What is it? A purpose-built bungalow in someone else’s garden.
Where is it? Enfield.
What is there to do locally? Every time I gun for a place unnecessarily (like I am about to do now), someone who grew up and perhaps still lives there – and has this strange primal rush of pride towards the place just because they spent eight years eating chips on buses there while they revved hormonally through adolescence in a way that feels important to them and them alone – comes for me very hot, either online or through email, saying for example, “SLAG OFF ENFIELD AGAIN, YEAH?” and “THE FUCK DO YOU KNOW ABOUT ENFIELD? COME ENFIELD AND SAY THAT,” the threat always being that I have to come all the way down to some dreary Zone 5 (bus, 40-minute tube, another bus) shithole just to stand outside an Argos and get my head kicked in, for some reason, as justice. But even though I am trying to find something normal and possibly positive to say about Enfield, every google I do just seems to provide me with blank information – like when the robots in Westworld try to read documents about themselves – like looking at grey fog and trying to read it like runes. I’m sure there’s stuff in Enfield, to do. But I also reckon getting battered outside an Argos – blood running red then maroon then black down one of those hefty gravel-flecked squat bollards they used to make in the 90s – is one of the top three, maybe top two, things on the list.
Alright, how much are they asking? £250 per week, which I am imagining comes out at around £1,000 pcm, although it could go as high as £1,050
The situation is this: the year is 2021 and you are allowed to socialise again (if you cannot imagine a life that far in the future – if you, too, think we are doomed to never escape 2020, that 2020 will tick over at midnight on NYE to, inexplicably, another 2020, and we’ll have to live through another 20 or 30 2020s until we make it to 2021 – then you can just imagine an entirely hypothetical version of this year, where none of the Bad Things happened).
The situation is this: one of your friends has bought a house. This is a thing that starts happening to you when you creak into your late twenties and early thirties: out of nowhere, without warning or discussion, friends around you start buying property. The marriages, you were fine with: Pete’s been with Becky for years now anyway, and her dad said he’d pay for most of it, and you got to go to Riga for the stag and then Brighton for the wedding (well, near-Brighton: the manor house they held the reception in and that you puked the bed up on was Brighton-adjacent), so, all-in-all, the weddings you were fine with. The weddings were expected. But property? We didn’t talk about this—
So the thing with the creaking and the twenties and the thirties and the property is that it just happens, without warning and without any sort of consensus, but in a way that you start to suspect has, actually, been decided by consensus, as if a WhatsApp group opened up without you and everyone else decided to stop using .gifs and grow up.
Every Instagram post of someone grinning shyly in front of a front door, single keyring-less key held up and glimmering in the sun, inches you further away from your chaotic youth and into ill-fitting adulthood, where somehow all the faces you spent every weekend with in your twenties now, like, know about wine, or have a car, or talk – honestly, out loud! – about “fertility”.
“But how can you afford it?” you ask them, because you can’t afford anything – that unexpected gas bill meant you couldn’t go to the pub for a month, twice a year you still have to send the long embarrassing text to mum to see if she can front you some of that inheritance nan has been threatening to die and leave you for eight years – but not enough to, like, save anything. You thought it was quite grown up that you went on MoneySavingExpert and actually switched banks so you could get that Amazon gift card. At the same time, all your friends have been printing out forms from their healthy little ISAs.
“Well, we saved, I suppose,” Pete says, as you cling desperately to the one pint of three you can afford tonight, thinking of all those rounds you bought them, on all those sloppy nights, the ones you couldn’t really afford but you stretched to, didn’t you, because you wanted a pint and it felt wrong not to offer him one, and now you find out that at the exact moment your bank charged you another overdraft fee for the un-arranged round, the person you were buying a Staropramen for had sixty-five thousand pounds in their savings account and a load of crypto on “Coinbase”.
“Yeah, I suppose saving,” says Pete. “We only did the one holiday last year. Becks got some money from her dad, my parents chipped in a bit. I told you I got thirty-K when my grandad died?” – he did, yeah, but both your grandads died when you were in sixth form, and the £600 you got from yours went straight into a third-hand Fiat and some, in hindsight, very terrible resin, and then it was all gone again and you had to spend a whole summer pulling double shifts at Asda just to afford the insurance. “Yeah, no, I used some of it on Glasto tickets, sure. But then dad made me save the rest away.”
So, hold on, how much of this house is mortgage? “Oh, no mortgage. There is no mortgage.”
So anyway, hypothetically you are at this stage in your life, and you are aware that you are now the one dragging the mean down, and no longer the fun outlier. You suddenly see your friends through a strange prism of adulthood that they’ve been arranging over their faces for years: as the crow’s feet come in, as the hairlines recede, as one of them actually goes to the doctor for a physical (“Requirement as part of the will, bro. Becks’ dad gets us Bupa”) and starts a diet and exercise regime with a personal trainer, but none of this you noticed in the low dark light of the pub, but that’s because you were pissed.
