I hate god

oh God, oh God, oh God. Blundering into my living room at 7 a.m., I see the cat has left me another dead mouse on my new carpet. I pick the corpse up gingerly by the tail, unlock the front door  and chuck it out into the front garden (next door’s!).

then I notice a small, pink thing on the carpet. It is moving. It is the blind, aborted foetus of a mouse. It is trying to crawl to its dead mother.

Oh God. How do I hate you, you unspeakable old shit.

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Accentuate the positive

Considering the differences between American and British English is problematical. Are we talking about differences in spelling, for instance, or meaning; pronunciation, or possibly different usages? In the broadest sense we might take all four categories as embracing an overall divergence of two distinct dialects; however, as we know, there are wide variations of pronunciation and usage, if not of the different but largely now standardised systems of spelling, even within the continental USA and from one ‘village’ to another in Britain.

It should be noted that American English began to diverge from British (or ‘UK’) English as early as the sixteenth century. Amer-English tended somewhat to get left behind, owing to the pattern of colonisation; as, from this period onwards, there was rapid change, increasing literacy and growing standardisation of pronunciation and spelling in Britain, exposure to Eastern verbal cultures, and so on, that did not take place in the USA (I am deliberately using the anachronistic initials – of course there was no ‘USA’ as such before the mid-nineteenth) until sometime later. And there was, of course, Biblicism of the King James variety. However, from the early twentieth century onwards, neologisms and street-slang usages, imports from the many immigrant communities in the USA (especially the Irish and Jewish cultures) caused rapid changes that were then reimported into UK English through music and movies. How cool is that?

This short essay was prompted in fact by controversial comments posted on a thread following a summary of the use of diacriticals affecting the pronunciation of Portuguese, as differently spoken in Portugal and Brazil; variations that seem to me to have only very minor significance, but which seem to occasion impassioned debate between linguists from the two communities. The fulcrum of the debate concerns the use, or non-use, or the discontinuation of use of the ‘eireisis’, more commonly (but incorrectly, outside German) known as the umlaut – those two little dots over a vowel, indicating a flattened pronunciation. Two tiny dots, yet to many academics representing worlds apart – the Old World of colonialising Portugal, the vibrant, soccer-obsessed New World of Brazil, a former colony, where the eireisis still lurks – or does not lurk – in the written language of a country said by one party in the debate to be educationally backward and populated by slightly thick people.

And what does the eireisis actually do (or not do) in Brazilian Portuguese? (It has been outlawed by treaty in Iberia.) Why, it is used valuably to distinguish one pronunciation from another, but in just one instance: namely, whether the letters ‘qu-‘ should be spoken as ‘kw-‘, as in ‘quarrel’ – or whether the ‘u’ is unvoiced, as in… well, it is early in the day and I cannot think of an example in English: ‘donde a qui?’ in Spanish, ‘question’ in French perhaps. (I know, my Spanish question mark is the wrong way up. So is my keyboard.) And it is an extraordinaily telling debate, indicating that European Portuguese still look down on decadent non-native speakers of the language in the patronising way educated Englishmen might once have looked down upon speakers of pidgin, before they threw us out.

Other than for some loan words abstracted from other European languages, English uses no diacriticals; its pronunciation must seem quite haphazard to a Spaniard or a Frenchman. Even the officially accepted spelling of ‘café’, to which my automatic spellchecker has added an acute accent, is now just ‘cafe’ without accentuation. It has become an English word. (It was always in any case in Britain an abbreviation of the almost-now disused ‘cafeteria’, confusingly borrowed from the Italian word for a coffee-house.) While the unaccented British pronunciation of ‘cafe’ ranges from the posh ‘caf-ay’, to the common ‘caff’, via the semi-common ‘caffee’, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories we owe the word ‘coffee’ itself to the Turkish ‘kahveh’, which in turn derives more confusingly still from an Arabic word for ‘wine’…. I have to assume, therefore, that the French got their word ‘café’ originally from the English…. While the Americans pragmatically prefer to call it a ‘diner’. Let’s not go there.

