Glass, Television And Poison Gas
By PETER THOMPSON
I like gaping. It is a pleasant, harmless occupation, unless you happen to be crossing the road.
There is plenty to gape at in the Ideal Home Exhibition: a television act, a house of glass, a temple of fitness, the kitchens of the Navy, the house of the Seven Dwarfs, the gardens of England. . . You pay your two and fourpence and take your choice.
Into the main hall of Olympia you go. Before you is an avenue of houses. All the houses are of different styles and sizes. But for that you might be in an exceptionally trim suburban road. The people— mostly women—walk slowly up and down the avenue, their arms burdened with many pamphlets, and from somewhere above unobtrusive loud-speakers churn out thickly, vapid music.
For the Newly-Marrieds I imagined myself as a young man about to get married. I advanced my age by six years and gave myself a safe, dull job in an insurance office. I looked about for what, in those circumstances, would be the most suitable house.
One built by Davis and priced at just under £800 seemed a possibility, so 1 walked inside. Of .course I ought to have had a pipe and a bowler hat and what the popular press calls a bride-to-be. But even without these important adjuncts I must have looked my part quite well, for as I stood in the living-room, wondering how anyone could care to spend money on such unsympathetic, walnut furniture, a young man approached and said : "Can 1 do anything for you, sir? Thinking of getting married and settling down in one of our houses?"
I was vague and because he seemed disappointed at my indefinite answers, I told him that I liked the absence of ye olde Tudor nonsence about his house, and I liked the idea of one large living-room instead of two small fussy "reception rooms."
Then he was called to the telephone and I went upstairs. There were three bedrooms, two small and one minute.
A salesman was trying to reassure a woman in the minute room : " Of course this bedroom suite is much too big for the room. It makes everything look smaller than it really is. If you had the room you wouldn't need all this furniture. You ought to be able to manage very well in here." Yet he sounded doubtful.
The bathroom, a small scale imitation of Hollywood opulence, was obviously meant to be the house's chief delight. An elderly Scotsman was enchanted with the separate shower : "Well, isn't that the neatest •thing." All was in green except the taps and the fittings which were of chromium. Apparently you can sell a house by its bathroom. Man is human and it is pleasant to be able to imagine oneself as a beer baron, or a financial racketeer or a film star in at least one room in the house.
In comparison with other contraceptive houses this one at £800 is, I suppose, good value; but personally I could have dispensed with some of the brittle luxury in favour of more space and more built-in cupboards.
The Bride's House
Next door was a house of ye olde Englishe breed. Mellowed tiles, latticed windows, gables, oak doors, even bogus heraldic arms set in the windows, not a detail of snob appeal had been spared.
It was a four-bedroomed house, but there were very few cupboards.
The nursery, an impossibly tidy and whimsy place where no normal child could exist for ten minutes without vomiting in disgust, was full of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They danced on the curtains, round the walls, on the carpet, on the bedspread, over the fireplace, on the chairs—one can have too much even of Disney, and Snow White's saccharine smile has a depressing effect after five minutes' contact with it.
So depressing in fact that I hastened carelessly through the other rooms, then out and across the avenue to the Bride's House, which had been designed by Mr. Arundell Clarke, who has previously interested himself mainly in the design of furniture and flats.
The Bride's House is pleasant and practical. Cream bricks, green tiles, Dutch traditional style a little modified and you have the kind of house which it is impossible to dislike.
The rooms were large and there were
plenty of cupboards. The walls of the living-rooms were of brick covered with cream distemper, the banisters were of unpolished wood. It was an honest building, not over-weighed with luxury, there was comfort in it and plenty of space and a lack of the shoddy.
The bride's bedroom was what one gaper who sometimes visits his cinema, had
expected—lots of concealed lights and a recess in the wall above the bed, made for no other apparent reason than to enable a piece of quilted cloth to be hung there. The bathroom was inevitably opulent, but I think to cover the floor with a rose pink carpet is going a little too far, even by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer standards.
The Bride's House would be splendid for my insurance clerk and his betrothed. I asked the price. £1,950. For the insurance clerk not so good.
