Thursday, 21 July 2011

Westway to the world

Oh, all right then. I’ll tell you what she said:

So, if you remember, we’d finally battled our way to renting a cute one bed Victorian conversion with its own garden and cellar in Brockley and, feeling rather pleased with life in general, when I turned up at her Maida Vale flat. It was a warm evening and I’d just finished draining a glass of water when she placed her hands on my biceps, looked into my eyes and said: ‘I need to talk to you. So, you know how we’ve found a flat? Well something’s coming up.’

In that moment disaster scenarios flew through my mind, but I needn’t have worried. Or at least not in that way.

‘I had an email from my neighbour earlier. She thinks she might need to leave London for a year and wondered if we wanted to rent her flat.’

Oh great, I thought. Now we have two.

‘How much for?’ I asked presuming that this would rule it out immediately. We’d already established that we could just about afford a tiny attic one-bed in Maida Vale. I guessed that we wouldn’t be able to afford a three bedroom mansion block lost to time.

‘Whatever we were planning on paying. Apparently.’

‘Wow. She could get double or even triple that for it.’

‘That’s what I said. I also explained that we’d just found somewhere so it was pretty unlikely, but that I’d mention it to you.’

I stood out on the balcony and looked at all the red brick prettiness as it lazily cascaded down into the trees, whispering amongst the city bustle.

‘You seem to be considering it,’ she said.

‘Mmm. It is lovely around here.’

‘I thought you’d want to stick with what we’ve already got.’

‘What do you want to do?’ I asked to divert the issue away from myself.

‘I don’t know,’ she smiled with indecision.

‘Can we have a look?’ I came back inside.

‘Ah. She’s house sitting in Wales.’

‘The things is, we need to decide this weekend else we’ll be into reference fees and all that.’

‘I know,’ she said as though to point out I was stating the obvious – which, of course, I was, but then it does help the audience to keep up.

‘And if we stall,’ I continued my useful exposition, ‘we’ll probably lose the Brockley flat.’

‘I know.’

‘What to do, what to do.’

‘It’s very pretty,’ she reassured. ‘And, well, it’s kind of the same as this one.’

It was quite a quandary. Essentially, the two sides – south east and west – were evenly matched. Any deposit we’d already paid would be balanced out by not paying reference fees. Any disadvantage would be countered by a positive: I’d need to buy a parking permit for Westminster, but could cycle to work easily. Or even walk. Every angle we analysed at had an equal reaction.

It was stale mate.

I decided to try and take a look for myself anyway. Moments later I hung off the edge of the back balcony, three storeys up, and peered into the bedroom, but I couldn’t really see beyond the sun’s reflection in the glass. After which it was a scuttle through the flat to scramble across the front balcony and check out the lounge. That was more satisfactory, I could see the extent of the room. Leering through the letterbox to see what the hall gave me a peculiar limited rectangular view.

‘Looks nice,’ I said almost disappointed that there hadn’t been some hideously vile piece of furniture that we’d be forced to life with. A flesh toned leatherette sofa, for example, or some amateur art etched into the walls depicting a faux Picasso nude at sunset. Her neighbour had taste, not exactly my taste, but nothing too gut wrenching. I could live with it.

Which was the whole point really. I would have to live with it for a whole year.

‘Unless she decides she doesn’t want to come back to London,’ a friend suggested, muddling the situation further, but let’s stick to what we knew.

It would only be for a year. We would have to live amongst her stuff. I would have to sell – or more likely freecycle - my own crappy furniture. That was no real great loss, but I’ve had some of it a long time. I’m kind of attached to it. In Brockley we’d be able to start settling down, getting on with our lives together, whilst Maida Vale felt a little like a postponement of that. It felt like putting off something that would be a pleasure. As though we were maybe a little nervous of ourselves.

And besides we’d have to do flats one through thirteen again.

And yet, and yet.

