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Tags:   History,   Homes

By The Swag Team   -  July 11, 2014

The typical Maltese man is usually not afraid to take on DIY jobs: immid idejh as we say in the vernacular. And SWAG is sure that many of you have, at some point or another, taken on a major house decoration job, possibly a fully-blown farmhouse conversion or the turning of a shell-form house into a livable space. The beauty of this type of home work is that you can create your dream home by working exactly to your plans without anyone else sticking their nose in. But in the case of Briton BEN SAMSUN, the words ‘dream home’ and ‘redecoration’ meant something quite radical.

The proliferation of tall buildings crammed with tiny flats in Malta is a relatively new phenomenon, so most of us were lucky enough to be brought up in relatively large, old houses with plenty of character.


Traditional Maltese houses tend to have plenty of historic touches, whether in their architecture, as in the case of the converted farm and town houses, or in the old style dark wood furniture and décor of the normal, post-WW2 built house.


However, even the most history-obsessed home owner will generally leave his historic collection and moments of living the past to his display cabinet and occasional trips down memory lane via a photo album or old film on the telly. If any of you readers actually spend your life walking up and down the stairs in a suit of armour and living among tapestries and cannonballs like La Valette, then we’d be very surprised.


But there is a man in England called Ben Sansum who lives his life like it's 1946. He spends a substantial part of his day wearing 1940s clothes, listens to 1940s music on 1940s equipment and has decorated his house entirely with furniture and appliances from that decade or earlier.


And the most surprising thing of all is: he’s 35.


“I’ve always been a fan of the past,” he told the BBC World Service’s Outlook radio programme recently. “It’s very cosy and homely and it was an era where things were built to last. I love the music, the cars, the elegance of the era. It had a lot more sense of community and family values.”


A gift of a classic wind-up 1940s record player from his grandfather is apparently what sparked his interest in the decade in the first place.


“Life has become so fast nowadays that I feel like I simply can’t keep up, what with Twitter and all this other stuff I don’t really understand... and I don’t think I’m alone in this. All this technology has actually driven people away from each other. One can have many friends on Facebook but most people don’t even have a chat with their next door neighbour over the garden fence any more. So I like to live my life at the slower pace.”


Ben’s passion is helped along by the fact that he lives in a small village, called Godmanchester, not far from London, one those quaint places that seem to exist in another era. We have a few corners and hamlets like that left in the Maltese islands: long may they last.


Despite what may seem like a wacky existence, Ben is not some loopy recluse who spends all his time wearing a trilby and hidden away among his valve-powered radio sets, black and white television and hand-operated mangle washing machine he inherited or collected over the years. He has to make some exceptions to his choice of lifestyle, such as going to work: he’s a steward with British Airways.


And his alternative lifestyle hasn’t ruled love out either: he has a partner, but they have separate houses. She lives a normal life in a modern house with all the mod cons, but shares some of his passion for the past and plays along, staying at his house and dressing up in 1940s style.


Other concessions to the 21st century are a fridge (most people still used an icebox in the 1940s) and a few more cheats such as a flatscreen TV and a modern bathroom.


So? Has Ben Samsun inspired you? Will you start spending your Sunday mornings at Ta’ Qali market buying up old trinkets to make that farmhouse restoration or flat redecoration a touch more authentic? Or have you simply smiled at his eccentricity and become more convinced than ever to make your living space a paean to modern, touch of a button convenience and an information technology hub?


Perhaps it will be none of the two. After all, we may be DIY lovers, but one other thing we Maltese men are renowned for is leaving home design in the hands of our better halves… as long as they leave the garage or the den to us… 


Do you live in a historic or unusual house, surrounded by historic artifacts? Or perhaps you live a lifestyle inspired by the past? We'd love to hear from you if you do. E-mail us with details and pictures: info@swag.com.mt.

A 2010 news report about Ben Samsun and his house


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