Sunday, 13 September 2009

Grand Designs

We don't often watch television any more. I am writing, twitching, fretting (mainly fretting). The CFO goes out a lot to do manly pursuits. It feels odd to sit on the sofa, the dog curled between us and watch shitty reality tv singing shows; oddly comfortable. We slip so easily into our old routines.

CFO (tone deaf, listening to wall eyed teen singing a Whitney Houston number): Is he any good?

Me (superior, though without rational justification): No, of course not. Oscar get your bony fucking arse off my legs, would you. Can you make me a cup of tea, please?

But some evenings, when it's all too much and the brave new grown up post-apocalypse world is a bit too difficult, we give in, and, by tacit agreement, watch Grand Designs.

I don't quite know why we end up watching Grand Designs. Partly it's a function of the one hour time difference with the UK, meaning that when we want to watch tv, there's fuck all else on. No, don't suggest we watch French tv. I could give you a million reasons why not, but I'm going to give you one: Patrick Sébastien. And then, Grand Designs is comfortable and unchallenging and follows a satisfying narrative arc. Grand Designs, for the uninitiated, is a show in which monomaniacal people take on huge, unwise house building projects. The show is formulaic but oddly uplifting, and goes as follows:

1. A couple (almost invariably the male partner is the actual monomaniac and the female partner is obviously humouring him) set out their insane plan to build a home, which will be a full size replica of the Petit Trianon in Versailles from scratch, using only their bare hands and organically milled wheat flour. The man talks enthusiastically and at length about sustainably farmed Herdwick wool insulation. The camera will pan across to their partner's face during this speech, revealing an inscrutable expression composed of forbearance, affection and dread.

2. The presenter, the hugely affable Kevin McCloud listens in awe and amusement, points out some of the glaring potential flaws in their plan, and does a sceptical piece to camera about their chances.

3. Over a period of years, the cameras follow the build. With absolute inevitability, it will run into innumerable problems. These include failure to obtain planning permission, money running out, illness, injury, human error leading to the house simply being unfeasible, death or bankruptcy of a key craftsman, fight with architect, measurement disasters and freak weather conditions. Kevin McCloud will wander amiably around pointing out some of the disasters in waiting, anachronisms and potential errors of taste. The monomaniac will ignore him, the light of madness glistening in his weary eye. As a rule, the monomaniac will be involved in the project to the expense of all else, neglecting family, job and personal hygiene to spend every waking hour hand moulding limestone lintels. In the rain.

4. Things will reach some form of crisis when one of the problems appear to become entirely insuperable. During another interview, the monomaniac will bluster implausibly and optimistically about how everything will work out somehow. Again, the camera will pan across to their long-suffering partner (assuming they have agreed to take part at this stage. Sometimes relationships have deteriorated so far that long-suffering partner is only referred to obliquely as 'busy', or 'working'), this time revealing an expression that is equal parts murderous rage, resignation and barely suppressed hysteria. Kevin McCloud will do another piece to camera, setting out the terrible fate that awaits them. At this point there is a commercial break.

5. Everything is resolved with improbable felicity, in the manner of one of the shoddier Shakespeare comedies. I often wonder, cynically, whether Channel 4 occasionally plays deus ex machina, sorting out the intransigent Planning Officer or helping find the missing finance, but forget my cynicism in admiring the end result. The building is wonderful, optimistic, a triumph of the human spirit. Sometimes it is also hideous and appalling, but compellingly so. Regardless, Kevin McCloud will remind us of his earlier scepticism and conclude with the phrase "yet curiously, it works".


So. Once a week or so, the CFO and I watch Grand Designs. And it's distracting and escapist, there's adversity and it has a happy ending. It's perfect viewing. We sit, mid-apocalypse, and watch these - admittedly insane - people build something extraordinary; something for their descendants; something that's an expression of hope and continuity and faith in the future.

And then I wonder why a wave of sadness hits me when we switch off.


ringeroses said...

Oh. Going to cry a likkle bit at the ending. May return in the morning and say something coherent. Do not want to have reality so much in my life. Trying to pretend it's OK. But T.S.E. was right about humans. Hence comfort TV watching, I suppose.

Kathy said...

Love love love Grand Designs. Particularly love the ones where KMcC hates the building because it is a failure of good taste, even at the end, yet is still so good at finding a kind way to say "Good for you, you finished, even if the proportions look like an unsuccessful imitation of something from Picasso's Cubist period." He's just so nice. We need more unbitchy people like him (don't look at me, I clearly don't qualify).

There's nothing wrong with a little comfort TV, dear Waffle. You need something aside from gin and tequila to sustain you through the Wafflepocalypse.

Jessica K said...

I am sorry about THINGS, and I know the feeling you mean, like when you watch a great movie and then stumble out into the light.

Susan said...

My husband built a geodesic dome in our yard. He's currently building a mobile recording studio in a box truck, which will also be equipped for camping.

I understand the looks on the spouses' faces. But sometimes things actually work somewhat as planned and the neighbors have to stop giggling for a month or two. Until he starts again.

GingerB said...

I am sorry you are 'pocalypting. I approve of you working hard to get the best transition you can for your boys, but oh I am sorry that taking so long swill stretch out the painy parts. Ouch.

Anonymous said...

I love this programme, but would love to see it being presented by Jeremy Kyle.

Just once, obviously.


Laura Jane said...

LOVE Grand Designs. Just. Love. It.

I love it when it turns out, I love it when it is 'unique' and I wouldn't live in it if you paid me.

