Evicted in a Epidemic


When I returned from Chalkwell Beach parkrun, I failed to notice the large white envelope that had plopped through my letterbox in my absence.  I failed to notice it until the next morning, just after I had finished ringing work to tell them that I was very sorry but my cold had turned into a cough and I had no option to take the government’s advice to self quarantine for a week, even though I was sure I had nothing more than a common cold.

I opened the letter, and it said:

“Dear Ms Snail… notice to vacate… your landlord wishes to regain possession of the above property… by 17th May…”

Just when you think your weekend can’t get any worse.

I love my flat. It’s a new build on the fourth floor of a development on the site of the original Andrex Toilet Rolls factory, with a roof garden bigger than my living room and floor-to-ceiling glass windows.  I have a view all over London (and Chingford, if you look the wrong way).  But more than that, my flat was what saved me in the first dark days after the incident with the horrible ex.  Within two days of him ending our relationship, I had put a deposit on it.  (He had a tendency to return if I hung around and I couldn’t go through that again).  Two weeks later I moved in.  The flat was so much cleaner, shinier and quieter than the grotty flat I shared with him, and more importantly, it felt like mine.  “Our” flat had become a warzone and I spent most of the time holed up in the spare room.  Now I had a whole flat to hole myself up in, knowing there were no secrets in the basement, that no one would set foot in my bedroom when I was at work, that everything in the flat belonged to me and could not be taken away.

A few months after I moved into the flat I started running.  The location of the flat, five minutes from a path that takes you on to Tottenham Marshes, was a complete coincidence.  I remember my first time walking down that path, sizing it up, thinking how nice it would be for a run and how I might sign up for that half marathon I kept reading about.  In the next seven years I trod that path hundreds of times, triumphantly, relentlessly, exhaustedly.  I got to know it, and the rest of Tottenham Marshes like the back of my hand.  Every bump, every crack, every tree, every blade of grass, every rat.  It was my territory.  Those paths were my saviour, my therapy, my friends.

But this is the thing about a rented flat.  It was not mine.  My grip on it was just as flimsy as it was on my horrible ex boyfriend.  A landlord is legally perfectly entitled to give you two months’ notice to clear off and they do not even need a reason.  And so it was that I found myself being evicted in the middle of a pandemic.

Finding another flat is not going to be easy.  No one will want to move in or out during the coronacrisis.  I’m not allowed to leave the house for a week because of my cough, and by the time I do we may well be on full lockdown meaning I will not be able to view any properties.  And even if I can, the rental market is out of control and a similar flat in this area would now cost £400 more than I currently pay.  I do not have a spare £400.  I have no option to move to a smaller flat in a less desirable area.  I am lucky that I have a reasonably well paid job and a mother who will lend me the upfront costs of moving.  A lot of people could find themselves homeless in a situation like this.

That wasn’t the end of my woe though, as during my confinement the “stop everyone going out and halt the spread of coronavirus” sanctions ramped up and up.  Nearly every event between now and the end of May is expected to be cancelled (it may even be for longer, no one can tell).  It feels like all I will do in the next few months is work, work, work.  There will be no races, parkruns, no running club, no gigs, no festivals, no parties.  In short it seems like the entire gamut of activities that one might use as coping mechanisms if one is losing one’s home and working 60+ hours per week in a really stressful job have been axed.  And, as I keep reminding myself, I am one of the lucky ones.  Many people will lose work, businesses could go bust, and some people might even get sick and die.  (In all the turmoil about the cancellations, I think we’ve almost forgotten about the virus itself).  The uncertainty and disruption are unsettling a lot of people.  I find it hard to cope with just one thing being cancelled, or not being able to plan for six months ahead.  Having my calendar effectively wiped clean is my worse nightmare.

When life is going well, I forget how quickly things can go wrong.  I sometimes feel like a broken vase that I have spent years meticulously gluing together so no one can see the joins.   But it only takes a well-aimed kick for that vase to disintegrate.  Life is a house of cards. And yet, I recovered from that horrible incident with the ex, and the other well-aimed kick in 2016 when I got dumped and broke my leg and Brexit and Tottenham Marshes caught fire all at once, and I expect I will get over this one too.  But things are really going to suck for a while.

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