But the word I began thinking of, and which I shall try to concentrate on, was ‘trunk’. I was musing, you see, on the wide variations that exist between American and UK English, especially in relation to anything to do with motorised transportation. I had been noticing that Americans have increasingly been saying ‘car’, in the English fashion, rather than the more cumbersome and pre-Model T-sounding ‘automobile’.  Yet plenty of differences remain. ‘Gasoline’ or ‘gas’ for ‘petrol’. ‘Hood’ for ‘bonnet’. ‘Windshield’ for ‘windscreen’. ‘Stickshift’ for ‘gear lever’. ‘Motor’ for ‘engine’. ‘Spare’ for ‘spare wheel’. And, of course, Americans call the enclosed compartment at the rear of a saloon car, the ‘trunk’; while the British still refer to the ‘boot’.

Why these differences came into being, I have no idea. To a Briton, a trunk is a large-ish metal or bound wooden box for travelling with. So there is some descriptive coincidence to explain why an American might attach the word to the luggage compartment of a car. But the word ‘trunk’ itself has a fascinating range of meanings, applied as it may be to the main growing stem of a tree, to the upper part of the human body, to a type of highway directly connecting two significant communities (and by extension to a type of telephone call connecting two exchanges), and to the flexible proboscis of an elephant; while in the French, ‘tronc’ is also synonymous with the body of an aeroplane or coach, with the ‘stock’ of a gun and even with the bulrush (genus Scirpus). Most curious of all, a ‘tronc’ is defined by HM Revenue and Customs as a pool of tips handed to waiters in a restaurant, that is shared-out (taxably!) in lieu of part-wages.

None of this explains why the British call the back-end of their cars the ‘boot’…. My Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories offers the faint possibility of its relating to the rear part of a horse-drawn coach, where the boots might be stowed, or the servants who looked after the boots would have travelled; an archaic word meaning ‘blunt’, ‘bot’ might have got itself applied to the blunt-end of the vehicle; but the applications are obscure. All I know is, that when I left a pair of expensive walking boots on a Corsican train, the subsequent conversation with the attendants in Lost Property took on a surreal character, one man’s ‘bottes’ being another man’s ‘souliers’ (and one man’s ‘brown’ being another’s chestnut, or ‘marron’). I did eventually get them back, since they were the only pair to have been handed in that day, but it was a titanic linguistic struggle during which I had to confess abjectly to being merely an Englishman, barely conversant with their superior terminological exactitudes! (And the previous year, I had been reliably informed by the pretty girl in Tourist Information in Valence that there was no ‘bus’ service to the place I wanted to get to, only to discover a few moments later from personal observation of the depot immediately behind the building, that there was actually a coach, or ‘car’, that went right past the door!)

Respecting the value of diacriticals to the understanding of such major differences between cultures, I am reminded, too, of a conversation I overheard while on a course, learning how not to be a very good teacher of English to foreign students. One of my colleagues was discussing a food topic with the mostly Spanish student volunteers, and listed asparagus among the vegetables. ‘Asparagus? What is this asparagus, please?’ puzzled one of the Spaniards. ‘You know, thin, pointy, green…’ ‘Ah!’ the lightbulb came on. ‘Asparagús!’

Wars have probably been started for less.

Sir Thanatossios dies at 93

The death has been announced today of Sir Thanatossios Boglopoulos, KCB (93), founder and proprietor of the global media empire, themindbogls International Corp.

Sir Thanatossios passed away peacefully in his sleep last week in the £1,000-a-night suite he had occupied for the past few months at the Streatham home of Miss Pippi Longstocking, thought to be a State Registered Nurse. He had been suffering for some years from a rare glandular disorder.

