Breakable Girls and Boys

I think a lot these days.

People tell me things, and I listen, and then I take them with me, their sentences, their stories, and grow them into thoughts that need constant rethinking, thoughts that end up keeping me awake at night.

I feel more alert than ever.

At times I catch my reflection in a computer screen or a random shop window, and I’m surprised that my eyes aren’t three times wider than usual, that my pores aren’t visibly open into little black holes, that I’ve still got membranes keeping the outside world at bay. Because lately I’ve been feeling like I’m breathing everything in, with all my senses, painfully gulping every sound and every idea and every speck of light, until I’ll have swallowed the entire world and everybody in it, and then what.

I doubt this makes much sense.

The other day, a friend told me she didn’t have anything left to live for.

We’d been chatting on Skype for a while, about our plans for Christmas and my recent adventurous furniture shopping sessions, when these sentences suddenly started filling the screen, these frightening sentences threatening to drip onto my desk and my keyboard, stain the carpet and sip through into the guts of the earth. So I had no choice but to swallow them up. And here she is now, carrying her unhappiness back and forth inside me. She’s lost, she whispers constantly in my ear. She can’t think of anything, not one thing that would make her happy, she says. She gets home after work sometimes and just sits there. Just sits there, you know? No book, no TV, not a light on, until it’s time to go to bed. She knows something is wrong and then sometimes, she doesn’t. Because who knows, perhaps this is it. Her life from now on. A new phase. Something that can’t be helped.

I think a lot these days.

It’s not easy.

Yesterday morning I jumped out of bed troubled by the unexpected peace and quiet. 8:45 and I started yelling at V to get up already, I’d be in such big trouble, and just as my contract is up for extension, why was he looking at me like that, let’s go!

It’s Saturday, he said, as I kept slamming drawers and trying to squeeze into a pair of jeans. I don’t care it’s Saturday, we need to get a move on!

Hey, it’s Saturday, he said again, and smiled. I sank to the floor and almost cried, jeans tangled around my ankles. It’s too much, I said, and he must have thought I was talking about work. But I meant all this thinking. It’s getting to me.

And it scares me how we’re nothing but other people’s memories in the making. Such responsibility, isn’t it, to grow into someone’s good memory. Such hard work it takes.

How to Break a Human

What follows is a slightly longer entry on my buying-a-home-in-London drama. If it’s not your cup of tea I won’t mind if you skip it.


Once upon a time

About two years ago, V and I decided to buy a place in London. We’d saved a bit of money, we both had good, stable jobs, and we were planning to start a family. It seemed like the natural thing to do.

We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I mean, this is London we’re talking about.

We knew there were lots of boxes to tick (affordable, nice safe neighborhood, feasible commute to work) and plenty of compromises to make.

We knew we’d be fighting endless bidding wars with dozens of other prospective buyers and that we’d end up paying more than we were prepared to.

We knew it would take forever to find a place, because there simply aren’t that many places, and we can’t possibly do viewings 24/7, what with life needing to be lived as well.

So in many ways, we were terrified. But then, this would be our home, our first, wonderful home together, and we were ready to go through whatever it took to get it.

In with the new

To begin with, we started looking at newly built properties. Mainly because we were hoping to find something that didn’t need a lot of work done, what with us being pretty much penniless once we’d pay the deposit, and determined to start trying for kids straight away.  So new builds seemed to check those boxes from the get-go.

Remember when I said there weren’t many properties for sale in London? Well, out of that handful of places which are for sale, only a fraction of about 2% are newly built.

Most people might find that off-putting, but no, not me. For more than seven months, I spent every lunch break, tube ride and free moment I had searching the guts of the internet for brand new, expensive as hell, super duper London flats and houses. I began stalking the building companies, phoning them at all hours and dropping by their show homes every weekend, trying to get my name on waiting lists and waving my mortgage agreement at them like a victory flag. See? They’re giving me money! And I’m ready to throw it all at you in a flash, this mountain of money I’ll be paying back for decades, just stay the word and it’s yours.

