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To bring you the news, FT writers slash through jungles, yomp across tundra and ride the last helicopters off the roofs of besieged cryptocurrency exchanges. I attend middle-class drinks parties in the suburbs. I have returned with a revelation: comfortably-off Londoners don’t witter on about house prices any more; they witter on about high-density housing. The swollen prices that once made us feel so smug have lured developers. They are shoving up apartment blocks almost as fast as their Victorian forebears built houses.
The fear of “the other” now stalks middling neighbourhoods. Once-quiet oases of buddleia are sprouting mini-ziggurats to accommodate the capital’s burgeoning population.
By what right do these incomers aspire to live among us? Their kids may leapfrog our own in the queue for admission to Ofsted-extolled junior schools. They may leave rubbish out, improperly bagged. They may even want a Lidl.
I met a lady at one North London bacchanal who was caught betwixt bargaining and depression in Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. Her neighbourhood action group had just lost its appeal against a 70-dwelling development. This had gobbled up a perfectly good car park. Admittedly, my new friend never parked there. Her house has a drive. But she was sentimentally attached to some of those parking bays. I commiserated. Such a setback leaves a person with so little to look forward to, beyond skiing in Chamonix and the opera in Verona.
In my own street, a rebel resistance of bankers, company directors and tax accountants is fighting a plan to replace a low-rise block of eight flats with a medium-rise containing 50 apartments. The litigation lawyer at Number 73 has led the charge with the élan of a Marshal Ney.
With hindsight, the developer probably regrets knocking on her door and asking whether her husband could talk him through their objections.
The local council turned down his planning application. It could still be passed by the Mayor of London, a man with a disturbing disregard for the sanctity of unearned capital gains.
I had added my name to the Nimbygram objecting to the new flats, with the codicil that “a smaller development would be acceptable, as people have to live somewhere”. It is with such fence-sitting that the woolly liberal ensures he is hated by everyone.
A lack of moral certainty is an allied characteristic. Indeed, I have started to suffer from Big House Shame. Dunscribin’ is pretty modest by the standards of one Lex reader whose crib has 140 rooms and a deer park. But the lady who delivered the groceries the other day couldn’t believe only three people live in my house.
“My days! This house is BIG!” she exclaimed, dumping a crate on the kitchen counter.
“Is it?” I replied, shiftily.
“How do you know where everyone is when you’ve got so many rooms?”
“You don’t always want to, even in the happiest family.”
She left, apologising for being late. “No problem at all,” I said. “Deliver late next time too. Have a nice day.” I hoped she wouldn’t notice the antique French chandelier on her way out.
I was noisily indignant in 2009 when a Tory politician was shamed for expensing a duck house. But I was quietly uneasy in 2015 when Labour leader Ed Miliband took a media pasting for having two kitchens.
We also have two kitchens. In mitigation, one of them is a kitchenette. We don’t even use it, except as a place to store our art collection. But I can’t see that excuse playing well with the Corbynist Revolutionary Government following the Insurrection of the Millennials.
Big house ownership already irks younger colleagues. They complain about how expensive dwellings are. They moan about renting rooms in shared flats in dodgy areas. Really they should embrace the whole thing as a romantic adventure, like La Bohème, but without the tuberculosis.
Anyway, I have problems enough of my own, what with guilt trips from the My Days lady and our art-encumbered kitchenette.
It’s a terrible thing to be misunderstood. It’s not like I’m trying to pull the ladder up after me. If it was left to me, everyone would have an antique French chandelier.
Jonathan Guthrie has a delivery round of his own, helping supply FT readers with the Lex column
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