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20 March 2014

Squeezed Middle: the lady from Fulham is snapping at our heels to buy the Brighton house

However, Buddhist meditation comes in handy when you’re shafting your neighbours.

By Alice O'keeffe

“The other lady’s got a flat in Fulham,” says Bella, apologetically. “Apparently foreign buyers are knocking down her door and they’re paying with cash.”

I take a deep breath and think: “Sky-like mind.” I’ve been doing Buddhist meditation recently and it’s helping with my stress levels. Whenever I start to feel angry, or bitter, or anxious, I simply envisage my mind as a vast blue sky and my worries as little fluffy clouds.

We are trying to sell the slightly-too-small flat and buy a house in Brighton. It’s a lovely house, with four bedrooms and a kitchen with a table in it and a sunny backyard. If you stand in the yard and jump as high as you can, you can see the sea over the back wall. It’s the kind of place I always imagined bringing up a family, before I had one. When I get carried away, I imagine that I would never feel bitter or stressed-out again if only I had a house like this. Then I have to remind myself that that’s rubbish and that true happiness lies not in any material possession but in accepting that things are as they are.

This is just as well, because it turns out that someone else wants to buy the house in Brighton, too, and that person has a flat in Fulham.

“That’s OK,” I say to Bella. “I completely understand.”

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“I’d love to sell it to you guys, I really would . . .”

“Bella,” I say, sternly, “there is no room for sentimentality. This is the housing market.”

“I guess.” She sounds genuinely remorseful. Bella, who owns the Brighton house, is a friend. She wants to help us out but she also wants to buy a flat in Clapton and that is not going to happen unless she sells her house for top dollar. If I were her, I would definitely go with the Fulham lady. I mean, Curly and I can’t even afford to renew our car insurance.

Nevertheless, Bella agrees to give us another week to try to get the money together before she accepts the Fulham lady’s offer.

“That’s all fine then!” says Curly, confidently. “All we need is another 20 grand. And we’ve got a whole week. Not a problem.”

We have one thing on our side: other people are even more desperate than we are. More than 20 first-time buyers came to see the slightly-too-small flat last weekend and three of them put in offers despite the extortionately high price tag. I don’t feel good about it. I had to go out, so as not to run the risk of accosting them and saying: “Don’t do it! It’s just not worth it!”

The thing I hate most about the housing crisis – and this is a competitive category – is that it encourages us to pit ourselves against one another, to screw over our neighbours, to profit from misery and suffering. I hate it; I hate myself.

I accept it; I accept myself. I close my eyes and plunge into that vast blue sky.