45. Cuckoo

There was just under an hour’s wait before my train and I really needed a rest and something hot and restorative. I love London, but it can get overwhelming pretty quickly. A sit-down lunch, I thought, but I didn’t want to spend too much, get looks of pity from strangers for eating alone, nor get booted out of the restaurant as soon as I had finished. So, I settled for one of those Vietnamese Street Food noodle bars that have sprung up everywhere. Cheap, tasty, quick. Light enough so I wouldn’t fall asleep on the train and end up north of Sheffield.

I am so over a posh burger.

It was quite busy, so I was seated next to a couple of men on a long communal table. I ordered a one-chili rated chicken and mushroom Pho with a coconut water. Occupying myself by playing on my phone, like everyone does these days, I couldn’t help but overhear them talking. I tried to be discreet but figured if they didn’t want to be heard, then they wouldn’t have had this conversation in public.

The Scottish man sat next to me had recently split up with his wife and it appeared he had moved in part-time with his friend, the man he was dining with. Fortunately, his ex had no intention of going back to the States, so he felt he wasn’t going to lose his children.

“Thanks fer renting oot yer back room tae us. Ah’ll no be there half the time.”

“It’s no problem mate. It’ll be like the old days. PS4, a couple of beers and a pizza.”

“We cannae afford tae sell the hoose an the weans are all settled in at school.”

“Jeez. Nah, you don’t want to be messing about with catchment areas now, not now they’re in school and house prices are shit. I thought we were going to get negative equity at one point.” He took a swig of Saigon beer. “How’s it gonna work then?”

“She calls this ‘birds nestin’, if ye can believe it. Ahm there Monday an Tuesday, she’s goat it Wednesday an Thursday. An then we take turns every weekend.”

“That’s actually a bloody good plan. I’ve never heard of it before. Less disruption for the kids and you get half the time each with them. And there no chance that their PE kit will be at the other house. Is it a California thing then?”

“Aye.”

They pause for a while to finish their beers and reflect on what’s been said.

“We agreed nae partners can come over, what with the weans an aw.”

“I bet that’s the last thing you want right now. It’s definitely over then?”

“Aye right, nae chance we get back together.”

“Sorry, mate.”

“Naw, it’s aw in the past. It’s for the weans sake.”

This seems such a civilised, if not temporary, solution to a desperate situation. To allow all parties breathing space and time to adjust. I hope it takes off in the UK and becomes as regular as weekend Dads taking their kids to the park and Maccy D’s on Sundays.

I thanked my waiter as he brought me a huge bowl of steaming hot noodles, then smiled sympathetically at one of the men as we made eye contact when they got up to leave.

*Thanks to ma pal Joni Hunter for the brilliant translation into Glaswegian.

41. Moving On

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I’ve moved house more than a dozen times so I should be used to it by now. Sometimes I’m ready and raring to go.  Bored of the same old bus route and tired of my job. Pensive but excited, to walk down streets unknown and explore new places. Meet people with strange voices and reinvent myself. Other times I dread it.

I love this little house we live in now. It’s the best place we’ve ever lived. I’ve got my own bathroom and a room of my own to potter around in. The light streams into the bedroom in the morning and creeps around the house so we have to shut the curtains for afternoon tv. Hedges and farmland mean happy, jumping little birds and lowing cattle. Foxes wake me. I pretend the road noise is the sea and imagine that beyond the hedge is a sandy path down to our own beach cove.

But the landlord wants to sell, before interest rates go up, so we have to go. By the time this story is posted, we will be gone. We will have a new house, closer to town, with wooden floors overlooking the school playing fields. Last year he told us we could stay as long as we wanted to and when we didn’t want to live here any more he would sell it. A month after Christmas, I got the call that he wants to sell, so we have to be out in two months. I’m trying not to hate him. I don’t even know him. I’m imagining the drunken conversation he had over the festive period where he was talked into it. “What, you’re making £500 profit every month when you could sell up and get £100,000 profit in one go? You’re a fool.” There’s nothing I can do. It’s business. It’s not my fault.

Some people have lots of boyfriends; I have lots of houses. The similarities are comparable. It’s always new and exciting, never perfect, I live with the flaws until I forget, or they always irritate. I stay until it’s over or get asked to leave, and then life is never the same again. Someone else gets the old house and I find another one. Hopefully, the last person has loved and cared for it and I feel safe there. This new house is not like the old one. That house was the love of my life. This is 55-65% compatible. But we have to be out soon and it’s the best I could find right here, right now.

I know what my family and friends will say when they visit. “Oh Norm, it’s lovely. Much bigger than the last house.”

So now I’m spending money on things I can’t see. For checks to see if I’m a worthy tenant, when I’ve been renting for over 20 years already. They get to hold on to half a months wages in case I spill something.

I’ll lose my built-in wardrobe so have to decide whether to buy a cheap Ikea flat-pack now, or live with a portable rail until I’ve saved up enough to spend six times the cost to get a solid wood one. I could just add to my Ikea Kallax collection and store everything in ‘Really Useful Storage’ boxes for the foreseeable future.

By the time you read this I will have already moved in. I’ve been writing it for weeks, as I felt the changing emotions. One thing I never thought about was just how old I feel now. I cannot lift and carry as much as I used to. My lack of strength and stamina shocked me.

I’ve definitely had ‘renter’s regret’ and this has cost me more than my entire holiday fund for this year. So no trip abroad for us for the foreseeable future.

The sense of loss is worse that a break-up. I know this is the best house in the area for our budget at the time we were looking. It’s just not even close to perfect. I need to accept this and make it my home, and stop looking on RightMove at better houses that weren’t even available at the time we were looking.

I do know now that wooden floors are cold and noisy.

4. BFFs

When you move house as a kid, you automatically sever those friendships that everyone else seems to have for the rest of their lives. You’re at a disadvantage before you’ve even started.

You have no references to old crimes and local perverts. You have no idea who is world famous round here. You haven’t been to parties inside six different houses down this street. The lady in the corner shop doesn’t go to bingo with your nan. There’s no catching up with an old school friend’s mum in the big Asda, no getting a haircut from someone’s pregnant little sister, there are no funny stories about how your uncle used to go out with your friend’s mum when they were 16, and no teacher ever says they remember catching your dad smoking when they taught him here.

Whether you’re an Army brat, moving away for a fresh start, escaping from a dangerous place or reluctantly following where the work is, it is hard to start from scratch. Everyone is looking. At you. The invisibility of your old life has gone. You become the new kid, supposedly ripe easy pickings for the bullies. You want to make friends but your guard is up. You want to try new things but they are so different. They make fun of your voice. Even the water doesn’t taste like it used to.

It must be heartbreaking to watch your own child cry themselves to sleep. But you can’t go back.