1949 - On sharing a house

My wife and I are sharing a house for the fourteenth time. We have shared a house in every conceivable way: we have divided it vertically and horizontally; we have merged with the other family in all departments except the bedrooms; we have lived with the WC as our sole common ground; we have lived with relations and strangers, with the genteel and the working class, as tenants and sub-tenants, as guests paying and non-paying. Our fellow occupants have included young and old, northern and southern, married, widowed and divorced, the drunk, the sober, the retired, the active, Conservatives, Socialists and those who "don't know". Our pronouncements on this method of meeting the housing shortage are worth listening to.

My first rule is: if possible, do not share. There is something in human nature which recoils from admitting anyone as partner in the use even of small things like saucepans. We have seen this failing developed to a morbid degree in the case of a woman who went to the length of removing dead flowers which we had tossed into her dustbin and placing them in ours. One does not discover such feelings in hotels or hostels. They are peculiar to the home, where a man feels he has the right to say, "This is mine, for me and my family". Suppression of this instinct prepares a breeding-ground for resentment. It is better, then, to have sole possession of a barn than to occupy two rooms in a Georgian mansion with common use of kitchen and pantry.

If you must share, share with a working-class family. They are more generous, less intrusive, and as a rule, cleaner than the middle class. You must be prepared for shocks, however: I have seen a working-class father thrash his daughter with a walking stick after she had been discovered cuddling with a soldier.

Middle-class people hide their passions and parade their discreditable or dirty habits. An officer's wife, whom we know, dries unwashed nappies in front of the fire, but there is not a working-class woman of my acquaintance who would shrink from washing them. When the choice lies between crudity and dirtiness, we prefer crudity.

What seems to be an extension of this is the prevalent disinclination for work on the part of middle-class wives: they are bad cooks and slothful cleaners, and what a high proportion have seen better days! The stories become familiar - the pearls that had to be sold, the frequent reference to a titled sister-in-law, the holidays in Majorca. The fantasy is resorted to by people who wish to establish a distinction between themselves and others who are not afraid of housework.

Admit your own weaknesses. You think you are not suspicious? Try sharing a coal-pile and not suspecting that the other family is taking advantage. Are you free from greed? Try sharing a garden without taking a larger share of the raspberries than is due to you. Do you boast of being tolerant? Other people's taste in wireless programmes will test you searchingly. You must give, and give in.

We do not regret sharing. What an immense amount we have learned.What a fund of material we have, should we decide to turn novelists. But if you want my idea of hell, it is sharing a sitting-room with an officer's wife from suburban London who has three children, does not get on with her husband, and - need I say it? - has come down in the world.

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