This wasn’t quite what I had planned.
As I write this, it is late May. Over three months have passed since our offer on Ermine Road was accepted. Spring is, belatedly, struggling to come to life. I have just eaten a sandwich sitting on the patio of our rented flat for the last time. By next week we will have packed up and moved on.
The only problem is that we don’t have anywhere to go.
Out the corner of my eye I keep catching a glimpse of the Brockley ghosts - all those people I half-invented. I felt ever so smug as I merrily span a history of our lives against the backdrop of London, as I wrote us into its mortar. They’ve come to gloat. Melrose with his stethoscope around his neck, annoyed at being painted so self-serving. George, his face withered and drawn, is angry at the indignity of his end. Didn’t he deserve better for all that he gave me?
‘It’s my fault for writing a semi-autobiographical blog,’ I said to a friend recently, ‘it draws out drama.’
Once our offer was accepted, the usual panic of getting all our ducks in line followed. We had a week of haring around, finding our money to prove we could afford it, getting a mortgage offer in place, arranging a solicitor, scheduling an exchange date. My Dad was in London for a meeting and so popped round to complete a survey declaring it in the sound condition I’d expected. There felt like a thousand things to do, none of which we really understood, and when we’d completed them everyone seemed confident that we’d be happily moving towards the planned completion date of early May. So we kept our brief wobbles between the two of us, kept secret our second thoughts at the enormity of it all, and held on tight.
And then it all went quiet.
We carried on planning our move. We spent evenings thinking about colour schemes and restoration work, figuring out what to do with the artex ceiling, whether we could someday afford to replace the PVC front door with a wooden original. Okay, my girlfriend did all that. I spent time wondering how many book cases I could build into all the rooms and trying to invent a mathematical formula for the average number of books per inch of wall space.
But, what I mean is that the doubts receded and we felt more and more at home with the idea of, well, there. It felt right.
We went round a couple more times – which given neither of us could picture the bathroom was probably a good idea. We’d been in there less than half an hour the first time before deciding to hand over every penny we owned. They’re a lovely couple. It seemed a natural transition. We were going to look after their past.
Eventually, a report from the solicitor turned up confirming that everything was in place and we were ready to exchange. We signed the forms and paid the ten percent deposit. That was in early April. We made arrangements to vacate our rented flat for mid-May and then it all started to go wrong.
After a few weeks it suddenly, and to our great surprise, became obvious that we weren’t going to be moving at the beginning of May. For various reasons various difficulties sprang up none of which were anyone’s fault. As we all know, shit just happens. However, our landlord had found new tenants and slowly it dawned that we were in trouble.
Nice people that they were, the new tenants agreed to delay their move to the end of the month. They’d been planning a long overlap with their current place, so it wasn’t too much of a problem. Besides they only lived around the corner. More Brockleyites shuffling their lives around the area just like me. I thought that’d be enough time to complete.
I was wrong.
Desmond wafts in close and leans over my shoulder. He’s interested in the computer screen because that’s how I wrote him to be. I can almost smell his deodorant, or would be able to if he were real. He turns to face me and his eyes burn.
Somewhere way up the chain, a survey showed a problem and a deal was off. A quick decision, the right one for those involved, but several places back, people they don’t even know exist find themselves homeless.
The ghosts find this amusing. Some of them more than others. I suspect it depends on what I did to them, what secrets I exposed. Joseph Myatt has a deep rustling chuckle. Edgar Wallace’s is surprisingly high-pitched, a giggle almost. Both imagined facts bolted onto real people without a care for what it might mean. I pinch a detail here, make up a fact there, stir it all into the brew and splurge it out without a care that I’m stealing others' lives for my own.
We tried everything possible to change the situation, but to no avail. At one point a succession of slip-ups coincided with the news that the Co-Op’s rating has been downgraded. We bank with them. With the remaining purchase money sitting in our joint account we wondered whether there’d be a run on the bank. That sort of thing didn’t seem outside the realms of possibility.
The Reverend stamps his foot and stalks away as though he’s been waiting for an apology long enough. He thinks he’s got it bad. At least he wasn’t totally made up. Not like poor Mary and Albert Foster. They didn’t even get a chance at love, at life. All I gave them were a few hints.
As it currently stands, rather than writing this in our new home – where I expected to be, back at the start – we are packing away our belongings into storage and beginning a series of holidays around London. The three of us, my girlfriend, the cat and I will be taking up the amazing hospitality of our friends and family in exotic locations such as Brixton and East Finchley and Queen’s Park. The emotional roller coaster of the past six months has meant that the only way we can face this without going slightly mad is to see them as mini-breaks.
In Home, I said I was nervous about sacrificing my new solvency, but I also didn’t really want the hassle of fighting for somewhere new. I am, I confess, not great with change. I like my life, but, you know, thousands of people buy a flat. How difficult could it be?
Things haven’t quite gone to plan. The past few months have been awash with hassle. As I type this, I feel exhausted. The adrenalin rushes and crashes have been thick and fast leaving me drained.
But none of that matters.
Because I also wrote that the reason I was willing to go through with this was because my girlfriend wanted to and I wanted to be with her more than anything else. That hasn’t changed. Adversity, rather than causing arguments, has made us closer. It doesn’t, in the end, really matter where we end up. As I said to someone who was commiserating our woes, this is only life being life. Home, in the end, is where you feel it. For me, that is sense of calm and serenity, the completeness I feel whenever we’re together. And I know that together we’ll stay.
But what about Brockley? We’re abandoning this corner of London that has been as much a part of my life as any other recurring character in this blog. I’m leaving behind all those half-formed people, those familiar places from the edges that fill my stories. They circle around me now. Each and every one. Silent spectres with a hint of menace. I’d expected to join them, but instead I’m running away. One of them, from his sun swept colouring I think it's Carlos, bares his teeth. He seems irate at being such a poorly developed cipher and so takes a lunge towards me.
He misses and retreats back to the swirling mass.
I recognise Dawn at the front of the crowd from her nurse’s uniform. She got four appearances and was better realised. Maybe she’ll be more grateful or at least less likely to be vicious. She steps forward, and holds her hand out. It’s then that I realise her expression isn’t anger, but kindliness with perhaps a pinch of pity. I go to take her hand but because she isn’t really there I touch nothing other than an idea.
They’re not angry; it’s something else and I’ll never be certain what because they’re not really here.
And neither will we be.
Don’t worry, I say to myself and everyone reading. We’ll be back. I promise.