Many people seemed concerned, during the past few weeks, about the logistics of my flat move.
“Are you hiring a van?” they’d ask. “We would, except neither of us can actually drive,” I’d cheerily respond. This is one of our special joint failings, one of which we’re weirdly proud, although less so whenever we go on holiday and have to spend three hours on a bus with a cohort of elderly Spanish women in pastel shellsuits.
He didn’t learn because he grew up in a city and had no need for it, I didn’t because at 17 I’d rather have spent all the money in the world buying ratty things off eBay than on letting a stern adult confirm for me at weekly intervals what I have known all along – that I would be a terrible, terrible driver. I watched friends pass their tests in quick succession, marvelled at the skill of it all, then generously let them drive me about. Even now we’re all 25, I still have a moment of going, “This is so ruddy grown-up. Look! You’re doing the levers and everything!” each time I’m in a passenger seat.
“So you’re hiring a man with a van?” they’d say, twitching a bit. “Men with ven?” “Mmm yah, we thought of that,” I lie. “But in the end it seemed easier if my parents just came up to help.” Then they would look at me with that special look, the one usually reserved for people who send Christmas cards signed from their cat. By ‘easier’, they realise I mean cheaper, and nicer, and
And easier it was, for us. Not so much for the Bravo family car, which started getting a bit weebly after the second load of absolutely crucial objet d’arts (“What’s that?” “It’s a reproduction Roman battle helmet.” “Why do you have one?” “Why WOULDN’T I have one?”).
Then a little more weebly, then at the point where a human might be summoning old lovers to their bedside and divvying up the family heirlooms, and then after one final, valiant crawl from Old Flat to New Flat with a bootload of stuff, it died. I’d like to think it arrived in Ford Mondeo heaven to a hero’s welcome, having its bumpers massaged while the vehicular St Peter tells it “You did good, girl. You did good.”
But all praise must really go to my parents, grand masters in the stoical handling of truly rubbish situations. As I watched them being winched on the back of a flat bed truck at 11pm to be relayed back from London to Worthing, I realised two things: 1) driving really is a whole lot of hassle. And 2) next time, we might just get a man with a van. Or a woman with a van. Anybody unrelated to me.
I’d thought plenty about how much I’ll miss my flatmates when I move house this weekend, but it’s only just occurred to me how much I’ll miss all the other people. The background people, who fill up our little patch of North London like faithful extras on Holby City. The ones I’ve never actually spoken to, but who have become completely woven into the fabric of my daily life over the past three years.
Most of these people I see at the bus stop. I find bus stops are generally perfect microcosms of the larger world, if you look hard enough, or are determined enough to use the word “microcosm”. And I’m so attached to all my regular bus-buddies that I’ve given them my own names.
There’s Generic Gemma, who probably isn’t called Gemma at all but looks SO like a Gemma that if I found out her actual name I wouldn’t believe it. Gemma is so generic that it’s actually become her defining characteristic. I imagine she likes ready salted crisps the best.
There’s Boots Woman, a well-dressed lady who had a pair of studded ankle boots so nice that I spent the best part of three days combing the internet until I found identical ones and bought them. Then every time I wore the boots and she was at bus stop, I would hide behind the bin in case she saw them, realised I’d copied her, and pitied me.
There’s Wide Man, so-called not because he’s especially enormous, or because he seems like a wily urban wheeler-dealer (he doesn’t), but because he is a very unusual and specific shape - starting off pretty average at the top and then becoming very wide around the hips, with short little legs, giving him the overall appearance of a walking Weeble. He also has distinctive facial hair, of the kind normally seen on television magicians and frequenters of fantasy role play gaming societies. I like Wide Man, because he is always there. Same brown suit, same rucksack, reassuringly consistent. Wide Man wobbles, but he doesn’t fall down.
Of course, the best thing about my imaginary relationships with these characters is the tiny hope that maybe they have imaginary relationships with me too. I’d like to think I’m “Belvita Girl”, after my breakfast biscuit habit (and the crumbs that remain in my hair afterwards), or perhaps “The Traffic Maverick”, after my stubborn refusal to walk 20 foot up the road to use the zebra crossing. I could cope with “Bag Rummager” or even “Bunions”.
But if none of them even notice I’ve gone next week, well, that would be quite hurtful. Three years of unspoken, imaginary friendship has got to count for something.
Moving house, they say, is the most stressful thing a person does in their lifetime.
During the big portions of one’s life when one is not moving house, it’s easy to scoff at this – it’s just putting things in boxes then taking them out again a few miles to the left! Not more stressful, surely, than bereavement or performing open heart surgery or when the comedy magician asks for a volunteer from the audience and looks straight at you?
But then you move house, and realise that every smug beaming glossy magazine shoot of a low-rent celeb “relaxing in her new Hertfordshire mansion” is a fat great lie, because moving house is Satan’s pastime. Nothing is designed to expose your flawed humanity more than having to sort through every single item you own and justify its place in your life.
For my boyfriend this is a swift process, because he owns approximately 12 things. He will put his 12 things in a box, dust his hands off, then mosey on into our new life and casually put the kettle on. Sooner or later I suppose he will notice that I’m not there, because I’ll be trapped under a mountain of my own greedy consumerism, quietly muttering about how I really DO need the third ornamental tea set while my spine snaps like a twig.
The problem isn’t even too many clothes, or shoes, or useful things like kitchenware. It’s all the surplus other stuff, the useless but lovely stuff that I can’t throw away because I’ve laden it with personal significance and sentimental value. And dust.
Here, just so you know I’m not exaggerating, are some of the things I own that might not be ‘strictly necessary’ in the new flat:
A dressmaker’s dummy called Gertrude
A steamer trunk with nothing in it
A mannequin head
Two rotary dial telephones
A telephone shaped like a duck
A set of antlers
A tiger print cowboy hat
A basket big enough for a grown man to sit inside
Two suitcases far too dilapidated to use outside the house
A box of dead butterflies
A framed poster of Marc Bolan
A musical box with a wind-up clown in it
A bunch of dried lavender
A box containing every piece of tissue paper ever to enter my possession, in case one day I “do some craft”
Three rolls of Christmas wrapping paper
A framed photo of my great auntie Margaret, dressed as a cowgirl
A 3ft promotional Guinness blackboard
A soda siphon that doesn’t work
A cuddly toy!