We went to Alexandra Palace at the weekend to a self-build home show. We have toyed with a dream (you know how I like those heart-singing ideas) of building our own house. Not with our own fair hands of course – we can’t finish a 12×8 beach hut – no, this would be a professional job and our family home.
For those of you who know North London and ‘Ally Pally’, as it is affectionately known, will know there is a VERY steep hill leading up to the entrance. We were compelled to climb this Everest, behind a panting jogger with very reluctant, fat, Labrador, in order to reap our reward of some free cadbury’s chocolate; a bunch of self-build leaflets and a DIY voucher, with lots of small print.
When we did actually reach the top and looked out across London – we were met with a bracing view. It was vast and far-reaching, deep and long. Grey blocks, towers and landmarks reached as far as the eye could see, a beautiful vista. It made me think of other views throughout my life, so far, that have taken my breath away: the top of Mount Sinai in Egypt, a black sky pricked with stars and silouhettes of camels dotted along the devastating edges; the foggy haze of the Hong Kong skyline, oppressive, grand and confusing; the refreshing and exhilarating beauty of the glassy lakes, mountains and waterfalls of the Glengariff road to Killarney or the blinding, aqua-blue, sereneness of the Maldives. I am privileged (and am in debt) due to the views I have taken in.
As with many of these other views I had that moment where you just can’t take it on board. Have you had this when looking at a view? It’s as if you look, are amazed and then can’t appreciate it, it’s too big to digest. You pause and can’t quite fathom what you are seeing, then become desensitised to it very quickly. We could make out the whole of London from our vantage point – the edge of the dome, Canary-Wharf blinking in the clouds, and it seemed unreal. We were looking at it but we weren’t really. Views are spectacular for messing with our minds and stopping us for a moment.
I read, ‘A Room with a View’ when I was at college and, apart from the descriptions of Italy, I hated it. The female protagonist Lucy was wet and uninteresting to me. I like ‘gumption’ as they say in ‘The Holiday’. What I do remember about this distant A-level text was the symbolism of rooms and views. You were either a ‘room’ or a ‘view’. A comment on your outlook on life. It was implied, though not confirmed, that views were better than rooms. Or so my 18 year old self took it to mean. I wanted to be a ‘view’ kind of person. I knew they were the exploring, outgoing, life- embracing characters and I wanted to experience all that life had to offer and still do.
The thing is though, as good as some views are you have to change them every now and then. You get used to the view and, like at Alexandra Palace, you grow used to its effect.
Also, now I am a little older, I can appreciate the ‘room’ characters a little more. I am looking forward to watching my children experience the view, for example, and they do not need me getting in their way.
I don’t need to be constantly exploring anymore. I like life in it’s more peaceful state. I am a little less headstrong and get a little less disappointed when big plans don’t come off.
Every now and then I get a grand scheme going and get quite far… “I’m going to be a business entrepreneur” or “build a house from the ground up”, undaunted, I pursue it and learn all there is to know and sometimes plans come off and sometimes they don’t. Usually, I decide that I don’t want to do it anymore or sometimes it falls through. At 18 I would have been far more childish and wallowed in pity that it wouldn’t happen for me, now, I may nurse a wound for a day or two but then I conclude, ‘ah it wasn’t meant to be hey’. I don’t feel the disappointment as keenly and this is probably because my world view has changed.
You can’t be up-in-arms over planning permission when you watch the news and see others suffering so badly. I still let myself feel. I don’t say I shouldn’t be disappointed or sad or have frivolous plans, but I can get them in perspective, they are only plans and plans- like views -can be changed.
We met some very interesting people at the self-build exhibition. Those who have done it; those who would like to; those selling their services, of course, and also those people who love to have an opportunity to point out to others that their ideas and plans won’t work. Sometimes, they are right, but sometimes they just want you to take on their view of things. So, for example, a stone-bathroom, salesperson, who we simply asked a question of, proceeded to tell us we were mad and implied on lots of levels how we couldn’t possibly build a house and tried to quiz us to prove his point. Clearly, we didn’t linger long and will not be buying bathroom tiles from him in a rush, but, it dented our vision for a moment, spoiled our view. We could have let it bother us and let his comments feed into the inevitable doubt you feel when trying something big but we were in good spirits and so brushed it off and pressed on, regardless of the stone salesman’s ‘stoney’ heart (sorry).
So, now we are about to start drawing up some plans and it may or may not come off and we may or may not have to change them, a lot. We may have to ditch the whole idea and change our views -in both senses of the word. It doesn’t matter though, as long as we are trying to stay true to our own ambitions and not wavering to suit other peoples’ plans and views. As long as we are making the effort to find our own views on the world and are open to changing the view when needed, that is what counts.
“I am a big girl now”, my little daughter keeps saying, to assert her independence, and I know what she means.
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