When I moved back to London two years ago, from the wilds of Surrey, I found a basement flat in Southfields and met Nona. Nona was a few years older than me, so had a lot of stuff worked out (and an amazing recipe for cheese in oil and herbs and I have still to get that off her. I think it was mozzarella. Whatever. It was amazing. I remember chilli flakes and lemon, but that’s it). I hadn’t lived with “a stranger” since uni, but we got on fine and watched a lot of quality tv together and drank a lot of wine.
She moved back to her hometown to start her business and suddenly I was left being responsible for the flat. It was a shock to the system. I’ve been the eldest and the tallest and the most sensible before, but I’ve usually had someone to at least bounce ideas off. Suddenly, I was being flummoxed by lightbulbs. In my defence, I had never encountered LED bulbs before and these were particularly weird ones. When you finally managed to pull one out, a shower of insulation would fall on you. It was a new experience. In the few weeks without Nona, I came to rely heavily on Youtube and Google for the unexpected. I will forever be grateful to the Australian electrician who posted a stream of LED lightbulb videos. And to my dad for that handy Lidl toolkit.
My landlord got VERY STRESSED about someone moving in and, possibly by approaching people at bus stops and asking if they were homeless, he found a lovely Irish girl who needed a place to stay for two months. So in she moved. She’d just moved to London, so I felt somewhat protective of her and, if I’m very honest, quite pleased that I could give her some basic advice on how to find her feet. Little things like navigating tubes and not using your credit card to withdraw cash. I felt a bit like a grownup.
Two months flew by and Erin moved on. No one was interested in the online adverts I had running and my landlord got progressively more aggressive about someone moving in to the room. I found this particularly galling as he’d been given a list of things in the flat that desperately needed fixing a good nine months prior, but he still hadn’t done anything about them.
Needless to say, when someone finally did come to view the flat, I was relieved. In hindsight, I was *too* relieved. She seemed normal enough. French and emotional, but normal. She got very emotional and arm-flappy when I said I was from Ireland and very nearly cried when I said I was from Belfast. She loves Belfast. She’s never been. But she loves it so much. Umm, okay. Aside from that, we had a decent chat and she didn’t seem like she would murder me in my sleep. We agreed she’d move in. Relief all round.
Very long story – involving tears and shouting – short, she was crazy. Crazy and inflexible and incredibly difficult. Ten days into living together, I realised I was so unhappy and that this situation wasn’t going to change with time, so decided to move out. The next day there was another shouting match (if you can describe it that way when only one person is incandescently angry for no reason). Then I found she’d used my shower sponge to clean the toilet and then claimed I instructed her to do this. I had done no such thing.
Making the best of a bad situation is solidly in my wheelhouse. I will always find the funny story and the way around the Difficult Thing. It’s how I was able to stay with an ex-boyfriend for years longer than we should have been together. Change is hard for me, putting up with nonsense and discomfort is easy and familiar. I find it tricky to make decisions because I put huge pressure on myself to make the right decision as though the consequences of a bad decision are irrevocable. Suddenly this was a whole new ball game. A change driven by my own decision was incredibly challenging for me. To be very honest, I did a lot of Growing Up during this process. I’d thought about the Project Adult before all this kicked off and amended it to include “find a new home” because that became the predominant thought for my every waking moment.
My new place is not too far from the old place, but a hundred times better and with a lovely Norwegian woman who is not crazy. It was hard going in the meantime. I was technically homeless for a week, which was decidedly uncomfortable. I sent a lot of emails to people about flats. I saw fewer flats than I sent emails and despaired over many of them. I met a LOT of people, which was exhausting because I don’t feel like I do well with new people. I discovered I am a sort of divining rod for crazy, as otherwise normal people would tell me things that make them instantly less so. Such as the chap who announced he had a phobia of cheese, of which his flatmates of over a year had no inkling. It was all dairy, with the exception of icecream, because I asked. I asked a lot of questions.
I also had to manage my expectations and disappointments after seeing two places (and people!) I really liked and losing both of them (apparently putting deposits down on rental properties is a thing now). I got better at making decisions – particularly decisions about money, which should come in handy later in the Project – or at least faster. I still dithered back and forth a number of times, but it wasn’t hours of torment.
Possibly most importantly the universe showed me I wasn’t on my own. I have a hard time asking for favours and asking for help. Suddenly there was a very real chance I was going to have no where to live and people were tripping over themselves to offer me a place to stay. Friends, distant acquaintances and senior colleagues were offering me blow up mattresses and spare rooms. I was incredibly touched by these people who saw me have a hard time and wanted to help. Who really listened when I was so very upset and helped me practically and without question. I will always be grateful. It also underlined why I want to be a better hostess. I want to be able to make people feel comfortable and happy around me – much better than I do now.