I’ve never really been house-proud. While my peers have moved to larger and larger homes over the years, I’ve been happy in my dishevelled council flat in Tooting, south London. I don’t entertain at home and my flat is basically a safe place to leave my stuff, wash and go to sleep. Gardens, balconies, spare rooms and home offices always seemed nice things to have but not worth the time and dedication it would take me to get them. During lockdown, my view changed.
I enjoy working from home and have done for years, wrapped in my own ordered chaos. But the weeks of imposed agoraphobia turned my cocoon into a cage.
My partner of 21 years lives in a lovely high-ceilinged flat in Peckham, south London. I usually spend my weekends there with her – and I now think I underestimated how this oasis of order and tranquillity countered my home life and helped to draw a boundary between leisure and work.
My partner hasn’t been to my flat for more than a decade. After numerous arguments we decided that there was no point her slumming it at mine when we both preferred spending the weekends at hers. When lockdown began, we realised we had three choices: I could move into hers; we could do “a Cummings”, stretch the rules and continue with our weekend arrangement; or we could simply not see each other for months. We went with option three and my oasis vanished.
Feeling that my home was my only domain finally inspired me to start the slow transition from teenage doss house to adult work space. Then there were all those Zoom calls with colleagues comparing their carefully coiffured bookcases with my shabby peeling wallpaper and 2005 Liverpool Istanbul poster.
When I started trying to make my flat into the modern living/working space of my dreams, I remembered why it had stayed so bad for so long. I’m hopeless at DIY. I start off with a plan, then get bored and come up with a lazy workaround. I’ve lived in my flat for nearly 30 years and you can catalogue my botched DIY and decorating efforts over the years: here’s where I drilled countless holes while hanging blinds; here’s where I tried to attach a green coving for some reason; here’s where I ran out of paint while doing the stairs.
In the end I folded up some clothes, cleaned the cooker and bought a green screen so I could better project a virtual background over my most embarrassing wall during those Zoom calls.
While my partner took up running, yoga, meditating and weight training, all I managed was a halfhearted attempt at a beard and an extra half stone in weight. Post lockdown, we’re being more adventurous when it comes to going out. Bike rides and park tours have replaced lazing around the flat drinking wine. Although we are used to our “semi-detached” way of living, weeks of self-imposed solitude wasn’t easy and the absence has made us closer – but I still don’t think we’ll be spending many weekends together in my flat.