An Englishman’s home is his castle

Bart Simpson

Bart Simpson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t stamp my feet or hold my breath, but the petulance was unmistakable. In a way I could understand my partner’s exasperation but the terms of the accord were set earlier in the day. We could plod around estate agents until exactly 3PM when the England game started.

It was Euro ’96 and against all the odds, it looked good for the national team. Of course it all ended in tears but I wasn’t to know that at the time.

I never appreciated how many estate agents there were in Hemel Hempstead. All morning and early afternoon, we traipsed from one to the other looking at the house summaries and booking appointments for the following day. Only one remained. But we had an agreement and I was adamant I wouldn’t miss the kickoff. It was a good game. A lot of drama (as you would expect in an England game) but the boys did well and we won. I saw it as an omen.

The next day, we had just enough time to visit the sole remaining estate agent before our first appointment. We were in luck. A repossession came in as we stood in the branch. It was the right price, in the right area with the right amount of room. As it was just around the corner, we went there first.

We didn’t have a huge budget. We were not perhaps as fiscally solvent as we made out to the bank manager. The deposit consisted of a combination of a short-term loan from work coupled with a small amount of savings. The balance was made up by not paying a couple of bills that month. We certainly couldn’t afford stamp duty which kicked in at a certain threshold.

The repossession was comfortably below our ceiling but as it was the first house we saw, we were ultra critical. It was only later in the day when we plodded around some of the other horrors on our list that we realised how good that first house was. Nothing else was as big nor were they in such a good location. All of them cost a lot more money. I still have nightmares about the house with the bright green kitchen and the 10 foot Bart Simpson painted on the wall.

As we looked around at one more place that could have been the home of the Adams Family, we looked at each other and after a very short exchange we both agreed. We would rush down and put in an offer on the first house. The estate agent explained the special situation regarding repossessions in this country. Our offer had to be published in the local paper and everyone else had a week to put in a higher offer. It was a very stressful week. Luckily, the newspaper had a printing error which made it look like our offer was bigger than it really was.

And we’re still here. The wisest purchase we ever made. And if I hadn’t dug my heels in on that fateful Saturday, who knows where we would have ended up!


Home sweet home

English: The interior of a migrant ship to Ame...

English: The interior of a migrant ship to America At the Ulster American Folk Park, the transition from the Irish display to the New World is made by boarding a (static) ship and emerging in America. This is the interior. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a unique museum just outside Omagh in Northern Ireland called the Ulster American Folk Park. Set in delightful countryside, the museum aims to tell the story of how the natives used to live and follows those that emigrated overseas to seek new opportunities in the new land of America.

As you walk through the park, the buildings start from the simplest of hovels and progress along the evolutionary scale until you come to a wooden sailing ship in the centre of the park. All the buildings before the ship reflect what life was like through the ages in Northern Ireland. The buildings that follow the ship reflect the lives of those who chose to settle on the other side of the Atlantic.

Inside the ship itself, the exhibit tells the story of what the emigrants went through during their long sea voyage. As if the voyage wasn’t hard enough, they were ensured a frosty reception at the other end with many sent back because of suspected disease. It seems even back then, the Americans were particularly choosy about who they let in.

The park is very interesting and well worth a visit. One of the things I find most interesting about the place is how housing technology changes over time. In the space of a few hundred years, the humble abode evolved from little more than a cave through a single room hut right up to multi-storeyed, multi-roomed, stone built dwellings. At the end of the park, although the timeline hasn’t moved beyond the 19th century, the technology used is not that different from brand new houses being built today.

Sure, there have been advances in glazing technology which means windows are no longer single glazed, they’re double or even triple glazed. Homes are built with more advanced materials with less environmental impact, but the majority of new houses today still have four walls and a pitched, tiled roof. Modern heating means less chimneys, but the silhouette of a modern dwelling is broadly the same.

When I was young, I used to think that we would all be living in space or under the sea. Or maybe a troglodytic existence in an underground labyrinth of tunnels. I assumed that we would use far more advanced materials than merely bricks. Houses would have a fusion reactor to provide energy. Windows would be extra-dimensional spaces which would have whatever you wanted on the other side of them. Fancy looking out on Lake Geneva – no problem.

There would be no need to clean or even decorate. Drones would wake up now and then and take care of the dusty corners and usher out the occasional rogue spider that breached the laser defences. Instead, we all live in houses that our Great-grandparents would feel right at home in.