Toaster jug iron vacuum cleaner laundry basket laundry rack towels duvet inners x3 fitted sheets x3 duvet covers x2+ pillows x2 pillowcases mattress protectors mirror coat hangers kitchen bin bucket broom bedside lamp oven mitt tea towels dish rack dinner set cutlery set mugs water glasses salad bowl pasta pot frying pan grater potato peeler colander bread knife paring knife scissors bottle opener tin opener chopping board pepper grinder bread tin roasting tin baking sheet wooden spoons serving spoon fish slice ladle tongs masher.
We manage about half of it on the first trip to Ikea. We get in and out in under four hours, which includes lunch (though not the hour on the bus there), and we only lose one child once, for half an hour. Some of it’s even kind of fun: choosing a dinner set, choosing bed linen, sending Firstborn into hysterical shrieks by allowing his brother to choose the ‘fugly’ oven mitt.
Do without? Dishwasher, wine glasses, casserole dish, lasagne dish, ironing board, laundry hamper, rubbish bins, measuring jug, storage jars, kitchen clock, desk, chair, rugs, doormat, bar stools, kitchen whiteboard? We’ll need another trip once we’re in the flat itself and have worked out how essential the missing infrastructure is.
At checkout we have our frying pan and shaving mirror confiscated because we’ve accidentally picked up the display models and the barcoded ones are 20 minutes of labyrinthine Scandinavian merchandising cunning back the way we came. The unhelpful lady removes them from our order and we resign ourselves to stir fry-flavoured French toast cooked in the wok.
The whole purchase is supposed to go on the credit card but I’m so distracted shovelling armfuls of household miscellany into huge blue plastic carriers and trying to stop the boys catastrophically helping with the crockery that I leave without paying. I sail off to summon an Uber, manoeuvring two excitable boys and two laden trolleys before me, glaring over my shoulder at the checkout operator and restless Saturday-afternoon queue, who are all staring at me with an air of inexplicable expectation. Hapless, apologetic in my wake, says a little prayer and puts it on the debit card because he doesn’t know the PIN for his credit card.
The next day our first big packing blitz coincides with the temporary appearance of summer. The experience is all too familiar, sweltering over boxes while the sounds and smells of other people’s barbecues and outside beers and kids shrieking under hoses remind us what we’re missing. It’s what happened last January, and the January before and the January before that. In six months’ time we’ll be doing it again in reverse.
“You know that it’s summer so it counts as another fucking January move,” says Hapless, shirtless and sweating, heaving another load of boxes in from the shed. I straddle another box and squeeze it closed with my knees while Hapless picks at the end of the packing tape.
This is the soundtrack to my midlife crisis: the screech and snap of packing tape, the hollowish thump of cardboard boxes in assorted states of fullness. We manhandle and curse another couch down another set of stairs, fill bags for charity and rag collections, chuck pairs of sneakers that are filthy beyond redemption. My hands are chapped from dust and grazed from box flaps, my back creaky and twanging from too much bending.
“But if this is the worst thing that happens on this adventure, we’re doing okay,” says Hapless, and he’s right. It’s only a superficial layer of detritus we have to sort through this time; we haven’t had a chance to gather much moss. The worst bit is having to return the flat to the way we found it: furniture in all the wrong places, boxes of grimy unloved kitchen stuff excavated from the garden shed and piled back into the cupboards. I don’t even bother with the 50-page inventory. If anyone wants to nitpick about the four Tupperware tubs missing lids and the two lids missing tubs, bring it on.
Well before moving day I stop grieving for this place, this street, this chapter of the story. The flat is no longer our home, stripped of its non-essentials, already accumulating the half-full boxes and muddled piles of a move in progress. My head is already in the next adventure, despite the fact it will take place in a limboland of compromise and indoor camping. After a week of no wi-fi when BT over-zealously disconnects us a week too early, we take the news that the new flat is copper only (would no broadband have been a dealbreaker if we hadn’t already forked over £6K?) more or less in our stride.
It’s absolutely not what I would have chosen here and now, but part of me has always liked this process, the unpeeling of the layer of self from the place where it has temporarily stuck. The final phase when you can at last indulge your annoyance at the things that madden you about a place: the stupid splattery kitchen sink, the rank front path crowded with other people’s horrible bins. This bloody clothes rack will never crunch shut on my knuckles again.
And then there are all the little daily buzzes of a new place: a different route home, a different nearest bus stop, a different corner shop. The tiny new routines and patterns of movement through the house, the unfamiliar fall of light, the unique palette of smell and sensation that saturates each place and time-stamps itself in my memory. Every new place offers up its own little surprises, a fresh set of quirks and foibles and nuisances mitigated at first by novelty, and then simply familiar, and then it’s time to move again and you can let the little irritations surface…
Between 1991 and 2003 I moved on average once a year. The last eight of those moves Hapless and I made together. The flat we bought in Balham was the first place I’d lived for more than a year since I was sixteen. Before that were perhaps four years spent in one house, though for three of those I was private boarding for part of each year: shuttling back and forth between Papakura and three different homestays in Auckland, three nights a week at home and four living out of a backpack in town, like a shared-custody child with parents at only one end of the transaction. Seven schools in nine years, eight if you count correspondence schooling. Thirty-plus years learning to be resilient and unsentimental and used to never properly belonging anywhere. No wonder I was itchy by 2012.
And now Corinne Road. On our second to last day we set the alarm early, feed and dress ourselves for school and work, empty and unplug the fridge, stack everything we own in this hemisphere in a corner of the kitchen and yield the place up to the mandatory cleaners.
The boys traipse through the empty flat saying their goodbyes. After a hasty family selfie on the front step, we head off into our four separate days. We’ve confiscated the kids’ keys and briefed the nanny to take them somewhere – anywhere – for the afternoon. They’re far too unhygienic to be allowed back into the flat after the cleaners, so are kindly taken in by the neighbours for the night. Tonight Hapless and I will sleep one last night in the bleached echoing spaces of someone else’s flat. And tomorrow, it’s moving day.