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Saturday, December 4, 2021

‘I knocked on the door of my old house and the strangest thing happened…’

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For those of you who have been reading this column since it started, you’ll remember that my very first one was about the fact I’d sold my house and moved areas from north London to Chelsea in west London – and anyone who knows London will know there’s a vast difference in the price and what you get for your money in those two postcodes.

To recap, I lived in my dream house, which was a five-bedroom, detached Georgian villa on a beautiful road, high up on a hill with a direct view of Alexandra Palace. I’d worked my arse off to get that place, having been homeless as a teenager and arriving in London at 17 determined to ‘make it’. So when I finally bought that house, I felt I had.

Inside, after many years of care and attention, restoring it to its former glory, it was perfect. It was so nice, in fact, it was featured in OK! magazine, the very magazine I used to look at when I lived in a squat. Back then, such a home seemed like a pipe dream rather than something that would become my reality.

I’d refurbished it to the highest standard, no expense spared, because it was ‘the house’, the one I thought would be our forever home. When I say “our” – I moved into it when I was engaged with stepchildren.

Skip forward six years and a jilting at the altar had left me and my little dog rattling around this huge, empty property. So, after much thought about what to do, I finally decided to sell up and move to Chelsea into a little artist studio-style, open-plan place that was basically the size of my old kitchen!

To be clear, my old house was 3,000 square feet and my current place is 80 square feet, so that’s one hell of a downsize. But I did it as part of my plan for a fresh start. I was really specific about who I sold the house to and turned down several people I didn’t think appreciated it. I was lucky to find a lovely couple who adored everything I’d done to the property and so the sale was agreed. But I’d be lying if I said, after I’d handed over the keys, moved out and started living in building site due to my renovations overrunning, that I didn’t worry I’d made a mistake.

Well, this week I got to find out if I had. In the rush of moving, I couldn’t transport two ginormous pictures that I had and the new owners very kindly agreed I could leave them there until I could pick them up – and the moment had arrived. The journey towards the place that I used to call home created a feeling of anxiety in the pit of my stomach.

I’d be lying if I said, after I’d handed over the keys, moved out and started living in building site due to my renovations overrunning, that I didn’t worry I’d made a mistake.

This was a place where so many happy memories, as well as sad ones, had happened and so many milestones had been reached. I turned 40 in this house, I wrote my first two novels in this house, I was trapped in lockdown in this house and I’d recovered from a broken heart in this house. How would I feel re-entering it? Could this possibly be the worst moment ever of seller’s regret? I mean, who returns to a house they’ve sold?

As the cab pulled up, I took a deep breath, then made my way through the imposing front garden, up the big steps that led to its still lilac painted door, knocked on the lion’s head knocker that I’d chosen from an antiques stall and prepared to face my fears.

Once inside with the new owner, who is a fabulous woman that I’ll definitely be friends with ‘in real life’, the strangest thing happened. As I looked around the vast rooms, the high ceilings, the beautiful fireplaces, the parquet flooring that I’d lovingly restored and then out to the garden full of palm trees that I’d had flown in from Italy, I felt nothing. It was like I’d never been there before and I felt as if I’d never owned it. It was like I was just a guest in someone else’s home, which was a fact. I knew I’d done the right thing in making such a dramatic decision to start my new life.

Later, as I set off in a van wondering how the hell I was going to fit the pictures into my new pad, a big smile spread across my face. This really was the final chapter of the past and I’m not going to be looking back any more.

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