It’s Friday night and my bathroom is the cleanest it’s been in the whole time we’ve lived here.
I cleaned around the taps with a toothbrush for God’s sake. This can mean only one of two things: my mother is visiting, or I’m moving out. This time, it’s the latter.
This will be my 18th move in my 27 years on this planet. I moved around a lot as a kid after my parents split up, and we were shunted from one rented place to another as rents got too high or we found somewhere better. As a kid, I thankfully saw the experience as an adventure. I still remember favourite bits from each of those places; one that came with a really cool den/ playhouse in the garden that was full of lego and loads of musty old toys. My own private solace. I felt like the coolest kid on our estate.
Another with a huge bedroom cupboard I could hide in, with floor to ceiling shelves that I wanted to fill with a tidy regiment of toys. One – not so good – in which had to share a bedroom with my mother, who snores like a Lancaster Bomber and didn’t share my fondness for listening to Spiceworld on repeat.
At 18 I moved away from home – far, far away, in fact. 300 miles from just outside Durham to Bristol. And so continued the annual ritual of packing up, giving things to charity, forcing myself to be ruthless and let go of things I could do without. Finding that loads of my stuff had been ruined by the damp that seems a creeping, silent inevitability for us renters.
I have become a world-class packer. A packing ninja, if you will. I can fit untold amounts of shit into 15 boxes, storing shit within other shit to make it as small as possible. The other day I squeezed my Vietnamese Lantern inside my foam roller to save space. Yeah, next level Tetris shit. I am also master of packing this shit into very small cars. A Sunday Van Tripper. A footwell fiend. You want shit moving? Call me, fire up the Nissan Micra, and bring me a bottle of prosecco for afters.
But if I’m honest, these are skills I would happily trade for one thing: a place to call home.
This particular move is a temporary one. We’re in the rip-roaring, poke-yourself-in-the-eyeballs-twice-a-day process of trying to buy our first flat in London, and are very lucky to have the chance to house-sit for the next few months. It means we can save up lots of money we were haemorrhaging on our overpriced, tiny rented flat, and say bye to our neighbours from hell and late night police shenanigans. We can later use this to pay the endlessly hopeless, infuriating team of mavericks who may or may not let us buy a flat at a vastly inflated price.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate just how lucky we are to be able to consider buying a flat, and indeed to have a roof over our heads at all. Working for a large children’s charity, I am acutely aware of the huge number of vulnerable individuals and families who are living on the streets, in hostels, refuges, sofa surfing and otherwise. (If you want to help, look up Shelter, Centrepoint, or St. Mungos – they’re all great).
But that doesn’t stop me pining for stability. For the chance to grow into and with our home. For the option to paint, to make cosy, to put our stamp on a place. To lovingly repair what’s broken, rather than putting up with it because our landlord won’t pay out. For a sense of belonging to a community; an area we know inside out – the best and worst streets, the hidden gems, the best late-night shop, the only pizza worth ordering. The perfect running route, the wintery walk.
Of course, one benefit of moving around so much is that I’ve built up my own, poor-man’s, version of The Knowledge. I can tell you that The Faltering Fullback in Finsbury Park has an outstanding beer garden. And that there’s a good chicken place within stumbling distance. I can tell you about the ridiculous bloody artisan pizza place in the back of our local Spar in Walthamstow village – £6 a pop and not too shabby.
Head there after The Nag’s Head via the cavernous shop / yard selling antiques between Hoe Street and the William Morris Gallery. I can also tell you never to bother with Chooks in Muswell Hill; life is too short to pay good money for crap chicken.
Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to the day when we get the keys to somewhere we (and our boxes of shit) can call home.
Providing I don’t get locked up for killing my estate agent in the meantime, of course…
New Year’s Day. We force one eye open, groan, and look down to see if we fell asleep in our clothes. We inspect the room for the tell-tale polystyrene carton strewn with leftover lettuce and a smearing of guilt. Bacon happens. Eggs happen. Hollandaise is bound to happen.
The guilt sets in. This year, THIS YEAR, it will all be different. I will be different. I will force myself to develop superhuman willpower, find previous un-knowable universes of spare-time and waterfalls of untapped potential I never knew existed.
I will run marathons, climb mountains, do a triathlon, win tough mudder and be able to casually do the splits whenever I damn well LIKE. On the bus, in The Club, on the petrol station forecourt, etc etc.
AND I WILL DO IT ALL IN JANUARY.
January. Without a doubt, one of the most depressing times of year. I’m broke, you’re broke, it’s as cold as a witches tit outside and it’s dark by 4pm. We’re riding a post-Christmas wave of nausea as we remember we have to work for a living and that there’s four months ’til Easter. Creme eggs provide some consolation, but it’s minimal.
Let’s keep it real here. This is not the month to overhaul your whole life. So let’s take a deep breath and reboot.