I’d taken the morning off to head to Gravesend to pick up my keys, and go see my new house for the first time since the initial viewing. I’d received advice from a lot of people that I should have gone to see the house a few times before buying, different times of day etc. I hadn’t done this. When I arrived at the agents’, I’d expected to see some banners, maybe some cake, streamers, balloons which I assumed befitting to a monumental life event and staggering amount of money.
Michael was not there but a colleague gave me a big A4 envelope with a bunch of keys in. It was unceremonious. There was definitely exciting music playing in my head as I jogged in a mental montage the one and a half streets between the estate agent office and my new house.
The first thing that struck me was the box on the doorstep, a delivery which had been left. Curious, who knows I (will soon) live here. Also the idea of a large package being left on a doorstep and not being thieved was baffling to me. But I would wait before opening up these goodies, I had a house to open up first. I’ll skip ahead past finding the right key in the envelope of keys and fumbling with the lock and the door for about 5 minutes getting it to open, I don’t want to seem so incompetent I can’t even open a door. Inside, well the place was bigger than I remember. I think I’d looked so much at the photos over the past nine weeks and kept telling myself about the estate agent scam-cam, that week by week the house shrunk in my mind.
I remembered having to literally squeeze myself through the hallway; that definitely happened. It did … it was because I was squeezing past Michael who was chit-chatting with the owners/painters. It’s amazing what a difference it made not having another full sized human in the little entrance hall. It was also a very sunny day, compared to the just-gone-dark when I originally viewed, the window in the stairwell now beaming in sunlight from behind the house. That reminded me, check the paint. I had a quick look in the living room and it did seem to have been finished. But let’s return to this topic at a later date.
I checked the box, it was from Nationwide who gave me most of the house money, a moving-in box with toilet roll, sponges, curtain fixings, crisps etc in. Nice! I left it in the hallway and opened my rucksack in the middle of the living room floor.
I had brought a few small things to place around the house in advance of the proper move. A netball, a photo of me as a kid to send to my mum in situ, a small LEGO piano and Policeman Fishy.
Policeman Fishy is, as you can probably tell from the name, a duck in a bomber jacket. He has been in the family many many years and used to be mostly responsible for keeping discipline when my little sister was young. Then he retired from front-line policing and became a security consultant. For now he would take the place of the Ring cams, burglar alarms, motion sensors and the like which people use to secure their homes.
I made a video of me going round the whole house top to bottom to send to family and friends. I still rewatch this video regularly when I want to reminisce what the house was like without all my crap in it. It’s true the house had seemed pokier when I was here with Michael, but vanloads of my belongings do have a more significant impact. I checked a few things were working, the toilet flushed, there was water coming out of the shower, most of the lights turned on, and then headed off to go to work. I should maybe have savoured more this house emptiness while I had it, because things were about to get busier. I needed to make arrangements to move all my stuff, and I had to buy furniture and appliances.
The flimsy finances
“With what money?” I hear you ask since your eyes have been drawn to this actual photo of my bank account in May 2019. That’s right I had £1.78 to my name, plus whatever I could muster from my Pinky & The Brain piggy bank, which at best is full of old out-of-circulation pound coins. I’ll admit, occasionally on this blog there might be the odd slight exaggeration, but one thing I was most certainly not exaggerating about was how fucking skint I was after buying this house.
Important technical point. The £1.78 is the actual balance of my current account, the Nil under Help to Buy ISA serves two purposes. It too refers to the balance, but Nil also refers to the amount of “Help” I got from the various “Help to Buy” schemes. I think there was something in the small print that said there’s all these schemes to support people who are first time buyers, unless your name is Alan McCann in which case you get fuck all except an extra logo under your account name.
Sure, I was financially barren, and would be eating LEGO bricks for the next couple of months (theoretically more nutritious than what I normally eat), but there was one area where my complete poverty wasn’t going to affect me, and that was furnishings.
FURNISHINGS would be getting paid for via those “Buy Now Pay Later, Nothing To Pay For Twelve Years, Double Double Discounts” schemes I had seen advertised for … about the last 39 years. I’m sure I’d seen ones which promised they would only ever ask your descendants several generations down the line to pay for this bed, or “Buy Now, Delivered Tomorrow, Pay for it during the timeline of the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
I’d never really needed to buy furniture, outside the odd shelf. I had housemates coming and going and leaving bulky furniture behind, along with little care about mismatching furnishings. It was the perfect set up. Now, I was going to reap the benefits of the bizarre world of furniture buying. Deep discounts, interest-free, endless sales, and infinite deferred payments. Furniture was the last thing I needed to save money for.
