I called it “leaving Anna Madrigal”

Anna MadrigalFive years of my life spent at the last place in central London. I’m now a zone 1 exile, living in suburban zone 3.

In truth it has been a lot better than I’d thought it might be. Commuting by train not so very bad (or so very long). Much quieter than living in the centre. Back to the place I have owned for more than a decade, rather than a rental place.

Leaving Anna Madrigal was not without conviviality. Drinks down at hers on the last Monday. A sense of regret on her side (apparently I was “the perfect tenant”; or something like that). No rent rises in 5 years (seriously). But nothing lasts for ever. Life is but a series of chapters.

So it was the right time to move on. The place I had rented now being renovated, a few more mod cons and put back on to the market at (I kid you not) 50% more than I had been paying. London prices eh?

Remembrances of things past: of an impossibly short commute among other things.

But as I’ve said, being back in the ‘old place’ not really all that bad at all. A commuter, of course, but as suburban London goes – this is a nice area so I’m not complaining. For now anyway.

The landlady

I spoke at length to the landlady when I moved into the house last week. She was pleasant, charming, interesting and interested.

anna madrigal tales of the cityShe reminds me of a couple of people, one of whom is Anna Madrigal. Of course, if you haven’t read (or watched the 1990s TV series) of Armistead Maupin’s masterful Tales of the City then it sadly won’t mean anything to you. But do read it. It’s a wonderful book that transports you back to the heady days of 1970s San Francisco. Anna Madrigal is the landlady of Barbary Lane – the apartment building which the key characters reside in. She’s an eccentric, friendly old dame. In the mini-series she was played by Olympia Dukakis.

Who, then, am I? Well, I’m part Mary-Anne Singletone, the small-town, rather naive country girl from Ohio (or in my case, the west coast of Wales). It’s probably fair to say I’m not heterosexual lothario Brian Hawkins. But I am more like Michael Tolliver (“a sweet and personable gay guy known to friends as Mouse”) and at times I have the ditsyness of bohemian bisexual Mona Ramsey. Job-wise I probably have elements of “the scheming bisexual husband of DeDe” – Beauchamp Day.

mouse, mary anne and mona tales of the city 28 barbary lane

(Mouse, Mary-Anne, Mona)

I guess what I’m trying to convey is that I experience parallels with 28 Barbary Lane and my own new place – especially with regard to the landlady. I really did think of Anna Madrigal when first I met her.

The other person she reminds me of a little bit is Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson in the original film of Sunset Boulevard and on Broadway by Glenn Close (below).

norma desmond glenn close sunset boulevard

Why Norma Desmond? Well, she does have this faded European countess persona thing going on, living in this vast Westminster townhouse, which she owns.  I think she was glamorous in her heyday. And she does – it’s hard to explain – seem eager to have young people around her. She said to me “most of the people here are your age, do mix with them, enjoy it” (or words to that effect). As I said last time, she just feels completely different to a common or garden landlord who normally wouldn’t take any such interest. And she’d shared some stories about the house coming into the family after the war. I feel a sense of history in the house, of past lives. What was it like at the start of the 1900s or perhaps during the inter-war period of the 1920s and 30s, those halcyon days before the outbreak of the second Great War which brought this city and this country to its knees – changing everything, forever. And what was it like during the blitz, during the blackouts, during the fires, when bombs rained down on London 70 years ago?

So much history is here. So much character, both in the building and in its eclectic owner.

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An Englishman’s home is his castle


I bought flowers today. I don’t recall when I last bought flowers. Years ago. There are more viewings of the flat tomorrow so I’m trying to make an effort.

The psychological state of mind you need to adopt, when renting out your home of the past 7.5 years, is one that I’ve yet to find myself in. I don’t much like the idea of strangers traipsing around my home.

It was never my intention to rent out my flat. It was my intention to sell it. But due to leaseholder/freeholder issues which are going to take quite some time to resolve (including the renewal of the lease, something I need to do before I sell) – I’m now biting the bullet. If I want that elusive ‘change’ that I have craved and talked about for so long – I need to stop vacillating and take action.

It’s hard to know what kind of people will rent the flat. It’s a nice area. I would go so far as to say a very nice area. But I’m right on the very edge of that area. I’m a little too far from the station for the yuppy set who work long hours. The building is a bit too big (versus Victorian conversion flats which most young professionals want). And the current clientèle within the building is… too mixed. When I bought the flat, way back at the end of 2002 – I experienced it as ‘bohemian’. It had that ‘solid but could do with a lick of paint’ feel to it. There were arty types living here. The couple I bought from had just had a baby (he was a graphic designer). The neighbour on one side worked for a film distribution company. There were two young women living in the flat on the other side. Possibly students. The building has now had that lick of paint (and a lot more) and actually looks really good. But ironically, this isn’t reflected in the tenants.

A university friend rented my (small) second bedroom those first three years. It was great, that was half the mortgage paid. During the early years I was comparatively happy here. But I never, ever expected to stay this long. This is – in my eyes – a ‘starter flat’. A foothold on the ladder. And to that end it’s been great. But it was never somewhere I would have, in a million years, thought to still be 7.5 years after buying it. Everyone else has moved on. Most of my peers have moved 2-3 times since I’ve been here. I’ve always felt… left behind, somehow. And I wouldn’t buy a leasehold property again. Too many problems. Most freeholders are total swines and the complexity of leaseholder/freeholder dealings (far too complex to go into on this blog) I couldn’t face dealing with again.

Of course it’s not all been bad. Compared to today’s prices, the flat was comparatively cheap. The mortgage – especially in my current job – is very affordable. It’s so affordable that I’ve over-paid on the mortgage for much of the past 4-5 years (this is one of the most efficient ways of saving money). I’ve paid a large chunk off. This is all good. But it’s prudent and safe and boring, too.

So anyway. The plan is to rent it out. For about a year. I don’t know what type of person will rent it. My ex-neighbours were both accountants in the City. Professional types. The guy in there now… is not what I’d call a professional type. I don’t know what he does. He certainly doesn’t appear to work. The resident make up here has… changed over the past few years. Changed and not in a good way. I won’t elaborate on how and why because it is complex, subjective and unlikely to be sympathised with by the politically correct – and invariably hypocritical – set. I just want to live with people like me. Who have jobs like mine and interests like mine. That isn’t snobbishness or arrogance; it’s human nature.

Tulips on my ‘starter’ dining table.

And don’t even ask about where I’m moving to. I have no idea. That’s part B and comes after part A which is to find a tenant. I am extremely lucky to have a close friend who lives up the road who has offered to put me up whilst I’m flat hunting so that’s a big weight off my mind.