The old House

Posted: April 6, 2014 in life
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What special skills do you have?

To all the people who make things, cook things, fix things, explain things, arrange things… thankthank you, from someone who is endlessly impressed


Living history: Alastair Hendy outside his restored Tudor house in Hastings. Photograph: World of Interiors

There’s an article in this month’s World of Interiors about a man who bought a Tudor house by the sea. And then, piece by piece, what he did was chop away all the technologies of the past 500 years, all the heating, all the floors. There’s an outside toilet. You have to crouch to get through the tiny olden-days doors. It’s this mad thing, this dusty sort of monument to the past, a memorial sculpture that he lives in quite happily. And it’s been painstakingly constructed out of love and salvaged wood, like a two-storey metaphor that gets very cold in winter.

One of the things I thought as I read about this house (God I love World of Interiors) was: imagine being able to do anything you like, and imagine choosing to do that. He could have fitted carpets throughout, or installed a wet roomwet room. And yet, with his hands, he took it apart and built this. I am in such awe of people who can do things. Make things. There is very little I can do, and as I get older, less and less time in which to learn. Not that I’ve tried. The idea of not being able to be great at something from the moment I start is reason enough for me not to bother. Hence my lack of a beautiful home. Hence the way I have to stop for breath on the stairs.

Luckily I am surrounded by capable people. I seek them out, people who can chop onions neatly, who can put up shelves, who can drive, and cut me a fringe, and run a marathon without even showing off about it. People who can tidy a kitchen so it looks like Habitat at the end. People who own a drill. People for whom the sight of a broken shower rail in the morning is a meaty challenge rather than proof that the universe hates them.

The things people who aren’t me can do! Sit down to write a difficult email, and then just… write it. Rather than scratch around on Twitter for 45 minutes while browsing eBayeBay for pottery. They can plan meals, shopping for the week, using the money-off vouchers printed on their receipts. They can make a balanced and enviable packed lunch and transport it in Tupperware that doesn’t leak in their bag. They know about wars – how they started, when they happened, and their long-term social effects on the countries they destroyed. And, even better, they can explain this to you in language you understand, in a busy pub, without ever raising their eyebrows at your ignorance. They can fix cars. They can deconstruct Tudor houses in Hastings and rebuild them as satirical comments about the state of the property market. All these things.

My skills are in choosing these people. I don’t simply surround myself with them, I bed myself in. I nest within their abilities as if they’re duvets. I have one of these people in my actual flat, and two next door but one. Our relationships work well. I provide regular wonder and appreciation at their daily accomplishments, and they keep me alive in traffic. Every few months I have a crisis of ability. How pathetic is it, out of 10, that apart from the words for breakfast items, I can only speak English? How embarrassed should I be that I’ve never sat behind the wheel of a car? Am I the same as someone who never leaves home, am I the equivalent of a 45-year-old man whose mum still does his washing, because I don’t know what I think about Scottish independence?

I am not proud of these things I lack – these basics, this value range of skills. But trying to learn would make me even sadder. How embarrassing to fail in front of people. So here I am. Stuck in a pit of my own inadequacy, unable to dig my way out because to misuse my spade would be too humiliating. Maybe, though, the world needs pathetics like me. People to be driven. People to marvel at hospital corners. We’re the people who pore over World of Interiors, shaking our heads in absolute wonder. We are the world of interiors, watching through windows.

An outside toilet by choice – what a life!


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