Hugo Rifkind

You’ll mock me, but I have to ask: why don’t any of my friends have holiday homes?

It will soon seem as strange that the middle classes owned empty villas and cottages as it does that they used to have domestic staff living in the attic

9 August 2014

9:00 AM

9 August 2014

9:00 AM

This is to be one of those columns that makes the writer faintly wish there wasn’t an internet. It would be one thing merely in print — ephemeral, swiftly forgotten, to be stumbled across only by like-minded individuals en route from Charles Moore to Taki — but online I fear there may be sniggering. ‘What planet is he on?’ they will be asking on Twitter, but then, I suppose, they always are.

The fact is, there’s been a question preying on my mind these last few weeks and I’m going to be bold, and ask it. You may snigger, you may mock and you may sneer, but that won’t make my question any less valid. So here goes. I’ll be nearly 40 in a couple of years. And I keep being told that I live a life of relative privilege. So. Why the hell don’t any of my friends own holiday homes?

OK, so that’s not strictly true. My colleague Matthew Parris, I have been reading, has recently bought a windowless cavern under a dusty Spanish desert and put a bathroom in it. This should be acknowledged, albeit with a degree of envy I’ll leave entirely up to you. But Matthew, while a friend, is not of my generation. And among my peers? Nothing. Not a gîte, not a chalet, not a dacha, not a but’n’ben or a lodge. No Cornish beachhouses, no Ibiza villas, no converted French barns, no enviable farmhouses of Cotswold stone in which to be mocked for having a kitchen supper. None of that at all.

This isn’t a whine. It sounds like a whine, right? But it isn’t one. A few of my peers and relatives do, in fact, have various retreats at their disposal, via parents, and are sometimes kind enough to put them at mine. Ask where they came from, though, and the answer is always the same. ‘Oh, we bought it in the 1970s,’ they’ll say, ‘when we were about your age.’ But I’m exactly my age now. I exist in a world that is so safely middle-class that it’s not really in the middle at all. And yet all of this is in no way on the cusp of happening.


There are still 165,000 second homes in Britain. I know this because Sir Andrew Motion of the Campaign to Protect Rural England made a big old fuss about them last year, complaining that they were ‘gutting’ rural communities and called for sweeping taxes. Frankly, as a soulless, hypocritical, fairly affluent London professional, I’d expect to be reaping the benefit. But no. Which is weird. Isn’t it?

I have two theories. One is merely financial. The average age at which one buys one’s first home is now 37, perhaps a decade older than it was a generation ago. So it could be that the great project of holiday homes, once embarked upon enthusiastically by those with young families, has drifted in turn towards those of late middle age.

This is almost certainly partly true. Maybe, though, it’s not the whole truth. The holiday home used to be a fairly widespread aspiration, not only for the rich. There were timeshares, too, and static caravans on the coast. And now? Maybe it just… isn’t. With low-cost flights and the great democratisation of long-haul travel, and property costs simultaneously soaring, maybe even those who can still afford it simply prefer to spend their money on other things.

I suspect you might find that the London pied-à-terre is in similar decline. A few months ago, the concierge of one top London hotel told me that the past few years have brought a notable weekend influx of British guests who, in earlier times, would have kept their own two-bed Chelsea boltholes. And as for those 165,000 second homes in Britain? My hunch would be that most are owned by pensioners and within 20 years they’ll all be holiday rentals. And we shall look back to the time when hordes of the middle classes kept cottages, farmhouses and villas standing largely empty, and it shall seem as distant and weird to us as the way they used to have domestic staff living in the attic.

Double talk

Last time I was here (I’ve been away, as it happens, in somebody else’s holiday home), I wrote about Israel. This was before the latest war began, but after it looked like it was about to, and I shared the concern that this country, once so familiar to European sensibilities, was starting to feel decidedly foreign. And the good people of The Spectator put it online twice.

The first time, it ran under the headline ‘I’m not comfortable with Israel any more. And I’m really not comfortable with that’. It was a fair reflection of the text. The response was sizeable, and appeared to be mainly from sad Jews, hurt Israelis and furious Zionists. Douglas Murray wrote a very good blogpost about how I was the one suffering moral drift, not them.

The second time, it ran under the headline ‘If Britain was being shelled, as Israel is being now, how would we respond?’ This was a less fair reflection of the text, but only marginally, and the response was again sizeable. This time, though, it was from sad peaceniks, angry pro-Palestinian activists and furious anti-Zionists. A columnist in Saudi Arabia’s Arab News even wrote a (less good) column about what a mindless Israeli shill I was.

The text in both was identical. As a columnist, I know I quite often sit on the fence. It’s a first, though, even for me, to be on both sides of it at once.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.

