Squeezed Middle, Alice's column about a mother cracking under the strain of work, money and children was definitely in no way autobiographical. It appeared weekly in the New Statesman between 2012-2014.
We’re standing on top of Kite Hill, with London spread out before us like a grubby blanket. A layer of fine smog hangs over the skyline, punctured here and there by the new City skyscrapers, a defiant cluster of one-fingered salutes. I narrow my eyes against the spring sunlight and say goodbye to it all, bit by bit.
Goodbye to Holloway Road, ungentrified and ungentrifiable; to the popcorn-smelling, sticky-carpeted Odeon where I went on my first ever date. Goodbye to the Highbury Fields playground and the football pitches where my sister and I used to roller-skate on a Saturday morning. Goodbye to the Homerton Hospital, where I first looked into my babies’ eyes, and to Buckingham Palace, which I have not visited once in 34 years. Maybe I will, when I’m not a Londoner any more.
Bella phoned this morning to tell us that she would accept our offer on her house in Brighton.
“Jesus!” said Curly, staring at me in disbelief. “Are we actually going to do it?”
“I think we really are.”
For some reason I laugh every time I think about it: Curly and I, owners of a real, grown-up house. I try to imagine us strolling nonchalantly from room to capacious room; sitting down to lunch at a real kitchen table; pottering about in the garden on a Sunday afternoon. But I can’t do it, any more than I can picture a miniature poodle performing Swan Lake.
Larry is also having some trouble getting his head around the idea. “But what if we get to Brighton and make new friends and get to be happy and then we have to move again?” he asked, with a worried frown, when I told him the news. Like most children, Larry is deeply conservative. Even the most minor deviation from his daily routine – a cheese sandwich cut in the wrong way, or served on the wrong plate – can throw him into a spin. Fortunately he has no real idea what an upheaval lies before him.
“The idea is that we won’t have to move again. Not for a long time.”
“But how do you know?”
I don’t know, of course. It may well all be a disaster. We have no friends in Brighton, no childcare, and no jobs. To say we are taking a punt on this is to put it mildly. Nevertheless, I feel quietly sure it is the right thing to do. Looking back on the last few years I can see that London and I have been going through a protracted divorce, characterised by all the usual stages of relationship breakdown: denial, rage, grief and finally acceptance. We are no longer right for each other. It’s time to move on.
“It’ll still be here, you know,” says Curly. He takes my hand and I take Larry’s. Moe stirs in his buggy, swept awake by the chilly breeze. It’s nearly tea-time. We walk, hand-in-hand, back to the station, where a train is waiting to take us home.