Born in Nicosia, Cyprus, in 1920, Sir Thanatossios came from humble origins as the only son of Stavros Boglopoulos, a hairdresser and kebab shop proprietor. A founder member of the EOKA independence party, Stavros was arrested, tortured and executed by the British in 1950. Sir Thanatossios however never held this against his adopted country, recalling with pride the substantial legacy his father had bequeathed to him, believed to have included a substantial legacy.

Never one to shy away from controversy, Sir Thanatossios made almost as many enemies in the media as he made friends in high places. He was greeted with public scorn in 1985 when he was quoted on John Craven’s Newsround as saying that ‘There is no such thing as sobriety!’, a claim he always denied, remarking with his customary wit that, at least, he could not remember having said it. The accidental sinking of the cruiser HMS Bulgaria during the 1982 conflict over the invasion of Rockall caused a major debate about editorial independence, after The Boglington Post carried the simple headline ‘Gertcha!’, at a stroke relaunching the fading careers of Cockney singing duo Chas’n’Dave.

Of his knighthood, awarded in 2003 by Her Majesty the Queen for services to journalism, Sir Thanatossios remarked jokingly that he had always thought the initials KCB stood for Kentucky Chicken in a Bucket; a remark thought to have gone down well with his old shooting partner and fellow Cypriot, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Ruling out a state funeral for the great mogul on the grounds that the Co-op was running on empty following the recent national outpouring of funds for the late Mrs Thatcher, Prime Minister David Cameron nevertheless paid tribute to the immense influence Sir Thanatossios had wielded over the British press and Parliament, and subsequently throughout the blogosphere, for four decades. Many sufferers from the medical condition known as Swivel-eyed Lunacy Syndrome would have cause to be grateful to Sir T and his ever-open chequebook, Mr Cameron added.

The prospects for British withdrawal from the EU and the dropping of the Gay Marriage bill from the Queen’s Speech had been greatly enhanced by months of responsible debate in the columns of The Boglington Post, which, Mr Cameron said, Sir Thanatossios had built into one of the great bastions of liberty and free…

(That’s enough Leveson. Ed.)

Sir Thanatossios is succeeded as Emperor and Editor-at-Large by his nephew-in-law, Herr Professor Doktor Ernst P von-und-zu Bogl (By Appointment).

Other news: pages 42, 43. TV, Crossword, page 44. Sport, back page.

Charity begins with a single step

Usually I don’t read post on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to take a look at and do so! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thank you, quite great article.

A fine endorsement there from ‘Updated’, who gives his/her address only as zeobon.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/chihayafuru-2-epi… xMcbrydeDiltz063@123mail.net124.13.69. (edited version). Thank you too, quite great Spammer, wherever you are! (I have traced this quite great address to an earthlike planet somewhere in the Horsehead Nebula…)

You know, fellow Spammers, complexity is all very well, but my own email address is simply @yahoo.com. I think that shows I’m a pretty straightforward kind of guy (and it saves so much writing-down time at social events). It’s been commented on recently that I have very few possessions: a small house (for sale), three or four guitars (for sale), a wooden bed, another wooden bed, a coffee table on which I am writing this, a pair of Eames chairs, a rug (handwoven in India, 100% acrylic) and a dribbly garden water-feature with LED lights (all for sale).

On the downside, I’m keeping the TV, it’s not plugged-in to an aerial but it’s useful as a big computer screen now my short-range vision has gotten so bad I have to carry a flashlight to read the product labels in Morrisons. I’ll be burning the boxes full of unopened bank letters and old CVs, I keep them only in case I am raided by the authorities or there’s a prospect of a job and so far, touch wood, I haven’t been and there isn’t. And, of course, Hunzi – although he’s more a close personal friend than a possession.

