House Painting
Sally Emerson's Week
House Painting
Feb. 7 2002 12:48 PM

Sally Emerson's Week


Yesterday evening I went briefly to a party at the Carlton Club in St James's given by a Tory bigwig. Lady Thatcher was there, recovered from her recent stroke, looking well but smaller than before. As a child, having observed how people got smaller as they grew older, I assumed this was how people aged. They simply became smaller and smaller until they disappeared. I didn't see the leader of the Conservatives, Iain Duncan Smith. Unlike his predecessors, he has not joined the Carlton Club. He is trying to attract more women to the Conservatives, and membership of a club that excludes them unless they are prime ministers (Lady Thatcher was made an honorary member while she was in power) isn't the best way to encourage women to join the party.


At home, my whole study is being redone and I am living in upheaval, with crates of old cuttings and photographs and letters all over the bedroom floor. My study is being painted in a colour called "String", which is an odd greeny white from a company called Farrow and Ball. It's one of their colours builders call "Fifty-a-day White" or "Pub White" or "Needs Repainting White". The problem with plain white is that it looks oddly crass and innocent. I suppose these "dirty whites" work on the very British principle that we all know the paintwork will get discoloured and tarnished so why not start off with it that way. Other colours include Ointment Pink, Straw, and Hardwick White, which looks the colour of a dirty puddle.

In the United States, property is called Real Estate. In Britain it should be called "Imaginary Estate", as newspaper after newspaper runs inflammatory pictures of beautiful Cretan village houses or French manoirs, taunting us with the news that their cost is less than that of a damp slum in Liverpool. As Simon Carr pointed out in an earlier Slate UK diary, the comparisons breed discontent during the winter, when we imagine the owls at night and the swallows skidding over the swimming pool by day, as we sip Pernod or Ouzo on the imaginary terrace. In reality, these places are numbingly dull and everything closes down by Saturday lunchtime, but you don't notice because they seem dead all the time anyway. The answer is not even to consider buying any of them but just to imagine you already have and to keep a photograph at hand to dream about on rainy days. At the Imaginary Estate offices you could buy a picture of any house you wanted, never have to go there, and just sit and drool over them. After all, when men buy pornographic magazines, they don't expect to keep the girls afterwards. Indeed, they probably wouldn't want to. Looking is quite enough, and much less trouble.

Britain might be annoying at the moment, with the poor health service and high crime, but at least it is seldom dull. Since witnessing the dramatic arrest of a criminal with the use of helicopters outside my window yesterday night, I feel far more enthusiastic about Britain and have decided it is like living in a racy TV programme. I no longer hanker after a sun-drenched villa in a torpid Mediterranean spot. No, I shall continue painting my house. I shall put my house in order, and to hell with Ouzo.

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