Moving back to my childhood home was always the dream, but it won't be happening in 2023 - Gaby Soutar

My sister sent me a link. I opened it to an estate agent’s page, where our family house was advertised for sale.

Tenement flats Pic: Adobe
Tenement flats Pic: Adobe

I’ve been waiting 25 years for this moment.

I KNEW that 2023 would be my year.

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When my parents sold the flat, back in the late Nineties, so they could retire to the Scottish Borders, I was totally devastated.

That’s embarrassing, since I was in my mid-twenties and still living at home, like a female version of Ronnie Corbett in Sorry!.

I probably would have clung on if they hadn’t left. I might’ve copied one middle-aged neighbour, who rattled around her oversized property, long after her siblings had moved away and parents had passed on.

I know that I am unreasonably nostalgic.

In contrast, my family has never been sentimental over bricks and mortar. They were more worried about practicalities, and the fact that, if you placed a ball at one end of the living room, it would slowly roll to the other. They wanted a box fresh new build, with no draughts and quirks. I didn’t care about the subsidence. It could have tilted like the Titanic, and I would’ve been the last one to slide off onto the pavement.

I think they have a healthier attitude. While I pathetically cleave to the past, they are adaptable, forward-thinkers, travellers and adventurers. I’m a homebody, who hates change. Give me the same place, forever. I have the same limpet attitude when it comes to jobs and partners.

It’s very silly, since houses, like cities and countries, will never love you back.

My parents handed over the keys to the next owners - a middle-aged couple and their son - while I temporarily moved in with my boyfriend in Glasgow and moped. For five years or so, I found it too depressing to walk along my old street.

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I still dream about the place, every couple of months. I plan to haunt it when I’m gone, since I still consider it my spiritual home.

My ghost will leap down the last eight steps, like I always did as a child. Whoever is living there will feel a rush of cold air, and a gentle thud, maybe punctuated with a tiny whoop of victory. They’ll know I’m there by the whiff of Findus Crispy Pancakes in the ether.

I used to remember every inch of the house, all the furniture placement, how my keys turned in the lock, the colours and textures of the carpets and walls, and which ornaments and books were displayed on each surface.

This forensic map has faded with age.

Still, my index finger was trembling, as I skimmed over the schedule pictures.

I ignored the price. I knew there was no way I could realistically afford it, but part of me thought I could make it happen somehow. I could rent out every bedroom, and tether myself to a ridiculous mortgage. There must be a way.

Watching the estate agent’s video, set to jaunty muzak, was an odd experience. It was a bit like meeting an old boyfriend and trying to see past the wrinkles to the person they used to be.

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A lot can happen in a quarter of a century. I scanned the images, to look for evidence of our 20 year residency.

There was no cherry blossom in the garden anymore. I loved that tree, with its pink spring flowers. Once, I hung my NHS specs from a branch, while I was playing football, and only found them a year later.

After further inspection, I recognised the brown velvet living room curtains. There was also the dimmer switch that dad installed, and, on the panelled glass porch door downstairs, the mismatched pane from when he had chucked a slipper at us, when we were misbehaving. He missed, but it was a nice try.

I could see the dressing table, where my mum would throw a Seventies floral gauzy printed shawl around her shoulders, before applying her signature Max Factor Pan Stick, fuchsia lipstick and final layer of Lipcote.

I couldn’t tell if the banana stain was still on their bedroom ceiling.

Once, aged about eight, when I was bouncing on their bed, I chucked a bit into the air, and it stuck to the roof. It left a yellow-y brown splodge. To my relief, they never noticed, but the banana print was the first thing I ever saw, whenever I entered that room.

It looked like there was the same shed, where I’d rescue moths from spider webs.

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Apart from that, the flat was so different. The decor was oppressive. There was lots of blood red carpets and wallpaper, and huge pieces of brown furniture that crowded the rooms. My sister’s old bedroom looked as if it was the size of a cupboard, and the kitchen is tiny.

In my mind, the flat was palatial, but room measurements don’t lie.

Part of my non-rational brain also hoped to catch a glimpse of my late dad, or at least our old ginger Tom cat, Brandy, the gerbils, or guinea pigs. Even my sister and I as children. My mum, but younger, when still mobile, going to book clubs and throwing dinner parties.

It was only once I’d looked over the pictures at least a dozen times that I noticed that it said Under Offer in red, at the bottom of the listing. It’d been on the market since October.

It looks as if the house has moved on. Since we’ve crossed over into another new year, it’s time I did too.

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