chance of happiness

Moving property is an epic headache. It involves a ton of faffing, an almost insurmountable swell of administration, packing, boxes to carry, payments to make, contractors to organise. Even if there are two of you sharing the load, it’s still possible to shrink and crumble.

When you finally get into a new property there’s an equal bulk of stuff to sort out, boxes to unpack, providers to arrange. We found a house in reasonably good condition, not requiring much by way of immediate work. “Well-appointed” is a term I recently learned. Still though, there are things that aren’t ideal, stuff that cannot be fixed or remedied quickly. The missing door of that otherwise nice enough wardrobe, that rotten slat of wooden decking, the decaying corner of a shed. That large tree in our garden is some responsibility. Is it ok? What if it blows over into our neighbours’ garden? What if its roots screw something up?

Amidst all those fears, anxieties and neuroses are unusual sudden zings of excitement, prickles of, of… could it be, happiness? Some moments you feel yourself involuntarily smiling at things, your new life, all the possible futures. This conservatory is awesome! I feel distinctly middle-aged about feeling that, but I have a great view of some distant trees and fields and do not care.

You will always have worries about work and business and finances. Only a privileged few people don’t have those worries. But this place might be your anchor. This place might be great. This place might really be home. You snort an empowering sense of hope, a fleeting bubbling thrill about what happens next.

Until you remember the wider world and all its Brexshit, the economy and business and mortgage repayments. You must stave that off.

It’s not like there was unconfined misery back in our small city flat. It was a home of sorts, comfy enough, if extremely loud with bustling banging clattering shagging neighbours, and it never quite felt grown-up like this does. This feels frighteningly grown-up.

You look at all the new rooms and wonder what domestic scenes will play out in them. We plan to stick around here for a while.

Where will we have our first big argument? Might we keep a dog in this part? Conceive a child here? Have a heart attack there? Agree to divorce over there? Learn about the death of someone in that corner? Will she bury parts of my mutilated corpse under here? (Could explain her slightly excessive interest in life insurance).

Another zing flowered up the other day, exploring our new neighbourhood and finding all the paths and tracks through woods and fields, right on our doorstep. There are chunky sizable walks to be taken. Although we’re not based far from a constantly droning artery into the city, there is definite breathing space. You can easily distance yourself from the clutter of urbanity and domesticity. Relative tranquillity is a short wander away.  A walkable affluent village is pretty, the pub appears incredibly inviting, old, wise and characterful.

Of course there’s plenty to do here in the house, things to fix, decking to creosote, furniture to varnish, intensely boring grown-up things, people to contact and contract, assurances and insurances to get. But still, it feels like there’s a chance of happiness. At least until Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin use the UK as a nuclear frontline.

Chance of Unhappiness

*Scribbled a week on.

There’s a chance of unhappiness too. You can suddenly be struck with the fearful what ifs.

What if this doesn’t all work out? This house, this home, our relationship.  It’s taking quite a while to really feel like home. It still doesn’t feel like our home. It’s still echoey and a bit empty and not ours. It’s still like a rented holiday home.

We still don’t have curtains there, a door there. It doesn’t feel as cosy as our flat. Is there too much space?

Why are we so fractious with each other? Is this where we will end as a couple? Where our marriage slowly disintegrates? We were ok in the flat but here everything seems a bit clunkier, fumbling and awkward, new and unsettling.  Our relationship was born and steadily grew in the flat. The flat was our womb. It was all natural and intuitive, there was a comfort to be had in everything being temporary. Here, we’ve displaced it by taking a jump to something different: real, grown-up permanent life. We are anxiously kicking and screaming.

Under observation

You feel a strange pressure as a couple, relatively newly wedded and now mortgaged. You feel observed by people, casual figures of amusement, even if you’re not at all because everyone is busy living their own lives. You imagine them excitedly thinking: what’s next?! Because there’s this screamingly obvious script of convention that says we must have babies soon.

Look at the world right now though. It’s fucking horrible and appears to only be getting worse. Look at all the hate and division and racism and powerful idiots and the economy and finances and wages and living costs and childcare prices and university fees.