So I don’t feel that the Mahatma, Mohindas P. Gandhi would be looking down on me with too much disapproval, even though I may be English, white, posh-voiced and public-school/neocolonialist. I hope he would recognise a kindred spirit: material possessions are a terrible drag on spiritual progress. Some of his are up for auction this week, I read. A simple shawl, made from plain wool he spun himself (my ex-wife once made a pair of socks from our Angora goats and gave them to our wealthy neighbour as a Christmas present. We were that poor); and a pair of disintegrating leather flip-flop sandals, both expected to make over £10k.

So, I took my shoes along to the recycling bank last week and gave them away free. Bearing a US trademark heavily promoted to stand for pioneering American ruggedness, eternal vigilance, freedom, democracy, capitalism and the healthy outdoor life, for the last two years the damn Commie soles had been infiltrating rainwater by capillary action up off the street and into my sodden socks. It rains a lot here in coastal west Wales. Hopefully they will go to some poor person in a country where it never rains at all, India maybe, and provide years of useful service. Size 11 (46), black.

But, who knows, if enough people down the years discover and get to ‘like’ these simple, unpretentious blog posts, guaranteed free of SEO, and I acquire enough followers, like Gandhi, persuaded by my political philosophy of non-violence tempered with cowardly verbal abuse, one day long after I have been murdered by the neighbours they’ll fetch £10k too.

What goes around comes around, but charity surely begins with a single step.

No eggs afternoon

In the dozen or so years since I came to live and work, and bring up my Welsh-speaking (sort of) children here, I have met many lovely, warm and welcoming people. Then I have met the others. Mostly natives of the small town of Aberystwyth, where it seems that, despite the wide, ever-changing vista of the Irish Sea, or perhaps because of it, there is insufficient room to breed larger minds. Unlike their South Walean cousins, certain Aberonians give microcephalic definition to the word ‘provincial’.

If it’s not to do with the obtuse and unhelpful attitude of the local shopkeepers, it’s the aggressive mentality of householders who imagine they own the very streets which others, too, have to live on. The ones who put furtive, misspelled notes under your wipers, moaning that (you have parked on a public road) no-one can get past your car, which you have thoughtfully half-buried in the hedge in order to leave enough space to let even one of those ubiquitous mobile homes on a trailer get by, or parked thirty yards from the junction around which the note-placer claims he cannot safely manoeuvre. The one who moans that you are blocking his driveway, when your back-end is three yards past the turning (only because he likes to park his van there himself – he has a large turning area in front of his garage but doesn’t use it). And who then spitefully parks the van right up your exhaust, across his own driveway, so that you cannot get away in the morning. The other one, who parks his several vehicles on the road tantalisingly as far apart as not quite a car’s length, seemingly to prevent any of his neighbours from polluting the public spaces opposite his house, when he has a private driveway of his own that has never seen a parked car.

These hateful people are operating in permanent grudge mode, having perhaps once long ago been given some justification for their annoyance, that they have brooded over for decades, which now re-activates their moaning circuitry and heightened sense of territorial possession whenever the opportunity arises. This feeling of deep grievance is, I’m afraid, compounded by the notoriously large chip some Welsh people still wear on their shoulder, concerning the centuries-old relationship with their English neighbours; and their unfocussed longing for a dim-and-distant Neverland, ‘hiraeth’. The mere sound of an English accent (doesn’t matter which one) causes a chemical imbalance one dares not name as racism. I speak to people of other nationalities: Spanish, Poles, Germans, even black people, none of whom experiences the same fear and loathing simmering in the bible-black depths of the Welsh soul for the old enemy. Hundreds may arrive every day: the English are still the only immigrants they actually notice.*

I vividly recall the night, five years ago, when, in a rush to get to choir, I omitted to pull the handbrake on. My car rolled gently backwards three feet downhill into the copious bumper of the Volvo behind, and I didn’t see it happen. I wasn’t there. No damage at all was done. When I got back, a drunken, baying mob disgorged itself from the nearby pub, their leader raving that I had parked so close to the Volvo that people in wheelchairs couldn’t get between the cars! Having tried in vain to explain that I had not deliberately parked thus, and seeing no sign of anyone actively struggling with a wheelchair, who could not have gone round the obstruction, or simply used the pavement provided, I drove off shaking, with the Welsh pack still yelling and jeering after me. The discomfited cripples gambit was just the Welshman’s way, however absurd, of gaining the moral high ground. He always knows best, is always morally superior (even while being stubbornly illogical) and always has to have the last word. Except, of course, when he is arguing with his wife, a swollen termagent who is, if possible, even more rebarbative, pugnacious and self-defensively priggish than he is.

