5 weeks ago, Thursday 28th March, 2013:
I awake at an inappropriately late time in the afternoon to the news that I am being given notice.
‘You’re going to have to go, love, you can’t be staying here, they’ll be dust’
I go for a shower. I peel back my eyes, the water drums it in to my shoulders.
I have to leave.
A small breakdown ensues, inevitably in the shower, crouching and crying. It’s the kind hysterical breakdown that any soap actress worth their salt would be proud of. Or Clare Danes.
But I haven’t just discovered that my boyfriend is sleeping with my mother or had whoopee with a man to find out if he’s a terrorist. Which he is. But then not so much. But kind of is.
No, I just have to leave a flat. Like a lot of people do. A lot of the time. In much worse circumstances.
I knew it would happen, at some point. I knew that this wasn’t mine forever. I was always on borrowed time. But not now. Not yet, I haven’t finished here. Me and The Flat, we’re not quite done, there were things I always meant to do in here. Vacuum, more. Clear out the cutlery tray. Time to spend together. In The Flat.
My landlord tells me he’ll have a lovely new flat ready for me four weeks or so after I leave the wooden walls behind but I’m not ready to start something new, it felt like we were just getting to know each other.
And the time that we have left together is brief and fleeting in these next few weeks, I am in and out of these doors and staying in other places. My time here is limited, my touch is light. And I have no idea where I’m going to put all my stuff. Paper, mainly. And small china dogs. Cockerels made out of shells. Cups and mugs. Mugs and Cups. Enough to have a crockery party with.
(I have a flashback to when my parents would run the ‘Crockery Smash’ at the school fete; lined up against a freestanding wooden shelf would be plates and cups, where children and adults would pay 10p to throw a wooden ball and smash the crockery, pieces of porcelain chasing bare limbs. Those were the days, when kids were allowed to pay to smash stuff up.)
A plan develops; a spare room is being done up at my friends around the corner and one of the locked doors is opened. The one to the right hand side of my bed that has been locked since I moved in last year. I can leave stuff in that room, move around the corner until my new flat is ready. It will have an outside space, a place to grew tomatoes and petunias and an oven with gas and new pale wood floors, inoffensive painted walls, maybe a washing machine that doesn’t shake the flat like a dinosaur foot.
Please let me keep a part, just a small part of the wooden walls and put it in a frame. And the carpet. But more of the carpet. And one of the chairs, I’d like one of the chairs.
My landlord accepts all of this and I accept I have to let it go. It is just somewhere to live.
The flat begins to look different, takes on a hazy appearance, rose tinted and softened because it’s time is limited. A countdown clock ticks in my head. In three weeks time that flat will be no more, in one weeks time the walls will be ripped down. Sold off on ebay to somewhere in Brighton. All my stuff won’t be here lined up on the shelves, books piled up.
It was the first time that I’d lived on my own, through padlocked gate and steep stair to my ivory tower. Where people don’t come cold calling and no pizza leaflets fall on the matt. Where I can’t blame anyone else for lack of toilet roll or milk. Where I discovered that when no one else is there I tend not to bother picking things up when they fall to the floor.
D minus 7 days to go and after to working to a deadline I barely have time to breath in Easter (no eggs to be found anywhere in Kings Heath, anywhere, no where) before I start packing up my stuff. Packing it carefully like Jenga into the once locked room.
And this is why I keep stuff, this is why I hate sorting stuff because even bank statements throw you back in time. As a distraction from actually packing stuff up I sort through wads of paper loosely filed in a cabinet that had been standing in as a seat for Henry the mannequin. I find joint bank account statements from long lost partners, a credit card still stuck to the letter that you must destroy that expired in 2009. Certificates of manual handling, fire marshal, a personal licence, a previous life. Feedback from essay’s where my effort has failed. The instructions on how to assemble a futon that I haven’t seen since early 2004. Each item skips back and forth as a cross section of my adult life.
And yet I have regressed to childhood habits. Whenever I was told to tidy my bedroom-a cacophony of clothes, shoes and paper even then, I would instead spend the time putting on hats, old clothes, out of date make up. Slowly moving things into neater piles while gradually becoming more and more dressed up, made up. And this is how I spent Tuesday just gone, going backwards in time.
I fantasise about living a minimal life, uncluttered corners, labelled files, everything a place, a place for everything. But I like stuff. The archive of me and other people. I don’t own a lot of photos, I’m not comfortable with an image, one moment in time that we can never get back. But I enjoy the hints in paper trails, vague memories or made up stories in other people’s stuff.
And that’s why I love the bones of this flat, because of what it once was. It wasn’t meant to be a bedroom, or a study or a kitchen. There’s conversations that have soaked into this teak ridges (it is teak, it’s been confirmed). I can see the skeleton of what it will look like when the it’s been gutted, mirrored downstairs. My landlord, he says, he’s bringing it into the modern age,glint in his eye, proud.
This time next week, the men will rip down your walls. I sweat through sleep in one night, thinking I can hear the footsteps coming up the stairs, that the work will start before I’m gone. A pigeon dawn chorus has started in the walls. And I hate pigeons at the best of times (I once saw one shag another to death). Their cooing intermittently at 5 in the morning, their flying feathers travel in shadows over my bed. Their rattling feet in the roof above my head. The beat of their wings downturns my mouth and brings spit to the tip of my tongue. How do you tell a pigeon to shut up.
* * * *
My long suffering companion, the ear to listen in all of this nostalgia and sentimentality about a flat, tells me I should have it cleared by the time he’s back at the weekend. Like the child that dressed up for distraction I paint a picture on a boiled egg for him, send it to him, clear some boxes and pile things up. I start to throw away my shoes. Divide them into sections.
One bag for charity shop (one pair, that were never mine in the first place) One bag to throw away (8 pairs, all unwearable and holed). One bag of shoes that I don’t wear now but will probably use at some point (red glitter winkle pickers, bronze knee high boots, blue suede boots, purple suede boots, hooker boots). A shelf of shoes that I will still wear soon, at some point. All dusty, all unworn since I’ve lived in this flat. This is how far I’ve packed.
It doesn’t look like I’m going. I’m still waiting for a miracle.
And one does arrive. In the inevitable form of my landlord. It’s not ready, their not ready yet. Another three weeks. A tiny second chance. Lets spend some time together.