On a more personal level you’re weighted by a compelling body of evidence suggesting your fragile infant bubble of domesticity might just fail. It regularly happens with marriage. Statistics bear it out. We will try really hard to make sure it doesn’t but who can ever know what life will be like two, ten or twenty years down the line? We might be dead of obscure diseases or nuclear war.

Building a home takes work and time, yes. Potentially rewarding in the long term. But there’s a real fear that it could go to shit if we’re not careful, if work doesn’t pick up soon and my cash ebbs away and I get increasingly stressed and worried, impatient and snappy, if we never find a replacement wardrobe door and the living room always feels a bit too spacey.

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removal

Ambling down the main high street with open and sober eyes for the first time in a long time, I noted all the shop changes: the ubiquitous supermarket chains which had ceded banks in ornate corner buildings, the prime-located bar properties with boarded up windows, providing only an advertising platform for other entertainment, ongoing pedestrianisation construction work which was making an eyesore of one area.  Not much of it was pretty.

It was that dead time shortly after most office workers’ home time and before any revellers hit the town; human traffic was sparse and fleeting.  I turned right at the end of the road, past the castle and onto the main pedestrianised shopping street.  I glanced into travel agents at managers’ specials, yearning for heat, a break before starting this whole thing properly.

But it had started properly already.  I was all moved-in now and had finally completed my construction of Ikea furniture.  Hours and hours of sweat and strain and swearing.  It wasn’t all seamless but it stood up, didn’t buckle or collapse with its contents.  Or hadn’t yet.  Standing back to admire the books I’d placed on a newly assembled bookcase felt like a watershed adult moment: arrival of a kind.  Thirty years old in a few months.  Now I felt it, but suddenly it wasn’t all that bad.

I had moved myself from one capital to another, single-handed in one day, which wasn’t easy.    Much lifting and carrying led to the aching of muscles I was unaware I had and bleary after four separate three-hour drives.

The final journey from London to Cardiff was miserable.  Having cleaned, cleared and packed up my small flat, I looked back at its dark emptiness, still not wanting to go, and slumped onto my old small sofa one last time.  Much as I liked my new flat, its space and size and reasonable location, I liked London better than Cardiff.  It had more; more everything.  Things could have been different here if..  Too many ifs.  Things weren’t different.  I stood from the sofa and left the flat: 10.30pm on Saturday evening.  Trundling my way through West London towards the motorway I saw people done-up for their Saturday nights, young bottle blonde girls exhibiting a little too much flesh, a swaggering hopeful teen.  Traffic headlights blotched and blurred through watery eyes and mournful acoustic singer-songwriters whined: songs about endings, change, new starts.

*

I wandered on down the pedestrianised shopping street early yesterday evening, conscious of my headphones.  Their lurid blue and different design felt more ostentatious here, somehow.  I was paranoid and inaccurately exaggerating the parochialism of the place.  They probably did sell them here too.  They had chain shops and the internet; it was developed.  It just wasn’t London.  Less had changed on this street and the same stores had largely remained.

Did I want to sit down and have a pint?  I had an enjoyable book, the weather was overcast but perfectly ok to sit outside for half an hour.  Pints were cheaper here.  I shunned a rough Wetherspoons for a classier looking bar I half remembered.  For a second I considered the possibility of bumping into someone I knew from my time here before leaving five years ago.  Come on, it’s not THAT small a city, I dismissed myself and the idea.  The chance was slim.

The first section of the bar was practically dead, but for a table of young female office workers.  I glanced around a pillar as I approached the bar and saw a table of two guys my own age.  Our eyes connected and held.  We’d worked across a desk from each other for four months about seven years ago and hadn’t kept in touch.  Never matey, I always felt he didn’t like me but was never sure if he exuded that to most other guys; only a year older, there was a certain superior aloofness which was never quite aggressive enough to be arrogance.  It’s possible that he was threatened somehow, despite, or even because we were similar, with similar interests and skillsets, perhaps characters too.

For a second I dithered after saying hello, explaining my newbie situation.  He gave his own appraisal then said he had a similar pair of headphones to those which hung round my neck, except his were the next grade up.

Still a tosser then?  No, he didn’t say it in that one-upmanship way.  He was all right.

Was he all right?  Or was he a tosser?  I never had worked it out.

