I was wolf-whistled by my own builder this morning. Now I have learnt never to respond to that kind of malarkey. Not since the day I simpered gratefully to a wolf-whistling scaffolder, only to realise he was admiring the teenager across the road, not me. But this was definitely aimed at me. I was in the garden – rootling in the shed to find him some filler while he waited on the roof. I had nowhere to go and it just felt so wrong. I don’t quite know how to explain it other than it felt as if I just paid for my own Valentine’s card.
I blurted my worries out to my friend Liz this afternoon, as we drove Doughnut, the greyhound, back from the vet’s. Liz is a glamorous worldly type who takes no prisoners, and she was on the case like a shot. “Yeah,” she replied, knowingly, “It’s a bit like the time you were stalked by that blind man.”
You can see why I sometimes regret confiding in Liz, but she was absolutely right. All I can say in my defence was that he wasn’t completely blind; he just walked with a white stick. But that’s another story.
Anyway, I shouldn’t complain, I’m one of the few people lucky to have a house, even if bits of it are falling down. Home ownership has fallen to its lowest level since the 1980s, according to the Government’s English Housing Survey for 2011-2012, released today, (http://ow.ly/hwZfk) and for the first time since the 1960s more people are renting privately than are in social housing.
In theory the figures themselves wouldn’t be a problem, but when you realise that three fifths of those renting privately are only doing so because they can’t afford to buy. And six per cent of those are living in houses or flats which are seriously over-crowded.
We are becoming such a country of extremes – I was driving down one of the most expensive streets in London the other day, past mansion after mansion, almost all of which were completely shuttered up and unoccupied. Some of them are barely lived in for years at a time and yet a few streets away adults, who work full-time, are kipping on sofas because they can’t afford to rent a flat with enough bedrooms for the whole family.
I don’t begrudge millionaires their wealth – after all one less tycoon in the world wouldn’t make the rest of us any richer – but would it kill us to share things out a bit more equally? It might even help the economy. If private rents were lower, more people would be able to save enough money to stop renting and the housing market might shift a bit, which, surely, would help everyone, including my builder. Wouldn’t it?