And then there are the Aberonian shopkeepers, of either nationality, whose attitude towards their customers is indescribable. I was once thrown out of a shop when I told the proprietor I didn’t appreciate his off-colour jokes and would he please just concentrate on serving me? And out of another, for daring to return some faulty goods and asking the shopkeeper if he might kindly replace them? Of course, I denied his accusation that I had broken the goods myself, on purpose. It did not occur to him to wonder why anyone might do that, having spent good money on them in the first place, and not ask for a refund? Perhaps my language did become a little colourful, language issues being so sensitive. And then there was the waitress behind the counter in the greasy spoon cafe on the promenade one lunchtime who, when asked for ‘bacon, egg and sausage, please’ by the unsuspecting tourist in front of me, snapped back definitively: ‘We don’t serve eggs after twelve o’clock’… Ah, Aberystwyth. The wartime economy.

I am sad at the thought of shortly leaving, yet so immensely happy. Conflicting emotions roil within. Such a lovely place. Such annoying people. That liberated feeling whenever one escapes from this tiny, repressed islet of blinkered, self-righteous, argumentative, provincial dullards striving to get one up, to put one over, to kick the drop-goal past everyone else, is palpable. (To leave Britain’s shores altogether, indeed, usually makes one’s heartstrings positively zing…) I shall especially not miss the purveyors of phoney invoices; those local tradesmen who, incapable of earning an honest living, simply invent debts they can aggressively pursue against anyone they think has any money.

But there are many others who can have my forwarding address, if they want it.

*Footnote

It is April 2015. The General Election is a month away, and my local paper is carrying a front-page story, second lead, about the local candidate for Plaid Cymru – the moderately nationalist, socialist party here in Wales. He has apparently called the English community in Wales ‘Nazis’. This is actually a reversal of the facts: Plaid Cymru is both nationalist, and socialist. Geddit? And if Welsh people in England encountered the same degree of 800-year-old hostility and discrimination in a country run by such inept, corrupt and dimly illuminated bulbs as we English do here, they would probably protest loudly. As it is, we don’t dare. Disrespecting the Welsh culture is a grave offence.

Hating the British

I’ve probably said this already, but I hate the British. I think being technically British myself qualifies me to say that, since I helpfully also hate myself. But not for the reasons that I hate the other British. I just hear them on the radio all the time, hating everybody else.

My surname dates me back to the Vikings, so I’m only 60 generations beyond being an immigrant. It makes me pretty close to being an Englishman, perhaps with a bit of Saxon, Norman French and Irish mixed in; only for my little old Greek granny, whom my grandfather met and married while serving King and Country through two world wars. I don’t really mind the English, a bunch of silly, stuck-up, selfish baboons; the Scots are lovable, drunken half-savages at the best of times, but then so am I.

And I’ve lived in Wales for the past twelve years. The Welsh are the last remnants of the original British, the blue-bottomed Brythons, the most famous of whom was, of course, Monty Brython, who goose-stepped into the ocean to avoid capture by the Romans after the battle of Ynys Môn. He had reached the end of the woad. The Welsh are not the British I excoriate either, touchy though some of them can be (Rhod Gilbert, he’s really funny!). It’s the British British I can’t stand.

It’s the ones who want to throw everyone else out and close the Channel Tunnel I would like to wall up in the cellar and feed on pickled spiders’ eggs and boiling beer.

