By LESLIE ADRIAN M OST of us live in a home
surrounded by a haphazard collection of objects we either love or hate. Long ago the element of choice disappeared among the bric-a-brac of old wed- ding presents, unloved heirlooms and our own mistakes which still must stay their economic
The idea of starting from scratch in a new and efficient home is a football-pool dream in which most of us indulge from time to time. But what actually happens when you do decide to uproot completely in this fashion is, today, another—and cautionary—tale.
This week I visited Dr. John Yudkin, Professor of Nutrition at London University, and his wife who have just moved into a controversial new house on a splendid site in Holly Walk, Hamp- stead.
They planned it as a family house for their three young sons to grow up in. But that was nearly seven years ago. One son is now at Cam- bridge, another at a public school and the baby, for whom the nursery was designed, is at his prep school. For difficulties and opposition await the person who wishes to build himself a non- traditional house in an area where there are also period houses. The LCC approved the fourth set of plans but there were further long delays,- fol- lowing public protests by Hampstead residents to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning.
Mr. Paul Jennings was one of the Mr. Gaitskell, who is just next door to the new house, is not on record as having been part of the opposition.
But apart from the problems presented by the planners and the traditionalists, the Yudkins found that building their own home involved difficulties they never expected to encounter.
The first thing you must prepare for, they found, is an army of specialists. Not only an archi- tect but a quantity surveyor, a heating engineer and a lighting expert must be called in. This sounds an excellent idea until you start paying the, bills and until something goes amiss. Then the experts can become strangely evasive. There are draughts and the architect is called in. He blames the heating man. Paint comes off the walls and the painters say the fault is the builder's. 'We found,' says Dr. Yudkin, 'there was no real collaboration among the experts we consulted. No one was prepared to take final responsibility. Eventually, the total cost was £2,000 over the esti- mated figure. Some ideas had finally to be abandoned as the cost was too high. One of these was to have double windows in the Scandinavian fashion. This I consider one of the most urgently needed changes in our house construction. The heat lost through flimsy glass panes is now known to be considerable, and to have double panes, with an insulating space be- tween, is a simple solution. But to fit this five- bedroomed house with double panes was going to cost an extra £600.
I report these difficulties as typical of the kind anyone planning a 'bespoke' house can encounter today. And when you have moved in, do you find the house designed for you personally perfect in every detail? The Yudkins are discovering that although the needs and interests of the whole family were worked out in great detail in advance, they still must learn to live in their new house. It—not they—imposes the pattern.
The warmth and space of their vast two-level 'open plan' room, with its sliding plate-glass wall to the garden, come fully up to their expecta- tions. They have already built up the focal chimney-piece they felt they would be unhappy without. But the family have had to acquire new standards of tidiness because the communal room must always be ready for visitors. Nor are they yet accustomed to the idea that if they want to make a noise or have their own friends in they must go to their rooms. These are becoming much more like bed-sitting rooms. And it was not until they had actually sat in the lower living level that they discovered the view of the upper dining area consisted largely of chair legs and the underside of the table. Some sort of screening must be evolved.
Oysters are a delight I somehow associate with dining out. It has never occurred to me to serve them at home. Now I find this is simple and economical and is even considered family fare! 'Family oysters' is the name Mac Fisheries have given to their Helford River oysters which are now selling at only 4s. 3d. a dozen. This sounds an admirable solution for people, like me, who occasionally attempt to serve dinner for four at 8, after leaving the office at 6.30. (But more of this at a future date.) The Mac Fisheries' oysters can be cleaned and partially opened for you. They are on sale at most of the central London branches, but you can always get them at out-of-town shops if you give them twenty-four hours' notice.
Incidentally, I had often wondered what hap- pens in a restaurant if you find a pearl in your oyster. I had imagined something like the elaborate feting of the golfer who holes in one. But apparently not. It happened the other day to a friend of mine, John Bingham, the novelist; and all they said was, 'Strange, sir, we don't ever remember this happening before.'
British Railways have recently introduced a fish course with some table d'hôte meals and the price has gone up a shilling accordingly. Was the fish course really necessary? I don't think it was. Most people today find three courses sufficient.
I should have preferred to see the extra shilling go on improving the quality and variety of the main course, particularly the vegetables.
Another item on the dining-car menu that has intrigued me for some time is the miniature plastic pots of jam served at tea with the toasted buns. I have noted that at least nine out of ten customers leave half their jam uneaten. What becomes of it? It is used in the kitchens, I am told by British Railways. I wonder!
The price of these ounce pots of very ordi- nary jam is sixpence. That works out at 5s. 4d. a pound, or nearly four times the cost of the same, jam in pound jars. At this price we could be eating luxurious jams from Fortnums, pro- vided we gave up our little plastic pots for the old-fashioned help-yourself jar. I would, willingly.
* In Beauchamp Place, that diverting little street with an everchanging façade off Brompton Road, is the shopping item of the week. A notice in a furrier's window says: 'A Present for Your Pooh!' This is a mink and silver-kid poodle collar. Price two guineas.