The rise and rise of the urban family
3rd October 2011 - Emily Best
Flat hunting is not the adventure it used to be. Gone are the days when you'd see an advert in Loot, go along, say you like the room and have your toothbrush in the bathroom by bedtime. Now it's interviews, second interviews, speed-dating style judge-fests and apologetic text messages a week later. If one more person says Shallow Grave to me, I'm going to pummel them with my A-Z.
So standards have gone up. Palatial, luxury house-shares for affluent urban twenty/thirtysomethings now seem to outweigh the traditional set-up - a bunch of people not ready to settle down and not being able to afford places on their own in a mutually convenient arragement. Plus, there are simply a lot more of us - no one can afford to buy a house now so flatshares are the way forward. We ended up here for a number of reasons (many of which are explained brilliantly by Ed Howker and Shiv Malik in Jilted Generation: How Britain Bankrupted its Youth). But if flathunting has made me aware of one thing, it's how important the living part of flatmate living has become.
We garden, we cook, we craft. We watch Downton Abbey and we listen to The Archers. We are a generation of domesticated people in not-conventionally-domestic situations. The average age for women to get married is now 30 - the year they were born it was 23. Jobs are scarce and precarious and affordable housing is moving further and further out of town, so that we find ourselves living in small pockets at the end of the night bus and can almost hear our rent going up like creaking rhubarb. By having the perfect flatmate in the most domestic situation possible, we can form some semblance of security. By my own admission I may be one of the tweer ones, and I can't say whether I would look forward to Countryfile so much were things different. Maybe everyone feels the same. Hard to say.
Books are an integral part of the domestic revolution, if you ask me. Maybe we were badly educated, maybe that old nanny state thing meant we couldn't think for ourselves or maybe too many of us just weren't listening (that pesky music television), but we are in need of instruction. And we are lucky to have such a wealth of fantastic books to tell us how to pretty much everything.
One that I think has pitched it just right (if ever there were a cookery book for the zeitgeist) is the Leon franchise. It started out with the emphasis on food for busy but health- and taste-conscious people, but with a warm and sociable family atmosphere. I absolutely swear by their first cookbook, not only for the fantastic packed-lunch fodder but for the stories. The mythology of the Leon family that accompanies the recipes is infinitely comforting on a bleak, lonely Wednesday night. With their new Baking & Puddings, I will also learn to bake like a real person and have people over for tea, just as soon as I have a kitchen again.
Another staple of my kitchen (though he currently lives in my suitcase) is Milton Crawford's Hungover Cookbook. A hangover is, for me, the strongest catalyst for domestic impulse. The cathartic feelings of fresh air and nature (thinking Marwood walking across the moor in Withnail and I) and the restorative qualities of acting like a real human being are beautifully distilled in Crawford's book. As well as the inherent benefits of the incredible gastro-cures he suggests, the mere act of following a recipe from such an understanding voice (sorry, Delia, not now - I'll talk to you later when I can see straight) gently ushers the wretched back to reality.
As we make ourselves into these pretend-grown-ups, there is instruction at every turn. Try Anna Pavord's The Curious Gardener for an education in all things green, take Katherine Sorrell's The Vintage Modern Home along to the Northcote Road next time you're in the market for some reclaimed furniture or, to do pretty much anything else, invest in Tsia Carson's Craftivity: 40 Projects for the Maverick Crafter. Never has there been a better time to be young and domestic.
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