As Christmas approaches, fighting has broken out in the Young household. No, I’m not talking about my three boys, aged 11, 12 and 14, who have taken to playing a no-holds-barred version of American football in the kitchen. Rather, it’s Caroline and me who have been going at it. My sin has been to assume responsibility for the decor of one of the rooms in our house.
This has been Caroline’s domain until now. She chooses which colour to paint the walls, what furniture to buy at Ikea and how that furniture should be arranged. My role is confined to assembling desks and bookshelves and occasionally moving beds around. But I’ve always wanted a cinema room, and when my 16-year-old daughter was given a projector by her boyfriend for her birthday, I seized my chance and decided to convert the playroom.
Now, it’s important to note that Caroline never sets foot in the playroom. It has long ceased to be the part of the house where the children do puzzles and mess about with Lego. For the past couple of years it has been the exclusive preserve of Ludo, my 14-year-old, who spends the entire weekend in there playing Madden NFL 20. So I decided to take down the framed Led Zeppelin poster, move some furniture around, set the projector up at one end of the room and connect a couple of tiny speakers. Hey presto: cinema room.
At first, Ludo was absolutely furious, but when he discovered he could connect his Xbox to the projector he became an enthusiastic convert. Since then, he and I have transformed the room into our man-cave, complete with easy chairs, footrests and little tables for our beverages. The final touch was getting the walls repainted. They were some hideous Farrow & Ball colour that Caroline had chosen, but now they’re white, which makes for a brighter image when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is projected on to the plasterboard screen.
One teensy-weensy detail I’ve left out is that Caroline was in France while we did all this. The travel PR company she works for organises an annual trade show in Cannes and it meant she was gone for the best part of a week.
I knew she’d be annoyed when she came home to discover what I’d done, but I was hoping to win her over by organising a ‘date night’ in which we sat in the two easy chairs holding hands, as one of her favourite romcoms unspooled on the projector. No woman could fail to be won over by such an experience, surely?
‘You’ve totally destroyed my playroom,’ she exclaimed when I led her into what I proudly described as our new ‘home cinema’. ‘You can’t paint a room white, you idiot, and why are all these hideous wires everywhere? The children could trip up and break their necks.’
I quickly killed the lights and sat her down, feeling certain she would change her mind when she saw what the system could do. I dusted off Love Actually and slotted it into the Xbox, which doubles as a DVD player.
‘Oh my God, why’s the screen so big?’ she said. ‘It’s like sitting in the front row at the cinema. Can you make it smaller? And why’s the sound coming from behind me and only in one ear? I feel sick.’
I gently explained that you couldn’t adjust the size (I’d discovered this while trying to make it bigger) and the speakers couldn’t be moved because the wires were too short. ‘But if you shift your chair to the middle of the room, you get the full surround-sound effect,’ I said. She was unmoved. ‘No, thanks. I prefer the television.’
She has been cross ever since. When I pointed out she never goes in the playroom, she said that was irrelevant. It has two glass doors that open on to the conservatory and when she’s in there, which is quite often, she can see the horrible mess I’ve made.‘Don’t expect me to host any more dinner parties for your Tory friends,’ she said. ‘It’d be like having a dinner party in an electrical shop.’
I fear I’m going to have to dismantle my home cinema and put everything back to the way it was. But not until after Christmas. I’ve asked Ludo for the Blu-ray version of Avengers: Endgame and I want to spend the evening of the 25th watching it, crisps in one hand, glass of wine in the other, while Caroline and Sasha watch Love Actually in the other room.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.