Magazine article The Spectator

Moving House Is Hard to Do

Magazine article The Spectator

Moving House Is Hard to Do

Article excerpt

MOVING house, along with divorce, is often cited as life's most stressful experience. The first is sometimes a consequence of the second, but even when the two events are unrelated there are emotional similarities. Last week I stood in the hallway of the Fulham Victorian house that I am abandoning, and felt guilty panic. It wasn't you, it was me. The empty house had a brave bloom to it. It may have given me the best 15 years of its life, but I should not flatter myself that it could not exist without me.

No, my imprint disappears the moment the packing cases are out of the front door. Even the distinctive smell of washing-up liquid and children's trainers has gone. Now that the house is on its own again, the rooms seem suddenly bigger, lighter. Perhaps I have made a terrible mistake? As with divorce, friends keep a baffled distance. `Why are you moving? I thought you seemed so happy.' I try to justify what amounts to boredom and restlessness with something more rational. Actually, we just weren't suited. I need space, a new sense of direction (the M4).

As with divorce, the children are the first casualties. `What do you plan to do for the rest of the summer holidays?' I asked, maternally, last week. `Chain myself to the roof,' replied my eldest son. It does not make me feel good, to watch the children being buffeted between homes and builders because of my selfish impulse. So I have decided that I am moving for the sake of the children. If I am happy, they will be happy.

During my courtship I did everything to make the new house sound attractive. `It's amazing,' I would suddenly chortle. `Shepherd's Bush is so full of microscooters/children the same age/copies of Harry Potter books.' The exchanges would always end with my younger son resorting to the protection of the law. `But we haven't actually signed anything yet, right?'

The notion that a house is for life is absurdly romantic. There may be some, such as A.L. Rowse and Trenarren in Cornwall, who live together happily ever after, but outside the aristocracy and romantic literature people are more realistic about dumping the first house and trading up. Indeed, a home with a history can give buyers the creeps. `This house has been in the same family for generations' is an estate agent's euphemism for `needs total refurbishment'. Similarly, nobody wants to see a photograph of an interior with people in it. They only alienate you from the property.

For the middle classes, the prospects of finding the perfect match first time are limited. As with marriage, you can have only what is available at the time that you are searching. As with marriage, too, you must be clear about whether or not you are on the market. If you find a house, you must immediately stop looking at others. I tormented myself by trawling the Daily Telegraph property website for new details after I had exchanged contracts. If you treated spouses in the same manner, there would be social mayhem. Perhaps this is why our socially interventionist government is so keen on controlling the property market through stamp duty and the abolition of mortgage interest relief. The Chancellor refuses morally to endorse marriage through financial incentives, but he is whole-heartedly committed to monogamous relationships with houses. This, of course, is a man of such celibacy in property matters that he renounced his own Downing Street residence. …

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