But everybody can get a mortgage these days, I was nothing special. So I got myself on a million waiting lists, and waited, my crumpled mortgage agreement forgotten at the back of a drawer.

When a newly built development gets launched, they first let the investors know. That happens weeks, months before everything is released for sale to people like me, the waiting list losers. Investors get the first pick, usually pick the best places, and usually pay cash. At that point, the development may not even be built, just a bunch of flags on a muddy patch of land and a tiny sales office.

It’s with the investors’ money that the first building phases get funded, and by the time us waiting list losers learn the properties are available to buy, most of them have already been purchased off plan, by cash paying investors or the building company’s friends and relatives. Fair enough, I mean, more than half the people I know in this city are looking to buy a place. If I were a builder, and had houses on sale, I’d be nice and let my friends know first, right? Anyhow.

By the time the rest of us, who cannot fork out half a million pounds in cash overnight and are not related to any of the sellers, finally get the green light, there’s a couple hundred people fighting to the death over half a dozen houses or flats. It’s supposed to work on a first come first served basis but really, when there’s three things on offer and three hundred people each wanting a piece, there’s no such thing as first come first served, is there.

Bliss

When we finally found a flat we liked, we were on top of the world. It had been 9 months of searching, waiting and growing bitter.

And then there was this flat, in an area we liked, and there were only two left in the building, and who cared it was £50,000 more expensive than we were prepared to spend, and that it was on the top floor and not newly built per se but in a converted office building, and pretty much glued to the rail line with trains passing by your window every half hour? I mean, who cared, really? It was huge, we’d finally have a proper nursery and, humanity!, a study! We’d be able to ride our bikes around the living room if we wanted to, and more importantly, we didn’t need to be getting ourselves on any waiting lists, we could just decide, then and there, pay our £2,000 reservation fee and that was that, three months later we’d be moving into our new home.

So we did, pay that fee I mean, and for a while, we were happy.

Woe

You know how you get a letter in the mail, from the company selling you your new flat, and you think, yay-oh-yay, it’s probably time we went and picked out tiling and carpeting, it’s finally happening tripple-yay, and then you open it and you find your £2,000 check and a three line letter saying they’re no longer selling the building for reasons they can’t disclose, and here’s your money and bye bye. And then you go online and you find out they’re bastards and are not selling because they’re waiting for the market to pick up so that they sell for more profit.

What, that’s never happened to you? Oh well, let me tell you then. It sucks.

It sucks so much that you want to go by their sales office and make a Romanian swear-words scene, but you don’t, because they really don’t need more stuff about nasty Romanians in the Daily Mail, and you get it, you can’t make anyone sell you their stuff if they don’t want to, but somehow that doesn’t make it suck any less.

Not old, vintage

It was at that point that we started looking at old houses and flats as well.

Maybe new wasn’t for us. Clearly we weren’t agile, sneaky, rich and tough enough to win this fight against sellers, investors and hundreds of equally desperate unfortunates. So extending our house hunting targets to include older builds couldn’t hurt, right?

Right.

Shopping for older builds in London works like this: You spend each and every afternoon and weekend going to viewings and open houses. You book a time slot, which contrary to what you may think, does not ensure you’ll be viewing the property at your own pace for 10 or so minutes. Nope, there will be 12 of you booked into the same 15 minutes time slot and you’ll be bumping into each other down narrow corridors and stair cases, you won’t get to ask many questions and you’ll never get to see a room twice. You’ll not get to see the property twice either, mainly because by the time you’ve made your way from the door to the parking lot, there’s already half a dozen offers on the table and the bidding process is well on its way.

Oh, the bidding. It truly is a thing of wonder.

You get about 6 seconds or so to come to a decision and put in an offer. Once you do that, the estate agents will, without fail, call you back and tell you that your offer has been matched and that you need to come back with your best offer. Your offer will always be matched, it’s a fact of life in the property market. I’m more sure that your offer will be matched than of the fact that the sun will be up tomorrow as well, just like today, all round and shiny and bad for your skin.

