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Crossing the threshold

I have lived in rental properties all my life – for the entirety of my childhood, and for the seventeen years of my *officially* adult life. Before we moved to the Netherlands, MR suggested that we buy, rather than rent, a house. It took me awhile to come round to the idea, foreign as it is, but we are now looking for our own home.

On arrival we were ignorant to the state of housing here. We have since learned that houses are, comparative to London, somewhat reasonably priced and in decent condition, and that one hundred percent mortgages and home-owner tax benefits are available. Breezy, no?

Poster by Ruben Pater

We have also discovered that the demand for housing far outweighs the supply. I don’t know the exact details, but I believe the crisis emerged loosely around 2015 as a result of a parliamentary pause on building to minimise environmental impact. Particularly in the Randstad, this has resulted in 8-12% over-bidding as the norm and property values literally doubling since 2015 – check any address on the government’s value register. Skyrocketing prices in Amsterdam have compounded, in part, due to the rise in foreign investment and the doubling of tourists per year from four to eight million between 2004 and 2017 (read more).

Poster by Ruben Pater

Contextual complexities aside, the present possibility to own our own home feels life-changing for me. I was raised by a single mother on a receptionist’s wage, although her parents – who were generous with us in care and finances – were comfortable. This goes some way in explaining the conflict between my middle class values and my working class psyche. But, as Eula Biss points out, defining class is a tricky task.

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What we’ve lost

2020 has been an odd year to celebrate momentous occasions. And, ironically, there seems to be more momentous occasions in my immediate realm this year than years past. Thirtieth and sixtieth birthdays, a birth, two weddings, a ten year wedding anniversary, thankfully no funerals…

Major crises like pandemics, wars and environmental disasters demand resilience of individuals and communities: they require adjustment, reconfiguration, compromise and loss, on a massive scale.

Changes made by very ordinary citizens have the capacity to facilitate the preservation of life. In this pandemic, change has meant mask-wearing, social distancing, working from home and limited travel. In wars it has meant curfews, blackouts, food rationing. In my experience, the required modifications have been uncomfortable but entirely doable because the situation is so critical.

Having never previously lived through a global event of this kind – one which completely disrupts ‘normality’ for an extended period of time – I’d never really thought about the continuation of life on these terms. In the context of a pandemic, the civic duty to preserve life significantly suppresses the continuation of life. They are in opposition to each other.

In a post from early August I marvelled at how adaptable humans are, and indeed it is true. But three months further along, the reality of this long-term game is more tangible. It has become more necessary to acknowledge anxiety, disappointment and frustration to safe-guard my endurance – also known as the reliable human need to vent, the need to have ones grievances heard before getting on with things. Reconfiguring birthdays, weddings, anniversaries… a spring, a summer, an autumn… indefinitely postponing a visit to see my mum on the other side of the world… It has all been doable but, like every other crisis bystander in the history of time, we won’t ever get back what we’ve lost during this period of partially suspended liberty. At the same time, we are extremely fortunate to be bystanders and not victims. A pandemic is an extraordinary thing to have lived through.

The other day I started to wonder what shape life will take as the pandemic eases (returning to ‘normal’ is not desirable). I suspect that change will happen slowly. As a consequence, it may be harder to register our increasing freedoms and be grateful for them. An idea: it seems pedantic to log every pandemic policy change as it arises, but I will try it as a way of making myself more aware of the current status and what I have to be grateful for, when it finally arrives.