I often wonder what the European Union would look like, better probably, if the British hadn’t spent the last forty years being easily convinced by the endless barrage of propaganda paid for by the global corporatist conglomerate, that Europe is some sort of evil conspiracy of inefficient garlic growers, best kept at arm’s length; when, in fact, the English Channel is but a shallow, water-filled depression formed only a few thousand years ago as a result of melting Norwegian ice, and you can walk across at low tide. A few minutes in the air over France, gazing down at the obsessively neat rectilinearity of the farms, gives the lie to the belief that French farmers still need our taxes to feed their stumbling plough oxen. How efficient would British farmers be, if they had to cope with the volume of unexploded ordnance and well rotted corpses on their land? Time Team is hardly the same thing.

No sooner had they voted themselves in, than the British put on their High & Mighty Gannex coats and began jumping up and down on the touchline of Europe in the rain, yelling like demented dads at a schools soccer tournament: ‘Up yours, Delors!’, and similar technical terms unrelated to the peaceful transition from perpetual warfare to universal cooperation between nations that everyone else was expecting. It never seemed to occur to the British that the point of a Union is to join in; only that they don’t like it whatever it is, and demand to change the rules with every game to suit themselves. As a result, we shall never know if British membership of the club might have made a difference. We’re still too busy taking a preliminary piss in the foyer.

Thanks to the corporatist proxies, the media owners Murdoch, Northcliffe and the sinister Barclay twins, Lords of Sark (where?), the British have finally spawned UKIP, a party of pub bores, taxi drivers and in some cases seriously swivel-eyed power-seekers, led by a perpetually grinning salesman (but with an underlying air of tragedy), a spaniel-eyed Pagliacci who is seldom seen without a pint of beer in his hand and a fag in his mouth, although he is not really Andy Capp. He is merely posing, as Harold Wilson did, as a Man o’ the People. The People, by whom I mean the British, fall for this schtick in droves, so desperate are they to be led into the wilderness by a real British man and not some traitor called Cameron, who will let foreigners in. At such times we lose the capacity to recognise that the cheery chappy on the doorstep is busy nicking granny’s wallet.

This party miraculously secured the same percentage of the vote in recent local elections as the party of the rancorous TV comedian, Pepe Grillo, did at the last Italian general election: 25%. Not that spaghetti-chewing Italians can hold proper elections, like the British. Foreigners don’t get democracy, a British invention. The result extrapolates to an awful lot of people who think, on the basis of the complete ignorance of the issues in which they have been kept by the dreadful British press for 40 years, that we should ‘get out’ of the EU, before British culture is ‘swamped’ by Eastern and possibly even Southern European migrants intent on straightening our bananas.

I am imagining the reaction of Tory MPs’ wives, when they wake up on the morning after the referendum, only to find they are no longer automatically entitled to own their agreeable third home (converted from a shepherd’s hut, how killing!) in Tuscany, having swept royally through the Green channel at Pisa airport; where instead, they will be forced henceforth to queue for five hours at the Aliens desk behind several boatloads of tired and hungry Somali asylum seekers before being put on a plane back to Luton.

How, I wonder, will Kentish publicans, or the less well-off fathers of brides-to-be, react when they can no longer hop on a cross-channel ferry to Boulogne and haul back crateloads of duty-free Cava and several thousand counterfeit fags, and find instead some officious bastard from HM Revenue and Customs poking suspiciously through their people-carriers demanding payment of 150 quid duty?

And will it be Auf Wiedersehen, Pet for the thousands of British workers entitled to travel freely and seek employment elsewhere in the Union, whose frontiers will clang shut behind them as they are promptly expelled, enabling the same Bulgarians and Romanians whom the British don’t want to fill British jobs in Britain to sweep instead into Germany and France, Spain and Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg, taking the British jobs British workers will have been compelled to leave behind?

