Squeezed Middle: Sleepless nights and Highbury flats

I tell Mum straight out what I think of her plan to buy a million-pound flat in Highbury - because we are facing financial Armageddon.

Another sleepless night. At 6am, I stagger out of bed. It is semi-dark outside. I reach for the phone and, before I have even thought about it, I dial Mum’s number. She answers straight away. She’s an early riser.
 
“Hello, darling. Is everything all right?”
 
No. It’s not. I make a weird choking noise.
 
“Oh, dear. What is it? Is something the matter?”
 
I tell her straight out what I think of her plan to buy a million-pound flat in Highbury. I don’t hold back. I tell her that I love her and that I want her to have everything in the world that she could possibly wish for – but that we are facing financial Armageddon and we need her help. She listens and she doesn’t get offended or cross. She sounds shocked. And sad.
 
“If you feel like this, darling, I won’t buy the flat. It was just a silly idea. I got carried away. And that’s the end of it. OK?”
 
I sniff. I thought I’d feel better but I don’t.
 
“OK. I’m so sorry.”
 
“Shush. Go and get some sleep.”
 
Three hours later, once I’ve made Larry and Moe porridge and brushed their teeth and wriggled them both into their clothes and washed their faces and distracted them for long enough that I can throw some clothes on – the same as yesterday, but who cares? – and tidied away the breakfast things and wiped the table and started to think about how on earth we’re going to fill the eight hours until Curly gets back from work and I can finally sit down and close my eyes, the phone rings. It’s Mum.
 
“So, I’ve been thinking about our conversation,” she says.
 
“Oh, right?”
 
“And I’ve come up with a plan.”
 
I give Larry and Moe two gingerbread biscuits each so I can fully focus on Mum’s plan. It’s an amazing plan. It’s a plan that will change our lives.
 
Mum is proposing to stay in her current house but to rent out two of her bedrooms and give the income to us every month. It will be enough money to cover our mortgage repayments. Curly and I, between us, will only have to earn enough to pay for food, bills and fun. She will do this for a year and then we will review the situation.
 
By the time I put the phone down, the world is a different place. So we will still be in the slightly-too-small flat but we will be free! We can be real people again, people who enjoy life and don’t worry all the time and even maybe go out for a pub lunch and on holiday sometimes. I can stay at home for a bit longer with the children. Curly can take some time to retrain.
 
I am so delirious that I sit smiling stupidly for several minutes before noticing that Moe has smeared his gingerbread man all over the carpet and is eating earth from the plant pot.
 
I pick him up, bury my mouth in his chubby neck and blow a big raspberry. He squeals with delight.
 
“Bubbalicious baby,” I whisper in his ear.
 
“We’re going to be all right.”
Rooftops in Highbury. Image: Getty

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 30 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Game of Thrones

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.