Maida Vale is cute. It’s central. It’s close to all the fun of London; it feels like you’re amongst it all, trapped in a Hugh Grant film, or, if you squinted and ignored the affluence, on the edge of a seventies punk record, or as though you might bump into ol’ Keith Talent from London Fields down the pub.

‘It’s kind of like living a fantasy,’ my girlfriend said as we wandered around Portobello market the next morning. ‘I’ve always known I’d never be able to live around here forever.’

‘But you grew up here,’ I pointed out. ‘Or down the road anyway.’

‘Yeah, but it was never like this. Now it’s all bankers and the filthy rich and Tories. Bah! It’s not people like you and me.’ She turned and smiled as the sunlight caught the reflection of her shades and turned the feathers in her hair fleetingly golden. ‘I think we’d be very happy in Brockley.’

She could just be saying that, my brain said. Why would she do that, I asked myself. Because she thinks it’s what you want and you’re just not saying it. Because she’s never missed the last train on a Tuesday and had to endure the slow meander of the nightbus through Elephant and Castle and Walworth and Camberwell and Peckham when it stops every ninety seconds as another pissed up idiot just like you gets on or off.

‘Of course,’ she continued, ‘another year of fantasy would be fantastic.’

And so it went, back and forth as we rushed around the city from conveniently central Maida Vale doing typical weekend things whilst trying to both think and talk about a decision and that we also partly wanted ignore and enjoy those moments that bring normality.

‘I think,’ I said ‘it’s so close that it just needs one of us to make a decision.’ I tried to pass the painful indecision onto her. I was tense with anxiety to the extent that in the middle of Saturday night I awoke screaming. I’d dreamt that someone was torturing me, slicing stripes of skin from my belly with a cheese knife.

‘Your eyes were wide with terror,’ she said the next day. ‘Yet you were still asleep. Or somewhere in-between. I didn’t know if you realised it was me.’

This was a thing. I have restless nights. My dreams are either vivid refuse to come at all; no sleep takes me away and after a while I give up and get up. I used to wander around the house, appearing spectre like over my parents, or so my Mum says. I don’t think she’d experienced that before. I felt as though we know everything about each other, and yet we don’t really. That’s all still to come.

That’s the fun part.

Sunday morning was sultry. The heat hung heavy over the city, our heads felt heavy after the night’s interruptions. We’d spent all weekend together and yet I felt as though I’d spent it with two flats. Later, we were supposed to be meeting a friend back to Hyde Park for another afternoon of music.

‘You go,’ she said, ‘I’ve a headache. I’ll come down later.’

I didn’t like to leave her, but perhaps the space between us would make it easier to think without trying to second guess the other. I sat on the grass outside the entrance to the festival site, waiting for my friend who was late as usual, and thought about texting our dilemma to people, or posting it on Facebook. Maybe a popular vote would make my choice for me.

‘Nah,’ I decided. It was too complicated to explain via text message because, essentially, it was about being confident in what we wanted. It was a choice we had to come to together else it would be the wrong one. I’d been wrong. One of us couldn’t tell the other what to do. That’s not how it was going to work.

Later still, when we’d met up again, we sat down in amongst the dusty crush and the paper cups of cider and the surrounding forests of legs feigned some privacy. I rested my head on her shoulder and murmured: ‘I’ve been thinking.’

‘So have I,’ she replied.

We both smiled and that was that was needed. There was no need to say it. We just knew.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Bye-Bye Brockley

Hold on a moment, let’s back up a bit.

I know. I know what you’re thinking: ‘You’ve been talking about moving out of SE4 for ages now, exploring a house share here, a studio flat there and – just recently - maybe even a full sized place somewhere else entirely, all to yourself, just get on with it.’ Thing is, it’s never been as simple as anywhere, anyhow. I’ve been in Brockely ten years now and whilst and I thought it was time to get out to actually do so felt like a wrench.

