I'VE BEEN watering my friend Melanie's garden this week while she is on holiday, and I find myself wishing that I lived in her house instead of mine. Her house has five huge bedrooms and a dining-room and a living-room and two bathrooms and a big garden and a remarkably wide hall. I'm very keen on her hall; my hall, on the other hand, is rather narrow, which means that everyone who that comes into our house has to negotiate an obstacle course of Tom's pushchair, Jamie's bike, and a large number of buckets and spades for the sandpit.
I know that Melanie's house isn't perfect; she's told me all about the dry rot and blocked drains and squirrels in the attic. But I've developed property envy into down to a fine art: I don't have to worry about the rot and drains and squirrels, because when I imagine myself living in her house, it's not really her house, because it doesn't have any of those problems. Also, my fantasy comes complete with a daily cleaning lady and a charming live-in nanny and a gardener and a new kitchen and oodles of money to redecorate whenever I fancy a change of colour scheme. Oh, and a conservatory too. There's one other thing that's different, as well. When Melanie's house turns into my dream house, it isn't in her road, it's in another one round the corner (which doesn't actually exist, except in my head). Melanie can live in this new road, in her real house, and I'll live next door, in her super-real house.
It has recently been suggested to me that this sort of bizarre property fantasy has a deep Freudian significance (rooms equal wombs, or some such nonsense). Maybe I'm missing the point, or maybe I'm repressing a skeleton in the cupboard (cupboards] aha]). But I think it is simply a mildly peculiar trait that I've inherited from my mother. She used to take us on walks and peer into other people's houses and say, 'Oooh, that's a nice front door/garden/original Georgian window. Wouldn't it be nice if we had one of those?'
Admittedly, I do seem to have taken this innocent pastime much further. You see, I don't just live in Melanie's house. I also own a rather nice second home on the Dorset coast thatched roof, roses in the garden, path descending to private beach.
But now I'm worried that the Dorset cottage isn't quite big enough for my friends to come and stay. Maybe a small manor house would be better? Or perhaps a large one? You know, like one of those National Trust houses. I could do with a house like that, with some servants of course.
The thing is, I do actually like my real house. It's a very nice house: late-Victorian, three bedrooms upstairs, two rooms knocked into one downstairs, stripped pine floor, a couple of marble fireplaces, and a pretty walled garden at the back. When I lived in a flat, it was exactly the sort of house that I used to imagine for myself (curiously, Melanie lived in one just like it at the time). But it would be even nicer if it had a different front door, and an extra room in the attic. And I'd like it if the garden was, say, twice as big . . . and the hall. Narrow halls are no good at all.
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