At the moment, I am between homes, and staying temporarily in a proper house in a suburb. Actually, it’s more of a neighbourhood, which is a subtle but important distinction.
I am living in a house, not a flat, with different rooms on different storeys. A house has stairs, and corridors, which is disorientating and inconvenient after years of having everything so close at hand. Friends have suggested that I could rent a whole house for the same price as a flat, but why would I want to? I don’t need the space. Even though my frugal belongings exceed the confines of the tiniest dolls-house newbuild, I still miss the convenient, compact layout of a fair-sized flat.
What’s worse, I have to travel. The act of waiting for a bus and then the slow, dreary journey back to the city wastes two hours every single day, which is new experience for me. Somehow, I always sit next to a gifted yet disturbed individual ranting in my ear about their magic hands, or other special talents. When I walked everywhere, at least I could escape to other side of the road. Now I race for the exit clumsily falling over those poor women with no choice other than carry their children in unwieldy pushchairs.
It’s better to live close to work (family and schools are also important, before you say it) but I feel adrift. I suspect my friends (well, the ones who live outside the city) thought I’d see the light and make my future away from town. Suburban rents are mostly the same as the city. However, add in travel costs (taxis etc.) and it’s actually more expensive to live here. And I don’t want to live here as it is.
Being positive, at least it’s peaceful. I don’t miss the pandemonium of nocturnal urban streets but I do hate the cold. Houses are draughty: newbuilds have many faults, but they are usually warm and snug, with constant hot water. It’s not like that here. Even with the central heating on full, I’m usually wrapped up in a duvet.
Cities have everything I need; urban life suits me, and a flat is attainable. Is a friendly café too much to ask for? Café Nero, never reached this far. The (now closed and derelict) restaurant which advertised tomato soup as if it was a rare, luxurious delicacy gets me every time. Around here the only remaining businesses are betting shops and dodgy travel agents, next to electrical goods stores which specialise in unlocking mobiles and probably unlock other secured objects for the right price. Pods of churlish scallies brandish rottweilers. The pubs are scary. I’m missing the bars.
Like the man in The Shawshank Redemption I am screaming in the night: “I don’t belong here!” City living isn’t an exotic fancy notion I will outgrow. For me, it’s entirely sensible.
And the difference between a suburb and a neighbourhood (make that a ‘hood)? Well, a man was shot and wounded five doors down from here recently. Recalling the body count in Dovecot Towers, I wonder if death walks beside me. Or is that just the way of things now?