December 14 2012
"It’s a pink ticket,” said a grinning Harry Rogers, as he tucked into his Morecambe Bay potted shrimp at Balls Brothers’ Lime Street restaurant. The young Lloyd’s insurance broker was delighted when his wife Suzie suggested that the family move to West Sussex, the county where she grew up. “No more sweaty Tube journeys,” chortled Harry to his colleague James Meerson. “No more rows because I am home too late to read the kids a story, or ordering a pizza because the supper’s burnt. I shall get a place in town. I’ll live my old life as a single man during the week and spend the weekends with the family.”
The Rogers were currently living with their two small children in an anonymous Victorian terraced house in Shepherd’s Bush. Despite its size and location, it was valued at £1m-plus and Suzie (with Harry in complete agreement) decided that now was the right time to trade the city for the country.
The London house sold quickly and a month later the Rogers decamped to a £800,000 Grade II-listed detached pile near Arundel. Annoyingly, after they had stumped up for stamp duty, alterations, a farmhouse kitchen and an extension, the final cost of moving to the property near Suzie’s parents that she had insisted upon was considerably higher than they had intended. This severely curtailed Harry’s budget for his London pied-à-terre.
His original plan had been to invest in a studio apartment inside the Circle line, but a cursory sweep of the internet confirmed that he didn’t have the wherewithal to buy enough space to house his BlackBerry, let alone his “bachelor’s occasional” bed. Anywhere decent he could buy, he said gloomily to James, would probably be nearer to Liverpool than Liverpool Street.
Renting seemed to be the only answer. He found a furnished first-floor bedsitter in a terraced house in north Hammersmith (the nearest station was his old stamping ground Shepherd’s Bush), with decoration so lurid that it reminded Harry of the last words attributed to Oscar Wilde who, when awakening in a Parisian garret during his final illness, noticed the wallpaper and quipped: “One or other of us has to go.”
Worse still were his neighbours. The basement housed a mess of students who slept all day and partied all night. The adjoining bedsit contained a yapping Pekingese dog, while the Polish family on the floor above had a child who, judging from the sounds coming through his ceiling, was training to be a road-bike champion.
At weekends, in West Sussex, Harry lived with his family like a banker on a bonus, but on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights he stayed in his one room in Hammersmith. However, he was not rocking with his chums, who were at home with their young families, but surviving on M&S ready meals and watching DVDs on the television which he was forced to listen to through headphones to block out the neighbours’ din. It was not the smart, social, single life he had imagined. And when his room was burgled and the intruder made off with his smartphone he decided he had had enough and moved out.
But commuting from Sussex was worse than riding the Tube. It was an hour and half from his nearest station, Chichester, to London Bridge and that didn’t include the time it took to get to and from home and work at either end.
It was James who came up with the solution. “Why not rent the top floor spare room in our house in Acton?” he said. “The bedroom has an en-suite bathroom, we’ve only got the one child and you can come and go as you please.”
And so it was that Harry moved to digs in west London, a half mile further out than his old family house in Shepherd’s Bush. It was certainly comfortable and civilised but he quickly realised that any thoughts of a pink ticket were a distant memory when on the second night the Meersons asked him to babysit their daughter, Jemima. “She’ll be as good as gold if you read her a bedtime story,” said James. “And the local Domino’s do a great Mighty Meaty takeaway pizza.”