Other People’s Homes

I think I want to live in somebody else’s house.

I’ve always loved visiting other people’s homes. The first time I went to a friend’s house for tea one day, (let’s not get into the tea/dinner/supper debate here) I was enchanted.

Sarah’s house was brilliantly chaotic. She had an older brother and sister and two cats. Which meant random records strewn across the sitting room, a litter tray by the back door to ambush you, and posters of Siouxsie Sioux everywhere.

We got into her house, she grabbed two bags of cheese and onion crisps from the kitchen and turned on the television.

Brilliantly there were no rules about watching Grange Hill, a show my parents wouldn’t let me anywhere near for fear of  my succumbing to teenage pregnancy or drug addiction (bloody Zammo).

After absorbing lessons in slouching, dropping ts and being sullen, it was time for tea. Sarah’s mother slapped down a plate on which sat a slice of white, buttered toast with beans sloshed over the top.

Beans on toast. Absurd as it seems, aged nine, I’d never had beans on toast. Not as a meal. I’d rarely had white bread. The combination made my head spin.

As that plate was pushed in front of me I knew I’d never be able to invite Sarah back to my house.

I could never let her in on my secret life as the child of aspirational parents. Parents who had banned orange squash and promoted salad. Who had no truck with crisps and stockpiled tiger nuts and sunflower seeds.

And who wouldn’t allow us to switch the TV on during daylight hours.

Who the hell would want to come to my house for tea?

As I progressed through secondary school the homes I was invited to grew ever more lavish. You don’t attend one of the country’s poshest convent boarding schools for nothing, right?

I visited huge, ancient manor houses with actual art by real, live (or more often, dead) artists on the walls, not reproduction Lowry prints straight out of an Observer offer.

There was no sign of the dralon three piece suites and TV cabinets I’d been used to in the homes of my primary school friends. In their place was something known as ‘family furniture,’ handed down through the generations.

These were homes with corridors and studies and pantries and cellars and summerhouses.

The cat litter tray at the back door was the only common feature.

How could I bring friends back to my house where we didn’t even have a downstairs loo? Or a cat?

By the time I left school I had accumulated, magpie-like, ideas and influences from some magnificent homes. None of which worried about things matching or coming from Marks and Spencer.

I would not be bullied by House Beautiful and I would certainly resist keeping up with the Joneses.

I have held firm to this vow but I continue to draw inspiration from other people’s houses.

I am always impressed by homes with cream carpets. That speaks to me of a confidence in one’s family, friends and pets that will always elude me.

Because I have been the friend who drops red wine on the cream carpet.

I have also been the sister-in-law whose dog, reeling with car sickness, chooses the cream rug on which to vomit his Bakers Small Dog Meaty Meal within thirty seconds of arrival in your home.

As a result, I have a full range of apologetic expressions. And expertise in dealing with stains.

I love to see how friends have worked with a colour scheme or introduced a quirky item of furniture. I love a feature wall.

I visited a friend recently in her beautiful Sussex  home. I’d brought the dog at her invitation.

The interiors were so stylish I wanted to cry.

In fact, I did cry. Because the dog also took a fancy to the property and chose to mark it by cocking his leg up a handsome exposed brick wall in the snug.

I’m now at the stage where I have become more protective of other people’s homes than they are.

As well as coveting their wallpaper/leather sofas/soft close drawers/lampshades and underfloor heating, I’m reaching for coasters and kitchen roll and the dog-paw towel.

I love other people’s houses but I think they’re going to stop inviting me to them.






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