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My girlfriend’s done a bunk and I’m living with Fay Maschler — it’s not exactly how I pictured my 31st year

·3-min read
 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

The fact I skipped the pints and immediately hit the scotch might have been the clue my friends in the Coach and Horses needed last week. “Is, er, everything OK?” they asked. As a rule, our pub chat is strictly all nonsense, all the time — better to talk bollocks than be a bore —but Thursday had come up short on laughs. On the other hand, there was plenty of fresh hell from my estate agent.

The trouble started six months ago when my then-girlfriend caught a plane to Italy but declined the return flight. And so, having until then lived together at hers, I unexpectedly found myself alone and in need of a place, sharpish. Not the sparkling start to my 31st year I’d hoped for.

My guardian angel, it turns out, is Fay Maschler — until last year, the restaurant critic of this paper for some 48 years and of whom I used to be terrified. In an astonishing turn, she’s put me up, so now we cheerfully finish most evenings with Newsnight and tumblers of whisky. Funny how it goes.

Meanwhile, the hunt’s been on but with my paltry budget, most places I found turned out to be parking spaces, 12-year leases, sinking houseboats, that sort of thing. But this is London, baby, so I felt lucky to land anywhere. Besides, I’m haunted by a story of a colleague who once looked round a flat with no doors — external or internal. No doors. I’ve no words.

The search, then, was mostly me wondering how estate agents keep a straight face while also shamefully admitting to myself that yes, my standards could drop further still. Though, those house shillers do have the power to amuse. “What do you think?” asked one agent, as I stood surrounded by mouse droppings. “It’s quite literally full of crap,” I replied. “Yes, isn’t it?” he smiled. Eventually I found a one-bedroom box and put an offer in. Shortly after, things stopped being quite so funny.

The problem wasn’t the buying, it was selling a house I own out-of-town. No real difficulty finding someone for it — although there was some haggling over the price (“To be fair, it is on too high,” said my agent. “You’re the ones who valued it!” I protested). But since then, it’s been a carousel of misunderstandings, endless paperwork, an extremely costly mortgage renegotiation, all compounded by unrelentingly dreadful communication. Have estate agents heard of email? They seem pathologically opposed to it.

That reluctance to commit anything to an inbox is a trick that fooled me. There’s no paper trail. This sunk in last week when I’d learned that my buyer — who I’d been told had already sold and was ready to move — was being held up by the bottom of a chain I didn’t know existed, putting both my sale and purchase in jeopardy. Turns out I’d been lied to. But what can I do? With no proof, not a lot. I’ll still end up paying those hefty sales fees; infuriating given I started this process explaining I was desperate for a quick sale. That was in June. Asking around, it seems that this is the way it goes; estate agents do what want to. Accountability? What accountability? Friends tell me they’ve had similar — even my lawyer has. Thank God for Fay.

Do you know the Bishop of Norwich? He might not be able to afford his port these days, with the Chancellor’s Budget set to add £1 to the cost of a bottle. Red wine suffers too — in some cases up 50p — so choosing your tipple has rarely mattered more. The answer? Well, rosés at about 10.5 per cent are set to drop. Time, then, to live, laugh, love and drink.

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