Tuesday, 18 March 2008

100 Years of the Ideal Home Show

This year celebrates 100 years of the Ideal Home Show - which makes this British icon one of the longest-running consumer exhibitions on the planet.

It's an odd obsession, this British fascination with homes. There's a huge element of keeping up with the Joneses, as well as something about an Englishman's home being his (or her) castle. There's also the fascination for what we think the house of the future might look like - inspired, according to social commentators, by TV in the 1950s which showed us for the first time what modern houses were like in the USA. It's interesting to note that to-day's houses look nothing like the space-age predictions of the 1950s. Who would have thought then that we'd still be hankering after mock Tudor and lawns, or that table lamps would still be big business? And no-one predicted wooden decking, which seems to have spread like a rash across the gardens of Britain.

This year's exhibition, at Earl's Court, has all the favourites - whole houses for people to wander around (well, queue slowly around), including an eco-house with all sorts of environmentally conscious features. Indeed, the green theme is running through this year's event, with an amnesty for old-fashioned high-energy tungsten light bulbs. (Though surely it would be better if we just replaced them when the bulbs blew, given the energy needed to make the things?)

As ever, though, it's not the layouts or the futuristic furniture or the rooms with electronic controls that actually grab the attention - most good stores these days already do show-rooms very well. Instead, everyone is drawn to the latest new gadgets, such as flexible 'brick' furniture that you can model into your own design (in effect, like big adult 'Lego'), or the latest super-mop or squeegee. Every year, the departing punters seem to be carrying at least one red plastic or yellow sponge cleaning product, and this year is no different, although I gather a 'one-touch jar opener' is also very popular.

I remember when we last went as a family (around 1972) we bought a packet of deep-fried snack chips (you dunked them in the fryer to get something resembling a crisp, only more expensive, and with washing up) and a toasted sandwich maker - like a large pair of tongs with a flying saucer in the middle - that you placed over a gas ring. This latter did actually work rather well, and predated the electric kind by several years. My mother always studiously avoided anything to do with knives or gadgets to chop vegetables, on the basis that an ordinary knife and chopping board was easier and involved less washing up than something with innumerable fiddly plastic parts.

The other major attractions are the demonstrations, and this year more than ever that means cooking, drawing on our obsession with celebrity chefs. The line up includes Rustie Lee (remember her?), Lesley Waters, Sophie Grigson and Aldo Zilli, to name but a few of the 25-strong line-up. (OK, I don't actually know any of the rest, but then I don't watch cookery programmes on TV...) Of course, there's an entire industry there selling recipes in one way or another, if you haven't already got shelves, like mine, groaning with recipe books that you rarely consult.

But enough of my cheerful cynicism. I can't get the top off the bloody jar. What I need is that gadget...

1 comment:

terry.duncan said...

My wife and I have made regular trips to London from Yorkshire to specifically take in the Ideal Home Show. This year we were VERY disappointed. Where were the houses that used to be on the ground floor. There were lard seating spaces ( most empty) where once stood other exhibition stands, and the big hole in our expectations was the disappearance of the dozens of stalls that used to be upstairs, whence a visitor could buy all sorts of gadgets for the home. "A poor show, Daily Mail." Your paper is brilliant but a new show organiser is a priority.