‘Why?’ asked Stu as we strolled through Hyde Park back in March. ‘I mean you really like it there. Why move?’ Especially, he didn’t add, if there’s going to be all this melodrama about it.

Because. Because. Because. Why change for the sake of change? Because I’m frightened that I’m frightened of change. Because I worry that the easy choice is to stay put when sometimes it’s better to do something not because it is easy, but because it is hard. A cliché, but they’re usually true.

‘What’s wrong?’ I suspect AS may have asked a couple of years ago as I disgruntled to be round her Maida Vale flat.

‘Been in West London too long,’ I grumbled. ‘Starting to break out in hives.’
That exact exchange probably didn’t happen, but it may as well have done. After all, my feelings about West London were pretty strong. My arrogant, inversed snobbery towards somewhere so much more affluent than the South East - and, indeed, me personally – was rife. The West was an area of which my main experiences were endless traffic jams on the A40, the Westfield shopping centre inching itself together over the years, plus coked up wankers in pizza restaurants riffing off old Jim Davidson routines and then trying to pick a fight when called on it. Okay, so there had been the odd enjoyable experience, CAMRA real festivals in Earl’s Court for example, but they were the exception.

Maida Vale, for no reason other than jealously and the near-fight with the “oo, she was Jewish princess, she was” routine obsessed, vodka dieting, misogamist prick back in 2004, came to be the epicentre of my disliked West London.

But then again, I didn’t really know it, did I? I had no real call to ever go there. I was a bit too quick to judge, a bit too keen on sweeping statements when I was a younger man and so as my friendship with AS grew and we visited to the area’s drinking establishments my resentment became somewhat diluted. In one of my more absurd property plans I even considered a tiny studio flat in the area, but that idea quickly faded and so I was still a little cynical of Madia Vale and its types when I stepped into my then-new girlfriend’s road a year ago.

‘Huh, pretty,’ I muttered to myself standing on the steps of the Victorian red brick mansion block with the huge bay windows and the balconies and the heavy deep wooden black door that would stop a bomb if it had to. The mansion blocks were built for wealthy young men to enjoy London life whilst still allowing room for a man servant. It was city living whilst still being on the right side of the city for country-bound parents and senior relatives to keep an eye on them. They were an outdated type in the twenty-first century, the sort of place Bertie Wooster would have lived. But then Bertie never actually came from the time he was supposed to. PG Wodehouse knew the world he wrote was a made up version of something that had passed all too fleetingly before the real world of the twentieth century got in the way.

Still, I never envisaged someone like me even existing on the edges of such a place, but then again, perhaps I’d never thought of myself in the right way. Perhaps I’d been swallowed by a pre-conception of who I should be.

I pressed the buzzer on the gold plate and tried to look as coolly out of place as possible.

As the weeks passed something I didn’t really ever expect to happen, happened: I actually started to rather like Maida Vale and its surrounding area. Possibly even all of West London. Well, okay, let’s not be silly: At least more of it than I ever expected. The pubs are great, especially the Warrington and the Prince Alfred. Kensal Green cemetery is joyously atmospheric. Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill delightfully green. Even Willesden bus garage is kind of cool. I like the restaurants, hell, even the pizza place is okay without that twonk being there too. It’s well connected. I could walk to work in about 45 minutes, if I so chose.

Okay, so all the things I was sceptical about are true: It is part of the West London fantasy island in the middle of the city, tied to the equally swanky Notting Hill, Chelsea and Kensington so that it sometimes feels as though it’s shunning everywhere and everyone else. Most of the population are bankers or the wives of bankers or the over indulged children of bankers still discovering themselves from the safe edges of the city before, inevitably, choosing their own banking-based career. Or old money of the sort that never needed to work, but actually those people make it sort of, well, nice, I guess.

