Although I’m writing this on an iMac that has the capacity to design a floating hotel in Dubai, I never stretch its technical muscles beyond word-processing, iPlayer, Googling and email. It’s like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro while looking at your feet the whole time. Or watching Grand Designs every week on a clapped-out sofa in the cluttered former servants’ hall.
I watch Grand Designs on one of those channels with endless repeats. I’ve seen some of the same houses almost as many times as I’ve seen the same episodes of Poirot. The only difference is that the murderers in Poirot are usually more likeable than the people building their dream houses in Grand Designs. I almost weep at the angelic patience that Kevin McCloud shows towards some of the egomanical, insane, extravagant and, yes, tasteless people building their dream houses.
I think that Mr McCloud is a national treasure. I share his passionate views on preserving the planet and the value of crafts-manship in our throw-away society. In a dream world he would be running the country. I long to embrace Mr McCloud’s ethos. Every six months or so, my husband and I explore the feasibility of put-ting solar panels on the grain store, installing ground-source heat pumps, or replacing our 50-year-old boiler with one of the giant wood-burning boilers that ‘pyrolizes gasses, compacts its own ash, cleans itself and collects its own fuel’.
It’s common sense as we coppice 10 acres of woodland a year. Then, we reel as the quotes arrive and spend another winter huddled in front of the Godin wood-burner and the oil-hungry Aga. As a prelude to a major investment, however, I recently bought Kevin McCloud’s 43 Principles of Home, with the subtitle ‘Enjoy-ing Life in the 21st Century’. I read it the way my husband reads William Barclay and feel so relieved that we never got around to doing the things he says you should abandon-garden lighting, power showers, downlighters (actually, we have a few of those).
The book has inspired me to embark on a real eco project, the Recycled House, and I suspect Mr McCloud will want to feature it. From Grand Designs, I’ve learned the importance of a strong foundation, and the material I have in mind are the volumes of old Hansards stacked in the apple store. Tough, indestructible and a beautiful shade of green, I reckon they could support a fortress. Then there’s the 10 years of Country Life. I think they could make floors to support the footfall of future generations of Carlisles. They’ve lined the back stairs for a decade and, despite heavy use, they’ve never budged.
Then there’s insulation. There are enough back issues of The New York Review of Books that we could incubate chickens in the eco house. Twenty-five years of old New Yorkers are dotted around the guest bedrooms, but they’re more decorative than heat-efficient. As for the roof space, I reckon we have enough old dog beds to cover half an acre. However, one category of recycling has me stumped: suitcases.
The attic is a museum of famous makes-Hartmann, Globe-Trotter, Antler, Orvis-and unknown makes in leather with stamped initials, crocodile cases that look endangered and school trunks that bring tears to my eyes. These invalids suffer from ailments as diverse as broken zips, severed handles, weight issues and wonky wheels. Once-elegant pieces that travelled the world, they are now confined to a lonely life with the bats. Mr McCloud’s Principle 29 reads: ‘The most interesting and enriching homes are those full of autobiography… a mix of new and old, borrowed and bought.’
If he sees a role for an old Sam-sonite, I hope he’ll get in touch.