Some of the folk have the grace to be embarassed by the scale of their homes, usually in the middle of utterly nowhere, or if they've had a heart attack in the middle of it and rearrange their life priorities, some are blissfully unaware or uncaring. SOme are fanatical, many are just plain nuts.

And Kevin is always fairly sweet to them...bless him

I can see why one would be a bit sad about contrast. The building of a grand dream...the accomplishment (even if by smug gits with too much money) and a lack of Things Going On.

(((hugs))) (if acceptable, sympathetic squeeze on arm if not)

Mya said...

I do love Kevin McCloud, he is so sweetly damning of people's style choices. Watching loads of these programmes has really put me off building my own house - they are, without exception, unmitigated disasters in one way or another. And whenever KMc asks the hapless builders if they'd do it all over again - they always say 'no' very quickly. Another thing I have deduced from the programme is, if you are building a house - order the windows first, then build the rest of it around them. Windows always seem to bugger the schedules up. Yeah, I think I may have been watching too closely.

You're so right to avoid Patrick Sebastien - the sort of fop to really piss you off on a Saturday night.

Your last sentence made me very sad.I can't offer any solutions, other than to watch programmes of unwaveringly apocalyptic events, so that returning to reality is a blessed relief. Perhaps Patrick Sebastien isn't such a bad idea, after all?!
Mya xxx

Chic Mama said...

Haha, I will never be able to watch Grand Designs in quite the same way again. I do love it though. :0)

Mr London Street said...

The problem with Grand Designs is the problem with many Channel 4 shows. Immediately after returning from an ad break you will have everything that has happened before recapped for you. This can feel like it takes as long as 5 minutes. Before you know it it is time for another ad break.

The frustration, the déjà vu and the feeling that you are constantly being told things you already know are also all very reminiscent of the latter stages of a relationship.

Z said...

In my sad days, I learned to take any bit of enjoyment from anything I could and tried to dwell on that. When the despair hit, it took me for days at a time and there was nothing I could do about it, though I hid it well I think. I haven't been in that place for more than three years which makes life now a constant joy in contrast.

Mrs Jones said...

Can I just ask a simple question here? If apocalyptic events are happening that you're both going through, and you both seem to hate them, why are you going through them? Sorry, I realise you may not want to answer this but I'm a bit confused, really...

Anonymous said...

Wonderful description of Grand Designs, from which I derive similar sorts of emotional sedation. So sorry about apocalypsey stuff.

Mwa said...

Grand Designs is the only program we watch any more.

Wasn't going to suggest you watch French TV. That would be madness. You should watch Flemish and Dutch cable, with all its American and British repeats.

Laura said...

I recently watched the episode where the guy from Brighton has a heart attack and then La Crise struck so he may need to sell the house anyway. For once they didn't cobble together such a happy ending.

redfox said...

You certainly are a dab hand with the closing punch to the gut. (Is this an impossibly mixed metaphor? Yes, probably.)

The show, which I've never seen, sounds very appealing. Home and garden television is my favorite fluff as it is, but sometimes the horrid cheap "room makeovers" and craven delusions about the money-fetching consequences of various renovation projects are a bit too horrible to fully enjoy.

Mrs Jones said...

Ms Redfox - just pop along to Youtube and search for 'Grand Designs', there are loads of clips, like this one -

The Spicers said...

I've yet to see this show, but now I feel like I've been missing out on something crucial.

carolinefo said...

doesn't anyone else think that Kevin McCloud is really hot?

Anonymous said...

You're braver than many people (including me) in facing up to Things and working through them slowly and carefully (at least that's how it seems from reading between the lines of your blog). I wish I had your bravery, I'm sure I'll regret being such a coward some day. Thing is, I feel I can't put my own happiness before the happiness/stability of my children's and I can't get rid of the feeling that a lasting parental relationship, however flawed (obviously I don't mean an abusive relationship, just the usual humdrum staleness of so many years together) is better for the children than any other set-up.
I know I'm probably wrong about that. I just can't seem to apply what I would probably advise another person to do in my situation to myself in my own situation.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Wishing you a peaceful way through the 'Pocohontasalypse', JW...

Grand Designs is excellent comfort viewing. Bizarrement, I withdrew into Animal Cops Houston following the death of my much-loved dad... I'm a sucker for happy endings... I'm wishing for yours x

Waffle said...

Anon - No, you are absolutely, irrefutably right about it from childrens' perspective. It's a selfish act and I'm not comfortable with it. But I also know I don't have whatever qualities would be need to put them first AND not resent it or behave badly or get depressed and unhappy in equally damaging ways.

FUUUUCK. It's all very hard.

Mrs Jones? Does that also answer your question at all?

Anonymous said...

Thing is, I don't think I have those qualities either.
Maybe deep down it's my own insecurity about no longer knowing who I am (or who I would be?) on my own as opposed to being part of a couple that have been together for 16 years. Or knowing that I would still be sad and dissatisfied with my life on my own. Or terror at the prospect of having to start another relationship from scratch at some stage, or else end up on my own forever. Or probably a combination of all of those things.

FPsue said...

Grand Designs on my no-list along with Locationx3 and anything that involves couples who are willing to rip the guts out of their relationship for the sake of bricks and mortar. The best I can do for now is either a cooking programme, which is eating by proxy or House because Hugh Laurie's blue eyes are the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen and the plot is therefore rendered completely irrelevant.

Anxious said...

You forgot the thing about the female always getting pregnant at some point during the "build", adding to the pressure of getting the thing finished on time.

Yes, formulaic, but somehow compelling.

I love Kevin McCloud, but usually hate the couples involved

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