You will never, at any point, even if you win the bidding process, get any details about the other bids, or any confirmation that they even existed. It’s a trusting game, this bidding business, what’s not to like about it.

Of course, we’ve lost this game more times than I can count.

And it’s hard to believe how this process has changed us. We’d devised this set of rules on which to base our decisions, and those rules evolved from what we thought was common sense to begin with, to absolute insanity towards the end.

“You don’t like the place? Don’t buy it!” became more of a “You don’t like the place? Has it got a roof/walls/survivable amounts of asbestos? Bid £60,000 over the asking price!”

“You don’t like the area? Don’t buy it!” turned into “Only got raped once on your way to the viewing? Lovely area, you’ll fit right in!”

And let’s not forget, “Is it too expensive? Don’t buy it!” of course became “No such thing as too expensive, this is crazy town London!”

The one

And then, one day, we found it.

Our home.

A beautiful two bedroom flat, light and airy, freshly redone and on the most adorable street. We clicked with the vendor straight away, and made an offer the same afternoon. We did go through the bidding war through the estate agency again, but the vendor had really liked us and intervened and in the end, we managed to get the place for a price we were both very comfortable with. Still £20,000 over the asking price, but hey, who’s counting.

Boy, were we happy.

Everything started happening really quickly. We hired a property surveyor, and everything was fine. Our solicitor initiated the land registry searches, and everything was fine. Our bank came back with our final mortgage offer, and everything was fine. It seemed we were days away from exchanging contracts and moving in, and everything, absolutely everything, was fine. We even gave our two months notice at our place and I started hoarding decorating ideas on Pinterest and walking up and down furniture aisles on lunch break, mentally placing tables and chairs around what would soon be our very own, absolutely beautiful living room.

When we hit the first bump, I didn’t even notice. I was too happy picking fabrics and organizing my everything in labeled cardboard boxes. And then my solicitor started calling me frantically every ten minutes and it hit me: maybe everything wasn’t fine after all.

There’s this lovely thing called property lease. Without going into too much detail, our vintage flat’s lease had been written out 30 odd years ago. Since then, things like legal terms and such had been updated, and this exciting little paper called a deed of variation needed to be made now, in order to cover all those out of date lease issues. Sounds simple enough, right?

Here’s a short summary of how things unfolded.

Week 1: Vendor’s solicitors say they are unable to sort out the deed. (lie)

Week 2: Vendor’s solicitors say the building’s managing company refuse to sign the deed. (lie, they had never mentioned the deed to the managing company, in fact, had never been in contact with them altogether)

Week 3: Vendor’s solicitors say the building’s insurer refuse to sign the deed. (lie, they signed straight away once we contacted them directly)

Week 4: Vendor’s solicitors say everyone is happy with the deed and that they will come back to us with the final document asap. (lie)

Week 5: Vendor’s solicitors don’t pick up or return calls for an entire week.

Week 6: I transfer most of my savings into my solicitor’s account to prepare for contract exchange. In less than 2 weeks we need to leave our current flat with nowhere else to go. The deed of variation is finally signed by all parties but the building’s managing company, who refuse to sign it and then go on holiday.

This brings us to present time. We are ten days away from involuntary homelessness. Six days really, because weekends don’t count. Nothing can happen over a weekend that can save us. But things do happen, even on weekends, things that make me go crazy with worry and hopelessness.

I’ve been packing everything with such fervor that I’ve got paper cuts up to my elbows and touching the sticky part of so many yards of packing tape has turned my fingertips raw and unfit for typing. I dream about bubble wrap, but really it’s all part of this bigger dream in which we’ve got nowhere to go and all we’ve got is mountains of labeled boxes and bubbles everywhere. I’ve lost eight pounds in ten days, which would be great, really, had I intended to lose eight pounds in ten days.