I just had to moderate myself to prevent a shopping spree. Obviously I could afford to buy eight sofas, if they were double-double-discount x double-half-price, and nothing to pay till the end of days. But I didn’t have the space for so many sofas, so I needed to wind it in.
Indeed, that screenshot of my bank account is a testament to just how meticulously I had planned the move. All my fees had been paid, and by this point I had already pre-paid the removals people. you could say the damning thing is I was £1.78 out in my painstaking calculations. Now that you know that, you see just how much, and to what great extent, I deliberately paid absolutely no heed to the concept that I would ever, at any stage, need actual money right now for furniture and appliances.
The bubble burst when I applied for an Argos card and got rejected.
Now, on paper, the fact I was going to be enormously in debt with a mortgage might mean it makes sense for Argos to refuse me more lending, but I was fairly sure having a mortgage was a positive thing. My credit rating was near-perfect, I’d been working on this as part of the lengthy build up to house-buying. I was genuinely not expecting this. Even Argos wouldn’t give me money.
What had gone wrong, I think, was a combination of factors. I was, in some cases, applying for credit at an address I’d never lived in. This, I admit, sort of made my applications seem like scams. But they would only deliver to the billing addresses. So I was stuck. I could get credit furniture delivered to my old house. But not my new. So I was forced to put down my new address, at which I had no record.
I was giving the impression that someone Kent-based internet scammer was trying to besmirch my long-standing Tooting credit rating. And lenders and retailers far and wide were having none of it. And so it was, interest-free credit became the 40% interest rate of my credit cards.
Around IKEA in eighty days
IKEA had a thing where I could get credit but only in-store, not online. I had never been to IKEA – despite my Swedophilic tendencies in the past, and my love of Sweden – their meatballs, their music and their tv noir. I liked the look of IKEA stuff, but I wasn’t sure I could ever shop there – it very much seemed like the kind of shopping experience I would hate. I like simple things, go in shop, buy thing, leave and go home. I went in an Apple store – once – never again. Tried to buy something which involved me going to a counter and describing the thing I wanted in as much detail as I could remember; “See the thing over there that those eight kids are playing with, well you can’t see it right now, but it’s one of them, I would have picked one up and brought it to the till, but you don’t seem to do that here because it’s less of a fucking shop and more some kind of wanker’s playroom.”
Argos I suppose does fit into this category, but I think I got accustomed to Argos’ weird ways as a kid because where I grew up it was really one of the only places to get things more technologically advanced than pick ‘n’ mix.
Also, I’m pretty sure to go to IKEA and to buy from IKEA, you needed a car. It was just like a rule. It didn’t need to be a Volvo but you did need a car, ideally one with removable doors and windows so things could protrude out the back and sides. I’d tried once to buy a new bookcase online from IKEA, for my first sample of real IKEA product, but the bookcase was £45 and the delivery was £35. I have to say that was a dealbreaker. But I was going to have to grin and bear it – I needed furniture, I needed credit, needs must.
I was still technically in Tooting, my nearest IKEA was in Croydon. I’d be lying if I said it took me an hour to get there. It was more like two. A combination of several modes of public transport, and latterly, literally, walking along a motorway. There wasn’t a pavement within a mile of this place. Like I said, made for cars. I was in a bad mood by the time I’d turned up and it didn’t bode well for the day. What I saw inside was essentially an enormous cafeteria with some showrooms stuck onto it. Non-meatball-based staff numbered in the single digits. The little showrooms were nice, on a few occasions I looked around to see if there was a sign saying how I could buy that whole room and get it delivered. Of course there wasn’t. I took photos of anything I liked, I saw a desk and chair I didn’t need but wanted, I found a tv stand I both needed and wanted. The photos would mean I wouldn’t have to remember all the names like GEFLÜFFEN and HILGENSÖP and FÄNNYBILGE.
I made it to the beds department and spent another, I dunno nine hours?, walking around there, looking for beds and also looking for a fucking member of staff to talk to about purchasing any bed I might theoretically find. I found one for my bedroom – a somewhat silly looking minimalist wooden affair that had an oriental feel to it. It looked great in the showbedroom, it would doubtless look daft in my bedroom, but fuck it. I also tracked down the Ottoman bed with storage under it recommended by my friend Thomas. He had recommended two things, that bed, and a dining table. There was no way in hell I wasting space and money on a dining table, so getting the bed was a compromise. I’m a good friend like that.
In the next section I found staff members, loads of them. All huddled together. I slinked closer to them, pretending to admire a nearby FLÄNGENKLOP floor lamp. They were on staff training – one of them was leading it and was talking the other 7 or 8 through various things – even these people didn’t know how to buy stuff in this shop!
