It is a sunny, blue sky Saturday morning and the living room window is open out so wide that from where I sit on our giant sofa, I have a bird’s eye view of passers-by three floors below, reflected on glass which is mottled now after weeks without a decent rain shower to clean it. It feels like the first Saturday morning in forever that I have had the time and luxury of sitting down with a pot of tea and an avocado something, Saturday Morning Kitchen in the background.
I’ve read half a dozen articles, traded a few catch up messages with friends, received confirmation from DH that after his ungodly early start and a few misadventures he has arrived safely at the drop zone. He’ll send further confirmations throughout the day, partly to reassure the niggling worry that lurks in the back of my mind when he goes jumping, partly to expel some of the fervour that he’ll be buzzing off for days to come. It’s an odd thing, the desire to jump out of planes at the weekend in order to keep your feet on the ground for the rest of the week, but then he is rather an odd thing himself and it’s been a long while since he last went jumping.
It’s been a long while since either of us had a Saturday morning to our own devices. We spend all week apart so the weekends are often jam-packed with plans together, adventures, weddings (because we’re at that age) and for the last seven or eight months, flat viewings.
DH, with his sensible job and his sensible savings, is ready to take his first steps on the housing market and I, with my lowly charity job and tendencies to splurge, have been providing a wealth of expertise garnered from years watching Location Location Location, and offering the emotional thinking which so compliments his logical approach, namely “But it isn’t very pretty…”. Between us we make a good team, he talks the talk with the agent, asking astute questions about sinking funds and freeholds, while I potter around looking in cupboards, eyeing up where the bookshelves would go, before casually pointing out the worrying cracks in the ceiling plaster, the industrial conditioning unit just outside the bedroom window, or the karaoke bar down the street which I know from experience, doesn’t kick out its rowdy clientele until after 2am. Equally, when I get distracted by a cute resident dog, DH will spot the uneven floors, the signs of damp, or the fact that there are no radiators in the living room.
In all our months of looking there have been perhaps two or three potential homes, but as yet, nothing worth offering on. So a little scunnered with the whole affair, the search has been put on hold and while it’s a joy to have Saturdays mornings back, there is also a mental shift to be made. The morning commute, for example, previously spent scrolling through newly-listed properties, is suddenly at my disposal to practice Irish on Duo Lingo or read the news headlines. And those bothersome little things around the flat which I’d previously dismissed with an “only temporary” brush-off, are now worth proper consideration – “must fix that leaky tap”, “really should hang those prints”, “need to clear the office out!”
Now that we’ve resigned ourselves to being here for the foreseeable, I’m suddenly seeing the charm and character of the place anew, with the same fresh intention and creativity that I did over four years ago when I first moved in.
I have lived here almost as long as I have known DH, moving in just six weeks after we first met. He only officially moved in last year and before him, I had three successive flatmates (one randomer, two friends) the last of which christened it, Booky Towers. He himself contributed just one hardback book to the ever growing stacks and cluttered shelves of our third floor flat, a biography of Justin Bieber that his brother had given him, presumably as a joke, and which I am thankful to say, he took with him when he moved out.
It’s funny thinking back now of all the people who’ve stayed here, the girls who passed through the lives of those various flatmates, siblings who slept on sofas, colleagues who regularly passed an evening on a makeshift bed of cushions and duvets on the living room floor; friends who woke up with sore heads and dishevelled beehives after lively late nights. We celebrated Conchita’s groundbreaking victory here, drawing eyeliner beards on each other’s faces and eating cold chicken wings sitting on the kitchen floor. We’ve drowned our election night sorrows here more than once, going to bed as the sun came up hoping a little sleep would make things feel better. It rarely did.
On the hillside corner of China Town, Booky Towers is on the main taxi route back into town but the Saturday night noise is not as great a nuisance as you might imagine. That said, it isn’t uncommon, to make an urgent midnight leap from bed to the window when disagreements on the street below tip from annoying to concerning with the raise of a voice or the breaking of glass. We’ve made more than a couple of calls to police, pointing them in the right direction and once describing the attire of a young man, staggering in the orange gloom of the street-light-lit road, begging on-coming traffic to run him over. “Yes we’ve been looking for him” the police officer told me, “He’s left his girlfriend in a right state, no wonder he wants to do himself in.”
But the view from these glorious windows is not always so dark. Open to the city skyline, the garage roofs opposite often flood in winter, providing a welcome home to urban wildlife – mostly seagulls – who bathe there and potter about among the greenery sprouting from drainpipes and cracks in the wall. And all around us the red brick and grey slates of the Georgian Quarter tiptoe up the hill to the Anglican Cathedral, sash windows open to the Mersey breeze on summer days, or warmly lit in the dusk of winter evenings. Across those rooftops, the crown of the Metropolitan Cathedral rises into the sky on the horizon amid the dormant, red clay chimney pots.
It’s quite the Rear Window view from the comfort of this flat. The new build beyond the garages has offered plenty of entertainment that wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of Friends. “Naked girl’s back!” my old flatmate once roared over Gogglebox, bouncing to the window to get a better view. We watched students worship the sun on yoga mats on the penthouse terrace (presumably rented with trust-funds or generous parents); parties that blared music and shot strobe lights out into the stillness of the summer nights, following mornings that saw the survivors deathly, smoking cigarettes on the balcony. When cruise ships launch from the nearby docks the fireworks reflect in their glass doors.
We watched a forklift tip on the street below once, it went on for hours, three of us crippled with laughter as they sent in another forklift to upturn it. We stifled giggles another evening, crouched by the window as a couple, a little the worse for wear, unpacked their emotional baggage at loud volume for the whole city to hear – he, animated and clearly at fault, threw his arms down by his sides like a toddler while screaming “I’m not a dickhead though” at his nonplussed, probably now ex-girlfriend, as she stood in the bus stop smoking, responding crisply with “You are though”.