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Show comments
  • Stabledoor

    It just shows that people will read the headline and then react – without actually reading the article. It also shows the power of the headline writers

    • And the appalling, corrupt Press Complaints Commission will not even consider complaints about headlines alone despite the self-evident truth that they have more impact than thousands of words of body copy.

  • Dani Bronfman

    How about a rephrase? “…if 400 British children were blown up in their beds and their schools, and on the beach, how would Britain react?” But to Israel, it’s only the Israelis that count.

    • Hugo Rifkind

      It was written before the conflict started. Like I said. And I don’t think we particularly expect Palestinians to have a European cultural heritage, do we?

      • Don’t be so mealy-mouthed, Rifkind. This is fire you’re playing with: take it seriously, if you can.

        • Hugo Rifkind

          No, seriously. What do you even want? It was a peace about Israel’s drift from European norms.

          • justejudexultionis

            piece!

    • bullet2354

      Between 7 September 1940 and 21 May 1941 there were major aerial raids (attacks in which more than 100 tonnes of high explosives were dropped) on 16 British cities.
      Over a period of 267 days (almost 37 weeks), London was attacked 71 times.
      – the Brits then quickly kicked the gerries $sses.

    • Another nutter that excuses the warmaking of the irrational Arabs and has no sympathy for the sole democracy in a region of tyranny.

      You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

  • The systematic slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians should make us all so uncomfortable with Israel that we must insist its leaders are charged with war crimes.

    One of the few positives about Israel’s latest horrendous conduct has been the growing number of Jews, even orthodox and Hasidic, who have spoken out against the illegal occupation, blockade and apartheid regime.

    Britain is shamed by the conduct of Cameron and other ministers whose weasel words actually amount to support for Israel. It is time we recognised that Hamas is to Israel what the French Resistance was to the Wehrmacht. The rockets are weapons of heroic self-defence against a criminal regime that is in breach of 64 UN resolutions.

    • Liar.
      Are you a man? Do you have no respect for liberty? (No, you do not.) What is the crime in defending their country, as we would defend ourselves against a similar onslaught?
      You are arguing for evil. The shame is on YOU. Go back to the rock you crawled out from.

      • Ignorant response but unsurprising from someone who hides behind a silly pseudonymn and is incapabale of recognising that Palestinians are defending their country which the arrogant bully Israel has invaded, occupied, raped, pillaged and blockaded . Israel is the oppressor as the UN has told it 64 times and yet it continues to murder children with impunity.

        Truly in the 21st century the holocaust has a new meaning.

      • Ignorant response but unsurprising from someone who hides behind a silly pseudonymn and is incapabale of recognising that Palestinians are defending their country which the arrogant bully Israel has invaded, occupied, raped, pillaged and blockaded . Israel is the oppressor as the UN has told it 64 times and yet it continues to murder children with impunity.

        Truly in the 21st century the holocaust has a new meaning.

        • Kitty MLB

          How rude and disingenuous, just in case you hadn’t noticed nearly everyone uses pseudonyms in the world of blogosphere ,
          they call it privacy. Who’d want the likes of some
          knowing their identity.

          ‘Arrogant bully Israel’ If Israel put down her weopons she is using to defend herself Hamas
          would send her to oblivion,they would also continue sending Christians to oblivion.
          Bullies are those who are trying to create a terrorist islamic state and then they will come
          after us in the West, which is their ultimate aim.
          You are defending the indefensible.

          • No, not “nearly everyone”, just the cowards.

            It’s not privacy, it’s secrecy and snivelling trolls who won’t put their name behind their opinions.

            So it’s OK for Palestinians to be sent to oblivion is is? Your hypocrisy is breathtaking and no state on this planet is so indefensible and such a disgrace to humanity as Israel.

            I give thanks to God that even the Jewish community in Israel is now beginning to rise against the Nazis in the Knesset.

            http://www.salon.com/2014/08/04/israel_has_broken_my_heart_i%E2%80%99m_a_rabbi_in_mourning_for_a_judaism_being_murdered_by_israel/

          • Kitty MLB

            ‘Disgrace to humanity as Israel’
            You may find those who hide behind a cloak and use their God as an excuse to commit
            atrocities are a disgrace to humanity.
            When they fly into buildings, blow up shopping
            centres, crucify people, stone people to death
            and place guns into the hands of mere children
            are they still members of the human race.
            israel is not responsible for any of that, she is
            defending herself.

          • However much you may year for black to be white, it never will be. Hamas rockets are weapons of heroic self defence against the occupying Nazionist power that enforces a blockade and an apartheid regime.

            I’m sure the Nazi soldiers felt about the French Resistance exactly as the IDF feels about Hamas.

            Israel is the aggressor and in its current form is beyond redemption.

