Having moved around a lot, and not always having any money to spare, I learned quite early about what I need to make the place I am living in feel like home.

For me this has to do with pictures, lamps, colours, photographs, ornaments, and often in the past had to do with covering up holes in the wall (or broken mirrors) through unusual use of fabrics. And loads of things which are of no value to anyone, yet for us are invaluable.

We all know that tastes are different. My Mum used to moan about ‘heavy dark German furniture’ and I told her I found her magnolia-painted walls boring. I did understand why she insisted on keeping an ancient sofa: it was because my dad had always stretched out on it for forty winks after lunch, the sofa was a connection to him.

It would be hard for me to live in a house like this, but I am sure that I would have it cosy and homey in the shortest of times:

We all want to leave our own imprint on the place we choose to live in. So I sort of understood when I read that the current inhabitants of 10/11Downing Street had redecorated, and brought in new furniture, but…

First, some explanation of the Downing St situation.

The street is named after George Downing, who was (my) Charles II’s ambassador to the Netherlands, helping to cause several wars.

He hired Sir Christopher Wren (as in St Paul’s Cathedral) to design the row of houses which were then cheaply built, on boggy ground.

King George II gave 10 Downing Street to Sir Robert Walpole, who was First Lord of the Treasury at the time, and is considered as Great Britain’s first Prime Minister. Walpole refused to accept the house as a personal gift, asking the king to make it an official residence for him, and future First Lords of the Treasury – Walpole moved in on 22 September 1735.

Find out lots more here:

History of 10 Downing Street – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

And visit some famous rooms here:

Take a tour through the historic rooms of 10 Downing Street – 10 Downing Street — Google Arts & Culture

The British PM also has a country house called “Chequers” (given to the nation in 1921 by Sir Arthur Lee), for the weekend or entertaining guests:

In London, Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street are full of offices and meeting rooms; above, there are separate, private flats for the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Traditionally, the PM lived at No.10, the Chancellor in No. 11. This changed when Tony Blair became PM: he and his wife Cherie already had three children, and Chancellor Gordon Brown was a bachelor. As the No. 11 flat was bigger, it made sense to swap, and that’s how it’s been ever since.

As the flat goes with the job, it’s clear that one may need to move out – or in – rather speedily. So there is a (hope you’re sitting down) yearly allowance of 30,000 GBP for each PM, to redecorate the flat to their taste. This wasn’t enough for B. Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds, it seems, and that has caused uproar this week in the UK and beyond. It seems their flat was redecorated using the services of Lulu Lytle:

Lulu Lytle: Who is Carrie Symonds’ favoured interior designer? | Evening Standard

and rumour has it that the soft furnishings – sofas, occasional tables, lamps – and wallpaper at nearly 900 GBP per roll came to a cost of many thousands of pounds more that the 30,000 which was actually available. Oh dear.

Even worse, it seemed that was Ms Symonds especially wanted to get rid of Theresa May’s choice of ‘John Lewis nightmare’ soft furnishings.

John Lewis? John Lewis! My students all know JL very well, thanks to our Christmas tradition of watching UK company Christmas ads. John Lewis is always the funniest, the cutest, the most moving… if I had a euro for every time I had seen tears in my participants’ eyes after watching the John Lewis Christmas ad, I would be buying my own gold wallpaper.

For all those for whom John Lewis furniture is an out-of-reach aspiration, how can this be anything but a slap in the face?

Never mind. Let’s not think about this now. There are so many to choose from, but I would like to share two of my favourite JL Christmas ads, as a sort of mind-cleanser from obscenely expensive furniture.


Have to stop now and go and blow my nose.

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