Did I want to impose anyway?  Yeah, go on, he’s probably decent enough really, maybe matured a bit, smart enough guy.  If he thinks I’m a tosser it doesn’t matter as I’ll probably never see him again anyway.  Steady on.  Smaller town, remember?  You can’t apply that as readily here as you could in London.

Ah, bollocks.

“Dyou mind if I join you?”  For a line which often requires a degree of boldness, it can also be difficult to say no to that: as if it contains its own inherently respectable power.  They affably agreed, moved their bags to make space, declined the offer of a drink and I got a pint.

I only stayed half an hour, a weak pint of bitter’s length.  We spoke of the university administration where he worked; public and private sector differences, careers, the directions our lives had taken over the last seven years.

He looked at his phone and said he should be going soon.  Keen not to encroach any further on their time, I gulped the last mouthful of bitter down the wrong pipe, obstructing the smoothness of my departure and damaging the up until then credible social performance I’d given.  Now momentarily reddened and spluttery, I shook hands and gave the business cards requested, donned my outdated headphones and found a new way home.

Putting things in boxes

“Do you have a box, Patrick?” the Headmaster of our village primary school asked my friend at the beginning of assembly.  Even aged 10 or somewhere around there, I was tickled by Sir’s banal question and stifled a giggle. I strangely loved Sir’s inanities at these cosy assemblies.

The memory returned as I was retrieving cardboard boxes from the eaves of the building in preparation for my move: large sturdy boxes capable of transporting books and pictures, imprinted with the names of obscure independent grocers who couldn’t possibly still exist in these recessionary times.

boxes

I pulled the brown cardboard nest through the small hatch and into the attic bedroom of my flat, increasingly populated with boxes, plastic bags, miscellaneous tins, probable junk, suitcases, smaller bags and strewn clothing.  And I’ve continued to mull it as I’ve gone about counting down the last things – the last time I’ll do this or go there, and regretting the things I’ve missed, forgotten or never got round to doing.

There’s a broader need for boxes.  When certain real-life chapters end and begin it’s difficult to perceive them in a segregated, neatly ordered way.  It’s more natural to feel it as one linear chain of indigestible noise – which is how we experience it at the time.

“Life is just one damned thing after another.”
Elbert Hubbard US author (1856 – 1915)

It’s hard to compartmentalise, box up experience and place it to one side; to neatly shelve times, places and people before taking a deep breath and another step forward, having another go.  Although this is what we tell ourselves we must do, particularly if recent experience is unsavoury and not one we’d wish to replay.  Put it behind you, move on.

It’s possible that ability to segregate comes with greater age and even more retrospection.  (I could read this in thirty years and think: oh yes, my blogging period, what a prick).

But amidst change, relatively young adulthood and eighteen-month hops of experience, memory doesn’t tend to have fixed borders.  It segues to and fro, slopping dangerously over the sides, ignoring our laughably empty pleas: we’ve changed, we’re different now, we have moved on, that’s all in the past.

We try because it’s human instinct: self-preservation through self-image, to feel as if we’re developing, evolving, learning and growing through the experience of change.  Not simply making one clumsy guess after another.

This wasn’t really what our Headmaster was driving at though, even in a primary school simplified manner.  He just wanted to talk about boxes.

“Um, probably Sir,” Patrick said.

struggling with direction

With a move-in date a few weeks away and notice given on my current flat, now I’m unsure about the move.

I’ve been quite enjoying London in the summer – it feels bigger and more full of chance than in the winter months.  Things like this can happen (I never saw or heard from any of them again).  Added to which – and it could easily be nothing at all, something I’ll feel silly about in a month – but there are two thin shards of recently developed female hope.

One of these was a young lady with whom I reasserted my status as King Fuckwit.  Her bossy friend led us up the road to impatiently wait on the station steps, wanting them to hurry down onto the platform for the last train.   We walked slowly, pausing deliberately, in no stress about potentially missing her last train, talking nonsense about seasoning biscuits.  She clearly didn’t want to go, and was aware that I didn’t live far away.  It only needed a suggestion on my part that we could go… to mine, we could have childishly run away, around a block, out of sight of her friend.  She was drunk, but perhaps not THAT drunk, and totally persuadable.  That is, persuadable for any regular man with a grain of self-belief in matters of being direct.

