I’ve spent the last few days Googling – as you do. Well, you do if you’re about a quarter of the way through your latest novel, and you need to “get a feel” for the sort of home your characters are living in, and you experience the urge to have a browse through endless photographs of beautiful houses in stunning locations. Look, it was either that or watch hours of Escape to the Country. Although, actually, I did that, too. It is not procrastination. It’s research, I tells ya!
I don’t know why I do it to myself. Escape to the Country, Fantasy Homes by the Sea, Location, Location, Location…all those sort of programmes have me hooked, while at the same time, driving me to distraction. When the couple announce their budget, my jaw inevitably drops and I think, “What? How? What jobs do these people have?”
So, imagine my annoyance when the presenter shakes his head and says solemnly, ‘My couple have a fairly good budget, but there are going to have to be compromises.’ Why? For that amount of money, I wouldn’t just want the house. I’d want the whole village! Don’t dare tell me that for my million quid I can’t have a lake in my garden. And, no, a simple lawn won’t suffice. I need room for my pigs and chickens and all the fabulous organic vegetables I’m going to grow. Dream on.
I often wonder, when these people finally find their dream home in the country, do they really live happily ever after? Do they really grow veggies and keep pigs and chickens? Do they lovingly stroke their range cookers and stare dreamily into the flames of their wood burning stoves, or open fires, in their huge inglenook fireplaces? Or do they, as I often suspect, end up grappling in vain with the range cooker and longing for a ceramic hob, double oven and a microwave? Do they get heartily sick of trying to light a real fire and instal a gas or oil-fired central heating system at the first opportunity? Do they give up on the idea of chickens and pigs when they realise that you actually have to feed and water them, clean up after them, and even – aarrgghh – kill them!
I often imagine that these misty-eyed romantics end up spending most of their time arguing about the length of the commute, the appalling public transport system, and the two-hour round drive just to visit the nearest doctor, before heading to the local pub (which is always high on the wish list – funny that) and drowning their sorrows, while reminiscing about the good old days, when they could order a takeaway every night and there was a Tesco Express on every corner. Funnily enough, this doesn’t cheer me up. In fact, it annoys me even more. Why aren’t there more follow-up programmes? I want to see what happens after they’ve escaped to the country. How many of them want to escape back to the city quicker than you can say “mobile phone signal” ?
My annoyance at the presenter’s certainty that the couple’s enormous budget will necessitate compromises, is only surpassed by the prospective owners’ disgust when they stand in a kitchen the size of a ballroom and mutter, ‘Hmm. Bit small.’ Bit small? My entire house would fit between the Aga and the island. Grr.
Oh, I tell a lie. There’s something else that annoys me, too. I don’t like it when the house hunters pull faces and mutter disparaging remarks about other people’s decor. They’re in someone else’s house, being trailed around by a cameraman and watched by millions of people. Do not be so rude as to pass comment on someone else’s taste in wallpaper, carpets or sofas. These things can be changed in the blink of an eye. The humiliation heaped on the poor people whose home has just been publicly mocked will take an awful lot longer to vanish. In fact, it may never leave them. Have some manners!
And another thing, why, when given strict instructions by the house hunters to find a home within a budget of, say, five hundred thousand, do the presenters then show them round a gorgeous home that they totally fall in love with and then reveal that it’s on the market for six hundred thousand. ‘But if you like it, maybe you could stretch the budget a bit?’ No! That’s why they said their budget was five hundred thousand pounds! What are you, some sort of sadist?
And finally, to finish it all, the couple will announce at the end of the programme that they really liked a couple of the properties but they’re not in a position to put in an offer yet as they haven’t sold their current home. Well, why did you just waste all that time trawling round a remote village in Cumbria looking for a house then? That’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back.
You are probably under the impression from all this that I hate property programmes. Believe it or not, I love them. There’s something about them that I can’t resist. I suppose there’s an element of “how the other half lives”, plus a genuine curiosity to see round people’s homes. Then there are the locations. I get to see the most gorgeous countryside and can dream that one day, I’ll get to live somewhere like that, too – although I’m stating here and now that I will never grow my own veggies and if I did get some pigs they would be strictly kept as pets. The sad truth is, I love the thought of a life in the country, but I suspect the reality is a great deal harsher than someone like me, a life-long town-dweller, could cope with. Hats off to the people who really do make a go of it, and are genuinely delighted to be part of the countryside scene. I hope they are very happy in their new lives.
But as for the ones who realise pretty quickly that they’ve made a huge mistake – and there must be some, surely?- I think the programme makers are missing a trick. I want to see how it all went horribly wrong and what they did about it, and I can’t be the only one. Anyway, I love Kirstie and Phil, and Jules and Alistair and Denise et al, so in the meantime, I’ll keep watching and I’ll keep grumbling. Most importantly, I’ll keep dreaming.
Have a great week xx