Saturday, 23 March 2013

Horrible Housemate

Sharing is not a strength of mine.  

Fleeing the marital home meant making a jump from financing 0.5 to 1.2 households.  As a woman used to living to the limits of her means, this was going to involve some major lifestyle changes; keen to minimise these, I briefly considered renting a room in a shared house.


Then I remembered the previous times I’d shared houses with people who were not bound by matrimonial vows to put up with me and decided that it wasn’t fair on anyone to pursue that option.

As an undergraduate, I shared accommodation for three years.  Whilst I dearly loved many of the people I cohabited with (indeed, fourteen years after graduating, I still count three of them amongst my absolute dearest friends) I never particularly enjoyed communal living.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy company – when the wind is blowing in the right direction, there’s nothing I like more than hanging out with my nearest and dearest – it’s just that I like solitude too.

On the recommendation of those who’d trod the path before me, I spent my first year at The University of Manchester living in Owen’s Park – the largest of the halls of residence.  Somehow, I ended up as the only first year on a corridor of third years, sandwiched between an Italian dentistry student and another girl I only remember as being big and geeky.  Right now, I imagine there are some very lucky Italians getting their oral hygiene attended to by a beautiful woman in her late thirties.  Sixteen years ago however, she was just a stunning student with a steady stream of European suitors who, disappointed with northern England’s female offerings, were content to sit in her room all night and remain sexually unfulfilled while listening to loud europop.  They also had to deal with me knocking on the door every hour or so, apologetically asking for the music to be turned down.  I could see them turn to her for guidance as to how to respond – do we laugh in the face of the quiet, nerdy young girl from next door in a bollock-waving display of masculine dominance, or do we politely and considerately acquiesce to her request in an attempt to showcase our maturity and new-manliness?  Either way, it didn’t win me any friends.

The housemates of 1 Latchmere Road
Second year was spent in a mould-filled house with five other people, one bathroom and a shoebox-sized kitchen.  I was the asshole who was never happy.  Why couldn’t people wash up their crap after they’d used it?  Why did they feel it necessary to share their shitty music tastes with me?  All night?  Why did the door have to be slammed?  It was unlucky for everyone that the room-allocation process plonked me in the ground-floor bedroom between the front door and the living room.  As the least social member of the household, giving me the room which everyone had to walk past when they got in late at night was a bad idea.  With hindsight, it would have made sense to stick me in the attic.  It didn’t help that I was exceptionally uncool and sharing a house with a bunch of people who were into the kind of lifestyle that necessitated coming home at 4am on drugs which made them noisy.   It also didn’t help that I was incapable of putting up with this without coming over all snotty and uppity.  Either way, 4/5 of those housemates realised they couldn’t stand living with me, so when the time came to look for accommodation for the third year, only Lucy came with me.

The ladies of 255 Yew Tree Road
255 Yew Tree Road was a beautiful house.  Four of us lived there during our third year and I imagine that the reason I am still close to all of them is because I was rarely there.  I met my future husband at the end of my second year of university and spent half of my third year at his house, meaning my uncanny ability to piss off everybody with whom I live was diluted by half.  Hurrah!  Clearly the way to keep my friends was to not live with them – I am only a nice person to be around when I have chosen to be in company.  I am not good enough at the social dance to follow the steps when I’m not feeling the music.

My long-suffering ex-husband lived with me for thirteen years.  During that time he was berated for just about everything.  I need my home to be a place of safety, sanctuary and stability so if he so much as changed a door handle without telling me first he was in trouble.  Toothpaste and stubble in the sink?  Big-time bollocking.  Recyclables put in the normal bin?  Unforgiveable.  Dirty crockery left on the side rather than put in the dishwasher?  Banshee-level outcry.

I don’t mean to be a difficult housemate.  I consider myself to be thoughtful and reasonable though I guess my cohabitants thought the same about themselves.  Currently, my tiny house is shared with a cat.  So far, she’s not showing signs of wanting to leave.  We’ve only been here a year though; it’s early days…

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Single Dweller

Invisible from the road, my house is reached by a single-track private road off a single-track public road on the outskirts of a single road village which no one’s ever heard of.  It’s three miles from the nearest pint (of either beer or milk) and about an hour’s drive from the nearest motorway.  During spring and summer it’s like living in Disneyland; as I come home I am accompanied up the driveway by partridges, hares and squirrels and I often share my space with swooping barn owls and circling raptors.  In short, it was the perfect place to flee to twelve months ago to lick my wounds and recover from the break-up of my marriage.

Whilst I knew I would appreciate freedom, I hadn’t entirely realised the many forms that freedom takes, or how much joy there would be in the simplest of them. 

If I want cereal for dinner, I’ll damn well have cereal for dinner.  And if I want to cook a massive stew and eat it every day, then that’s fine too.  Washing up been sitting there for a few days?  So what?  There’s no one to blame but myself, and somehow, when it’s only my mess, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

Invitations can be accepted or declined without giving any consideration to anyone else’s social responsibilities or desires.  Stay out every night for a week or lock myself in with a bottle of wine and a cheesy rom-com?  Not only do I get to make that decision, but I get to make it at two minutes’ notice. 

My books on the shelf, my knickers on the floor, my wine in the cupboard – being in control of one’s own surroundings is like building a hug you can live in.  Add an open fire and a year without discovering a single odd sock and suddenly you’re swaddled in an all-enveloping embrace from a favourite, fragrant, buxom, childless aunty that you haven’t seen for years.

Obviously it’s not all red wine and daffodils.  It took me a couple of months to develop an effective way of folding fitted sheets, and I am too short to vacuum the spiders’ webs out of the top of the stairwell, but all in all it’s been a much needed year of breathing space.  It’s been a year which has allowed me to experience these freedoms and realise that I don’t want them forever – they come at too high a price to be a long term indulgence.  Is going straight from work to the pub without having to make a quick ‘phone call first worth a lifetime of having to nurse my own hangovers?   Probably not.  Is a ‘Step Up’ trilogy marathon three nights in a row worth never again smiling as I glance at a nicknack which evokes shared memories?  Almost certainly not.  Is the pleasure of eating a bowl of Shreddies whilst my knickers languish on the floor worth the sacrifice of not regularly waking up next to someone who loves me?  Definitely not.

Disneyland may be magical, but magic must be shared to be fully enjoyed.