There’s a member of your family you ignore. You talk about them, but you never acknowledge them to be an essential part of your family. When you do talk about them, it is either in a boastful, gloating way; or, more often, you talk about them in quite disparaging terms. You don’t take any photographs of them – or rather, they’re in your photos, but you don’t ever take photos specifically of this family member. You don’t ever tag them on Facebook. You don’t look after them enough. Sometimes you damage them physically and you don’t help them to heal themselves properly. You certainly never apologise for all the stress you cause. You don’t pay them attention. You neglect their care for months, sometimes years. You absolute bastard. How could you do this to a member of your family?? They’re someone you should care about! You should be put in prison for a long time, you unspeakable arsehole.
I’m not talking about a person, thank God. If I were, and you were guilty of all of those things, I’d be summoning a neighbourhood policeman right now. I’m talking about your house.
The house is as much a part of the family as any of us. In many ways, our houses define our families. Being a parent means that I raise my kid, sure, and myself and Sarah share the burden. But also, being a responsible adult and parent means looking after and caring for the house. Not just keeping it clean, but also making sure it stands upright after a storm.
Now let’s get something straight: I know how lucky I am to have a house of my own in this day and age. There are plenty of my contemporaries who do not have their own house, and the prospect of owning a house is almost laughable. House prices where we live are stunningly, unrealistically high, and they keep on growing. We are lucky.
We bought our house ten years ago, slightly on the pretext of it being a ‘doer-upper’ because it had a crap bathroom and some flaky damage to the kitchen ceiling. We did the bathroom just before Alice was born, and I Polyfilla’d the hole in the kitchen ceiling really badly. There’s still lots to do.
We learned that by owning a house, we were in charge of something vital and important. Not just because we’d spent a lot of money, but that looking after it would cost money. No longer could we ring up a letting agent and complain that the taps weren’t working, or that a slate had come off the roof, or that there was a leak, or that someone (cough) had blocked the toilet and the toilet needed unblocking. We had to deal with that shit (in some cases, literally) by ourselves from now on.
I also learned that there are some animalistic instincts that are still an inherent part of the human psyche, particularly in regards to territory. This happened just a few months into the ownership of our house. A friend and her partner was visiting, and Sarah was showing them around. I was out somewhere, probably causing mayhem. Sarah was talking about putting pictures up and the partner chimed in with “I’ll just put that up for you”, and promptly knocked up a picture hook and hung the picture. Very kind of him.
When I got home and was told of this chap’s kind DIY, I was actually furious. I fucking lost it. Properly angry. I felt defiled, cheated, invaded, that my rutting ground had been stomped all over; as though I was a porcupine, and another male porcupine had come into my territory and sprayed his urine all over my things. And I learned from this outburst that my home was MY territory, and that no male human should come in and do my hammering and screwing (unless I ring him up, ask him, and pay him to do so). And I’m realising that last sentence and parentheses makes me look like I’m a sexual freak with a cuckold fetish, which I’m totally not.
You do not do another man’s DIY. Even though he saved me the bother. Even though it was a kind offer. I very nearly took down the picture, ripped out the picture hook, filled in the holes, waited until it was dry, then hammered in the picture hooks again, and remounted the picture. Sarah told me I was being silly. Especially considering that, at the time, DIY was terrifying to me, and I’d just been done a kindness. But another man had done my manly work for me. And it rankled.
Due to this inadequacy, since then I’ve learned to DIY. My father never did any DIY around the house. He was perfectly capable, he just would rather pay someone to do it for him. For him, that was a post-war aspiration that he had succeeded in attaining – the ability to get someone in. The downside of this was that my brother and I were never exposed to much DIY in our youth, and as a result, neither of us could hammer a nail into a plank of wood when we became adults.
Owning a house, particularly in a post-financial crisis world where money is tight, means learning to look after it yourself. So I’ve learned to put shelves up. I’ve learned to install coathooks. I can do rudimentary plumbing. I can’t do electrics or gas, but I can paint walls all by myself like a Big Boy.
An ongoing issue that I could not solve was the outside of the house. There were cracks in the render, and there were damp patches forming in the two reception rooms. Some little toerag had sprayed his graffiti tag on the outside of the house. A garden wall needed rebuilding. The back fence needed replacing.
I replaced the back fence, much to my pride and delight. And also, we’ve spent much of the last 18 months having the rendering sorted out. You might think it’s an expensive way of removing graffiti, but I assure you, it’s worth EVERY PENNY. That, and it’s sorting out the damp in the front room.
