The Aga... Aaaah, only in England.
I think it was Marx who observed that the English dwelt perpetually in a 'village in the mind'. It's hideously true. In spite of having the most exciting metropolis in the world at their fingertips each and every true Englishman, it seems, feels the need to retire as soon as he possibly can to some ridiculous facsimile of an idealised country cottage and live out his declining years in loud tutting contests with his neighbours.
New Yorkers - particularly those who only arrived from Ohio last month - are proud of themselves and their city. Woody Allen and Martin Scorcese make paeans. When a New Yorker leaves his apartment and walks through a malodorous urban dystopia he feels a warm glow that reminds him why he moved there. New York City's media reflect this intense local patriotism.
London, to it's shame, has the 'Evening Standard'. Why our only newspaper should reflect a tone of mid-suburban bigotry, none of us can quite understand. But there it is. People who read the Evening Standard work in London but really want to live in a cottage in Berkshire away from all the noise and dirt - which, of course, begs the question, why don't they just fuck off then and leave the city to those who can appreciate it?
The 'Village in the mind' manifests itself in many other ways, too horrible to contemplate at length. The wearing of green 'Hunter' Wellington boots while walking on Hampstead Heath. The keeping of Labradors and other gundogs 40 miles from the nearest game. The driving of tooth-tyred, mud bespattered Land Rovers around the adequately tarmacked rim of Clapham Common and... above all... the fucking Aga.
An Aga is a gigantic cast-iron kitchen range. It is made in some benighted part of Scandinavia where they have plenty of wood but are thousands of miles of tundra away from a gas supply. It has burners on the top that enable you to warm food to precisely the temperature at which bacteria best thrive or to incinerate it entirely. It has an oven in which you could probably park your bloody Land Rover but only if you didn't want it to get too warm.
An Aga weighs several tons and costs more than a car. It needs to be fitted by experts on to a specially reinforced floor and, once installed, will never cook as well or as efficiently as the cheapest domestic cooker.
An Aga is shite and an affront to any decent cook. Why, then, do the middle classes of England insist on them? Because it makes the kitchen feel like part of some dream farmhouse. The bloody labrador will curl up in front of it, you can dry your boots near it, you can lean your arse on the rail and thaw out after a long, bracing walk around the shopping mall.
Even though, every time I've seen a kitchen with an Aga, they've had to install a regular gas cooker next to it, it's still a selling point on a house. Go figure.
I'm struggling to find a way to explain this to a New Yorker but, try to imagine Carrie Bradshaw inviting a guy back to her apartment and showing him round...
'Wow, I love what you've done with this place'.
'Really homely and ... oh my God... That is just so perfect'.
'Yeah, I had it fitted last week. Cost me $45,000 but now I wouldn't be without it'.
'Such a beautiful, kind of rustic feel. Can I try it?'
'Go ahead. I'm the first apartment on the block with an earth closet'.