I used to dream, like all teenage girls, of one day meeting the Love of My Life. Specifically, this would happen in my late teens or twenties, early enough that I would have a partner on my great life’s adventure. What was the point of meeting HIM in your 40s or 50s, when you were already past it?
As it turned out, I’ve lived most of my life without an intimate romantic relationship or even a steady companion. I only had one proper boyfriend in my 20s, and we went our separate ways at the point when our peers were getting married. Internet dating in my 30s made me wary and cynical. By my 40s, I accepted that the Great Love Affair, the Sartre-de Beauvoir meeting of minds, bodies and destinies, probably wasn’t going to happen for me. Even if I did meet The One in my fully ripened years, it wouldn’t be the same. By mid- or late life, your story is largely written, although by no means finished. Your hormones have settled down; your brain is no longer hijacked by the compulsion to propagate the species and love the outcome.
I mourned the passing of this possibility. The transition to middle age is partly about giving up on and mourning certain irretrievable possibilities, e.g., I will never be a Hot Young Debut Writer and may well be in Mary Wesley territory if I’m ever published again.
But life is still capable of surprises. Is the great love of my life in fact a 120-year-old top-floor Glaswegian tenement with exposed (and admittedly battered) floorboards and 12-foot ceilings? After a semi-nomadic life of living precariously in other people’s real estate I have crossed the great divide between the losers of late capitalism, for whom home-ownership is financially comparable to a pleasure voyage in space with Elon Musk or Richard Branson, and the winners/survivors, who have achieved the smug status expressed by the Japlish word maihomu.
It’s no dream palace: the common concrete stairwell is reminiscent of a Soviet apartment block, minus the dangling wires and spitting electrics. A one-legged jakey lives on the first floor and regularly snoozes through his smoke alarm. The other day, someone rang my doorbell for the pure hell of screaming through the intercom, YOUR DAD’S A FOOKIN REHPIST. (Insulated by a few glasses of red wine, I replied, ‘Wrong flat, love.’) On Sunday, I found an empty, large-size bottle of the cheapest possible brand of cream sherry placed neatly by the front street door. A token left by the jakey’s girlfriend, the one who stands in the street and wails up at his window for him to let him in, when he’s either unconscious or obviously doesn’t feel the need of her company?
I can’t remember my housing fantasies as a teenager in Australian rural suburbia. In the main, they were about getting the hell out. A smart career-woman flat in the big city? Back in the mid-1980s, this meant Melbourne, the only city I knew. There may have been some additional visions of a thatched English country cottage, because ‘England’ represented a point of aspiration. The mostly flat, dry, functional and charmless farmland where I grew up did not qualify as ‘countryside’ in any romantic sense. I had never actually seen a thatched cottage in real life.
Since moving into Solo HQ, I’ve switched out the electric box shower, put in new light fittings and installed an extra cupboard in the kitchen. I’ve had a plasterer fill the finger hole in the ceiling over the bay window, made on that grey, rainy, fraught day of first entry, when I discovered that the window leaked. The ceiling was absolutely saturated. It was like poking a hole in cottage cheese.
I’d only viewed the flat once before, on a sunny August day, the summer after the first lockdown; the previous owner denied any such problems.
The other week, my curtains were finally fitted on the front bay window. I’d had them measured up in December, and then Glasgow went into lockdown. I haven’t yet had need to close them: in the evenings I enjoy the panoramic view of the late midsummer sky, ink-wash blue, often with dramatic, pink- or orange-tinged clouds. On some days, the sun only comes out for the first time at 8 or 9pm. Now the window looks less like a large lashless eye and the rim of colour (blues and greens) down each side is pleasing. The spiky leaf pattern even complements my growing window-ledge jungle of plant-babies. I have achieved a particular coherence of interior design. My flat reflects my unique tastes, my interests, my travels, my life, back at me. A form of narcissistic materialism (material narcissism)? Some people regard their kids as a form of self-expression; far less damaging to do this to a house.
There is no such thing as absolute security, in love or in property. The university system could implode under the internal contradictions of neoliberal corporatism, or from the lack of rich Chinese students, put off by COVID-19, and I’d be out of a job and default on my mortgage. Or the jakey could burn the whole close down in the small hours, when he usually does his cooking. But for the moment, snug in my self-referential little nest of books, Japanese prints, pot plants, and blue and green textiles, I’m feeling safe and settled for the first time in my life. Home ownership isn’t the answer to everything, but it’s a good one all the same.