Sunday Times Column: The Littlest Hobo


This week I have been counting. I tried to count the number of times I have moved house, got to 15 and then forgot faces and names. I tried to count the flatmates I’ve had, and then the number of vans my friends have hired to help me shift my possessions; the storage units I’ve rented; the fridges I’ve scrubbed during the Final Cleanse; the Blu-Tack marks I’ve painted over; the holes-in-walls I’ve puttied up; the deposits I’ve haggled for; all the times I have signed a new contract and said, “I am never moving again,” then six months later, had to. Because flatmates move, rents rise and landlords sell.

I’ve been counting how many glasses nicked from pubs I’ve wrapped in newspaper, how many stolen lighters I’ve accumulated, how many hairbands and safety pins are under the sofa, and back issues of The Sunday Times Magazine I’ve got.

But I’m too impatient to keep counting. The only figures I’m left with are 4456, which is the door number for the 35sq ft Safestore unit I’ve rented and crammed everything I own into (for £42 a week). Filled with boxes, tables and bookshelves stacked like Tetris blocks. I’ve stood looking at it all for ages thinking, paradoxically, it seems both too much and not enough stuff to show for my life. Just some books, Ikea furniture so flimsy it hardly seemed worth dismantling, clothes and random bric-a-brac: headbands from Femen, a film clapperboard, framed articles, and paintings that are precious to me but look like junk to anyone else.

I hate moving. I hate seeing my life amassed in pointless objects. I hate packing, and having to unearth stuff I’ve deliberately filed away so I don’t have to deal with it. I hate opening drawers and finding my dad’s death certificate, or the order of service sheet from my friend’s funeral. Love letters from failed relationships. My best friend’s mum’s engagement ring (I gave her my mum’s in a swap).

I went though the flat with a bin bag, ruthlessly erasing memories while re-living them. Chucking out birthday cards. Old notebooks. Rubbish presents. The jumper my ex left. A felt, dartboard fancy-dress outfit I’ve never worn (thankfully). I tried to edit my books, throwing my Jilly Coopers into the “Give to Oxfam” pile. Then going back and taking them out again.

I cleaned my existence out of the flat. Scrubbed the wine stain off the wall from our last party, where the Tina Turner impersonator crashed into Ben. Took down the mirror ball, the dream catchers (don’t judge), chucked away the gig tickets and wine corks. Vacuumed the dust bunnies up from under the bed (by this stage I was even romanticising dirt). Looked at the space, emptied of me, like I’d never existed in it. As if, for a year, I hadn’t snogged anybody on that sofa or spent Sundays on it in a facemask watching Netflix, fallen in love on it, sung karaoke on it, got up from it to argue with the neighbours about the noise. Written columns there and heard secrets. But that’s renting: constantly packing up like the Littlest Hobo, and being reminded this isn’t your home.

This time, I put everything in storage and moved into a friend’s spare room. And promised myself: this is the year I will buy a home. Even if it’s a shed with a flip-down bed and a bucket out back. I will buy. I will move all the crap in that is my life, paint the door pink, and gloat. Because no one can ever make me move again.


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