I dropped some papers off at my new house tonight. I get the keys on Wednesday.
"My new house". "My house".
It's a bit surreal. The last time I was involved in dealing with a house by myself - and not even then, really - I was twenty and sharing a red brick semi next door to the Mecca Bingo on Cowley Road in Oxford with four other students. That house shared a party wall with a local authority halfway house and on the day we moved in there was a stabbing. I arrived on my own, thankfully, but one of my housemates came with her mother who had to have a lie down and brandy when she discovered her darling daughter was moving into a crime scene, surrounded by police tape and forensic teams. Similar incidents dogged us all year and the residents had a peculiar fondness for playing New Order's Blue Monday twenty times in a row on the dot of midnight and for standing in our back yard throwing cans of Tennants Export at the windows.
None of us had any furniture, obviously, barring our obligatory kettles and toasters, and for two terms I lived in what was essentially a cupboard. Once the child sized single bed was in the room, you could barely open the door and I had to keep my clothes downstairs in the living room, which was mysteriously decorated with pictures of Princess Diana's eyes that followed you round the room. It was so cold I had to wear a fleece hat in bed as well as all my clothes. My radiator leaked and I had to rip the mouldy carpet up and manhandle it out. The trap door in the roof collapsed, disgorging a hundredweight of Islamic tracts. It was cold and dirty and full of brown swirly carpets, possibly borrowed from the Mecca Bingo.
I can't say this is particularly happy precedent. I was on steroids for my alopecia that made me fat and crochety and old generation anti-depressants that made me feel like I was swimming through concrete. I spent my days in libraries full of happy, glowing, hair commercial girls, staring into the middle distance and trying to concentrate, and I ate Marks and Spencer microwaved low fat ready meals every night. I hardly ever went out: my chief leisure activities were smoking, bulimia and driving fast around the ring road in my little car listening to music very very loud. I remember the house warming party where I went to bed at 10 and people kept coming in to sit on my bed and mock our very serious 'Men's Health' reading housemate who kept weights in his bedroom, an activity I had always been very good at before (mockery, not weights). I remember how very puzzled they were that over the summer I had become this ginger haired puffy recluse who had lost her sharp tongue, and how they wouldn't believe me when I told them I had gone bald.
It was a very lonely time; a time when I felt like whatever grand plan I might have had for my life was slipping out of reach at precisely the time when everyone around me seemed to be finding theirs. I felt utterly alienated, vulnerable, stuck in the wrong place, temporally, emotionally, physically as well as geographically. I think some of my love and affection for London comes from it being the place I escaped to from Oxford. We arrived in London in June 1997, just after Tony Blair had won the election. Do you remember what that felt like? How people were grinning at each other on public transport? Imagine that, plus the euphoria of escaping Oxford, and the joy of living in Fitzrovia, a hundred yards from Oxford Street. It was magical.
But I am ready to do it again, hopefully without the ginger wig, smoking, bulimia, loneliness or low fat ready meals. I peeped through my letterbox and the house looked as light and welcoming as I remembered it. I peeped in at the neighbours house too; they have a piano as well, so I can play half arsed, half remembered Chopin Preludes abusing the sustain pedal as much as I want to cover the screw ups. They have six children, so hopefully the sounds of my skreeking spawn will be swallowed up in theirs. There will be an Ektorp, and a table and lots of bowls.
It's going to be okay.