive country house stuffed with antique furniture and old masters on the walls. But I wouldn’t fancy the endless repairs, and the streams of members of the public flowing through the house in order to pay for them.

There is, however, one benefit I would treasure. And that would be not feeling the need to update the furniture from time to time. After all, you don’t throw the priceless Chippendale armchair that collapsed under the weight of a corpulent guest onto the skip and replace it with stuff you buy in Laura Ashley or IKEA. You repair it, just as your family has for centuries.

And you probably put up with the fact that the carpets one of your ancestors brought from China after taking part in the sacking of the Peking Summer Palace are looking a bit motheaten. Thanks to the parsimony of the landed gentry, many English country houses exist in a state of graceful degradation.

In contrast, at this time of year middle class homes seem to be in a continual state of renovation. New bathrooms and kitchens, extensions, conservatories and loft conversions. As soon as a sofa starts looking threadbare, it’s sent to the municipal dump or offloaded on offspring who haven’t yet got the idea of graceful living, or if they have, are prevented from enjoying it by ageing parents who choose to spend their money on themselves.

Said parents then go to Debenhams, or, if they have the money, to one of those makers of exquisite “handcrafted bespoke furniture”, who advertise in the glossy magazine sections of national newspapers.

I speak of these matters because I’ve just happened on one of those ads, which features a sitting room whose centrepiece is a huge TV screen surrounded by elegant wooden cupboards which presumably contain hidden treasures within. Apart from the TV, all you can see is a few books, a few DVDs and a couple of spotless sofas – one leather and one probably cloth. Both white, and spotless. Not suitable for mud-laden Labradors and puking babies, you would think.

No consideration given to the possibility that your 60-inch TV will soon be obsolete, and that you’ll have to rip out the whole edifice to make way for the latest 80-inch model. Not a problem though, because the patrons of this interior designer probably update their décor every two years anyway.

Such ads are of academic interest to me. Our house has never been a show home. Judging by the furore caused by the shocking building standards of Bovis, one of Britain’s leading housebuilders, that’s probably a good thing.

But hey ho, spring has arrived, and in my part of the UK we’re bathing in sunshine. It’s warmer than Palermo and Antalya. A good opportunity for us (or rather my wife, to be strictly accurate) to launch our annual assault on the patio with the pressure hose.

As my contribution to the seasonal frenzy, I’m resolved once again to do something about the squirrels that periodically colonise our loft. The other day we had to pay large sums to an electrician to replace a length of cable that the little buggers had chewed through.

What to do? Google is full of suggestions. Traps smothered in peanut butter? Fine, except that you would have to go into the loft every day in case one of them starves to death. And then you have to drive at least ten miles to release them into the wild – or rather suburban Surrey – so that they can invade someone else’s loft. A high frequency noise generator? That might work, it but would probably drive the dog insane in the process. Or, perhaps I should say, more insane than she already is.

The last time we had this problem, a pest controller suggested we buy a pellet gun. That might work, but I don’t see myself in the role of Amon Goeth, the camp commandant in Schindler’s List, who would take occasional pot shots at inmates from his balcony. Shooting squirrels is not my idea of fun.

No, I think the answer is to broadcast a recording of Andre Rieu and his orchestra performing the Blue Danube on a continual loop. That should drive them out pretty quickly. It’ll probably drive me out too, so perhaps we’ll schedule the torture for when we go on holiday. When we come back we can then can seal up the entry holes with hardened steel barriers from a contractor who builds security systems for US embassies.

Despite the squirrels, it’s a joy to see the garden in bloom, and to listen to the dawn chorus performed by representatives of the country’s fast-diminishing bird population. As the day goes on, less welcome noises permeate the neighbourhood – pressure hoses, chainsaws, strimmers, mowers and the occasional crash coming from a plot nearby whose owner has decided to demolish a perfectly decent house and build a carbuncle in its place. By this means they will probably sell out and pocket the profit, though perhaps not as much as they hoped given that house prices seem to be on the move downwards.

You can put up with quite a lot when a sunny day finally arrives after a winter of endless rain, snow and clammy darkness. Even though hardly a week goes by when I don’t think of moving to another country, any country, before the Brexit drawbridge slams down, the truth is that when spring arrives, I can’t think of any place I would rather be than in the country where I was born.

I also can’t believe that there is any problem afflicting Britain – and there are many – that we can’t solve if we put our minds to it. Illogical, I know, and Brexit tests that conviction to the limit.

But I guess that’s what sun-induced endorphins do for you. Come the next rainy day, I might change my mind.

From → Social, UK

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