Sunday 17 November 2019

Home truths: Why there's nothing wrong with being a 'property porn' addict

Double Ds of Irish 'Property Porn': Diarmuid and Dermot having a cup of tea. There's bad news on the budget...
Double Ds of Irish 'Property Porn': Diarmuid and Dermot having a cup of tea. There's bad news on the budget...
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

As a teenager my obsession was cars. A regular little walking talking bible of automotive history and functional contemporary car knowledge I was; from age 11.

I spent my pocket money on glossy car magazines and die-cast models. Down at the library on Saturday I'd take two or three tomes a week with memorable titles such as: The Hillman/Chrysler Imp 1963 to 1976, 875cc to 998cc, (Plus Singer and Sunbeam Variants). Perhaps I might have: Datsun 100a/120a (Cherry) 1971 -77 Owners Workshop Manual. And for some lighter perusing: A Profile of the Plus Four Morgan. Despite quare looks from the librarians, I'd spend hours poring over double spreads of engine cross sections and exotic chassis configurations.

It wasn't a fad. Today I never miss July's Dublin Classic and Vintage Car Show. I'll hold up family excursions with drool-by passes of a well-liveried Morris Traveller or a svelte Triumph Spitfire.

Even the die-cast toy thing hasn't been laid entirely to rest: last week on a whim I binged on a rake of tiny Hornby classic 1960s motors (now queued in an Abbey Road traffic jam atop a picture frame in the downstairs loo). And when I get alone time with the TV, I'll go Fast and Loud and slap on the Gas Monkey - a high-spirited Texas motor restoration series with lots of yee-haw!

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

People who know me think all of the above is weird. Because I have never actually owned nor driven a car. But that's not the point with an obsession.

READ MORE: Home Truths: Changes to bring rack and ruin for 'McMansions'

Contrarily, sports obsessing is completely acceptable. There were guys in my class at school who could tell you the name of every player that ever togged out for Newton Heath from 1878 (before they became Manchester United in 1902). Today teens who can't spell their own names know how many goals Denis Irwin scored (18 in 328 appearances) in his entire Premier career. You don't get funny looks at the library for accessing a catalogue of Man U match programme covers from 1902 to 1939.

All those Man Umaniacs stayed obsessed and in the decades in between, I've never driven a car and they never played at Old Trafford. But our little obsessions make life a bit more bearable which is what they're for.

Thanks to Sky Sports and Discovery Channel, we can indulge our obsessions without leaving the sofa (though my brother broke his jumping up and down on it during one particularly traumatic Man U fixture years ago).

But what if your obsession is the sofa itself? Floor coverings, wallpaper and renovations? Those obsessed with homes and renovations? Ratings data suggests there may be just as many sofa obsessives as sofa-bound ones. And those who binge on Kirsty and Phil, Kevin McCloud and (dare we say)… Dermot Bannon... have the ultimately accessible obsession, given that most of us live in a house or apartment with immediate potential to tinker.

My son's hobby interest is houses. He reads books about architecture, he makes 3D jigsaws of the Empire State Building and he wants to be an architect when he grows up (thus far at least). He loves his bit of Grand Designs.

ipanews_72f69cb3-bb4e-4349-8e05-5e9ccdc5966f_1
Grand Designs Kevin McCloud

But unlike those who have immersed themselves for years in the offside statistics of British soccer teams since Magna Carta, or in county hurling records since Cu Chulainn dropped the hound, the property obsessed are today for some reason looked down upon.

I've never heard the term football porn or car porn used once. But property porn is much bandied about these days with a particular venom. The connotation that those who proffer or indulge in property TV are engaged in something somewhat sleazy. We've just had what could be described as a 'We too' backlash against Dermot Bannon's Room To Improve after a former RTÉ journalist described it as: "disgusting", followed by a cacophony of howling denigration.

Which fails to recognise that property obsessives, like all obsessives, engage to varying degrees of immersion. So if a car nut sells everything he has and gets into debt to buy a Bugatti Veyron (current retail price €2m) to the detriment of all else in his life, then his obsession is obviously damaging to his life.

But watching someone smash up a Veyron (there have been many Veyron smashes) on TV is different. It's about seeing some other obsessive's car crash. Property TV is a crash and trauma and redemption, by proxy. While certainly voyeurism, it harms no one, save occasionally those who volunteer to submit themselves and their homes to it.

READ MORE: Tips for first time buyers: don't rent, avoid Celtic Tiger era apartment blocks, and think ugly

Grand Designs is 20 this year. And despite what Kevin McCloud says about encouraging fine architecture and restoration, we know it's all about the trauma and the overspend. If all went tickety-boo and Mr McCloud didn't have to hide behind that wall to bitch a bit to camera, then the show wouldn't have lasted five years.

The enduring interest in and success of property TV means the presenters have aged with us. We've watched Spencer and McCloud go bald and grey. We've gone through countless pregnancies with Beeny and by now some know Kirsty longer than their very best friends.

Despite higher than ever ratings, even Bannon has his grey flecks in Room to Improve season 12. This time he is tugging on our sagging memories by resurrecting veteran 1990s property porner and Chelsea Flower Show enfant terrible, Diarmuid Gavin (gardening expert from Britain's Home Front), as his new tousle-haired wingman out back.

If there's a criticism, it's that a nation now believes your architect comes around daily to sup tea with you, before stuffing the budget. But that busted budget and the reaction is the Veyron hitting the guardrails. The hat-trick for PTV fans. Best of all, others go through it on your behalf.

So we can pick up new paint, some industrial-style mixer taps or even a pagoda, and it won't kill us. We might even put some of it up. Or we might not. Imagining we can do it, while not at all doing it, is also part of the deal. And in an age of uncertainty, where botulism is a beauty treatment and Man U doesn't win any more, there's surely no harm in a little domestic light relief?

Indo Property

Editors Choice

Also in Life