What’s in a name?

Sometimes it’s tricky deciding what to call something.

What's this?

What’s this?

A dead one of these!

A dead one of these!

“A building for human habitation, especially one that consists of a ground floor and one or more upper storeys”

This is the dictionary definition of a house. Our new place of habitation doesn’t have any upper storeys so I guess it isn’t a house. It’s not a bungalow either. So if we don’t live in a house or a bungalow, a flat or a maisonette, what do we live in? What do we call our new home?

The problem started as soon as we began negotiations with the vendors and it’s still going on now three months after we moved in. Obviously you don’t buy a new home without constantly referring to it and we quickly found that we didn’t actually know what to call the thing we were buying. I don’t mean we were struggling to choose between ‘Dunroamin’ or ‘Att-om-ere’, I mean we just kept using different ways of describing it. Park home, Mobile home, Caravan, Static Van, Unit; we tried them all out but they all felt a bit awkward. We are not alone in this either. When people come to visit for the first time they are genuinely complimentary but they always seem to stumble when reaching for the correct descriptive noun. “It’s bigger than I thought”, they say, “I’ve never actually been inside ‘one of them’ before”. That’s the giveaway isn’t it? “One of them”. There is something about that phrase that says, “Well it’s not a house is it?”

It's mobile but it isn't going anywhere.

It’s mobile but it isn’t going anywhere.

I think I have worked out what is going on here now. Everybody is really supposed to live in a house aren’t they? We all have this pre-conceived idea of ‘the family’, ‘the home’, ‘the job’ etc. and if we are confronted by anything that breaks the mould in any way it makes us a bit uncomfortable. You hear phrases like; “Oh they’re not married”, or “They work from home” suggesting that ‘they’ are actually not quite normal.  Perhaps that is why we are all struggling with what to call the place where we live now. No matter how you dress it up it’s not a house in a conventional sense and in reality it’s a plywood box sitting on a steel chassis with a fake tiled roof made out of aluminium. By any stretch of the imagination that is not a conventional house as described by the dictionary. Of course no friend wants to describe it like that for fear of being rude but the plain truth is; Park Home, Mobile Home, Caravan, Static Van and Unit all describe it much better than ‘house’ does. This is why we all keep stumbling when we grasp for the right name to use. I have experimented with referring to it as a house from time to time but it just doesn’t sound right. Calling it a house won’t magically make it sprout another storey and it feels phoney. A bit like the well-dressed lady in Lidl’s who answered her mobile phone and announced to the caller, “Oh I’m just doing a bit of shopping in Sainsbury’s”. Who does she think she is kidding? (That’s a true story by the way; thank you Elaine.)

The official UK government website has settled on Park (mobile) Home, thus hedging its bets by putting the potentially offensive word in brackets. Use of the word mobile is a bit misleading anyway. It’s got nothing to do with the thing having wheels or being towable, it’s doesn’t and it isn’t. The mobile word refers to the fact that in theory at least, we could, should we choose, load our house onto the back of a big lorry and take it somewhere else. In that sense it is mobile. In reality these things rarely move anywhere unless it’s really, really windy.

I suppose it’s fitting really that if you choose to live somewhere a bit quirky and unconventional then it follows that it might be a bit tricky to refer to it without mortally offending the owners. Just for the record I should point out that we really don’t care what people call it. To us it’s just home and you can call it anything you like but “Gill and Tony’s place” sounds quite nice. It’s going to be a whole lot easier if we stick to our plan of buying a narrow boat at some point in the future. At least that is what it says it is; nothing more, nothing less.