Stability. Settledness. A mostly predictable order to things.
It lasts about four days.
It’s the first week of my new nannied-up routine and I’m just relaxing into the roomy new shape of my week when the email arrives from the letting agent. The landlords won’t be renewing our lease in June.
It takes a while to sink in. Move? But we’ve got used to our little flat, its creaks and oddities and charms. The temperamental sink plugs, the blockage-prone toilet, the cumbersome wooden shutters and malfunctioning blinds. Showering naked in the uncurtained bathroom window, in full view of the birds and the squirrels and probably a few neighbours.
The weather’s just turned nice, the kids have made proper friends in the street and most days they’re outside climbing trees and skateboarding and practising penalty shootouts. We like the shaggy little garden, right now all spring bluebells and forget-me-nots and brilliant green growth. The French doors that we fling open to the morning sun, the birdsong and the clucking of chickens from three gardens over. The new litter of baby fox cubs who tumble and chase in the garden at dusk.
Move! It hadn’t properly occurred to us as a possibility. And now, with both boys loudly in favour of a Jan-2017 return to the motherland, finding somewhere for six months is going to be difficult.
It’s a Big Bummer. But there’s also nothing we can do about it.
I start trawling property sites, sifting through real estate spam, calling letting agents and arranging viewings. We commence a dizzying game of Fortunately, Unfortunately (Real Estate Edition). Fortunately the flat immediately next door is available and perfect. Unfortunately it’s empty and the landlords want tenants ASAP. Fortunately the rental market is so sluggish that they eventually they accept our offer to move in mid-June.
Hapless and I spend a couple of days high with relief, before we discover that unfortunately they won’t let us put in the standard six-month break clause. We check back with the boys: are you sure you need to be back for the start of the New Zealand school year? Yes, they are. Dealbreaker.
Fortunately we have a second-choice place lined up. Not ideal, but it will do.
Unfortunately our offer is declined. At this point it’s three weeks till our move day and my equilibrium about the whole rotten bad luck of the thing starts to wobble.
I shift up a gear and dash around the neighbourhood looking at places, all imperfect in different and significant ways. We’re narrowly constrained by the geography of two schools, and we badly want to maintain what outdoor freedom the boys have: a quiet street, a park close by, or both. We need it to be furnished, and we need that bloody break clause. Not asking much.
Every morning I open the blinds and see the sign advertising the vacant flat next door. Same street, same views, same sun, garden, foxes, squirrels, birdsong. I grieve for the almost-perfectness of the almost-solution. I can’t remember when I last had to leave a home I badly didn’t want to, when it’s not just part of the next adventure but an untimely uprooting. I feel – it takes me a while to identify it – sad. Anxious I’m used to, stressed, uncertain, weary – but not sad.
We set our search parameters wider: more expensive, further from the tube, across main roads. We put offers in on three places, hedging our bets. I spend a mad day hunched over my phone on footpaths and in hallways, fielding calls and emails, debating pros and cons of all these not-quite-right places with Hapless, negotiating terms with agents. We put in an offer, raise our price, wangle a later move-out date of our current place and resign ourselves to the lack of dishwasher. At last our offer is accepted and we pay the eye-watering holding deposit.
Unfortunately there’s been a misunderstanding about the break clause. We agreed six months but the agents have interpreted this as eight. Hapless and I spend another bowel-churning 45 minutes texting swearwords to each other in the corridors of our respective offices. Hapless threatens to put us all on the next plane home because it’s too fucking hard. The agent finally calls back, accepting our terms. Fortunately.
For several nervous days we await the outcome of our reference checks, feeling the shadow of last year’s bank credit drama and general financial prejudice against the self-employed. In the meantime we brace ourselves for the next round of sort, rationalise, chuck, pack. We begin wrangling another cussed inventory list and scrubbing the evidence of our children’s poor personal hygiene off every surface within five feet of the floor.
I spend a little time every day looking out the windows, much as I did when we left Hawea, soaking up the prettiness to take with me, the high leafy sky and the tangled green garden, before we swap it for subterranean bedrooms and a concrete lightwell, living space opening onto a footpath ten metres from a main road.
But that’s enough moaning. The new flat – assuming it sticks – is freshly renovated, has three – three! – bathrooms and gets a little morning sun upstairs. It’s closer to the tube, closer to the park and once across the big road, within easy reach of schools. Those compensations will help us take the next round of challenges in our stride: kitting out an almost-empty flat to an inhabitable, cookable standard; changing over all the bills and services and delivery addresses, possibly for just six months; adjusting to beds of unknown hardness.
And on some level, both Hapless and I welcome the idea of exchanging the current suburban sleepiness with a bit of urban hustle on our doorstep. Just three hundred metres and the width of the Number 4 bus route away, but also moving, in a sense, a little deeper into the heart of London.