My Lawyer is on his last trip back to our family home, before we vacate the house for our tenants. We differ somewhat in our psychological approaches to this; I like to anticipate emotional trauma before it is encountered. A sense of deep loss is lurking in the fortnight ahead of me as I pack up and leave the house that I brought my three babies home to, and I do not like surprises. I’m going to be ready for that fucker.
My Lawyer, on the other hand, is happy for his emotional reaction to catch up with him at any point during, or indeed after, a significant event. Sadness, anger, joy or even boredom will trot up behind him belatedly like an almost-forgotten old dog: “Ah, Distain, there you are! I thought you’d died. Or not died. Either way is fine. Let me throw you a stick, so you might return at some unspecified moment as Jealousy, Self-Loathing or even just plain, underwhelming Indifference.”
I’m not sure this is entirely healthy, and I don’t want him complaining, at some point in 2019, that he regrets his lack of ceremony upon leaving. I have enough to do already, although I suppose by that point I might be able to say “I told you so” in two languages. Three, if you count Facial Expression. Nevertheless, it’s clear he needs my help to identify his Significant Lasts. On his last full day before heading back to Amsterdam, I do my best:
“Do you want to walk the kids to school for one last time?”
“What? Oh yes, I suppose this is the last chance isn’t it. Okay.”
“Shall we get one last curry from the good place tonight? I’m not sure they have good curry in Amsterdam.”
“Oooh, yes. Curry.”
“There’s the bin men. This is your last ever Bin Day here.”
“Well it’s probably not last ever…..”
“I know, it’s very sad. I have to go out now, to get some tampons for my last ever period in this house.”
“Get me some cider to go with my curry?”
Over The Last Curry, My Lawyer decides that this is a good time to tell me the entire synopsis of the movie Interstellar. He completes this unsolicited review with his opinion that “actually, very little happens”. He tidies up and I watch the finale of Girls, which has received a mixed bag of reviews due to loose ends fraying further instead of neatly tying. This is how things really end, I think, when new beginnings overlap the old, like a new tide.
My Lawyer disappears back to Amsterdam the next morning, confessing to some fleeting sense of loss as he leaves our home of the last eight years. I was 35 weeks pregnant with our first baby when we moved into this house. Four weeks later, my father died, and his funeral took place the day after my due date. Being nine months pregnant at a parent’s funeral is an unusual and undesirable situation to be in. I was a walking juxtaposition. My baby arrived two weeks after, the story of which I’ll save for a rainy day. Baby number two arrived 21 months later. Baby number three, 3 years after that. Three births and a bereavement; a low-budget sequel to Four Weddings And A Funeral, set in Tulse Hill.
Perhaps these are the things that run through My Lawyer’s head as he leaves. I, however, don’t have time to dwell, because I am about to embark on two moves at once: our stuff to Amsterdam, and the kids and I to my mum’s for our last couple of months of school here in London. One thing is certain: we still have too much stuff.
My friend Faye has undertaken two moves in two years, and has re-written the rules of KonMari in a way that can only help:
- Throw away everything that does not bring you joy.
- Throw away everything that does bring you joy.
Going through every single item in the house carries with it, surely, an inevitability of emotional reaction, but I have less than two weeks to completely clear the house ready for tenants. A big lorry is arriving in a week to drive our belongings to Amsterdam. I steel myself for sadness, but not a flutter arises as I throw away bag after bag of paraphernalia of our family life, including photos never framed, children’s faded drawings, certificates from school. I downsize our cuddly toy collection by half, ignoring Marie Kondo’s recommendation to cover the eyes of the toys as I do so, such is my steely determination. I throw away the last slice of our wedding cake, stale and hard. It falls to the base of the bin with a hard clink. I rediscover a short note that my mum wrote to me, on my return to London to have a baby, having said a final goodbye to my father. I burn the note in the fireplace, and await a tsunami of grief. It does not come.
I do keep some unnecessary items. An angler fish costume I made for the seven year old’s class assembly two years ago. It took two weeks to make, and he wore it for ten minutes. The seven year old rediscovers it as I put it aside and wears it for a whole weekend. I hold on to too many books, because you are what you read. You can survey a person’s bookcase and very quickly ascertain whether or not you’ll be friends. I get rid of all the baby books apart from What Mothers Do, which kept me company in those isolating early months of parenthood, reassuring me that even when it looks like I’m doing nothing, I’m still mothering. It is a mantra I have, on occasion, taken perhaps rather too literally. But it has kept me moderately sane.
I keep our children’s lost teeth; partly because I have read something about them being valuable for stem cells should our children become sick, and partly because the thought of My Lawyer in Amsterdam opening a small, unlabelled box of children’s teeth is too tempting to resist.
The preparation for moving out whilst looking after three small children is gargantuan, and only achievable thanks to the unrelenting assistance of local friends and family. Generally speaking, the kids are fine about leaving the house. They have been heavily bribed with Lego. The six year old still doesn’t want to move schools though, and finds new ways to make her opposition apparent. The day before the removal lorry comes, she is spectacularly sick, meaning several last minute changes-in-plan, which result in my spending my final night in the house alone. I sleep fitfully in the seven year old’s Star Wars bedroom, worrying not about leaving, but about how to save three parking spaces for the lorry in the morning.
The lorry arrives, miraculously parks, and the removal men set about their work. I sit in the car, which is full of the things we’ll need for our remaining weeks at my mums, watching our home get dismantled and loaded on to the lorry. It is exciting, and it occurs to me that perhaps there is no loss to mourn after all; no ambush of sadness lurking ahead. I can relax. I pop in to see Carol, my elderly neighbour, who makes me a coffee from a sachet.
“I’ve never seen coffee made like that, Carol,” I observe.
“The sugar’s already mixed in the sachet,” says Carol. “Good, innit?”
“What a world,” I agree. It’s a strange day, and I drink it.
The lorry sets off for Amsterdam, and I have a look around the empty house, giving myself yet another opportunity to embrace the onslaught of emotion. However, all I notice is how filthy the front room wall is, where the kids have catapulted the sofa towards it each time they’ve launched themselves around the room. An ombre of grubbiness ascends the wall to child height. I cannot let the tenants in whilst it is like this. I might be a London Wanker but I’m not a total bastard.
Various checks are carried out at the house to give it the all-clear for renting: gas, electrics, cleaners. I’m to and from the house so much that by the end of the week, when I come to paint the offending wall, I’m bloody sick of the place. I don my overalls, put the radio on and approach the wall with the roller.
Close up, I see the grubby fingerprints of my children that I must now paint over, and of course this is when it hits me; the loss of our old beginning, as I prepare the scene for a new one. Flashes appear of the three year old standing on his head on the sofa to watch telly; the six year old forging dens behind cushions in the corner of the room; the seven year old clobbering the wall with a light saber. I spend the morning erasing their silhouettes from the wall, sobbing and painting, and then emotionally sober up as I try to work out which bastarding key goes with which bastarding door or window.
The paint dries. I leave the house with approximately seventeen mystery keys, which I suppose will come with us to Amsterdam, and wherever else beyond.