Cheap Bungalows As a contrast there was the wooden bungalow which could be moved in sections and put up anywhere. It cost £182 10s., and while it looked harmless in the main hall of Olympia, I am quite sure I should loathe it as an ugly menace if I came upon it on the Sussex shore or near the Surrey pine hills.
Then there was the Wates specially designed house. The only special thing about the design was its utter lack of character. The house was the epitome of suburban dullness: a chimney stack at each end of the house, a gable with a tiled front, small windows and a pillared porch which, according to the catalogue, gave "an unobtrusively classical suggestion."
It was the perfect house for the man who accepts as the highest of virtues. good taste (meaning mild taste) and prefers death to doing " what isn't done."
It was not, however, the house for my insurance clerk, for the price was £1,650. That is a lot of money for a house with three bedrooms, even though it has, in catalogue language a " truly luxurious bathroom " and " two reception rooms of generous dimensions."
People in Glass Houses . .
After this I decided to forget about the insurance clerk and walked jauntily round the Lovell Thatched House, priced at £3,300, and the Glass House, un-priced but hardly priceless.
No doubt glass bricks (two square blocks of glass bound together by concrete, and the whole air insulated, price about Is. 4d. each) have made it possible to obtain the maximum amount of daylight in factories and hospitals, seaside shelters and in hotels and houses. But who wants the maximum amount of light in hotels and houses?
Surely some of the beauty that a window can have lies in the darkness of the walls which enclose it. The window is the connecting link between the cool gloom of the room, the soft easiness of one's own house and the bright, hot world where the sky is blue and has small white clouds high in it,
and the tip of a laburnum bough sways up and down gently as a sparrow alights.
In the Glass House the sun bustles in all over your room, indecently tearing the comforting cloak of privacy from all the corners. When 'there is no sun the greyness of outside is within your room, and the fire in your hearth is as cheerless as a fire on the heath.
But the great durability of glass as testified by the glass steps in this house, upon which one stood at first with some trepidation, should make it possible to build some beautiful things in those future cities which we hope one day will erase the memories of such excrescences as Swindon and Manchester.
Architecturally the Glass House at Olympia is a most unpleasant place. Such selfconscious functionalism does not deserve a longer life than the days of the Exhibition.
Televising and Televiewing The stand of the London School of Interior Decoration is a very good place to visit if you are wondering how to make one room do the job of •three. I found some ingenious ideas for furnishing a dining-room so that it looked like a living room but could be made at will into a bedroom.
I went to the other floors because I like escalators and because I wanted to see
what naval kitchens look like. Naval kitchens look like the inside of an engine room, only cleaner. Everything is vast from the saucepans to the ovens—and of course it must be so, with so many men to be fed each day so extensively.
There was a telivision broadcast taking place near the kitchens. You could watch a girl doing a mask dance in a glass enclosed studio, and then go into a dark gallery and watch the same thing in some two dozen televisers. Of course everything was in an insensitive black and white, and there was some distortion, the mask grew fatter on occasion, and the shimmies shakier; and sometimes everything shook and merged into greyness. But it was on the whole impressive, though rather expensive at 80 guineas.
A Grim Reminder
The Temple of Fitness was deserted, and the instruments of exercise lay in darkness.
I think I should have liked to have seen the House of the Seven Dwarfs, but as I had no excuse in the form of a young sister
or niece, 1 did not dare enter before the sardonic eyes of the youth at the door.
Not far from this fairy tale fantasy was the reminder of something else fantastic, but less pleasant and not remote as the fantastic should 'be.
There was an A.R.P. recruiting bureau which jolted one back from complacent romancing about gabled roofs and doves and windows opening on to trees and fields, to the nightmare of men choking and blasting other men with iron and gas.
I bought a sixpenny booklet'on personal protection against gas.
I read of the effects of chlorine and phos_ gene and mustard gases while travelling home in the Underground.
I wish I could be sure that when my insurance clerk finds his ideal home, he will find also some refuge from the fury of his fellow-clerk of another nation roused to war.