“Yeah, Becks has… well, I suppose I can tell you. We’re ten weeks” – and the floor gives way below you. “Not many after-work pints for the foreseeable,” he says. The foreseeable what? 18 years? I don’t even know if I’ll be alive by then!
Saturday morning and you’re due to go up to Enfield. You take inventory of the night before. Monzo: Monzo is cleared out. Uber: OK wow two cancellation charges and a 1.8x surge fair, might have to walk to work this week. NatWest: you are not emotionally ready for the NatWest app just now, because you remember insisting on a round of sambucas, and nobody really wanted sambucas, so you had to have four and give one away at the bar. Half a chicken-shop pizza lies, claggy and fetid, on the other side of your bed. A blue bag suggests you managed to drink one can of Beck’s, alone, in bed. But didn’t that girl…? No, she told you to fuck off. She said she’d follow you on Instagram, but you haven’t got the notification yet. Re-download Bumble on the train. Wait, what do you wear to a pregnant person’s house? Are they allergic to… materials?
You had to get off the tube two stops early because you were convinced you were going to be sick, but some deep breathing outside a high street arcade (an old man with a limp spent a long time walking over to ask if you were alright, and you said “yes yes fine” and tried to bat him off, to press a pound coin into his hand, but he said, innocently, “No I’m not homeless,” and slipped it back to you, and honestly the way this month is going, thank god) and now you’re on a bus there, shimmering and shaking around.
They have a front garden and a back. They have a tasteful pastel yellow front door, the one you saw them put up on Instagram. “Pete’s been doing a lot of the decorating himself,” Becks tells you, gently hugging her imperceptible bump. “He’s good at it, aren’t you, Pete?” she teases, and Pete demurs. The first week you met this man, you watched him drink a half pint of your piss. Now, he’s asking you Farrow & Ball recommendations for the nursery room. You still have the same haircut, the same greasy wallet.
Out into the garden now. Becks has put on a little spread – she got into baking pretty hard two years ago, and then the cookery lessons, and actually her food Instagram took off quite well (“Twenty-thousand followers! Who’d have thought!”) and even though she’s doing so well at work she thinks she might take a sabbatical after what she keeps calling, in a firm but tinkling voice, “mat cover”, to write the cookbook proposal for Penguin – and so you’re about to have your first nutritious meal for, what, nine days?
She’s done up celery sticks and a green zesty salad, and your blood screams hot for the vitamins. “Do you mind if I—?” you say, and you take some sort of cracker thing and swallow it in one. It’s the most delicious thing you’ve ever eaten. What is that? “It’s chickpea tuna,” Becks tells you. “I— we! — are going vegan. It’s much healthier in the long run, and it’s good for my milk.” You once saw this girl take a shower with her clothes on at a party because it was the night before an exam and she needed to sober up, and now she’s weeks away from gently tipping her breast into a baby’s soft mouth and feeding it milk in an ancient ceremony that links us from the age of the primitive apes to the present day. For breakfast today you drank a Red Bull on the bus.
“What’s that?” you say, and you point to the bungalow at the bottom of the garden. “Oh, yeah,” Pete says. “‘The squat’.” They have a little laugh together. No, really, you say. What is it? “Show you around, if you like,” says Pete, pulling out the keys. “It’s just a little project we— well, you know.”
You step inside. There’s a brand new bed, look. A little artless kitchenette. “All new shit, obviously,” Pete says. “Becks’ dad helped with a lot of it.” No, but what’s it for, you say. You don’t understand. Is it like… a shed?
“It’s a flophouse,” Pete says. “We’re going to put it on Gumtree. Some cunt will rent it off us.” How much for? “Grand a month, probably. Tank it straight into a savings bond, buy the next upgrade off the scraps.” Sorry, Pete, you want someone to live in here? “Would offer it to you, obvs, but: grand a month. Might be a bit, you know. Out of your budget.” Yes, it’s out of my budget! It’s a grand a month to live in someone’s garden! How do they even get through the garden? “Side gate,” Pete says. “We’ll give them a key.”
And then you zoom out, from here, from Enfield, from the celery and the garden and the nursery and the bus and the tube and the pizza that is still in your bed, and the urgent phone call from the bank and that girl last night who still won’t accept your follow request on Instagram, either from your own account or your (much less popular, if that was even possible) ambient noise project account, and you know that you are not living life right, but at least you are not living it like this, a ghoul wearing the mask of mediocrity, a ghoul at the fat end of the cul-de-sac, a ghoul who wants to give their son a firm, strong, traditional middle name and unleash a new generation of ghoulishness on them all, Thomas Benjamin Thomas Thomas Pete, may he never know the terror.
You may be the cunt in your friendship group, yes. You may be a useless twat who is one more strike at work away from moving out of the city forever. But fucking hell. At least you’re not trying to rent out a bungalow in your own back garden.