Ten Thoughts on Homes Under The Hammer in reverse order of importance
Homes Under the Hammer is my guilty pleasure. Its premise is dangerously simple. We follow the winners of house auctions as they transform dumps into palaces, and then feel slightly sick at home much profit they've made. If it was a drug it would be heroin - a big warm blanket of wellbeing, taking you out of yourself and letting the world outside pass by un-noticed. (I'm relying on Russell Brand's description here as that's a particular experience I'm not especially interested in having). As it's a Daytime TV show, I only get to watch Homes Under the Hammer when I'm either ill or on holiday with nothing much planned. Watching it therefore feels like the height of indulgence. It is not enlightening, barely educational and quite possibly very bad for you.
1. The music. I don't mean the title music but the auditory puns that appear to be obligatory every twenty seconds. If one of the auction winners happens to be a builder called Jack, you know they'll play "This is the House that Jack Built". If a house is near an underground station, they'll play "Sound of the Underground". If a room has large windows they'll play "Sunny". I love it when cool songs like Amy Winehouse's "You Know That I'm No Good" are forever ruined by association. I often wonder who has the job of deciding which music to play. And what their life must be like. Do they wake up screaming?
2. The strange way that the male presenter, Martin Roberts, holds his hands together and in front of him. It makes me wonder if he's in pain, or just very self conscious and can't decide what to do with them.
3. The permanently upbeat nature of BOTH presenters, especially Lucy Alexander. I wonder if she switches it off once the cameras stop. I hope so.
4. The mixed up order that the filming takes place. Presumably to save time, they first of all film an auction, then go with one of the winners to look at the house they've won. But they pretend it hasn't been won yet, so we first see the filming of the empty "unsold" house, then see the auction, then we meet the owner. Isn't telly clever our mam!
5. I like to pretend I am an historian from about 400 years in the future watching the programme in order to research the cultural conventions and "everyday lives" of early 21st century folk. I make mental notes like "People in this era liked neutral colours, still suffered from male pattern baldness and did not need a teleport room".
6. Behind almost every house that gets won at auction is the hidden ghastliness of someone else's doomed life - probably an elderly person who has recently died or some hapless renter who got caught in a spiral of debt, addiction and petty crime. We never get to meet the previous occupants of the house (they have been swept out of existence) but there are clues... so many clues... and for me that's a huge part of the awful fun of the programme. Seeing the squalor of a kitchen that also has a bath in it, or a filthy 1970s sofa with a little vase of dusty plastic flowers on a nearby table... Looking at tabby-vomit carpets that even the jolly presenters can't find a nice word for... And imagining the lives of those occupants, then playing their fates on fast-forward reverse-rewind - from the moment they are buried or incarcerated to the point when they moved into the property, all smiles and optimism. And the "journey" in between those two points. It's a stark reminder of the depressingly real lives that people in this rich rich country must endure. And like the sexism and indoor smoking on Mad Men, it's never properly brought to our attention. We have to "decode" it ourselves. Who knew Homes Under the Hammer was such a damningly subtle critique of the precariousness of modern life?
7. And the other side of the coin is the winners - inevitably dreary middle-class, middle-aged heterosexual couples who are about to make even more money... builder Dads and their lucky non-university going sons who are going to be sheltered from the recession, and immigrant investors of course. When someone with a bad haircut, no dress sense and a slightly common accent shows up with £400,000 cash and admits they were previously in banking, you end up wondering if you're in the wrong job.
8. Will we ever sicken of seeing makeovers of any description? The "money shot" almost literally of the programme is when we revisit the homes after they've been bought, and whoosh! That lounge which looks like a messy mass suicide took place on the set of Abigail's Party is now a beige and cream minimalist migraine - all redone with bits and pieces from the remaindered corner of Wickes. I especially like it when the "before" is clearly better than the "after", or the auction winners have been lazy and done absolutely no improvement work at all.
9.The national nature of the show means that no stone is left uncovered - so at one point we're in some leafy West London suburb where a one bedroom flat above a hairdressers with no windows is three quarters of a million pounds, then we're in an ex-mining community in County Durham and a three bedroom house with large garden will put you back £20,000. Every episode shows the country slowly sinking further and further into that north-south inequality divide. Again, nobody really brings this up on the show. But our future historians will find this fascinating and it will help explain the Civil War of 2134 perfectly.
10. Who said it's not educational (me!) I was wrong. Knock down that partition wall. Put decking in the garden. Take the pine panelling off the walls. Don't have a boiler in the bedroom. Kitchens need updating every 4 months as they always end up looking "dated". Beige carpets always win. My "doer-up" skill has raised from 23 to 54 since watching the show. Heroin of tv I say!