Ever wondered why we seem permanently strapped for cash and ever deeper in debt?
Visit any B&Q or Wickes or Homebase store on a Bank Holiday weekend and the answer is plain. A sea of crazed customers, driven to distraction by the relentless diet of home and garden make-over programmes, is buying every new product in sight, from fancy multi-coloured builders’ aggregate to high pressure deck hoses, new kitchen outfits and bathroom interiors. Appalling Bank Holiday weather only swells the crowds.
At Easter time especially, we succumb to the charms of that most unlikely seducer, he of the baggy corduroys, braces and trundling wheelbarrow: Monty Don.
Watch how his glistening top-of-the-range garden spade slides effortlessly into the crumbly soil-enriched compost. Have you ever seen compost like that in a real-life garden? Most of us struggle with stone-infested rock hard waste that’s been dumped on top of builders’ rubble. And on this we are enticed to plant a variety of dahlias unlikely to be found in any nursery north of the Mediterranean.
Even before Monty’s perfect planting begins, we will have been softened up by those transformative garden programmes – the ones that, in a beguiling trompe d’oeuil, show us how our gardens can be magically uplifted by the arrival of fancy decking, the must-have water feature, the spanking new garden shed and the greenhouse straight from a Bayswater interiors catalogue and unsoiled by anything as vulgar as earth. Do the cameras lie? All this is achieved in just a weekend!
Our wallets can’t be put away just yet. Loaded up with those top-of-the-range Farrow & Ball paints for the garden fencing? The superior subtly-scarred paving sourced from abroad in the appropriate dappled grey? The precious, gently stressed garden furniture that costs a multiple of the figure you had in mind? Oh, and the garden steps made from old railway sleepers – at a price that made you wonder how we could ever afford railways in the first place?
But there’s still more to pay for. Got the new battery operated lawnmower? And the high pressure hose cleaner to keep that decking pristine? You’ll need a proper lawn rotovator of course. And the appropriate but hard-to-source granite setts for the driveway edging.
Each week on television these visions of improvement dance before our eyes – from the humblest garden make-over to those vast cathedrals of avarice – the cavernous constructions of Grand Designs.
It’s always a tell-tale moment when, at the end of a two-year construction of an airport departure lounge the owners deem an essential home, the show’s presenter Kevin McCloud leans towards the beaming couple and coyly asks, “Come on, your budget was £500,000 but how much did it really cost?”
And the answer sheepishly furnished by the husband is, “Oh, a bit more, nearer to £800,000, actually”. And the wife adds modestly, “but the kitchen was on top, of course”.
Ah yes, the kitchen. That grand avenue of stainless steel cupboards stretching to infinity and a cooking range big enough to cater for an army battalion. There’s the mosaic patterned designer dining table, the ultra-cool chairs straight out of Homes & Gardens, an Italian coffee maker replica of the one in the Benito Mussolini museum, giant weather-resistant and heat-retaining double-door windows sourced from a cutting-edge architect in northern Finland, recessed hi-fi speakers… and a vast island unit finished in grained Peruvian hardwood and bereft of any ornament other than, yes, the give-away bowl of fruit, the same bowl of fruit that comes with every final visit from Kevin McCloud.
All this does what it is designed to do – to leave us profoundly dissatisfied and miserable with our lot. Why can’t we, too, rebuild some rusting water tower or crumbling corrugated barn into a palatial home?
Even the humblest garden improvement programmes have lured us into a vicious delusion – that stunning gains may be effected by the smallest outlay, the whole effect enhanced by wide lens camera pull-back and swelling background music. It’s all within our grasp!
And as we stagger out of B&Q with a cartload of cheapo substitutes and loaded up the car, we are assaulted by something much worse than an empty wallet and Buyers’ Remorse: it’s more like Buyers’ Folly – with a whacking 20 per cent VAT on top.
I do seriously wonder that without those home and garden make-over programmes and our endless capacity for delusion, the entire debt-laden British economy would collapse.
Capable of transformative make-over? In your dreams.