Not particularly cool, and certainly not edgey, but nice in an easy to live there way (provided you can block out the occasional baying laugh). Life seems to drop down a gear, perhaps only because you sub-consciously know it won’t take an hour to get wherever it was you wanted to go or maybe because the expectation that whoever you’re meeting will wait for you. That probably rubbed off the guy next up in the bar. They’ll wait for him. He’s paying.

What can I say? It all got slightly Brideshead Revisited.

In early May we sat under the sunshine, amongst the ruins of a German castle. All around the Ruhr valley stretched its bleary Sunday morning way down from the hillock. There was no-one else around save for the view and I watched my reflection in her sunglasses which reflected her in mine.

‘Have you got a hang-over?’ she asked, letting go of my hand. ‘You feel clammy.’

‘No,’ I looked away for a moment and rubbed my palms together. She was right, they where slightly sticky. ‘I’m just nervous.’

‘Nervous? Why are you nervous?’

And so I asked her.

And then a few weeks later (because, sorry, but that’s how my brain works), I started thinking that’d there would be a blog in this. And that I’d call in Bye-Bye Brockley. That it would be a farewell because, I mean, I just presumed we’d move towards her. My girlfriend is West London through and through. She grew up there whilst I only ever moved to South East London. I’m a convert not a lifer. Her claim was greater than mine and besides, like I said, I’d been talking for years about moving ont. This was the perfect opportunity.

(Not that any of this was the reason I’d suggested we’d move in together, but it was a fortunate by-product. The reason was something around love and so-on which I won’t bore you with.)

What I hadn’t counted on was that Brockley had got its charming hooks into her too. ‘It’s so pretty and leafy and the parks are nice and Mr Lawrence’s is great,’ she enthused. ‘And we’ll get so much more for our money in the South-East. We might even get a garden!’

Non-Londoners might not appreciate that people will kill their children for an affordable garden in Zone 2. We nominally extend the search to include Peckham Rye and East Dulwich, but Brockley always seemed to be most likely to yield the best deal and she does like a bargain, does my girlfriend.

And so after all of the frustration of flats one through thirteen and the dozens we didn’t even see because people seemed happy to rent somewhere without even visiting the bloody place, we were excited to have finally found somewhere which perfectly matched our expectations.

‘It is a long way to cycle for work,’ my girlfriend said after we’d paid the deposit.

True, I thought, but her current route along the canals of Little Venice and through Hyde Park as it comes awake is kind of insanely quick and picturesque, isn’t it?

Still, everything seemed to be pretty much perfect until this happened:
She placed her hands on my biceps, looked into my eyes and said: ‘I need to talk to you. So, you know how we’ve found a flat? Well, something’s come up.’

To be continued…

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Flats one through thirteen

Flat one was an impromptu decision, just to get the ball rolling. We were seduced by its fancy eighties chic ways, the built in wine cooler and espresso maker, the dark grey tiles of the wet room. Thing was, it wasn’t quite honest. I wasn’t the only one looking round it and as the woman ooed and aaeh in her partner’s ear I marvelled at how squished I felt. The door to the lounge didn’t even shut properly because of the sofa. Besides it wasn’t really where it said it was, their interpretation of East Dulwich was generous that far down towards Forest Hill. A long way from anywhere, really. Or anywhere anyone would want to go. After I donked my head on the ceiling for the fourth time I grumpily excused myself thus preventing a bidding war, in which less than half the people present wanted to participate in. Off I trudged, down the length of Barry Road and across the open Peckham Rye, as the hefty Thursday sun belted down on my neck, my briefcase was slung across my shoulder and a chaffing Sainsbury’s bag containing trainers and clothes from a couple of days back cut into my fingers. As I struggled with the weight, I realised that soon I wouldn’t be spending so much time collecting my wardrobe from around the city. This plan had so many unexpected benefits.