Then earlier this week I was frantically looking for some paperwork to fill in for our solicitor. It was urgent, like all things are these days, and I was sure I’d seen it somewhere, so I turned our living room upside down, I even opened some of the boxes I’d taped just the night before, I checked under the armchair pillows, behind the few books still on shelves, even in the oven, I drove to my office to check my locker and then drove back going over every possible hiding place in my mind, raided the bedroom and the insides of every bag, backpack and suitcase in sight, and hours, hours later I finally sank to the floor and sobbed, really sobbed for twenty minutes or so, all the while aware that I was losing my mind. I’d never had those papers, I realized. They’d always been in an email, never printed out.

And yes, I know. There are so many much worse things people are going through these days. Trust me, I know. In fact, it’s probably the only thought that keeps me somewhat sane right now. But I’m struggling, and it’s the kind of struggling that not only was I not prepared for, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to end any time soon.

So this is it, my home hunting adventure so far. For what it’s worth, we’ll hopefully know something by tomorrow, and then I’ll be embarking on my homeless adventure, which I’m sure will be super duper blogging material as well. So at least there’s that. The glass may be half empty, but at least there’s a glass. Until there isn’t one, because it’ll have to be wrapped in bubbles and put into storage.

Specimen Days

I haven’t been writing lately.

There’s little on my mind these days besides floor plans, viewing appointments and mortgage interest rates, so you can imagine I’m no fun to be around. And I figured I’d spare you from what would certainly have become this embarrassing affair where I feel sorry for myself for sixteen posts in a row, and you force yourselves to read on because, oh well, because you’re nice people and you want to fell sorry for me too. But then you inevitably end up utterly sick of me and my endless moaning, and a painful, final virtual breakup ensues.

I can almost hear you, you know. So what if I can’t find/afford a home? Is it really the end of the world? I mean, I can afford rent, can’t I? I can afford soap. Socks. Barbeque flavoured Pringles. It’s high time I put a stop to all the whining and get back to living, even if it looks like I’ll be forever doing it in this tiny dollhouse flat with its tiny dollhouse windows and its tiny dollhouse fridge, and its horrendous, dollhouse zebra patterned rug the previous tenant left behind that I’ve yet to throw out, three years later, because I’m crazy cheap and my feet are always cold.

Anyway. This is about as much as I’ll be writing on the matter of house hunting apocalypse and how I’m really not built for dollhouses (still haven’t lost those darn five pounds!) for now. Instead, I’ll be trying my best to get myself back into a property fever free, functional shape.

What this means these days is that I’m doing a lot of things you normally wouldn’t have caught me dead doing before. I might just be going through a two-months-til-thirty life crisis, so don’t be surprised if you soon hear I’ve spent my house budget on a strawberry pink boat called The Blushing Mermaid. Or a couple of boob jobs.

Until then, I tackle my existential complications by ditching the company bus in the evenings and walking the streets home until I’m half frozen and on the verge of collapse, drowning myself in brain numbing housework, attempting to make friends (Something is definitely wrong with me, I tell you!), and baking.

I know, baking? Me? The world must really be coming to an end.

I mean, take yesterday for instance. With V. out for the evening playing tennis into the night, the plan was to cover my face in a muddy goo meant to restore my former radiating beauty, down half a bottle of wine (I refuse to believe wine and dieting exclude each other; may be why I haven’t lost the infamous five pounds yet but who cares! ), and lie in the tub for an hour, waiting for my skin to wrinkle the worries away. But then I figured that, despite my best intentions and significant amounts of alcohol, all I’d be doing in that tub would be to think about houses and feel miserable again. So instead of pampering/drinking myself deeper into depression, I did the laundry, the vacuuming, the dusting, the ever exciting checking-the-expiration-dates-on-all-our-cans-medicines-and-beauty-products, and, humanity, I baked (BAKED!) two (TWO!) surprisingly edible (!!!) batches of my mother’s Dutch Biscuits, without burning the flat down or losing a limb in the process.

