Sunday, 11 April 2010


Through the medium of television, cinema and books we all know that the American dream is an ethos centred around the virtues of an “all men are created equal” philosophy, it goes on to emphasize that the pursuit of happiness, life and liberty cross all boundary’s of sex, colour or creed and that we are all born equal.

I guess from around the word, America is seen as the land of opportunity, a land where success has no limits and streets are paved with gold.  Where a poor 2nd generation immigrant can become president and ruler of the free world – or something like that. 

The American dream is centred on home ownership, as is the British Dream of ’A man’s home is his castle”   Although to be honest I am not sure what a ‘British’ dream is? As an ethos, it probably doesn’t have the same basis as an American dream; but as an aspiration I guess it’s about owning a corner shop, becoming a train driver or playing football for the team of your choice Vs becoming a barrister, classical musician or ‘something’ in the City whichever path you achieve or desire is still firmly divided by which school you went to, and what family you were born in to – as well as colour, creed and sexual denomination.

Of course there are always the examples that break the rules, and those of us who try to ignore precedents and prejudice, but anyone who thinks it no longer exists is either a naive plum sucking, white, male, public school taught toff, who is eighteenth in line to the throne of Hampshire or a politician or both.

Discrimination is still rife, be it class, colour, creed or what football team you support.  The one thing we hold onto is that the belief that despite where you come from, you can make a difference by where you live.  The right side of the river, a certain street, school catchment area, postal code or even council tax bracket can enable you to at least rub shoulders with the upper echelons of society – albeit with a couple of caveats, the first – whilst you can live next door, you will never be adopted – regardless of how much money you have, how deep your St Tropez tan is or how big the ‘rims’ on your shiny new car are.  When your relatives arrive in their 1986 model Serra, sporting florescent pink boob tubes ripped jeans and a bottle of Black Tower, the neighbours curtains will twitch and mumbles of “this area has gone downhill” will echo across the manicured lawns and wrought iron entrance gates.  Perhaps this first point isn’t really unexpected and has been well documented before, what I didn’t expect was the second foe par made by those with enough money (or credit!) to find access behind walled community’s, discrete hamlets and secret enclaves of prime real estate. 

On my return to the UK, the thought of buying a property filled me with dread.  I had spent the last half a dozen years renting accommodation in China, and to be honest thoroughly enjoyed it –no maintenance, a wide choice, limited commitment and need to tie up half the national debt of Greece at exorbitant rates of interest.  So when looking to move back to the UK and not knowing what was going to happen next in my life, I decided to rent rather than conform to buying a property. 

The pressure to buy is everywhere, I don’t necessarily believe in conspiracy theories and wouldn’t suggest that our crazed obsession with making a financial commitment to a faceless banking organisation  that will invest your life savings into a scheme for milking sparrows, then require you to sell a kidney, a left toe and your first born so that they can continue to slalom down the black run at St Moritz on gold skis, is all part of one gigantic government George Orwell inspired conspiracy to keep us all working 600 hours and eat boiled liver 6 days a week.  


My parents worry that I will end up on the street if I don’t buy quickly, and every friend, foe and stranger will go at lengths to tell me that renting is dead money and that I am an evil father for not providing a ‘permanent’ home for kith and kin.  This leads me onto what is the 2nd downside of renting,  I am considered a second class citizen, a lower life, a lesser being.  When moving into my million pound former footballers abode, I felt proud, important and like I had finally made it.  I had a gravel drive, a house name rather than a number, bits of wrought iron, even a fountain.   The ceilings were low; beams were exposed and taps gold plated. 

Friends would be invited to cocktail evenings, and lesser relatives not informed of our new address, the feeling was amazing – until... we received a visit from the Lady of the Manor, with a bottle of expensive wine and with a nose so sharp you could open letters with it.  Along with her welcome gift came a – “I understand your just visiting us, and only renting – how long before you leave and buy somewhere?” said with such distain that all of the pride and delight of moving to a new home instantly disappeared, ever since I have been made to feel as welcome as a puss ridden facial boil on prom night.  She is not alone, mention the fact that you are renting and you’re treated as an escaped paedophile, which once raped a horse and swore at the Queen mother.

I put the fact that people were aggressive to my bizarre decision to rent over buy, because they were jealous.  I had a bank account full of unreleased cash from the house that I had sold some years earlier, my weekends weren’t spent with tirelessly trying to peel, plaster, prime, paint and preserve homes that they had mortgaged the next 25 years wages on, and I was able to take a choice of home based on how glamorous, ostentatious and individual it is rather than how practical, sensible or conservative it was.  Not worrying about resale value, appreciation, depreciation and who would pay the mortgage if another baby came or if I lost my job is a fantastic relief of stress, anguish and fear.

However, before everyone runs out, sells their home, deposits the money in a not so high interest account and moves into a national trust managed 16th century  castle. Beware, it has its downsides, choice is limited due to our passion with buying property, landlords vary between Sweeney Todd and Peter Mandleson, and when you read “security deposit”, read “one off payment never to be seen again” based on the fact that you will have worn the thread out on the carpets by half a nanometre, and have therefore waived any right to reimbursement.

But worst of all you will receive a recorded letter through the post at some point, for me it was yesterday when I was informed that my landlord wanted to sell his property and I would need to vacate by the end of the month. 

Perhaps buying is a good idea after all.

1 comment:

  1. There are 2 things that make “all men are created equal” easy to apply in USA.
    1) Walmart makes every material object so cheap that we can all afford to live like kings. Yes, the caviar might not be from rare russian sturgeon, but hey, bass eggs on bagels with beer are still pretty good.
    2) Setting aside New York and a few other big cities, houses are cheap and the decision to buy a house will not entail your grandkids. More importantly, broom cupboards do not qualify as rooms.

    I am impressed at your Austin-esque literary self discipline in leaving the catch to the end where we find that like Darcy, buying houses turns out to be a good idea after all.