Well, maybe. But at least loyal British employers will be at liberty once again to kill and maim hardworking British workers; corporation tax will be cut to 10%, we’ll all be allowed to inhale other people’s cigarette smoke and let’s have no more of that dangerous foreign nonsense about human rights, gay marriage and gender equality. We can subsidise our own, highly efficient farmers, thank you… oh, sorry, they’ve all gone bust. Never mind, thanks to HS2 we can create a land fit for stockbrokers, bankers and global commodity traders – plus, of course, those lovely corporations, that have all our interests at heart.

Envious, curtain-twitching, dog-in-the-manger, dismally ignorant, insular, xenophobic, gullible British, with their grotesquely inflated view of themselves, their overweening sense of entitlement, their baseless air of superiority, their bombastic yearning for the return of a vanished global empire that never really existed (that our American ‘allies’ have taken away from them), crawling about in the gutter having fumbling sex in puddles of puke, constantly complaining about everything, hating anyone marginally more successful or less privileged than themselves, hating everyone who isn’t themselves, are welcome to live in their own little bubble in their tiny corner of the globe, on the rest of which seven billion inferior foreigners are happily getting on with ignoring their existence and learning Chinese.

As you drift rudderless out into the Atlantic towards the growling icebergs, Hardworking British Families, goodbye and thanks for all the Difficult Decisions. I’m off to live in civilization while there still is one.

Viewing life at right-angles

People come at last to view my little house, which is for sale. The harbingers of Spring.

The house has a ‘suntrap’ town garden at the back, with a dining-out patio, a sundeck and a small raised lawn area, all bounded on one side by a splendid privet hedge, eight feet high. It must have taken decades to grow, and be lovingly shaped by the previous owner into something that would do justice to Hampton Court. I myself have spent happy hours maintaining and nurturing it. It felt awful, having to hack away one end to fit-in my studio building last year and I have been praying it will grow back around.

Foolishly, I mention that the property boundary lies on the far side of this majestic achievement. The girl tells her boyfriend, and they agree. They can get two more feet of space if they rip it out and replace it with a nice new fence! Another four inches could be gained by moving the fence on the opposite side back to the true boundary line! The sitting-out area of decking over the flat-roofed kitchen extension, too, that gets the evening sun, could be built over to make a third bedroom! The loft space could be converted! My living room, too, is all wrong.  It needs redecorating: after all, it must be a whole month since it was last redecorated and carpeted (“Not that I am criticising your taste, or anything, but…”) and does not have enough true right-angles built-in, apparently, or unbroken walls. The fact that I don’t appear to own a sofa, too, is taken as a serious indication that there is something wrong with the house… but I only have one bottom to sit on!

I have never understood why, if people have an aspiration to accommodate themselves in some arrangement peculiar to their vision of the life they wish to lead, they don’t just go and buy the house they want and stop fucking about buying the wrong house and trying to force it to conform to their ideal? Television is to blame! Mine is a 150-year-old railwayman’s cottage, not a Bovis estate home designed for the perfect Stepford couple or a set for Changing Rooms. If they want three bedrooms, why not go buy a house with three bedrooms? If they want right-angles and zero carbon emissions, why not buy a new house that conforms to Part Six building regs, or whatever? There is no rhyme or reason to it.

I tell the agent, on no account are they to sell to these meddlesome teenage Philistines unless they offer a very great deal of money. I would rather die here, frankly, than retire abroad thinking of my nice little house being trashed by silly kids with no respect for history but a belief in the DIY divinity that is Lawrence bloody Llewelyn-Bowen.

Then I recall the first home I ever bought, 43 years ago. A tiny Victorian labourer’s cottage in one of London’s old lost villages. Unable to swing a cat in either of the downstairs rooms, I took a sledgehammer to the internal support walls. That was when I first heard about RSJs from a savvy neighbour called Eric, and together with the help of a few beers we inserted a couple, to keep the old place from falling down.