I bought a house.
So many people buy houses it is a National Obsession, worthy of multiple column inches, screeds of webpages, volumes of chitter chat and gossip and envy.
Many believe that owning a property is as key to happiness as breeding or becoming a member of the senior management team. I first realised this when at a barbeque organised by some university contemporaries when we were all around about thirty. I was the only single invitee and the chat inside where the women were gathered, was all about babies had or forthcoming. Outside, where the guys were (this article would never be approved by the Guardian), talk concerned index prices and mortgage variables. I felt old. I mean, I often feel old around this sort of person. They have well paid jobs, marriages, kids, cars and couples evenings involving karaoke and lazy weekend lunches. Whereas I have worked minimum wage on shift patterns for 15 years, rarely see a weekend and am as close to marrying and having children as I was when I kissed that first girl, aged nineteen. And yet...
I bought a house! 'What joy', you say. 'What a mensch', you think as you read this. 'Surely now you can sit back and enjoy this, the pinnacle of Western achievement'. But I have never particularly seen material gain as something to be valued. Sure, it is nice to have that sort of security. A knowledge that I have secured an affordable mortgage before the banks deemed me too old to ever pay it back. And I am now a saver of my own capital rather than a liner of owner-pockets already innumerably richer than my own through renting. But there are still many stresses as an owner. I maybe paid above the odds and didn't check on things like 50 year old electric wiring and leaky shower units. Though affordable, the neighbourhood is not as salubrious as I am used to; jakeys slouching past my gate and trains whistling by my back windows.
Also, as a former student of Sri Lankan Buddhistry, I somehow feel that owning things involves clinging to certainties that we can never hold. One tends to accumulate objects as one progresses through time and space; in my case, books in particular. I left home at seventeen with a large, pink, plastic suitcase of belongings. Then, through the years, my 'stuff' grew and grew from flat to flat till I had enough that, when I moved-in with my partner, I could expand beyond just a bedroom. Renting an entire place, rather than just one room, finally allows your junk to look respectable. But then she bought and I felt like a lodger once again. To the point that, when eventually we disintegrated, I lost everything, becoming homeless and broken whilst she... finally gained the shelf space she had craved. So now there I was with niknaks and cookware. I spent three months here and three months there all the while jettisoning belongings I could no longer justify. I began aggressively planning to buy somewhere so that no one could ever have such power over me again. No-one could evict me. No-one could make me feel like a failure in that way. One thousand books became eight hundred, became four hundred, became two hundred and fifty. I drifted here and there till I bottomed out and began seeing someone new. We moved in together and I had a bit more space, though I remained wary. Then finally I did what I had vaguely saved for 11 years to do. I bought my first place - my twenty seventh home was one I owned.
It is blooming stressful. I have lawns to keep in check. I have neighbours I needs must communicate with. My cat is finally able to go outdoors but prefers to stay up all night shredding my beautiful new carpets till the floorboards are showing through.
My girlfriend is now in the position I was in before of renting off her partner and so I must do my utmost to make her feel welcomed which has lead to some dodgy flatpack furniture choices and acceptance of constant criticism of my cooking, my decor, my desire to make the garden pleasant and my choice of living away from the town centre where she 'might as well be commuting from' her parents' house in a satellite town like she was before she met me.
It is a step forwards, and I must count my blessings. It puts me in a position to buy an upgrade in a couple of years. The wee kitten can finally play in the grass and sit on the front step without danger of cars and dogs. I can make projects like the carrots and beetroot currently growing in my hand-dug raised bed round the back. We are a family and I am able to stand alongside those grown-up friends at last and say I too have measurable success. Which, for an artist, is a fine thing to do. My garret has a vegetable patch.