TV

Grand Designs people are not like the rest of us

Lucy Sweet admires the vision and bravery of those on the popular homebuilding TV show – but wonders why they bother

Grand Designs: The Streets

Natasha Huq, Ben Whitney, Joanna Susskind-Whitney and Kevin McCloud on Grand Designs: The Streets Photo: Channel 4

As I head towards my sixth  decade as the nation’s most glamorous Third Division TV reviewer (B&M Saturday league), bits have started to fall off everywhere.

And just as I’m failing to address my slow physical decline by eating Mr Kipling Viennese Whirls and walking 13 steps a day, I’m also failing to address my home address, which seems to be crumbling at a similar rate as I am. Plaster flakes off, paintwork goes yellow and doors creak at the same spooky timbre as my knees.

It’s obviously taking on my existential angst too, because the other day the house number started sadly peeling off the front door, like the false eyelash of a depressed starlet.

If we take the Jungian metaphor of the house as a symbol of the self even further, we end up, of course, at Grand Designs. The people on this show never seem to have a moment of quiet existential despair.

They never say things like “Well, there’s no point in converting the loft if there’s going to be a nuclear war.” And they are rarely so defeated by a peeling house number that they find themselves standing on the doorstep, watching it flapping in the breeze and pondering the nature of existence. 

This is because everyone on Grand Designs is usually a rampaging egomaniac. The amount of blinkered tenacity and self-absorbed energy it takes to embark on even Phase 1 of some of these projects just blows my mind.

As well as having the brass balls of a Roman emperor, you need to have access to a never-ending porridge pot of money and a sense that you, more than anyone else, deserve to live in an enormous four-storey rhombus with a mezzanine gallery and a poured concrete kitchen from space.

But Grand Designs: The Streets is a much grittier prospect than the usual Boomer Builds A Folly projects we’re used to, and the budgets – if not the square footage – are smaller. Narcissism is still lurking around the corner of every dove joint, though.

Focusing on the government’s self-build scheme, it follows the fortunes of people who have decided to buy a council plot and create homes from scratch. Last week Joanna and Ben were attempting to build their dream Americana wooden ranch near Maryhill in Glasgow (which coincidentally, is where I used to sign on in the ’90s.) The only problem is that Maryhill is about as idyllic and pastoral as a betting slip floating in a puddle, and their nearest neighbours were a bunch of kids who showed them exactly what they thought of modern architecture by immediately torching their caravan.

If it was me, I would have taken that as a sign to flee the country and go into hiding for the rest of my life. But they were undaunted, because Grand Designs people are not like the rest of us.

They have a vision and they will literally risk their lives to create thrusting monuments to themselves that jut into the sky. In the end, the house was a trendy, rustic and quirky fire hazard, where arty people could play acoustic guitar while Glasgow’s most prolific arsonists lurked in the bushes.

It was all very impressive, but I dunno – why bother? In the end, whether you’re in a Selling Sunset-style box with an infinity pool overlooking the Hollywood sign or a one-bedroom flat over a branch of Costcutters, we’re all doing the same things; cooking, sleeping, farting in front of old episodes of Bullseye. Then, over time, we eventually crumble to dust until the next tenants move in, and not even Kevin McCloud can save us.

So whether you’re someone who can’t quite get it together to paint a skirting board, or a power-crazed house builder on a mission, it doesn’t even matter. 

Oh well. Anyone fancy a Viennese Whirl?

Grand Designs: The Streets is on Channel 4 and All 4

@lucytweet1

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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