A couple of weeks ago we put our flat on the market. The place is lovely but it’s tiny, and after three years squeezed in alongside a plethora of furry animals we’ve decided it’s time to upsize to a normal person sized house – a decision accelerated in no small part by the fact that our upstairs neighbour is a proper noisy chav twat. His girlfriend is perpetually angry, and sounds like a foghorn whenever she gets peeved (which is always). It’s just not a nice situation, and the golden-boy at the Housing Association, who promised us he could use our complaints and recordings as evidence to begin eviction proceedings, has turned out to be more of a gold-spray-painted boy. A cheap knockoff. All mouth and no trousers. Fucking useless.
Everyone that I speak to about moving house has a horror story to tell. Not a single person has said “Yes it was a lovely experience, I really enjoyed it and will definitely be doing it again soon. I especially enjoyed the massive fees and the constant bullshit.” And so far, even though we’re at the very beginning of our journey (only two viewings of our flat), I’m already left a bit stunned: Firstly, by the sheer cost of property in Milton Keynes compared to Huddersfield. Secondly, by the huge variation of quality that’s out there for your money. Last weekend we went from one house viewing straight to another, and the second one – which was £50k more expensive, was approximately four-times shitter. The former was a lovely cottage with wonky beams and a woodburner in the bedroom fireplace, the latter was an ex-rental that stank of fags and had half a kebab in the garden. Didn’t even taste that nice, since the rain had washed the chili sauce off…
Before I steer this ship towards the mucky side of booze-talk, as is customary for my filthy blog, I wanted to muse for a bit over the strangely lucky position I find myself in with this house-move, and the previously unnoticed correlation between the death of my grandparents and the materialisation of sober-Jon.
My grandad, Albert, left us in early 2016. He was stocky, which is probably where I get it from, and I always thought him to look a bit like The-Godfather-era Marlon Brando. I think it was the chin; sort of prominent with a pushed-out jawline. Plus, he had slicked-back black hair which was a pretty strong look. And, as it probably always is with the grandad-grandson relationship, he was my absolute idol as a kid. War stories, a career in the heart of mechanical engineering, one hundred press-ups every day, and the best horse impressions you’ve ever heard (?) – he was a guy to look up to. What’s more he didn’t drink, and he was ardently devoted to my grandmother. After his death we actually found an old black and white picture he’d kept of my grandma, taken when she was probably seventeen or eighteen years old, and on the back he’d typed ‘FLORENCE, THE ONLY GIRL I WILL EVER LOVE.’ Honestly, finding that little note in his absence gave me the strangest, saddest sensation – knowing that he wrote it right back at the beginning of a relationship that went on to last them both into their nineties, and with them both now sat in their final resting places next to each other – each contained in a small decorated urn. The story of an entire life together, summarised in a tiny dog-eared picture found during a post-funeral house clearance.
We lost my grandma to dementia in 2015, and at that point my grandad seemed to just give up on life – ultimately only lasting a further year himself. It was like they couldn’t bear to be parted, and so he only stuck around as long as was required to get things in order before following her into the great beyond. By the time we lost him, I’d been off the beer for only about four of five months, having been a distant grandson at best due to the booze taking a firm priority over everything. The outcome of this was gutting – I was finally sober and ready to embrace the closeness of family that I’d kept at arms length for so long. I wanted to hear the funny stories from my grandad’s working life, and be the doting grandson that shows up on a Sunday and takes him out for an awesome carvery dinner. I wanted to ask both my grandparents questions about growing up before the advent of Pot Noodles and dabbing and Kanye West and anal bleaching. I wanted to learn the things from them that ninety years on this earth can teach you. I wanted to get to know them both all over again, and be as close as we were when I was a young kid, before I was tempted away by punk music and vodka and Marlboro Lights. Alas, it was all just a bit too late, and by the time I was sober and ready to connect… they were both gone.
So, how does this fit in with our house-hunting adventures?
