Terence Blacker: Why this couple are an example to us all

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The Independent Online

In these property-obsessed days, it's refreshing to hear of those few brave people who have not been caught up with homes, houses and domestic life. In Norfolk, a local council has been worrying over the past two years about a group of travellers who had set up home without the required planning permission. Last week, quite unexpectedly, the problem was solved. Tired of dealing with officialdom, the travellers hit the road. Apparently, they preferred to be on the move anyway.

With a similarly brave sense of independence, an elderly couple have recently been explaining to bewildered journalists why, in spite of owning a flat, they have elected to live over the past 22 years in Travelodge Hotels. "There is always something going on outside our window," David Davidson has said. "Our room looks out to the car park and a busy slip road where lorries pass by through the night."

Mr Davidson and his wife Jean, who are both in their seventies, acquired the Travelodge habit back in 1985 while looking after an ailing aunt in Nottinghamshire. The aunt died, but the Davidsons stayed at the hotel for another 12 years and then moved to another Travelodge that was nearer their flat in Grantham. For the past ten years, they have lived in a room off the A1 while the flat remains empty.

For people who are addicted to the idea of having their own private space, the choice that the Davidsons have made might seem perverse, maybe even slightly lazy. But there is a sort of nobility to it. While the rest of us fret about stress and noise and fumes, they welcome them as company and entertainment. As others clambered up the property ladder, they stepped off and spent their money on a room with full en-suite, and snack and drink vending facilities.

Without the burden of domestic life, they have occasional evenings out in Grantham, but usually enjoy a meal at the Little Chef across the car park, or avail themselves of the Grab '*' Go snack service which the hotel provides. Before they retire to their king-size bed, they might watch television, catching one of those programmes about cooking, or decor, or building a house which pander to the domestic obsessions of the nation, or perhaps catch a news item about squabbling neighbours.

Living on a small island and in an anxious age, the British have become an edgily territorial nation. We worry about our own little space and become increasingly aware of how the world beyond impinges on our privacy. As the Campaign to Protect Rural England has reminded us this week, it is increasingly difficult to escape noise, air and light pollution. East Anglia alone has lost 840 square miles of undisturbed land since the 1990s. Much of what is shown on television, from lifestyle programmes to wildlife documentaries, or cosy Sunday night drama series, is there to remind us of what we are losing.

The Travelodge option chosen by the Davidsons is a stylish response to the fetishising of home life. For too long, the idea of living in a hotel has tended to imply a certain grandeur – Coco Chanel at the Ritz in Paris, Vladimir Nabokov in Montreux, Howard Hughes at the Sands in Las Vegas, various stylish hipsters and druggies at the Chelsea Hotel. It is appropriate that a plaque is to be erected in the reception of the Travelodge in Grantham to mark the tenth anniversary of the arrival of Mr and Mrs Davidson. They have dared to live life as a holiday with round-the-clock facilities, and are an example to us all.

Meet Ruby, a possible new friend

The world of online social networking sounds a brutal place. There you have to apply to be someone's friend. Even then, if you are too boring, you can be culled or "defriended". All this, a scientist has said, may represent "the next stage in evolution". Confusingly, this new way of relating to the outside world is also available to animals. Dogbook, an offshoot of Facebook, will allow pet owners to give their pooches an online profile. My new companion, Ruby, is a strong candidate. She has an interestingly troubled background, acceptable hobbies (pretending to see a ghost, racing around in circles) and only one instance of having been defriended – by a West Highland Terrier called Millie. She is the perfect social networking surrogate.

* Michael Parkinson seems to have been announcing his retirement for the last decade or so, and on each occasion he chunters on about how what he calls the "classic interview-based chatshow" has been replaced by comedy interviews.

He has a point. There used to be a clear dividing line between the spoof interview, pioneered by Dame Edna Everage and developed by Mrs Merton, Ali G and Alan Partridge, and those like his which adopted a straightforward journalistic approach. In one, the guest was essentially a foil for the comic turn; in the other, the focus was on the interviewee. These days, presenters like Jonathan Ross and Paul O'Grady appear to be doing the straight job while in fact turning in a comedy routine.

But was Michael Parkinson's classic interview-based chatshow ever that revealing? Given the choice of Ross misbehaving amusingly and Parky wiping the tears of false mirth from his eyes, some people will feel that chat is better when not taken too seriously.

terblacker@aol.com

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