Of course, since there’s really no justice in the world, this super duper housewife phase I’m going through is turning out to work best for V., who actually really liked my biscuits (Is an official marriage proposal finally in order now that I’ve managed to cook something he didn’t absolutely despise? Finger crossed!) and decided it’s all he’ll be having for breakfast from now until the end of days. My arms up to my elbows in dough every other night, I guess I’ll have less opportunities to fall back into my old habits of elaborately planning the demise of all estate agents on the planet, which can only be a good thing.

But until my long term baking therapy effects kick in, I’m looking forward to a couple of days of tech conferences, reconnecting with old friends (Over what I hope will be indecent amounts of diet friendly booze!), and weekend birthday celebrations (It’s always comforting to know I’m not the only one growing old, though it’s obvious I’m experiencing the process in an infinitely more deranged way than everybody else).

Getting back to work now (That baking flour doesn’t pay for itself!), but not before I wish you all a lovely, existential crisis free end of the week!

Blue Monday and Other Bruises

You may not have known this, but there’s this very legit life changing thing called Blue Monday.

Now, of course there’s nothing stopping us from being super duper depressed all the time, but on Blue Monday we should all try our very very best to be the most depressed we can possibly be, if not for the sake of our own depression records, then at least in order to prove the scientists right. Because they are. Always right. It’s true, they didn’t quite agree whether Blue Monday was this past Monday or the one before, but they were sure it was around this time, and that we should prepare for it by buying wagons of comfort food and having a huge cute cat video collection to turn to when things got particularly blueish.

I don’t know if it was the scientists, or the fact that I’d come across a million Blue Monday blog posts and knew it was coming in advance, but the thing is, I’ve been feeling quite down these past couple of weeks.

It’s never just one thing. In fact, sometimes it’s every single thing. As if each and every detail of your life has gone out of their way to turn your reality, hopes and dreams into a big, stinking pile of dung. Then sometimes, it’s nothing you can put your finger on, which is even worse, because you know it’s there, looming over you, but you can’t see it or smell it or punch it in the guts.

With me, it’s always the first type of Blue Monday. Everything is wrong. Broken beyond mending. Oozing stench and hopelessness.

I would think of random words and build these impossible, excruciating mind maps reaching all the way across my existence, from one unhappiness to the next. I’d decide I was hungry, for instance, and this harmless thought would bloom into a web of disastrous thoughts: But I don’t like any of this food. Chips with everything, what’s wrong with these people? I’ll end up having a heart attack before I’m even 30. Not that I’m otherwise healthy anyway. I’ve got the stupid asthma. And with my luck, I probably won’t be able to get pregnant anytime this decade, if ever. Not that that makes any difference. I’d just have to bring the child up in a one bedroom burglar friendly rented flat. I’ll never afford a place of my own at the rate this market’s going. And my contract ends in June. Steve hates my guts, he definitely won’t renew it. So there I’ll be, looking for a job. Me. With my Russian accent. With my antisocial-people-hating attitude. I’ll be destitute in no time. V. will no doubt dump me soon enough. I’m surprised he hasn’t already. I am, after all, barren, homeless, and prospect-less. Unloved and alone will fit the picture perfectly.

Well, you get the idea.

So I’ve been carrying all this with me for a little while, and what can I say, It’s been great. I’ve been a pleasure to be around, I’m sure.

I haven’t worked much and I haven’t read much, in fact I’ve just vegetated, wrapped up in half a dozen blankets, randomly clicking this and that on the interwebs while stuffing myself with mountains of clementines. Apparently I treat my Blue Monday as I would a common cold, I’m weird that way.

Things are looking up though.

It’s almost the weekend. I’ve just ordered a bunch of stuff I don’t particularly need on the interwebs, and that’s bound to make anyone jump with joy. I’m reading a good book. I’ve got no house hunting weekend plans for a while. There’s cheesecake waiting for me in the fridge tonight. Blue Monday is but a smudge of dirty blue in the past.