Well, my grandparents were kind enough to leave me a bit of cash, and if I’m being completely honest I’d have probably pissed the whole lot up the wall by now had I still been drinking: Couple of crazy holidays in Vegas, smashed up a Mustang, ended up on a 2-month Strongbow bender until the rent money ran out, woken up on Scottish farmland with no trousers (you know the drill). But it didn’t play out that way. As it happens, the timing was pretty much perfect, as the money landed just at the point where my booze-addled mind had started to settle from the manic yoyo-ing that comes with early sobriety. I was able to use the cash sensibly to bring about a bit of security, and it meant that the financial burden which comes with 25 years of binge drinking was hugely lessened. The crushing weight of being a financially-backwards retarded man had swiftly become little more than a minor worry. Honestly, it felt like a meticulously-planned parting gift, like a way for my grandparents to say “We all make mistakes Jon, and you’ve already started making changes for the better, so let us give you a helping hand to bring you back on track. Toodle-pip! P.S. We’re going to keep watching you from beyond the grave, so you really need to stop all that wanking. It’s awkward to watch, especially for your grandma, and you’ll get a sore wrist.”
So onwards to house hunting! Some of the more grim houses we’ve looked at have brought back memories of places I used to rent, or that mates of mine used to rent, where the carpets were always minging, and the walls had always gone yellow. We never had any respect for these places. None of us did. They were party pads. Drinking dens. Somewhere to sleep and shit (ideally in different rooms). Mainly, they were places to get wankered on cheap booze and blast out music through crackly, distorted old speakers.
My mate, Biff (not his real name, unfortunately), had a rented place over in Leeds, and whenever we needed to piss we’d just stand in the kitchen at the top of the cellar steps, and waz down into the cellar – all over the discarded mattresses and old Xmas decorations that were lurking down there in the darkness. Walls were spray-painted with band names and edgy slogans. Tables were danced upon until they broke. Duvets went unwashed for years at a time. We were animals, man. animals with perpetual colds and blocked toilets. Sinks full of empty beer cans and three week old soup bowls, fur growing in them.
I used to rent a pretty nice place up on New Hey Road in Huddersfield, but my housemate found an affinity for smoking tons of weed every night, which completely compromised his ability to go to work and pay his share of the bills. Eventually I had to boot him out, and moved into the house next door with two young, female party animals. It’s not as great as it sounds: they were fucking crazy, and the house had already been mangled through years of partying. There wasn’t a single redecoration or refurb in sight. It was the epitome of grim housing – with huge sticky stains on the old brown burn-dotted carpet, and wallpaper drooping off every wall. We didn’t even have keys, so we used to go to work and just leave the place unlocked. Also, the bills hadn’t been paid in months, and when the girls eventually moved out I was left with a ton of debt to clear, and a wreck of a house to explain to the landlord. I learned a lot from that experience. Mainly that girls are bastards.
Nowadays, as we go from house-to-house looking for our home for the next ten or fifteen years, I have a much better appreciation for the value of property. It’s not that I never understood the value before, but as a total wreck-head I just didn’t care. Property-speak is for business wankers, right? In fact, I always thought the idea of settling down and making a home to be tantamount to defeat. Renting was the last bastion of my freedom and independence, and had to be fiercely defended, lest I wind up as a sad old man staring at the same four walls for the remainder of my alcoholic life. Something which I’ve found, thanks to three years off the booze, to be total and complete bollacks. All renting actually ever gave me, if I’m to be completely honest, was a never-ending headcold from the damp, and a paid off mortgage. Not my own mortgage, of course. I was paying it off for some other fucker. Why did it take me so long to work this out?? Thanks booze – not only did you make me wee myself on a bus, you also made me forget how to maths.
As our search continues, I go forth into the world of house-shopping with a level of trepidation, but also excitement about where we may land. There are so many possibilities: gardens with hot tubs, conservatories for rainy days, balconies for reading in the sun, basements for setting up as cinema rooms with huge booming speakers, driveways with enough room to work on an old battered Vauxhall Calibra, open fireplaces that we can doze in front of, dining rooms big enough to host huge Xmas parties, staircases that twist and turn, huge blank walls to hang movie posters from, and terraces big enough for summer BBQs. None of this meant anything to me as a drinker. I didn’t care much about anything, to be honest, and how good it feels to be in a place where I can put some care into my surroundings, and build a place where I actually want to spend time – rather than just a base for my scary drinking and even scarier hangovers.
It’s not easy, this adulting thing, but at nearly forty years old it’s probably about time that I started doing sensible things. Not that sensible though – I’ll still be writing songs about hairy balls and telling stupid nob jokes for a few years to come. I’ll just be doing it from the comfort of a nice house, rather than a fucked one.
The squeeziest of bear hugs,
P.S. Things have changed a bit since I wrote this guff. We’ve sold the flat and found a new house. You can probably disregard this entire blog. Boom!
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