So, this is based on a true story.
The idea snuck in one sunny summer evening, in the pub, as we relaxed after a hike with a cold beer. What if? Everything is plausible and ineffably reasonable on summer evening with the third drink in your hand. Drink is the universal lubricant for bad ideas. They slip right in amongst the camaraderie of good ideas. By the end of the evening you’re all having a laugh and you can’t tell them apart.
Now we already had a house and we quite liked it. It wasn’t even threatening to fall down. It didn’t even look like it would fall down any time soon, despite the fact that we were living in it. The neighbours didn’t indulge themselves in nocturnal seismic drum ’n’ bass. All said, it was nice house but like many nice houses it wasn’t in a terribly nice place. You can’t afford nice houses in nice places. Not unless your CV uses the term ‘oligarch’ and you think helicopter is a viable commuting option.
Now, it wasn’t one of the places that operated under a UN mandate, just one that struggled to muster much enthusiasm about itself. An area of south London where every night there was an airdrop of mattresses onto the local pavements, as though someone, somewhere (possibly Dustin Hoffman sealed in a plague-proof bubble) was worried about an outbreak of contagious narcolepsy. There were plenty of handy local amenities such as the train embankment waste-disposal facilities that accepted everything from builders’ rubble to used nappies. The opportunities to buy fried chicken were it seemed infinite. Assuming it was chicken. If the rats had been any bigger, you’d have been able to put a saddle on one and trade in your travelcard for the next new commuting phenomenon. Did you cycle? No, I ratted.
But six years in the same place. There’s an itch to be scratched. Like wearing the same underpants for too long, it’s time for change.
Ideally, once you start to entertain the idea of moving, you need to start to construct The Plan. You’re entering the territory of the adult. Even the A-Team needed their Hannibal. There’s no shortage of things you need to thinking about. You don’t just rush in like a child who’s mainlined a highball of e-numbers and processed sugar. Ideally.
It turned out we were unsure which day the Evening Standard put out its property supplement, so we decided to pick places that began with the letter B.
So, Plan B. Yes, I’m calling it that.
Beckenham, Bromley, Bickley lined up nicely. Check a map, it’s true. They line up like they’re on parade, waiting to be inspected. Stand tall, suburb, don’t slouch! We’d wandered that way and there were trees and passable pavements. You didn’t need to worry about tripping over a mattress and your fall would unlikely be broken by a fragrant pillow of dog dirt. There didn’t appear to be any al fresco mattresses. Those wanting to lie down, perhaps through a surfeit of Special Brew, had to go home. And when I say Special Brew, I mean Chablis. The squirrels seemed unrabid and houses had net curtains that didn’t look like they’d recently been used as a shroud for a decomposing corpse (the same one they’d rolled off one of the pavement mattresses). The residents did quaint and unheard of things like tax their cars. Who knew that was even necessary? I thought those yellow DVLA clamps were accessories from Halfords.
Plan B was necessarily vague because we don’t do plans. And we were just looking. Reconnoitring. We weren’t even committing to be noncommittal. It was like poking a dead rat with a long stick to check it was dead. We’d go look around, take in the lay of the land, look in a few agency windows, perhaps sign up with a few estate agents. It can’t hurt to ask. Can it?
A note on suburbia
Much derided, I know. But once you’ve lived in a house, you cannot compress yourself back into a flat. It’s become too late, like a middle-aged serial frequenter of train station ‘award winning’ pasty franchises you’re not going to fit back into those teenage Levis. You’ll be lucky to fit through Gregg’s doorway. That contemporary lateral living space off Kingsland Road? It’s less cool when you are sandwiched between the drum, the bass, and staccato percussion of your neighbours upstairs fucking. Plus they’re doing a better job of it than you and if you can hear their boisterous attempts, they can hear yours. They’ve probably been judging your performance on Twitter. You’re no Animal.
In the suburbs, of course, no one cares about your sexual inadequacies.
But I also like living in a house with a garden where the squirrels aren’t tooled up and looking for iPhones. As I’ve not yet managed to think of a plan that will net me several million pounds and doesn’t involve a spell pleasuring Her Majesty and a large extravagantly tattooed man called Barry, that means I’m effectively banished to the hinterlands beyond zone 3.