          • pedestrianblogger

            I suppose the fact that you are probably deranged by your drug-abuse could be offered as an excuse for your cretinous ranting but I fear that, even if you were to give up your filthy habit, you would still be a grubby little Jew-baiter, incapable of rational thought and incapable of expressing yourself without the use of laughably inappropriate hyperbole.

          • Your personal abuse of me may shore up your delicate ego for a while but it will not change the fact that Israel is an outlaw state engaged in war crimes which you appear to condone.

            Your own words say everything about you that needs to be said.

          • MartinWW

            “Peter Reynolds” – For myself, I grateful for your latter postings in this thread since it enables everyone to see you in your true colours. And in respect of your comment about people using pseudonyms, we do not know if your moniker is also a pseudonym, and the photograph a fake.

          • pedestrianblogger

            “Your own words say everything about you that needs to be said”. As do yours about you. They reveal you to be a stupid, ignorant, hypocritical lout of the most contemptible kind. Thank God that you have no power to do more harm than to irritate and disgust.

          • You ridiculous idiot! I challenge you to substantiate each one of your puerile accusations. Come on, put up or shut up.

          • pedestrianblogger

            I don’t engage in debate with the likes of you. I have no interest in your opinion on any subject, any more than I have an interest in the opinions of a dung-beetle.

          • Kitty MLB

            Well said, that man is a loathsome creature.
            And I am sure a dung beetle would be more intelligent.

        • Kitty MLB

          How rude and disingenuous, just in case you hadn’t noticed nearly everyone uses pseudonyms in the world of blogosphere ,
          they call it privacy. Who’d want the likes of some
          knowing their identity.

          ‘Arrogant bully Israel’ If Israel put down her weopons she is using to defend herself Hamas
          would send her to oblivion,they would also continue sending Christians to oblivion.
          Bullies are those who are trying to create a terrorist islamic state and then they will come
          after us in the West, which is their ultimate aim.
          You are defending the indefensible.

  • used to have domestic staff living in the attic

    In Houston, Texas, some still do — only not an attic: a bedroom off that seems still far too much part of the house for my taste, and my morals.

    Asked my husband about having a place where we live and also in England, dividing time (assuming that England is still sane and decent and recognizable in a handful of years: a big and deeply sad IF). He didn’t care for the idea. Doesn’t need a holiday ‘home’, and doesn’t want to up sticks every six months, like someone with restless leg syndrome. Wants one place that is truly home. Suits me. But Britain is the Enlightenment losing its way. And America is several years behind you, with a lot more resistance to the lunacy you put up with every day. Why should I leave that? Even though England was my first true love.

  • Fifteen Beats

    I could see how a fair minded person might land on both sides of the conflict considering what a mess it is.

  • Kitty MLB

    Do they still place domestic staff in the attic, they’d struggle in my
    attic as young rescued hedgehogs live there until released into
    the woodland in which our very old cottage happens to be situated.
    I suppose the children of these people are stuffed up ter chimney,
    and shoeless obviously, a good use for holiday homes.

    In reality its annoying when children of locals cannot afford to live
    in the countryside and you have ‘weekenders’ from the cities buying up properties, although they do sometimes rent them out
    to other holiday makers.

  • dalai guevara

    Who needs a villa in the Caribbean, an Ibiza beach house or a German party flat when either of those places will set you back 50 quid/night tops (if you ever find the time to actually go) and you you are reminded on a quarterly basis by the ONS that you still have 890 billion quid of outstanding bankster debt to pay off.
    Tidy up your pad and opt for a holiday home swap with someone in China or Mexico. Beats hotels hands down.

  • Gwangi

    Ever heard of a hotel or self-catering apartment? Or why not get a caravan on the Isle of Sheppey? Even real Eastenders can afford that, innit?

    Listen son, many people in their 20s, 30s and 40s cannot even afford a home to live in!

    And IMHO putting big taxes on all second homes would be A GOOD THING, as would putting the same taxes on London property that exist in New York.

  • Ludo

    What a jolly idiot you are, Hugo. But given your limitations, you deserve congratulation for realising that this isn’t the 1970s. Where did all the white god sh1t go, you must be wondering?

    Perhaps you could familiarise yourself with Britain’s land crisis so that you might offer something insightful next time you put pen to paper? Here’s some further reading, http://www.landvaluetax.org/current-affairs-comment/winston-churchill-said-it-all-better-then-we-can.html

  • John Wilson

    Hugo Rifkind needs to refine his journalistic skills. At 165,000 second homes, it is a non-issue. However:
    “At the time of the 2011 Census, 1,570,228 usual residents in England and Wales (2.8 per cent of the usual resident population) reported having a second address in another local authority in England and Wales, that they used for 30 days or more each year.”

    But at about 10x HR’s figure it is an issue. Lazy journalism by HR and the sub-editor – assuming the latter exists.

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