Juliet and British Balcony

PTI | ByDr Saumya Balsari, London
Oct 29, 2005 06:12 PM IST

The British version of the balcony is as decorative as chocolate sprinklers, writes Saumya Balsari in her column.

Do you live in a semi-detached Victorian/Edwardian/Georgian house? Then make way for the Juliet/Juliette balcony and the new must-have dream flat or house in Britain.

When good old Will first conceived of the balcony scene, surely Juliet had room to strut, lean over, pluck a climber rose from the neighbour's wall and pour a chamberpot slop on a rival? Yet, the British version of the balcony is as decorative as chocolate sprinklers. It is a tiny narrow black railing, a child guard for adults opening the French window in a state of inebriation. No Juliet could ever stand and undo her hairband or wave a hand there, no Romeo could ever scale the rail.

In their defence, builders are, after all, builders, and they do drink a lot of tea. But do we really need the balcony to imagine we live in humid Mediterranean climes? Instant sun and sangria? The builder has carefully planted evergreen yucca, cordyline and tropical palm and fern by the lawns and garages, so it's true, we shall never have to see winter again.

I have a problem with agentspeak. Why should I spend thousands more for an "architect-designed" house? Isn't that what architects do with houses? Whatever the case may be, is that poky little modern Victorian townhouse with dormer windows really a dream factory or an architect's homophobic revenge when we bump heads on the ceiling every day? It is not quaint. And why is it necessary to say the property is "highly regarded"? By whom is it highly regarded? By the seller and the agent, naturally.

Other agent words to make the head sizzle

En-suite (taking a shower in a box); integral garage (too small for a car, so the final resting place of the fridgefreezer that doesn't work any more and old cans of satin, acrylic, gloss, eggshell paint); sympathetically restored (the house owner organised a quick lick of paint in record time) retaining original features (an Arctic draught from those ancient sash windows); ample off-street parking (only during summer holidays); landscaped garden (no lawn, only paving stone). Watch out for the words: "in need of a little general renovation". It means the place is a dump. And why should it be important to use the word "enclosed" to describe a rear garden? Does an Englishman's castle garden not have walls? I thought Robert Frost said good fences made good neighbours.

Why should an item that is "distressed" be better than one that is not in distress? A distressed mirror to me is quite frankly a foggy old thing, and a distressed wall is precisely that - in need of help. Or take "substantially extended property". This only means there is now a tiny covered space outside the kitchen for storing crates of beer. What exactly does "versatile space" mean? That the bathroom can double up as a study?

If you were looking for a home outside town, it would be wise to be wary of "panoramic views of the countryside". A highway would soon pass under your front door.

I could go on, but leave you instead with an advertisement for a "quite exceptional house in need of a little TLC (tender loving care)". I thought birds and humans need it most.

(Saumya Balsari is the author of the comic novel 'The Cambridge Curry Club', and wrote a play for Kali Theatre Company's Futures last year. She has worked as a freelance journalist in London, and is currently writing a second novel.)

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