I made my first big decision of the day, these cunts were not leaving this room without telling me how I proceed to purchase some of the things I’d seen. I targeted the ring leader. “Hi, excuse me, seems like a silly question, but how do I buy something here in this, you know, how you say, SHOP.”
“Oh just grab one of my colleagues around the store and they’ll be happy to help,” she said robotically.
“Yes. I know and under normal circumstances…… It’s just that there doesn’t seem to be anybody around, at all, except in the cafeteria, unless that’s who you meant. You seem to have all the staff in the whole store gravitating around you like some kind of Swedish Jupiter.”
“I’m not Swedish, I’m from Wolverhampton,” she said, I kicked myself for not guessing that from the accent. “Come on I’ll find someone who can help you.” I followed her, feeling bad for a moment that I had interrupted her training session, and was interrupting it even more by getting her to escort me around, but this only lasted a moment – I was not being unreasonable here, spending two hours to get to a shop and expecting to be able to buy things. After a few minutes she dropped me off at the end of a queue that had formed in front of a staff member. “This is Isa, she’ll be able to help if you just wait a moment.”
The queue was long but at least the end was in sight. I couldn’t help but notice I was back in the beds section I spent the last nine hours in, where had she been hiding, in the fucking Ottoman? When I eventually reached the front (thankfully most in the queue seemed to be IKEA veterans who knew its ways, otherwise I could have been there for hours), Isa abruptly asked me what I wanted. She had an unusual style, explosive ginger hair and a permanent scowl. When she greeted me it was less “Hi customer, how can I help?” and more “Aren’t you the bastard who cheated on my sister?”
“I just want to buy some things; I know what I want.”
She held out her hand, “Do you have the paper?” So apparently there’s a little form you can get to carry around with you noting down the numbers of things you want, so that when you do finally find an available staff member, you can hand them this sheet and get them bought. No-one explained this to me, and the only thing being dished out at the front of the store were bags (too small for a bed) and fucking meatballs.
“No. But I have memories and names and photos. I want the BÄNGKOKLADYBED over there and also one of the STÖRAGETHÖMAS beds.”
“Do you need mattresses?”
“Um…. I think so.”
We spent the next 20 minutes on mattresses. Oh and I mean ON MATTRESSES. In what seemed like some kind of humiliating in-joke among staff, she forced me to try out different mattresses to see which one I wanted. Despite my protestations that “I DON’T CARE THE WHITE ONE IS FINE.” The more I seemed uncomfortable lying down, with my jacket on ‘trying out a mattress for comfort’, the more she wanted me to do it. I saw sniggers from other customers – in my awkward position lying down in the middle of a superstore, I looked more like I was awaiting a colonoscopy than settling down for a night’s sleep. For this reason it was a fundamentally stupid way of assessing whether I wanted the mattress. She was even showing me how to do it. She was showing me how to lie on a bed!
No fucking wonder it’s so hard to find a staff member in here, they’re all busy torturing and socially humiliating customers. If this was happening right here in the middle of the mattress department, just think the deviance that was going on in some of those little toilet showrooms.
Eventually, Isa finished toying with me and agreed to make some progress in processing my purchases. I mentioned about the credit, and she told me a different staff member would need to organise this. Fuck! I’d never get out of here. I’d die in this shop. I’d be taken out five days later, lying very awkwardly in a self-assembly coffin called WÄNKERMORT. I made a decision – it was my sanity or it was my solvency. I told her I didn’t need the financing and would pay there and then (using one of my exorbitantly high-interest credit cards, the only way I could fund transactions more than £1.78).
There was other stuff I wanted, the desk, the tv stand. I needed a sofa but had spent four hours standing alone in the sofa department trying to work out what I wanted. But I couldn’t risk any complications – I bought the beds, bought the mattresses, anything else I could either buy online (since the only reason I came to the store was to get the credit I didn’t get) or prostitute myself down Tilbury docks to earn enough money to pay someone to come back to the IKEA shop for me. IKEA’s help-to-buy Isa had been only marginally more help than her government counterpart (shut up, this is best joke in the post, spent hours formulating this).
I’m not exaggerating when I say that, after leaving Isa, it took me 46 days to find the exit of the shop.
Exhausted, frustrated, humiliated and financially sodomised, I made my way back onto the hard shoulder of the motorway for the walk back to the bus stop. I still had a long way to go, and not just back to Tooting, but I had the rest of my furniture to order, and most importantly of all, more important than the beds, I needed a FRIDGE…