Flat two was the first one we looked at together, the first one we took seriously, but it didn’t light up for either of us. The view of the Rye was pretty enough on such a sunny morning, but maybe it was the shiny greyness of the estate agent’s shirt which shimmered as he moved in that jerky-static, check-Cockney, barrow boy way, or maybe it was the strange creatures in the floor to ceiling cage, or the lycra wearing owners doing aerobics in the lounge whilst we tried to gauge how it would look with all our stuff instead of theirs, or maybe even the soft brown leather bed, but something, whatever, didn’t feel quite right.

Flat three was never going to work. It was always too cheap, down the Lewisham end of Wickham Road, but if the first two had been up at the top end of what we could afford this was to check out what was on offer down the bottom. A fridge freezer in the lounge, a bedroom too small for a double-bed and panes of glass that felt loose in their frames was the answer.

Flat four probably would have been great. It was kind of odd, but in a good way up on Tressillian Road. Down in the basement, it had a country cottage style unfashionable kitchen of open units and no storage, a spare room underneath the steps up to the rest of the building, a dark oak heavy wardrobe in the corner of the bedroom, a lush shared garden and dodgy wall paper in a lounge filled with two crappy sofas. Thing was, it was just me again. My girlfriend was in France with work, soaking up the sun on the glittering cote d’azur and I should never have gone, but I’ve always been bad at ignoring problems. I just want to sort things out. So, I went and liked it, but not enough to be certain. I pleaded with the Polish agent and he promised to hold it until she got back at the weekend. The next day he let it to someone else, the shit. Ah well, it was kind gloomy and ever so slightly damp.

Flat five would have killed us. ‘What you have to remember,’ trilled the agent shrilly as she prepped us in the street, ‘is that this flat is really Victorian, yeah? I mean, when I first saw it, I was like, oh yeah, this must be how them Victorians really lived.’ Uh-huh, I thought and in we went. ‘The landlord’s already said he’ll fix that,’ she pointed out as my foot almost plunged through the broken floorboards and into the foundations. The lounge was an okay size, but in a tired shape. Where once would have been a beautiful Victorian fireplace, someone had ripped the whole mantelpiece out and replaced it with a gas fire coloured that unique seventies faded olive green. Attached to this ugly monstrosity was a safety notice: ‘Condemned!’ it read. ‘Do not use. Danger of death!’ ‘That’s not very reassuring,’ I said. ‘Is that going to be fixed?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know. He hasn’t mentioned it.’ We moved into the hall. ‘Anyway, it’s got lots of storage.’ She flung the doors open and inside the cupboard two planks of MDF sagged in a sad grimace back at us. The so-called study, which felt damp even on a hot Saturday afternoon, was so small I could stand in the middle and touch every wall without stretching. The doorknob for the bathroom came off in my girlfriend’s hand. Whilst she found herself forced to clamber into the bath in order to close the door I began to wonder what on earth I was playing at. ‘So, I’ve found this place on Oglander Road in East Dulwich,’ I’d explained as I met her at the bus stop from the airport. ‘It sounds great.’ But the garden was a mess. There was a shed, but clearly not for much longer for when I tapped the wall it collapsed inwards. ‘What you have to remember,’ the estate agent piped up, ‘is that if you were buying this place it’d make a great investment. It’s got loads of potential.’ ‘But I’m renting it.’ ‘It’s really Victorian,’ she tried optimistically and I worried that my girlfriend would be questioning what she was getting herself into with South East London.

