How to de-feather your nest

Do you de­spair of your adult chil­dren, still squat­ting in their child­hood rooms? Kit Hes­keth-har­vey shares his wis­dom on deal­ing with the boomerang gen­er­a­tion

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden - Illustration by John Holder

Just look at the open­ing pages of this beau­ti­ful mag­a­zine. Oh, you al­ready did? Well, even I’ll ad­mit that the prop­erty pages are some of Coun­try Life’s real at­ten­tion-grab­bers. Enor­mous houses, up and down the king­dom, with an­cil­lary ac­com­mo­da­tion, lodges, cot­tages, barns, an­nexes, staff wings and at­tics for con­ver­sion. touch them, stroke them!

sur­veys re­veal—oh, you don’t hide from our boys—that you, dear reader, are likely to be a ben­e­fi­ciary of the 1980s hike in uk prop­erty prices. You never dreamed, did you, that the eq­uity in your place would in­crease 20-fold. I didn’t. Face it—we done good. How­ever, now, the chickens are com­ing home to roost. Lit­er­ally.

We did as we were done by, ex­pect­ing our is­sue to stand On their Own two Feet. We kicked them out. We made their rooms un­wel­com­ing shrines to per­ma­nent six­th­form-hood. school-leav­ing pho­tos re­mained un­framed, art projects were left in mor­ti­fy­ing view. Empty Jäger­meis­ter bot­tles and sou­venirs of God-knows-what rite of pas­sage gath­ered elo­quent dust. the mo­ment they left for uni, we piled black dust­bin bags full of clothes onto their beds and turned off the ra­di­a­tors.

But whad­dya know? the kids came back. the boomerang gen­er­a­tion, they’ve been called. they have no choice. Back in the day, we could buy our own place for three years’ salary. Nowa­days, that wouldn’t meet the mort­gage de­posit. the lat­est batch has nowhere else to call home. I (luck­ier than most) also gar­nered a hol­i­day home and a Lon­don foothold, of sorts. I can’t get into ei­ther. Both are be­ing squat­ted in, ei­ther by my chil­dren

or their acolytes. We’ve trig­gered Ar­ti­cle 50, but they’ve proved Re­main­ers.

Mean­while, the grand­par­ents scat­tered, not want­ing to be in the way. Vis­its are rushed, un­sat­is­fac­tory, fret­ful-mak­ing. Care homes are ex­pertly, ex­pen­sively run as busi­nesses, in large de­gree by as­tute mem­bers of the In­dian com­mu­nity. (The In­di­ans them­selves wouldn’t dream of such a state of af­fairs. Dadi and Naanji live with them.)

Those Who Do You Think You Are? cen­sus-re­turns are an eye-opener. The prop­er­ties over which you’ve just drooled were built for three times the num­ber of oc­cu­pants. House­holds bun­dled to­gether the gen­er­a­tions. It was the 1960s—our vin­tage— that changed things. Ex­tended fam­ily, fil­ial obli­ga­tion, the war ef­fort, all jet­ti­soned in the name of in­de­pen­dence, in­di­vid­u­al­ity and the great god pri­vacy. Build­ing land was plen­ti­ful and larger res­i­dences could be di­vided into flats. Now, in­evitably, the sup­ply has dried up.

Clearly, we should be downsizing, re­leas­ing eq­uity that we never dreamed of ac­quir­ing and bed­rooms that we don’t need. We should hand half to the kids now, to buy their own shoe­boxes, and swan off on a cruise with the rest. If we don’t, in­her­i­tance taxes will dec­i­mate the profit.

