Strangers in the house

We might say blithely that ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’ but sometimes there are strangers not only at the gate, but inside the fortress. On Saturday there was an extraordinary kerfuffle outside my friend Gilly Shaw’s house in Tooting, south London, as a blue plaque was put on it to commemorate the fact that Sidney Lewis, the youngest soldier to fight in World War One, lived there for much of his life.

It was an extraordinary story, as he managed to join up (without his mother’s knowledge) at the age of just 12 and a half, and fought on the Somme when only 13, before his mother managed to get him sent home. He joined up again legitimately at the end of the war, then became a policeman, and was involved in bomb disposal during the next war.

There were crowds on both sides of the road, the mayor of Wandsworth, sundry military people, a pipe band, a child actor, Sidney’s son and various descendants, Chelsea pensioners – you name it, we had it. A fantastic time. But Gilly’s house was not her own, with organisers wandering in and out, the MC and a fiddler performing from an upper window and sundry children throwing down glitter. A brave thing to allow to happen.

And it made me think about people who have their houses invaded on a more regular basis, at events such as Open House which happened earlier this month. Architect Cezary Bednarski posted on Facebook that ‘Another Open House weekend is behind us. This year we had 360 visitors to the vertically detached house in Notting Hill, a star of the Discovery Channel’s Dream Home series and the winner of the Blue Ribbon Award 2013 for the best self-built house in the UK, among others. This Open House brought the total number of visitors to my home over the last 4 years to 2265. Considering the fact that owing to the tight floor plans of the house I can only run guided tours, in groups of between 12 and 15 people, I have had some 160 tours i.e. repeated myself some 160 times…’ 

Publicity is great, but it can be exhausting.

Ruth Slavid

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