Flat six came close. Hinckley Road was nestled between Peckham and East Dulwich to give the best of both and hide from the worst of the yummy mummies or the relentless bass from growling cars. Plus it was just up from the Gowlett. The last time I’d been there it’d been a fantastic pub. It was thrashing it down with rain and unusually dark when we arrived. The agent was late and then bumblingly incompetent, like he’d he was channelling the ghost of Charles Hawtrey, only without the Carry On sexual innuendo. First he tried to take us into the wrong flat, one where a child was home alone, and then he forgot every detail about the place we had come to see, flicking through a sheaf of damp notes held together by string. Even so, it was close. It really was. The kitchen was great, the bathroom pretty good and the patio kind of cute, if you like crazy paving which I don’t mind, but she did. Maybe if we’d been less soggy, maybe if the cellar hadn’t been damp, maybe if the lounge had been square rather than having the corner cut out of it by the staircase upstairs, maybe if you’d been actually able to get in and out of a bed without somersaulting over each other, maybe if the Gowlett hadn’t seemed to have gone downhill so badly we’d have taken it. Perhaps it was because it was raining. We went back a couple of days later when, despite lovely sunshine all through the afternoon, the rains were pelting down again. ‘You’ve three minutes,’ the agent said as the next woman huddled in the shelter of the doorway across the way. We couldn’t be pushed into a decision, it just didn’t feel right. I wonder if she took it. I wonder if she was alone and if not didn’t she mind falling over your dearest at every turn.

And this isn’t even counting all the places that were gone before we even saw them or never really there in the first place. The internet was supposed to make this sort of thing easier, but all it does is provide endless information overload that breaks your heart and pisses you off twenty times a day.

Flat seven was just too sad, despite the proximity of Hilly Fields. It smelt of cigarettes and tears. The big woman who opened the door wasn’t even dressed and looked barely conscious. She sat on the edge of the bed staring down at the hands in her lap as we looked around and intruded amongst the dirty wine glasses and empty bottles in the kitchen, the slopped red stain on the lounge floor and the photographs on every surface of her with a smiling man in her arms of whom there was no trace.

Flat eight cropped up at the time when we were beginning to think about lowering our standards. It was a Sunday evening and it wasn’t on any of the property website as yet. It had just appeared on the Polish agent’s website. It looked perfect. It looked light and smartly designed, modern without catering for twats. It had room for an office where I could write, selfish demanding bugger that I am. It had access to a garden. ‘I want it, ‘ I thought and despite it being late on a Sunday rang the Polish agent, but the dial tone told me he was out of the country. Nine in the morning and I rang his office. And again. And again until I got to speak to someone. And again when the right person didn’t call me back. ‘I’ll need to speak with the tenants before we can go round, but you’re the first person to call for this one,’ he reassured me. I called him four more times when he didn’t call back. This continued all Monday and Tuesday as I braced myself to sneakily disappear from work for an hour or so. All the while there was a growing weight of anticipation snagging down around my neck distracting myself from everything other than how we’d arrange the furniture to make the best use of the space. I felt permanently poised until eventually he said: ‘You sound pretty keen so we can get you in first, how about tomorrow morning?’ So I took a half day off work, even though my girlfriend had meetings she couldn’t get out of. ‘If it’s like the pictures, just go for it,’ she told me. In the morning I paced in anticipation willing the time to skip past. The flat was exactly like the pictures, the only drawback being that the garden wasn’t secure for bike storage and, well maybe, its white coolness was just a touch clinically stale. Anyway, I went for it. The Polish agent, who was back by now, took some details and a holding deposit. I texted my girlfriend as I waited at the train station to go to work. We had a home. ‘Hello David,’ said the Polish agent ten minutes later whilst I changed at London Bridge. ‘Um, I’ve spoken to the landlady and, well, there’s a problem.’ ‘What?’ I felt my heart escape. ‘She doesn’t really want to rent the flat. She wants to sell it.’ ‘What?’ I repeated not able to understand what he was telling me. ‘You can rent it for a while, but people will be coming round to look at buying it. I thought I’d let you know as you said you wanted a long-term rent.’ ‘Cunt!’ I shouted into the air after he’d hung up and I kicked an advertising hoarding on the platform. Then I kicked it a few more times because a pain in my foot was somehow better than the ache of frustration and disappointment.