How­ever, downsizing is trau­matic. It’s an emo­tional wrench, mov­ing and tak­ing all those art projects to the dump. You’ve spent two decades as a slave to your chil­dren. Why shouldn’t you have a cou­ple more, fi­nally to en­joy the place that you’ve worked so hard to pay for? I quite agree, so here are half-a-dozen pos­si­ble ways to throw the boomerang right back: • Airbnb—ev­ery­body’s do­ing it. Turn that nurs­ery floor into a board­ing house or even do an en­tire house swap! Jet-lagged Cana­di­ans ap­pear­ing for break­fast at 5am… nyah. • Poor Aunt Jane gave a life­time of dedi cation to the Moonies or to drift­wood paint­ing in the Galá­pa­gos Is­lands and, now, Brexit means that she has to come home or for­feit her pen­sion. (Then again, it’s blind­ingly ob­vi­ous why she never man­aged to per­suade any­body to live with her.) •This one re­ally is worth­while. Your state of-the-art, pri­vately ed­u­cated, uni­ver­sity-de­greed, so­cially net­worked layabout on his third gap year or a fam­ily of freez­ing Syr­ian refugees with noth­ing but the clothes they stand up in? It’s a no-brainer. • A sud­den pas­sion for model trains. An en­tire room­ful would cost no more to set up than your child’s friends’ weekly al­co­hol con­sump­tion. • It’s a pe­riod prop­erty. We ne­glected the wear and tear in or­der to pay for your school ski­ing trips. I’m aw­fully sorry, dar­ling, but the coun­cil has con­demned your bed­room as un­fit for hu­man habi­ta­tion. • And should all of those fail, you’ve surely read Fifty Shades of Grey? Your mother has de­cided that she wants a Red Room of Pain.

Al­ter­na­tively, let us con­sider the un­speak­able (un­speak­able merely for the past 40 or so years of so­cial his­tory and, even then, only in the First World). It’s been thrust upon us, but the in­ter­gen­er­a­tional house­hold might be back for good.

Deep breath. Is it re­ally so dread­ful if ev­ery­body does move back in? Chimps man­age it. Con­sider the fi­nan­cial ad­van­tages: no more hun­dreds of thou­sands of pounds of fam­ily cap­i­tal burn­ing as of­fer­ings upon the al­tar of… what? Pri­vacy? Lone­li­ness? Fewer as­saults upon in­come? The mul­ti­ple Coun­cil Tax, hol­i­day cover, ken­nels, cars, nan­nies, broad­band, news­pa­pers, war­dens, gar­den­ing help, taxis, wa­ter rates, car­ers, some­one to help you move that ruddy side­board? The—god bless us, ev­ery­one—two grand a week in care-home fees? What of our en­vi­ron­men­tal ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity? Dual shop­ping trips, heat­ing bills, new-builds, petrol-swig­ging vis­its to salve our con­cern?

Why not in­stead move en masse to a prop­erty whose lo­ca­tion, size and fa­cil­i­ties fit all, if what fits all isn’t what you’ve al­ready got? The more units you throw into the pot, the more bang you get for your buck. Two houses can equal one cas­tle. Granny-an­nexes sail through plan­ning nowa­days. Pri­vacy is pos­si­ble, what with head­phones, in­su­la­tion and the in­ter­net. Should you man­age to avoid be­ing mur­dered by your own chil­dren for seven years, In­her­i­tance Tax is sidestepped al­to­gether.

Rules need to be pre-ne­go­ti­ated and pri­vate spa­ces de­fined. (Chin up: Grandpa might ac­tu­ally en­joy South Park.) Rent, bills and care ros­ters must be scrupu­lously re­viewed in quar­terly ac­counts meet­ings. Tidi­ness and se­cu­rity are oblig­a­tory, but sim­ply ac­cept that chil­dren need space and make noise and life be­comes a per­ma­nent Christ­mas. And as the great Wiz­zard said: ‘I wish it could be Christ­mas ev­ery day.’

Yes, you’ll have to re­learn tact, dis­cre­tion, tol­er­ance, but is that so bad? Un­selfish­ness. No more griev­ing over re­dun­dant shrines. No more sib­ling am­mu­ni­tion. In­stead of guilt, gilt. In­stead of phonecalls, con­ver­sa­tion. In­stead of in­de­pen­dence, sup­port. And in­stead of pri­vacy, love.

But whad­dya know? The kids came back. The boomerang gen­er­a­tion, they’ve been called’ ‘You’ve surely read Fifty Shades of Grey? Your mother has de­cided that she wants a Red Room of Pain

Hell is other peo­ple: ris­ing house prices may bring back in­ter­gen­er­a­tional liv­ing

Far from the madd(en)ing crowd: some­times, it’s best to seek so­lace in the box room

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