Ruth Spencer: No place like home

By Ruth Spencer

You might want to pay more attention to the creaks and cracks in your house, writes Ruth Spencer.
A frightened house is an obedient house, and that's what makes a happy home. Photo / Getty Images
A frightened house is an obedient house, and that's what makes a happy home. Photo / Getty Images

Houses are becoming ever more sentient. With the rise of Smart Houses it's not uncommon for your fridge to helpfully order more wine when you run low, probably after exchanging a meaningful eye-roll with the recycling bin. But we shouldn't be surprised at suddenly sharing the house with, well, the house.

There have always been clues that your house is aware of you and not entirely keen on your presence. This doesn't include your little pet annoyances, like the odd sticky window or the way the flock wallpaper seems to stare at you like a wall of unfriendly pugs. It's not the spot where the paint didn't quite make it underneath the power socket cover, so you'll always know that the lounge used to be Spanish Cream.

No, these are the deeper, malicious things your house does to remind you who's boss.

It begins at the front door. You're standing on your moulting, increasingly ironic welcome mat as the house watches you juggle Pak'nSave bags and a novelty souvenir keyring like the world's saddest busker.

What if you're a burglar, it mocks, pretending not to recognise your key. Really? What burglar would have paid a small fortune to have it painted with Weathershield only the summer before last? How you long for thumbprint sensor entry, mostly so you can put the house back under your thumb where it belongs. It's not like this in the car. The car loves you, beeps when you forget your seatbelt and has keyless entry, like a sensible possession.

The house, while not doing anything at all, manages to suggest you're surplus to requirements and should go live in the car if you love it so much.

Inside, it's worse. Forget walking around. The house likes to know where you are at all times and broadcast it to everyone, in case it can get you in trouble for sneaking to the fridge at 3am. There's always one floorboard that makes the whole house go off like a nest of snipers, the kind of wood-splitting cracks that make you hope Gerry Brownlee isn't in charge of your insurance. Is the house trying to tell you you're becoming a burden? Yes, it is, which is ungrateful of it considering the mortgage.

Adding insult to injury is the house's fondness for any wildlife that isn't you. Birds in the guttering, an extended family of cockroaches under the deck and improbable numbers of spiders draping fluffy bunting across the ceiling like it's party time at Miss Havisham's. You're the unpaid keeper of the worst zoo since Harambe. If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, do be alarmed; it's rats.

Water is a favourite weapon of the house, especially cold water coming out of the hot tap. There is hot water in the cistern. There is an H on the tap, or possibly a tasteful red dot if you renovated this millennium. But cold water flows through for an eternity, chilling your facecloth, solidifying butter to plates, freezing your unmentionables. No one knows why this happens and, before someone suggests that it's last time's leftover water cooled in the pipe, why is it often hot for the first second? Just long enough for you to plunge a vulnerable part of yourself under it and be snap-frozen like the packet of peas you'll need for the bruise you get flailing backwards.

The bathroom is where the house really enjoys itself. When it's not busy restocking the grout with mould and spitefully turning on the heated towel rail so that everyone blames each other for the power bill, it's awaiting its chance to spook you into an early grave.

It knows that in the shower you're vulnerable. You can't hear over the pounding water, steam is filling your lungs and you have Pantene in your eyes. You think you're alone and may even be singing All By Myself into your loofah until that awful moment the shower door taps you gently on the shoulder. If you survive that without leaping headfirst into the tiles or losing a toe down the drain sieve, you may hear the extractor fan give an evil gurgle. Don't think you're any safer with a shower curtain; it waits until you're mid-lather, then suddenly wraps itself lovingly round your thighs. While you're trapped and oddly disgusted, someone will flush the toilet and there you are, cooked in your wrapper like a struggling rice paper roll.

What can you do to placate your home? Buying it nice things serves only to reinforce its dominance. Best to ignore it and when it gets out of hand, talk idly about your plans to set up a P kitchen in the spare room, or drop the word "subdivide" into your conversations.

A frightened house is an obedient house, and that's what makes a happy home.

- Canvas

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