We get off the tube. The Miserable Nutter is screaming, as usual, at passengers leaving the station. I grip J’s little hand and prepare to run the gauntlet. Maybe he won’t notice us.
“You,” he shouts. “Yeah you, the fat ***t with the f*****g kid.” That’ll be us then. Eyes front. Walk briskly. “I’m not f*****g invisible.” Two F-words and a C! J’s eyes are popping out at him as I drag her away.
“Why’s he unhappy?”
“How do you know he’s unhappy?”
“When Mummy shouts you say it’s ‘cos she’s unhappy.”
“Well he’s just not quite right in the head.”
Wisely, she doesn’t point out that that’s what Mummy says about me when I shout. She’s more philosophical. “Why can’t everybody be happy?”
I resist the urge to add more F-words to her collection, asking her if I look like the effing Dalai Lama. I’m not sure how simply impregnating her mother elevated me to a font of all wisdom and knowledge. But it has. Nor, why I attempt to live up to the part and actually try to answer her absurd questions. But I do. “Well that’s a nice idea darling,” I say, “In fact it would be ideal. But the world isn’t ideal, there’s always going to be some unhappiness somewhere.”
The closest I ever get to an ideal is a cheaper rate on my Apple phone. As soon as you’re old enough to pay tax, idealism is one of those things you realise you can’t afford anymore. Nice ideas like world peace, universal happiness or every day a good-hair-day, gradually seem less achievable. Age and reality, the struggle to just get on and achieve some respite from the drudgery, has a terrible way of throttling ideals.
So why, after 103 years, do we still have an Ideal Home Show? You’d have thought a certain cynicism might have set in by now. It seems an anachronistic throw-back to the ideals of the spreading leafy suburban Acacia avenues; women with polished set hairdos and thick lippy in shiny pencil skirts preparing Sunday roasts lathered in Bovril.
Ideals are like lost soap in the bath, they move on as soon as you grasp them. Now with austerity keeping the housing market as buoyant as the Costa Concordia, most people’s chance of moving on can only be described as, ‘fat’. Perhaps this isn’t the time for reaching for ideals but appreciating what we’ve got.
Next year, Earls Court, the less than ideal home of the show, will be demolished to make way for 8000 homes. All ideal – until they are inhabited.
Then they’ll be no better than mine or any other house in the borough – ideal if you lived a century ago, had full below-stairs staff and could afford heat loss on the scale of Chernobyl. Yes, there’s no lift, we’re too far from the garden, the windows rattle, floors creak, wifi signal drops a foot from the router and the water stops with the first flake of snow. But, it’s somewhere J, and the rest of us, can feel secure from the nutters. It gives shelter, good neighbours and a place to shout, or laugh. No house is ideal, but then it’s a home and I suppose that’s an ideal all of its own.
Marius Brill’s How To Forget (Doubleday £12.99) is in all good bookshops now.
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