Last night I dreamt that Hugh Wallace visited my home. And loved it
Patrick Freyne: In Home of the Year, Dublin aesthetes judge folk from the cultureless provinces
‘I was following you Hugh Wallace. Give me that chicken leg and we’ll camp for the night. We’ll set out again at daylight when it’s safe.’ Photograph: Ruth Medjber
“That wonderful feature blocking the main doorway, what do you call that?” asks Hugh Wallace.
“Ah, yes, that is our ‘random piles of books’, Hugh Wallace. Their origins are lost to time, but I believe they were intended to be purely decorative. Or possibly I was meant to bring them to the charity shop. I can’t remember.”
“This is a very lush carpet.”
“We don’t have a carpet, Hugh Wallace.”
We are the Irish people, and if there’s a national trait outside of melancholy and begrudgery it’s a desire to see inside other people’s houses without having to bring a gift
“Delightful! Interesting approach to light in this rear diningroom. Why is it so dark?”
“Spite, Hugh Wallace. It’s dark out of pure spite.”
“I notice some irregular patterning across your couch, dressing gown and face. What do you call that?”
“Those are called ‘stains’, Hugh Wallace. They seem to turn up everywhere except on television.”
“Very good. Now, I see there’s a chicken leg stuck to this lamp.”
“In case I get hungry, Hugh Wallace.”
“What a bold choice! Agh, something bit me!”
“Frankly, Hugh Wallace, that could be anything – a cat, a lost nephew, my wife. It’s been a long year, and there are a lot of places to hide.”
“Wait, up ahead here, some of these rooms look bright and clean.”
“Yes, Hugh Wallace, I’m not allowed in there because I’m covered in jam.”
“But... how do we get out of here?”
“I was following you, Hugh Wallace. Give me that chicken leg and we’ll camp for the night. We’ll set out again at daylight, when it’s safe.”
Home of the Year is an apocalyptic competition that fits the present apocalypse. Three aesthetes from The Capital judge the decorative abilities of an array of folk from the cultureless provinces. It’s the Shelter Games, another dystopia plucked from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
One of the judges (Suzie McAdam) even says, “Let the Games begin!”, in this the final episode of the season. I mean we’re all inside anyway, so we might as well play.
One house is critiqued as being ‘too small for the amount of objects they had in it’, to which I can only say: ‘Challenge accepted!’
In the final episode we get to watch the judges deliberating and bickering over their finalists at the Palmerstown House estate as the homeowners are gathered outside, making conversation and complimenting one another through gritted teeth. It’s compelling stuff.
We are the Irish people, and if there’s a national trait here outside of melancholy, begrudgery and a deep fascination with motorways it’s a desire to see inside other people’s houses without having to bring a gift.
And so everyone in the country watches Home of the Year from their own cluttered, pandemicafied hovels, muttering “You’re not better than me, Sharon,” under their breaths. This includes Dermot Bannon, who broods and plots and dreams of windows in his lair in north Dublin. If the prophecies are true, he will awake from his slumber soon and start putting windows in everything.
All of the houses under consideration are, of course, sickeningly beautiful. There are perfectly appointed yet deceptively tiny cottages, tastefully developed red-brick period properties and paganistic rural monoliths designed to block out the sun and yet be sun-filled.
Now, I’m a bit of a traditionalist, and some of the aesthetics escape me. None of these houses has cool classical pillars all around it or an en-suite in every room or a completely tarmacadamed front garden or an ambitious extension that sits unfinished for a decade or any of the other things that I know to be objectively fancy.
So I’ll bow to the wisdom of the three judges as they stand apart from one another on gleaming white podiums, being wise. There are kitchen-island units made from grand pianos and garden areas “with a festival vibe” and large, wall-sized windows. There are gentle critiques. One house is critiqued as being “too small for the amount of objects they had in it”, to which I can only say: “Challenge accepted!”
Eventually Hugh, Suzie and the third judge, Amanda Bone, choose the beautifully designed cottage home of a woman from Co Clare. In response the nation says in unison, “You think you’re better than us, but you’re not,” then blesses itself. This is, coincidentally, the title of the new national anthem I’m working on.
If the judges from Home of the Year appeared in the opening scene of the new drama series Filthy Rich (Disney+) they would no doubt comment on the startling fire effect achieved by Kim Cattrall in her southern mansion. That fire effect is called “fire”, and Cattrall, dressed in a glamorous ballgown, strides from the flaming wreckage much as I imagine she strode away from her Sex and the City castmates.
In this series she is playing not one of the exactly four types of person (I’m a Miranda) but the matriarch of a billionaire family of dollar-sucking telly-evangelists. After her husband crashes the private jet, she discovers that his will provides for three adult children conceived during his many affairs. These are: the sassy owner of a porn business, a dazed marijuana farmer with a secret, and a gentle ultimate fighter/single father. (There’s still time to change your CAO form: I think you can do most of this at TCD.) And yet Filthy Rich is not as much fun as it sounds.
This should be a celebration of amoral glamour pusses at war, but when such material hits the mainstream, as it increasingly does, the camp edges get sanded away by 21st-century sincerity. It seems that Cattrall’s character really believes in God and doesn’t quite share her husband’s hypocrisy, while her chief nemesis, the sassy pornographer, is just hankering for a chance to be respectable. There are, confusingly, good people on both sides.
There’s a bit more clarity on The Terror (RTÉ Player). I know the rest of you watched this earlier in the year, but I’m just getting to it now, and it’s great. The first series concerns the Erebus and the Terror, two real ships dispatched in the middle of the 19th century to explore the Northwest Passage only to become stuck in the ice. The crew, we now know, died in a variety of horrible ways. The Terror, based on a book by Dan Simmons, hypothesises that one of the ways was at the claws of a giant enchanted polar bear. Fair enough.
A bunch of people stuck indoors terrified of a rampaging organism that wants them dead? Yes, it’s so relatable that my wife was able to ignore the death bear and instead look at the nice solid wood furnishings and go, “Oh, it would be lovely to be living on a ship.” I completely agree.
So with excellent performances from Ciáran Hinds and Jared Harris (who seem to have swapped accents) among others, The Terror is grim, gripping and probably my Home of the Year.