She had at least served to quell the over-replayed memory of another female from twenty four hours earlier.  It may have even been memories from the previous evening which hamstrung me into fuckwittage.  They did flicker through my brain as we walked up towards the station.

But she was really nice last night … but then, she’s nice here too, but then..

Don’t be an idiot! You have no obligation towards the girl from last night AT ALL.  Just as she doesn’t to you, and probably instantly forgot you.  You’re simply using it as an excuse to be a gutless little twerp here and now, aren’t you?!

Fnerr!  Why is everything so HARD?! I whined in my head.

Because you make it hard, fool.

I sensed the inevitable: that I was about to screw this up and let her make her train without proposing that we run away.  I gave her a card and messages have since been exchanged, but still, the immediate opportunity is difficult not to rue.

The night before had been a blind(ish) date.  I didn’t figure myself to be her usual type (she seemed to be the kind of girl to have ‘types,’ often narrowing her eyes as if comparing me to an imagined other), and although I certainly warmed to her, I suspected she was out of my league.  The evening had ended with the discovery that my laptop and camera had been stolen from my case, irrecoverably denting an amiable, maybe faintly flirtatious atmosphere that had developed.  (She had briefly played with my hair.  Girls don’t usually do that if they’re repulsed by you, right?)   As well as the sickening violation and huge inconvenience of the theft, neither loss was without sentimental attachment: both devices had done some miles with me and contained a considerable amount of personal data.  It was as if somebody had suddenly punched me in the guts and pulled off my penis.

*

Even slender shards of female hope don’t appear too often.  And notwithstanding females, I’ve been newly unsure of the move: wondering if it’s a cowardly retreat to a smaller scale and a place of proportionately reduced opportunity, albeit an improvement in living space.  It’s possible I’ve had too much time to mull it over, what with the previous aborted move.

I could cancel or postpone the move, lose a hundred quid deposit, surprise and annoy a few people, retract my notice here.

A friend asked: if something were to be engineered on the female front, would a brief thing, or a six week to six month dalliance be worth it?  I replied yes.  I’m essentially a sad lonely fool and moving won’t change this.  But it’s most likely immaterial.  It would come as no surprise if both shards fizzled by Friday.

wavering

The idea of moving suddenly seems a bigger deal.  I’ve grown to like betweenyness.  Limbo is good; it suits me.  That added spice of injustice too, being embattled: it fits my angst like an England World Cup exit.

There’s even more possibility and opportunity when you’re in between, neither coming or going knowing or being massively certain, and only sporadically caring.

ANYTHING could happen.  Not that it does.  The idea that it could is almost enough.

Almost.  Because it’s equally tiring.  At times you want to give yourself a good shake and tell yourself to grow up, get direction, be all assertive and adult-like.  Plant two feet firmly on the ground and.. and.. 

And what?

I don’t know: keep on doing whatever it is that you’ve been doing anyway.

So, just remind me: what’s the point in moving again?

Well, there was old mates and stuff too.

Don’t look at me like that, subconscious.  How can you look at me like anything?

FUCK OFF!  Leave me alone, I made my mind up!

Change it if you want, nothing’s set in stone.  It’s only you.

No, really.  Fuck off now, subconscious, I’m doing it.

Going back, hitting the M4 once more and flathunting again: it feels scarier.  The idea of signing a contract, albeit only a short-term tenancy agreement, it’s more of a commitment than the first time: a distance that’s been stretched by a longer time thinking about it – my removal; and stretched by liking London in the summer, by feeling its richness, scale and people even more.  It’s ok here actually.  Upheaval makes me newly nervous, unsure.  My living circumstances aren’t ideal, but they’re not terrible.  If I could just find a little better around here then..

A little better doesn’t come cheaply though.  A little better than this costs lots more.  That’s a key reason why you decided to move, doofus, remember?

Oh yes.   And ANYTHING could happen anywhere else too, remember?

But this is less easy to accept.  Opportunities and possibilities must surely be proportional with scale, size and number.  Mustn’t they?  Does a smaller place with fewer people offer quite as much?

It’s not with massive conviction that I’ll return and potentially sign up to rent a new property, notwithstanding being conned by an unscrupulous landlord again.  Yet it’s seldom with massive conviction that I do anything: I guess and hope and leap.