Saturday, 9 January 2016

Curtain Twitchers

Waaaay back I used to get asked why I left sunny Belfast for English shores - sure, didn't Ireland have the sea and the mountains and the beaches and the green green pastures and er... endless rain? What's not to love?

Back then, I didn't appreciate the beauty of Ireland, the charm of it's sometimes parochial ways and the friendliness of the people. Instead, I loathed the politics of the place - sick to the back teeth of the never ending war, the narrow minded attitudes of the Catholic church and most of all the nosiness of one's neighbours. People commented on everything, passed their time staring over the fence and spreading gossip like wildfire. In fact when I was only 6 a woman who lived at the top of my street spread such venomous and frankly insane rumours about me to the point my Father had to take her aside whispering talk of lawyers and slander. Her loud mouth finally shut. Looking back, who trashes a 6 year old - just because she has happened to join the same school as your daughter?

So, post school aged 18 I fled to the big smoke, delighted to be anonymous and forgotten amongst the millions. There was no more gossip and comments about my Mother living in sin with a man, no more checking on who drove what car, could afford what house, was seeing which man. In a moment it stopped. I felt free, optimistic and above all inspired by the busy buzzy streets around me, the multi-cultured lifestyles and people. I felt at home.

Loathe as I was to do it, I left London in 2008. House prices and lack of decent schools drove me out. Only the mega rich can afford to live there any more - it is a sad indictment of our times that 50,000 families have been shipped out of there in the last three years and a third of the entire population there want to move out - as 54% feel their mortgage or rent is creating untold stress.

So I found a leafy pretty little market town that my best friend had moved to a year previously. It ticked all the boxes and we moved into a 3 bed Victorian semi and spent the first year regretting it. Had I moved into a Daily-Mail-reading Tory-loving up-their-own-arses village? The first function I attended there, I was ignored by most of the pressed-linen wearing women, or grilled about my job by the men to the point I could see them putting me into my 'box.' I was the only woman wearing Converse and drinking beer from a bottle. The folk at that tedious BBQ hosted by the people we bought our house from, were at best insipid and at worse dull and money/status fixated. I wheeled my 2 year old home in his buggy and cried.

But eventually I met some like minded folk, especially in the last year - and they have raised my spirits enormously; they drink too much, swear like sailors and like me, feel they have yet to grow up.

On a whim we put our house on the market the week before Xmas. I know. Who does that - right? Insane-o people obviously - because no fecker wants to buy a house before Xmas. Thing is, we saw one we liked - kind of by accident and so we rushed to move forward with the whole selling/buying nightmare. My house had not been on sale for more than 12 hours when I walked up to school on Friday 11th December through the rain, with a mere day to make my home 'sellable.' On route to and from school I ran into 3 people I know and all 3 said 'I see your house is up for sale.' There wasn't even a sign outside the front door! Clearly they had discovered this from the might Rightmove... One commented that they knew the house I was hoping to buy, but I probably 'wouldn't get it' and 'you never do.' Whatever hope and positivity I had was lost by the time I made my breakfast that day.

Husband took our son to a couple of sporting events over Xmas and had more than a dozen people accost him with questions on 'where are you planning to go?' Etc. With the advent of Rightmove - I am certain that everyone I know has now had a good look at my loo, bedroom and 'oh I don't like the rug in her lounge do you? Too garish...'

People don't even wish you a happy new year or ask how your Xmas has gone - no, they just launch into such chat as 'I considered seeing the house you are going for but no... don't want it' with a wrinkle of their nose. Or 'Have you had an offer yet?' *fake sympathy* 'Oh that's a shame...' Then - 'Has the one you want had offers?' If you say 'no' they roll off a list of why then it isn't a good buy - otherwise why hasn't it been snapped up? If you say 'yes' they are wide eyed and reply 'yeah, you probably won't get it then...'  Such joy! Such warmth! Such supportive attitudes!

The curtain twitching brigade, or rather the Rightmove junkies, are in their element. They know what you house is worth 'over priced if you ask me...' and know what you can afford, 'I mean really, it's a 1960s horror...' and have opinions on all. It feels like the nightmare where you are naked at school and you can't wake up.

What does it remind me of? The blatant nosiness, the barely concealed jealousy, the judgement, the speculation? Yup Belfast. The place I wanted to leave behind. I'm suddenly back in 1986 but with the internet to divulge even more information about my life. (I know this has a twisted logic when I do in fact blog about my life - but in doing so I feel I choose what I share - and in that, it gives me my own control in a bizarre way).

Maybe if we don't sell our house, if we don't buy across the canal, then the writing is on the wall and it is time to go back to the place with the sea, the mountains, the green green pastures and the endless rain. At least there it's better the devil you know. Curtain twitchers, be damned. 

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