The estate agent has not been responding to emails since the new year. After seven years of living in the place you now think of as home, you arrive home from a hospital appointment to find the postman standing on the doorstep with a recorded delivery letter.
“Notice to Quit”. It is, as most estate-agent-speak terms, obscure and confusing. Who’s quitting? Are they quitting the lease or is it because you have to quit the property? Either way it means leaving.
No new lease. The new owner wants to sell. He inherited over a year ago. Surely this decision has not miraculously been made just in time to give the required notice? Could they not have responded to the reasonable question, “Can I renew my lease this year?” before the eight week mark?
And then there’s the tone of the communication. The demands begin immediately. After years of ignoring the property and its desperate need for repair, you must endure a parade of intrusions: impersonal emails, valuations, multi-agency inspections, photos of your personal possessions to be posted online, viewings at inconvenient times, a queue of strangers peering and prodding and judging as you try to sort the formative years of adulthood into boxes.
Leaving this place will be sad. I grew up here, in obvious and profound ways. I survived indescribable physical pain here, while my best friendships grew out of the darkest times. I woke up unable to move in the familiar, reflected light of the public hallway. I learned how to use mobility aids in the bathroom – across which I threw my first walking stick at 3 a.m. out of frustration. I waited for months for my bathroom floor to be repaired, and was worried when I heard the workmen questioning who chose the colour and wondering if wee-Sybil-at-the-office was colourblind. The questionable electrical composition of the property taught me all I needed to know about finding a fuse box in pitch darkness. The walls have collected art brought home from all corners of the globe, from my Klimt posters from a Vienna trip the summer I moved in to a dot-painted lizard from the Australian outback. Out of necessity but later by choice I hosted our family Christmas, as we formed new traditions.
I wrote self-pityingly of the loss, of devastating blows and heartbreak. But then I discovered the farm.
When I moved to my current home, I had been left in the lurch by the same agency after they failed to produce the promised lease and explained that – oops! – they forgot to check with the owner, who was selling. I had missed the rush of new places on the market in this student area and expected to struggle. I made a wishlist (unfurnished, central, parking, solo) and thought that if I could find a place with two out of the four I should jump at the opportunity. After a couple of unpromising viewings I stumbled upon my current flat the day it was re-listed unfurnished, at a significant discount from the initial, furnished price. Realising that it was also a central 1 bedroom with parking, I viewed immediately and was able to sign a lease within a few days. It was not hard to imagine a guardian angel browsing the listings with me.
This angel deserves a raise, or at least a shiny new harp, because I have found my next non-Barbie Dream Home, for the next few months if not beyond. I will be living in a cottage on a farm, with a newly decorated interior, new bathroom, second bedroom (for hosting/writing purposes) and – hallelujah – a dishwasher. I am very close to town but I have all the country trappings, down to the sheep right outside my windows. I hope to work on my first book watching the lambs gambol down a gentle hillside. It is a step towards the next phase in my life and a place to reflect as I discern and decide where that will take me.
Yes, I will miss this flat, my first real home. This home made me. In my next house, I will do the home-making.