Property | Wry Society

The downsizers

Downsizing after the children have flown the nest can be a civilised move. That is, until the ‘knock, knock’ jokes start.

April 19 2010
Adam Edwards

When young James Fielding came down from Leeds University with a 2:2 in History of Art he decided against moving back home with his parents. He was going to be his own man and, like his sister Sophia who was shacked up with her boyfriend, he was going to live in a “chummery” in London’s Shepherd’s Bush.

This news was, if truth be known, a great relief to his mother, Fiona. She was fed up with rattling around the large, five-bedroom family home in Wandsworth. She felt like an ageing spinster in Nappy Valley with a husband, Alisdair, still chained to the City and children she never saw. Her son’s decision would allow her the chance to reinvent her life. She wanted to downsize, to swap Wandsworth for a Chelsea flat and a Cotswolds cottage.

It was a translocation Fiona had been secretly planning for years. The London flat was going to be the height of sophistication... no more smelly teenage rooms, no annoying bits of incomprehensible electronic gadgetry in the sitting room, no bicycles in the hall and no family-size pizzas in the fridge. She would finally be able to use her Royal Doulton china without the saucers being purloined for ashtrays, and have a computer that wasn’t hijacked by adolescent Facebook addicts.

She planned to turn her flat into an urbane salon and, when a two-bedroom mansion-block apartment off Sloane Avenue came on the market for a couple of hundred thousand over the million pound mark, she put in a successful offer.

Moving, however, was more emotional and problematic than she had imagined. Now the decision had been made and the Wandsworth house was under offer she was worried that she would not only be losing memories but also traditions. She would, for example, no longer have a back garden and would therefore be unable to pluck the young red leaves from the walnut tree to steep in vodka to mix with red wine to make, as she did every year, the family Christmas hooch.

Furthermore, she had not yet found the right cottage in the Cotswolds and so squeezing the contents of a large detached SW18 property into an SW3 snug was no easy feat. She refused to chuck out much that had been a part of her married life; little things like the dreadful oil painting of the couple’s first dog that the self-opinionated artist had chosen to depict as a hirsute Tyrannosaurus rex rather than a smooth-haired Jack Russell. And James was even more stubborn. He insisted on keeping his father’s antique mahogany partners’ desk which would take up most of one of the bedrooms.

Other realities also began to hit home. Fiona would be exchanging her walk-in wardrobe for one a quarter of the size, Alisdair would have to clear out his beloved shed and the children would finally have to remove the fetid piles of debris that had built up in their rooms over the past decade.

However, eventually the couple moved in and began to settle down to a civilised, child-free life. Fiona’s salon took shape and Alisdair became a patron of the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square. Even the cottage became a reality and by the summer they were weekending near Cirencester. In fact, it was just as they were congratulating themselves that Sophia arrived at the flat in tears. Her boyfriend had dumped her and booted her out of his Notting Hill bedsit. She had nowhere else to go. And so Fiona made up a temporary bed for her daughter in the study, an arrangement that suited Sophia rather too well. She paid no rent, was near her friends and had access to the best shopping. Six months later the partners’ desk had been pushed against the wall and its drawers were full of Sophia’s smalls.

Over Christmas James rang to say that, due to the recession, he had lost his job and Fiona, in motherly fashion, suggested he drop by for supper and a cheering drink. The next evening he duly arrived, carrying, in either hand, a very large suitcase.