This meant four days of moving the contents of the ground floor reception rooms up into my music room (which sounds like we live in an 18th century mansion, and I have a room for the harpsichord, neither of which is true unfortunately. I fucking love harpsichords!), which is where I write this blog from. My music room is actually the master bedroom of the house, but I have an incredible wife who allows me to keep all my music crap in the largest room we have.
But now it is no longer the music room, but the living room, the library, the storage room, and the social heart of the house. I’m normally used to pootling up here on my own, making music, writing this blog, playing computer games (sometimes with my wife, behind me on the day bed, playing Minecraft), and very occasionally* glimpsing porn by accident**.
But now my sanctuary is invaded with impunity. Sarah and Alice are both in here. Sarah likes to ask me what I’m looking at on the computer, and Alice is watching a ghastly television programme called Rank the Prank, where, as far as I can tell, some obnoxious, over-privileged, shit-witted foetuses are beastly to innocent people for their own guffawing amusement.
We’re stuck up here for several weeks. We now know exactly*** how refugees live in tiny homes, with the barest of their lives accoutrements stacked around them. OK, so we’re not fleeing from tyranny, and explosives, and rape, and murder, but I cannot reach my Fender Stratocaster without treading on several boxes of books and DVDs. The struggle is real.
*Hardly ever, only two or three times a day
***grow up, Phnut
Camping upstairs was fun at first. The novelty of being all together is still holding on, but we’re all ill now. Alice has had a hacking smoker’s cough for four weeks, and no breath is complete without a grating cough spluttering from her throat. Sarah got the lurgy last week, and I bravely fought off any illnesses whilst lugging bookcases, TVs, boxes of DVDs, furniture and pictures, upstairs into the music room, only I then got properly ill with either AIDS or Ebola, and it hasn’t let up in weeks. Seriously. If I do not file a blog entry next week, then let this parenting blog read by less than four people be my legacy. Every breath I take is accompanied by a rattle of phlegm from my throat. Every move I make is painful and ache-sodden. I am probably dying, and my genius will clearly have to be recognised after my demise.
We hoped that the damp-proofing and rendering would only take three weeks. It has now been five weeks.
The thing is, with the external rendering off, I’ve now seen our house in the nude. Fully upskirt, no knickers on. And it’s terrifying.
During the first phase, last year, where the side rendering was removed, I was expecting all sorts of horrific things to be discovered – cracks in the brickwork, subsidence, rotting this, deteriorating that, and expensive catastrophes all round – and there was nothing of the sort. So, with this new phase – the rest of the rendering, plus the inside rooms – I was quietly confident. I was confident right up to the point where our excellent builder said the chilling phrase: “I think you should come and take a look at this…”
Rotting this. Deteriorating that. Plus the lively and entertaining moment where he pressed on a brick, and the entire wall flexed inwards.
“The rendering was basically holding the house up”, he said cheerfully.
So now it’s all being sorted. Expensive catastrophe narrowly avoided. We’re still in the music room. Alice is currently looking over my shoulder saying “What are you writing, Daddy? Is it your blog?”. I’ve just said yes. She’s now giggling at me writing this. I’m writing private blog stuff. Stop reading me writing this Alice, it’s not polite to read over someone’s shoulder. She’s giggling even more now. This is sort of a bit meta. She wants to know what “meta” means. She’s still giggling. Alice smells of bicycles. Go away Alice. She’s shouted “Hey! That’s not nice!” I say Go AWAY or I’ll write loads of swear words. Bum… poo… wee… crap… bloody… bugger… they’re going to get worse until you leave me alone… OK, she’s gone. I’m so glad she’s wary of bad language.
Look after your house. It’s your home. It’s the shell around your family. Much as it shafts my wallet to do so, I’m glad we’re spending £HOLYSHITSAUCE.99p on our house because it may be our shelter for many years to come. It may have to withstand a hurricane, or an ice storm, or rain so hard it’ll shatter glass. It may have to withstand the coming apocalypse, triggered by some loon in the White House #OOH_WOW_POLITICS #2016
It also has to keep us warm and cosy, as well as provide a place where I can listen to music loudly without someone threatening to call our landlord. We don’t have a landlord. Thank God we don’t have a fucking landlord. I’m not paying rent to some entitled dickwit to dawdle over calling in a tradesman. I can dawdle just as much, thank you.
I’m hoping we can move back downstairs in time for Christmas.