We looked at 17 flats before finding the one we currently occupy. I kept a spreadsheet of each place we viewed between June 4, 2009, and whenever it was in the autumn of that year that I stepped into this unassuming apartment on an unassuming street and thought, “This feels like home.”
My spreadsheet lists the date on which we viewed each flat, how much it cost, where it was, what type of place it was (e.g., number of bedrooms), the legal particulars (e.g., leasehold/freehold), and my generic notes on each place. Most of the notes involve some combination of the words “small,” “shabby” and “precarious stairs,” which pretty much sums up the housing situation in Brighton (at least in a certain price bracket). The note for one place we considered reads “could imagine living there, but it’s not massively exciting.” The note describing a place we actually made a (rejected) offer on says it had a “view of a brick wall.” And my favorite note is for a flat on Sussex Square—an otherwise relatively swanky area—which reads “everything is brilliant except for the flat itself.”
I have no notes for the flat we wound up buying, probably because as soon as I saw it I knew that we should probably put an offer in on it. It was around this time of year, on a typically grey and miserable day, that I trekked out here to what seemed like the farthest reaches of Brighton (which it’s really not) to check out the two-bed, top-floor flat with a garden and a working fireplace. I remember I was exceedingly tired of looking at one dismal hovel after another, and I was disappointed that we had lost out on the flat with the view of the brick wall, and I had no real hopes for this random flat at the top of a massive hill in an unfamiliar part of town.
The first thing you notice when you open our front door is the flight of very steep carpeted stairs that leads up to the flat. But the first thing I noticed was that the flat had its own front door. There was no crummy communal entranceway like you’d get in an apartment building, so even though the place is technically an apartment, it feels more like a house. The second thing I noticed was that it had an actual kitchen—not a crappy line of cabinets and appliances along one wall in an “open-plan” living area, and not a cramped galley squeezed into some awkward corner, but a proper room with a surprisingly largely amount of counter space and a nice window onto the garden. The third thing I noticed was the coziness; it was a chilly day, but there were lamps lit and the heating was on, and I felt like I could curl up on the sofa in the living room and be quite content.
And then there was the garden, the totally unexpected bonus, the thing I didn’t even know I wanted. I stepped outside on that cool, misty afternoon and breathed in the sweet fragrance of the fresh bark covering the ground and looked at the lovely little Japanese maple in its pretty pot and just stood in the quiet for a while, taking it all in. I could never have imagined what a godsend that garden would be 11(!) years later, in the middle of a pandemic, when it would become a private, fresh-air refuge in a terrible time.
We’ve been here for over a decade now, and while we’ve sometimes chatted idly about how we could theoretically move into someplace bigger, or someplace in a different part of town, we’ve never seen the point. We’ve always agreed that, while this is far from a dream house, it’s a fine place to be in all the in-between the times when we aren’t somewhere else—i.e., traveling. And, up until this year, we’ve almost always been somewhere else.
But I have now sat in this flat every single day for the past 238 days, and I want out. The antsy claustrophobia I first felt back in April, when the reality of everyone being at home ALL THE TIME really set in, has returned full force. Thanks to a combination of eight months of plague, and weeks of crappy weather, and constant election stress, and a lull in work that gives me too much time to brood about everything, I’m just a ball of nerves. Every sound from the neighbors and every tiny irritating household thing (a broken cabinet hinge, a loose bathroom tile) are amplified until they feel unbearable. There’s a fine line between “cozy” and “confining,” and that line was crossed a good while back.
And now we’re looking at another 4 weeks (at least) of lockdown. It won’t be as stringent as it was back in the spring, and it won’t substantially affect Jeremy and me since we haven’t really been out anywhere in about two months anyway. But it does mean that the one thing we’ve had to look forward to every other week—our masked and physically distanced Irish tune workshop at a nearby community center—is canceled for the foreseeable future. And it means that everyone, us included, will continue to be at home ALL THE TIME. And it means that I’m going to have to work extra hard to remember the feeling I had when I first ascended our steep stairs a decade ago and sensed that this was a place I could be comfortable in, a place I wanted to spend time in, particularly since I know that there are so many worse places to be.