Don't overthink it

Alice O'Keeffe's "Squeezed Middle" column.

New Statesman
Alice O'Keeffe's "Squeezed Middle" column appears weekly in the New Statesman magazine.

We’ve been waiting for the letter for weeks. Will we? Won’t we? The suspense is killing us. After all our elaborate scheming, procurement of technically true documents, concealment of dodgy credit history and wishful calculations of childcare costs, the time is nigh for us to find out if we’ve managed to get a mortgage. Curly brings the envelope to the breakfast table and opens it with a trembling hand. Two-year-old Larry is halfway through a chocolate croissant (it’s a Saturday, the day upon which I gag the censorious middleclass mother in my brain and give in to sugar and saturated fats), so we have at least five relatively peaceful minutes in which to digest the news.

He draws out the sheaf of paper and reads it painfully slowly. Meanwhile, I am rehearsing my emotional response to both possible outcomes. Either way, I reassure myself, it’s absolutely fine. If we do get it, that’s obviously brilliant – whoop-de-doo, we will have our own little family home, no matter that it doesn’t have a functioning kitchen or bathroom, smells quite strongly of rotting meat and fish, and is located slightly closer to the North Circular than is strictly speaking ideal.

And if we don’t get it, that’s fine too because we get to stay and be cosy in our flat. Generations of decent, hard-working people have brought up their families in these flats, and if they could do it, why shouldn’t we? We’ll just have to pare down the toy collection and throw out a few books to make room once baby Moe gets too big for his Moses basket. If we get rid of the dining table, we might be able to squeeze a wood-burning stove into the sitting room. Perhaps we could even hang some kind of curtain across the bedroom to create a study . . .

Who am I kidding? If we don’t get this mortgage, I am going to throw myself out of the window right here, right now and sod the consequences. Curly hands me the letter, his face inscrutable. “Thank you for choosing a Muesli-Munchers Ltd Ethical Mortgage,” it reads. “I am pleased to tell you that your application has been approved subject to the Terms and Conditions outlined in the enclosed mortgage offer.”

I jump up. I scream. I do a war dance around the sitting room. I hug Larry, who is looking at me in some alarm. I don’t even care that I’m getting chocolatey snot all over my hair and my new pyjamas. Meanwhile, Curly is sitting very still and reading the small print. He is muttering his usual grumpy, mortgage-related mantra. “Thirty-four years . . . Thirty-four years.” Then he stops and looks up. “Bloody hell, look at this: for every pound we borrow we pay back £1.91. This house isn’t costing us £240,000 – it’s more like £480,000.”

Nearly half a million pounds and half a lifetime to pay for a smelly, derelict, grey-brick two-up-two-down off a major ring road. It’s hard to fathom why I’m feeling so happy when he puts it like that. But hey, sometimes it’s best not to over-think things.