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Friday, 30 May 2008

Cats, the housing market and Leonard Cohen

As I write this our two cats, Tom and Sherry, are sitting together on a chair on the patio. Eyes closed, paws tucked under, ears twitching as they dream of mice and saucers of cream and to me they sum up all that is contentment.

When we moved to Walthamstow in 1996 we were given two very small black kittens, rescued from the house of an old lady who had recently died. They are sisters. At the time the Spice Girls were still the rage so we named them "The Mice Girls". And boy, have they lived up to that name.

It's our fault really since we love birds and encourage them into our garden with lashing of fat balls, dried worms and an array of seeds. Birds, caring little for table manners and the tools for delicate noshing, scatter seed all over the place. Five feeding stations in our smallish garden, regularly replenished each morning means seeds aplenty falling onto the path. And not suprisingly this windfall supports a family of mice.

This in turn provide much sport for our two cats. Many people have remarked on the apparent cruelty of cats when they catch and play with a mouse. Teasing it, flicking it into the air with their paws; even taking turns in tormenting the small rodent. And yet, they do it with such grace and skill it is difficult not to admire them.

This morning, at the base of the chair on which are seated Tom and Sherry, a tiny mouse lies dead. Not a mark on its delicate body, eyes closed it looks asleep but a prod with my finger confirms that its a passed over mouse, a rodent with rigor mortis. We'll bury it with full military honours later today. Tom and Sherry will get extra rations in the vain attempt to satiate their killer instincts.

In the last 12 years those two tiny kittens have grown into beautiful, adult cats with soft, shiny coats and personalities that bewilder and entrance. Over the same period housing market in Walthamstow has shot up in price. Now I can see the change in our two cats over those twelve years, but what's changed in the housing market to reflect the growth in value.

Very little. In May 1996 we paid £60,000 odd for our small two bed terraced house. About 12 months ago it was valued at £270,000. The only difference I can notice is that the house is 12 years older, the walls have another layer or two of paint on them and the roof is leaking. Oh, and the garden is less well kept. 12 years ago, my wife and I could afford the mortgage - only just but we had no difficulty in getting a mortgage. Although my salary over those twelve years more than doubled it would be impossible for us to have bought this house twelve months ago - when the housing market was working "properly".

Many people found themselves stretching their financial resources to the limit to buy a small family home or flat. Nothing over elaborate, a mean, two bedroomed home. And now the position has changed. It doesn't help to know why the screw has turned - and in any case it would appear that most of the financial sector and experts, economists and politicians were lulled by the prelonged period of beneign economic conditions into believing things could only continue to get better.

A fall in house prices is a good thing if you're a first time buyer or trading up. Except ofcourse, it's more difficult to get that mortgage even if the property price has dropped by 10%. And why sell when you're not sure if you'll get the price you want, and why buy if it's likely the price will drop further. So unless you're forced to sell or have sufficent funds,equity and/or income most of us will stay put.

Which may be no bad thing. That tired looking front room might now be redecorated. The overgrown garden, tidied up and those many jobs around the house completed. Rather than taking on more debt we start saving, for that deposit or because life's suddenly become more uncertain and we realise that there's very little savings in the tank should the worst happen.

I don't know how Walthamstow will be affected by this change. I suspect that many of the planned property developments are likely to be postponed, if not cancelled. To my mind that's a good thing since we could do with less mindless developments. Much of the shoddy conversion work will find it hard to sell at any price; and the Council, in the pause, will realise that one or two bedroom flats piled 18 storeys high does not answer the housing needs of anyone but the developers. The risk is that some worthwhile developments and renovations will not go ahead and some work will be abandoned half completed or worse.

Which brings me to Leonard Cohen. The kamikazi crooner, who finds himself back on the road again after his $5 million pension fund went awol. His loss is our gain. I didn't see him in the early years, but much of his music was the soundtrack to my romantic endeavours - usually unsuccessful which is why his music had such a hold on me. Sweet smelling despair! But ofcourse his songs aren't like that at all. Complex, humane, human and perplexing. And I'll hear him live at the O2 in July. That's if his zimmer frame holds up.

And back to where I started. The Spice Girls graced the O2 earlier in the year as part of their aborted relaunch and who can forget the Millenium Celebrations at the Millenium Dome - seared on the mind forever - when things could only get better - and they did until recently.


Bird on a Wire said...

You must be pleased that the Spice Girls are back!

Marginalia said...

Dear BotW, I am amazed and gratified that you have commented on a 4 year old blog. Is it over 4 years since I saw Leonard?

Hopefully TSGs are not back for good.