A couple of months ago I had started a post which I decided, in the end, not to publish. It’s still there, in my drafts. Despite being one of the best things I have written in the past couple of months, it will probably never make it to my homepage.
I started Whatever Gets You Through The Day to remind myself of the things that keep me going even when I’d just like to retreat into my little corner and never get out again. However, keeping it free from any negative thoughts whatsoever is a real challenge. Sometimes I feel the urge to write a new post, and realise, halfway into it, that it’s full of anger and gloom: that’s when I stop typing, and immediately discard it. I really should stop being negative just for the sake of it – and this is why you’ll never read that unpublished post. I’ll share just a few lines, quite relevant to what comes afterwards.
“We found the house of our dreams, and immediately lost it to someone else in just three short hours, fraught with tension and let’s-not-expect-anythings – and somehow, to an extent that is greater than we’ll ever admit, a bit of crazy, nonsensical, ill-placed hope.
I could almost see myself living in that house. I visited tens of places, and not a single one of them inspired me such a feeling: it has always been more like Get me away from here quickly, or How could anyone in their right mind ever pay for this dump? (You might now feel the urge to remind me that living in a dump is precisely what we should expect, considering our nonexistent budget. Go ahead, I won’t take it personally.)”
This happened in September. We saw a few other houses in the meantime, none of them remotely suitable for two people to live in without squeezing up like sardines. And then, four days ago, the breakthrough finally came. Or, at least, something that looked like it: for the flat we viewed last week had a lot of pros and just as many cons, and none is strong enough to make a case.
Bad news first.
- The inside of the building is terrible. Take the most horrible building you have ever seen, and multiply by two.”Hideous building in an otherwise pretty residential area” is a classic, when it comes to low-budget housing. And it wouldn’t be such a big deal, weren’t it for the fact that the kitchen window faces the estate’s eyesore-coloured inner hall.
- There’s carpet all over the place, which is not ideal at all. At least, it’s better than the navy-with-baby-blue-diamonds pattern I’ve been surrounded by for the past year and a half, but that’s still not enough to make me forget that somewhere, out there, there is a house with laminated floors – and we haven’t come across it.
- Finally, the landlord wouldn’t let us keep a cat, which is a real shame. A cat would love those big windows and that street-facing balcony: we love them already, and we would love having a cat so much. Oh, well. Better luck next time, I guess.
On the other hand…
- We’d be living in zone two, only three minutes away from the tube station – and I would spare some good money on my Travelcard.
- Rooms are unusually spacious for a flat that fits our meagre budget (as the flats that fit our meagre budget are usually as big as two-star hotel rooms, without the concierge service). It even has a walk-in closet.
- There’s a lot of space on the walls to hang our posters and pictures, and we’re already daydreaming about painting that nonsensical purple wall in the bedroom with a much nicer tint.
All in all, it’s a nice little home, and I’m reasonably sure that we would be happy there, if we decided to give it a chance. To me, it was a real 50/50. To my boyfriend it was more of a 60/40, and in the end we agreed to look no further. Not before overthinking it to death, of course. It’s safe to say that I have spent the past four days facing an unexpected dilemma.
Another excerpt now, from this post’s very first draft.
“I thought everything would be fine in the end. I thought we would recognise The House immediately after stepping foot in it, just like we did with the flat we missed out on. I didn’t expect the decision to be so hard, and the fact that it is being so hard makes me fear that, no matter what we go for, time will prove us wrong.
I can’t help thinking that I’d be much more persuaded now, if I had never visited that first house. I’d just feel lucky to have found a place that is both affordable and livable at the same time. I wouldn’t be quibbling over a shabby hallway and a colourless carpet, and certainly not feeling guilty for letting a snobbish tantrum affect my opinion.”
So how come I changed my mind?
I devoted almost every single lunch break in the past six months to househunting – not to mention the time I spent looking for flats at home. Apart from that, I’ve done little else: written less than a couple of lines, talked to my friends too rarely, and even left aside the awesome book I was reading. The whole process has been as consuming as an obsession can be.
Moving house won’t make me a better writer, but it will give me back the time to try. Besides, I’ll also be able to make it up to David Foster Wallace. On the other hand, looking further would have allowed me to keep hoping that we’d eventually find the Perfect House. One with all-new furniture and no carpets whatsoever. A truly beautiful house, both outside and inside. A house in Hampstead. But looking further could also have meant six more months of frustration, and heaven knows how little I need that now.
All I needed was to convince myself that this was not a second best choice. All I need, generally speaking, is to become a grown-up rather than a picky child: realising that “50/50” sometimes means “good enough”, and not “bad”, looks like a good first step. Admitting that settling for a job that doesn’t involve any creative writing at all – and making ends meet with a salary I could have started earning way earlier if only I hadn’t believed that higher education would get me somewhere better – are not unfortunate exceptions: they’re part of the rule.
This might happen again, be it with another house, or another job, or…anything else. Instead of fighting a losing battle, I should start working to build bullet-proof happiness out of it. (I’m not too sure I’ll be a good grown-up, actually. But, having reached the age of twenty-five, I should at least give it a try). So here I am, back from an “Ikea weekend” spent looking at furniture for our future flat. Now that was a nice grown-up moment. One I thought I would never experience – and it felt really, really good. We looked at sofas, and bookshelves, and bedside tables. Sets of plates and floor lamps, and even a frame for all my pictures to be hung in the living room. Although it’ll take us ages just to scrape together the money to buy all those things, The House is starting to take shape in our minds.
By the time the Furniture Shopping Spree is over, it’ll really look like our home. The simple act of thinking it already feels like a miracle. Of course, we’re now having cake to celebrate.
Ricotta and Chocolate Chip Tart
(Makes 8 – 10 slices)
- 300g all-purpose flour;
- 200g caster sugar;
- 100g butter;
- 3 eggs;
- 1 teaspoon baking powder;
- 1 pinch of salt;
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract;
- 500g ricotta cheese;
- 3 tablespoons almond extract (I should have used liquor, but Tesco doesn’t sell any Rum extract for home baking. Can you believe that?)
- 100g chocolate chips (you can also chop 100g dark chocolate, which is actually what I did).
Prepare the crust:
- Knead the flour, baking powder, salt and butter until you obtain a sandy paste.
- Add 100g sugar, and continue kneading.
- Add 2 eggs and the vanilla extract, and knead until the mixture becomes compact and soft.
- Wrap it in cling film, and leave it to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
In the meantime…prepare the filling:
- Beat the ricotta cheese with 100g sugar.
- Once you have obtained a smooth cream, add 1 egg and the almond extract, and continue beating until the mixture becomes smooth and creamy again.
- Pour in the chocolate chips, and finish mixing with a spoon.
Almost done – make your tart!
- Roll the shortcrust on an even surface, which you will have previously dusted with flour. You should make sure that you can cover the bottom of your cake tin and create a 2 – 3cm crust, but also save enough of it to decorate the top of the tart.
- Once you have put the shortcrust in your greased cake tin, pour in the ricotta and chocolate chip cream, and level out the surface with a palette knife.
- Decorate the tart, cutting the remaining shortcrust into any shape that you like and putting it on top of the cream. I went for the “classic” option, and made stripes, but there are no limits to your creativity on this one.
- Pre-heat your oven to 180°, and bake for about 40 minutes.
- Leave the tart aside until it has completely cooled down, then serve and enjoy!