Flat nine was kind of pointless. My girlfriend was still upset about missing out on number eight and so didn’t come. I didn’t know why I was going, perhaps just to reassure myself there was stuff out there we could disregard. That we weren’t desperate yet. Still, three bedrooms on Wickham Road for that price was just too cheap. We didn’t even need that much space. It was as skanky as expected. The lounge was nice enough, but the rest needed a major refurbishment and the agent seemed to think he was a BMW driving Fonz. ‘Eeeeeyyyy,’ he greeted me, waggling his thumbs upright. One of the bedrooms was so narrow that the single bed touched three walls and the edge of the open door. The other room slipped underneath the bare concrete outline of the stairs up to the front door. On every surface were old cameras, in cabinets, hanging from the ceiling, on the cistern of the toilet, suspended from the kitchen extractor fan. People are strange, I thought to myself as I didn’t even bother to pretend to be interested.

Flat ten was back in East Dulwich on Crystal Palace Road. It sounded nice as my girlfriend rang through the details. A garden, one bedroom and a landing where I could fit a desk to write, but a little drafty from the open chimney. Problem was, I was a hundred miles north on a canal barge for Jamie’s stag do. I tried to picture the layout she described as I clamped the phone to my ear, struggling to ignore the babble of excited thirty-something men let out. ‘What do you think?’ I asked. ‘I’m not sure,’ she replied honestly. ‘It’s okay, I suppose.’ ‘Let’s go for it,’ I replied bombastically, but by that time I’d already had a couple of beers and was perhaps being a little impetuous. ‘Good news?’ asked Google-Steve whom I’d been boring with our struggle all the way up from London the night before. ‘Yeah,’ I nodded enthusiastically, but already had doubts at my own eagerness. After all it was for at least a year. ‘I think we might have a flat.’ My mobile rang. ‘It’s gone,’ she sighed. ‘The person after me took it straight away.’ Phew, I thought.

Flat eleven my girlfriend saw moments after flat ten and although apparently massive and light, it was furnished and in a way which, whilst perfectly nice, just wasn’t for us. Tuh. I wondered if were being too fussy. ‘We’ve plenty of time,’ she said, but it was slipping away from us.

Flat twelve came with its own cats.

Flat thirteen just kind of felt right. It looked okay on the pictures, a one bed with a dining room which could be partly used as an office, a massive garden led out to by French windows from the bedroom. It only looked okay online, not amazing, but I had a good feeling about it. It felt a little blank, like we could make it something of our own. Thanks to Arcade Fire playing Hyde Park in the afternoon we both had the next day off. The agent was something of a geezer: ‘Cor, I tell you, this woman coming at six o’clock she said don’t let no-one else take it! I want it! Still if you’re available, then you’re in first. Them’s the rules.’ Once inside it felt even better. We went downstairs to explore the enormous cellar and afterwards as the agent faffed with the lights we slipped into the lounge and I said: ‘What do you think?’ She nodded and then added: ‘I mean that hideous sofa goes, but otherwise, yeah.’ ‘So,’ said geezer who seemed alright for an estate agent (although may have just been because we took his flat), ‘what you reckon?’

We took it.

By the time we’d sorted out the holding deposit we were running late, but that was okay. The sun was shining, except for when it wasn’t, and the music played and I felt elated. We had a home, after all the hours of trawling the internet at risk from the IT department’s wrath and my mobile chirruping out the Dexy’s Midnight Runners all through the afternoons, after all the disappointment and the feeling of futility as we rang to enquire about yet another place that was too nice to be still available, after all that we finally had a lovely place of our own. ‘We can grow vegetables in the garden,’ I cooed into her ear, no doubt nauseatingly for anyone who overheard.

The next day I remained irritatingly chuffed for myself until at around seven-thirty in the evening I arrived at my girlfriend’s Maida Vale flat, having cancelled all our viewings for the following morning and looking forward to a weekend of not obsessing about where we might or might not be living in a few week’s time. In the kitchen I downed a glass of water and then she placed her hands on my biceps, looked into my eyes and said: ‘I need to talk to you. So, you know how we’ve found a flat? Well, something’s come up.’

To be continued…