On the night of the Champions League final earlier this year, we lay in bed listening to crowds of fans, disheartened but cheerful as they made their way home after drowning their sorrows, chattering, often singing, and one wonderful, solitary chap who I’ll always remember fondly, hours later in the 5am quiet, screaming the words of You’ll Never Walk Alone, from the pit of his stomach, with such passion I was sure he would burst a blood vessel. The most cherished city sound however, that regularly drifts up to our open windows on still Sunday nights, is that of the jazz escaping from the steamed windows of The Grapes just out of sight beyond the building opposite. I like to think that in decades to come when I think back about this flat, that’s what I’ll remember, lying in bed, listening to the Sunday night jazz drifting into the red-brick night.
Wherever I’ve lived, in student digs or dingy flats in this city, I’ve always tried to make it feel homely, always brought something of myself to colour up the stark magnolia walls and bare floors which typify rental flats across the country. I put up pictures and posters, leaving blu tac patterns on the walls when I go. There is no shortage of cushions or cosy blankets to make a nest of on a chilly evening, and even in my most pinched bar-working days I have never gone without fairy lights and a supply of tealights to warm the gloom.
There are fancier candles now, bought at discount in TK Maxx, and potted plants, somehow still alive. In every rooms there are tokens of our travels together – photos and souvenirs – and from my own in that hazy world before we met, reminding me of South East Asian days and Spanish nights away with the girls. There is a large ceramic dog called Colin who came home from the bar I used to work in when the last of our cohort finally left its pumps for greater things. I worked there for six years throughout my student days and beyond, was regularly late for shifts and ironically, live closer to it now than I ever did at the time. There are signs of past flatmates too from this flat and others before it, kitchen gadgets left behind by an excellent cook, a Man City jersey forgotten by a cousin now in America, a badling of rubber ducks inherited from a flat mate who danced around the kitchen in Ugg boots and underwear singing Beyonce songs – he shall perhaps always be my favourite.
Of course there are books everywhere. Beloved paperbacks on shelves, stacks to be read, or already finished but not quite finished with, books to be sold or given to charity or returned to friends. There is a pinboard in the kitchen flooded with notes and recipes, the fridge has a magnet from every adventure I or my little sister have made in the last ten years. The kitchen counters are always insufficient for my haphazard style of cooking, and are cluttered with things that should always be close to hand – spices, oils, tea bags for me, coffee for DH.
Though he’s been here for some time now, DH’s mark on the flat may seem less overt at first glance. He doesn’t really do photographs and working away from home, his day-to-day debris can fit quite compactly in a roller suitcase. However, the spare room is, in principle his – an office to work in, storage space for his many outdoorsy, equipment-heavy hobbies. In practice it has become my dumping ground which I hope to sort today in his absence, if Wimbledon and the World Cup will let me away from the sofa, or if the sun doesn’t tempt me out of doors. Clothes horses and clutter have made the room chaotic and despite having cleaned and tided the rest of the flat already this week, my smugness is a little dampened by the state of that place.
Of all the rooms, the living room kitchen feels the most like ours, rather than mine. Asides from the gaming consoles which moved in before he did, officially, it feels like the room that we built together. The day he moved in, DH brought a gigantic sofa (it easily fits five or six adults side by side, yet somehow still gets dominated by the small whippet that frequently visits). It took five of us to get it up three flights of stairs. The sofa had come from his childhood and more directly, from his aunt’s house, where he and his sister and cousins had played out their adventures as kids, and had served as his weekend bed when he needed escape from student halls and freezing digs.
We live on it now. Sprawling out across the huge cushions or curling up tight together in one corner, knuckles white with tension as we watch The Bridge. In the window, a kitchen table, found in Oxfam and ferried home in the back of a black cab, serves occasionally as dinner table, more often as my desk. Next to it, housing the record player he gave me our first Christmas, the first Ikea unit we built together and behind the sofa and providing the extra surface I often need while cooking, is the second one, sturdier, more expensive, of real wood, something which we will bring into every home we make together in the years to come.
For now this is our home, our first home together, where we got to know each other, cooked together, slow danced round the kitchen on tough days, doused each other with lice treatment when a friend’s dog left us with flea bites. More often than not this flat has been full of laughter and music blaring through the walls as we cook, hoover or shower, but we’ve both cried here. Happy tears, like the first time DH read the piece he was to deliver at his sister’s wedding. I was cooking and had my back to him, he went quiet and then suddenly he was behind me, burying his face in my shoulder to hide the tears. He’s always been a sap.
But sad tears too, more often from me, on some days as soon as the lift doors had closed behind me. The evening I remember clearly, when I turned on my phone after returning home, to discover that not one, but three of my closest friends had announced plans to leave the city. I sat on the bed in stunned, teary-eyed silence as it sank in. DH made me a cup of tea.
Tea has been made in chipped, miss-match mugs and in the homely brown teapot, on countless occasions when hearts are heavy, Mondays are dreaded or bad news is sinking in. The bowls in these cupboards have been filled with warming, comforting pasta and soup on cold days and tired nights when work has drained all creative ideas of cooking. From here we have started many of our adventures together, setting out with packed bags and the daft silliness that comes with 5am taxis to the airport. And this is where we have come home to, after long days at work, long weeks away, after holidays with bags of washing, weekends away with muddy boots or suits to be dry-cleaned, after nights out with giddy hearts and bags of chips.
This flat has set the bar very high for any future home, not just because of it’s spacious rooms and high ceilings, but because of the life that’s unfolded between these walls. It will be hard to leave whenever we finally do, but in the meantime I’m going to appreciate it and perhaps, even clear out the office.