He loved the glass block walls and the ceiling void, the way the open-plan living room stretched to the beamed roof, and then dipped under a second-floor balcony which could double up as a study. He loved the way the master bedroom had a floor-to-ceiling window — overlooking distant greenery — a walk-in dressing room and an en-suite bathroom where he just knew he was going to fit a jacuzzi. He thought it made brilliant sense to have two further bedrooms on the ground floor, along with a utility room and a second bathroom, leaving the inter-linked living, dining and kitchen areas to spread so sumptuously, so invitingly, so cool over the first floor. It was a layout that could breathe, And how he loved the way the light flowed through the space, playing on the glass and sleek woods, and the sharp stainless steel.
He thought it was very loft-like, yet it was a new-build in the middle of Bedfordshire — part of an inspired 450-acre development on the site of an old airfield, where no two houses would be exactly alike. This is the future, he decided, how everyone will be living in a couple of decades. Somewhere that’s young and urban-feeling, but which is in fact in the middle of the countryside. An easy commute to his office in Canary Wharf. His would be an effortlessly contemporary lifestyle — shifting from one state-of-the-art building to another. As well as looking fantastic, his new home would of course provide super energy efficiency, and superior sound insulation. Bills would be a breeze, not to mention the fact that because it was a new build, he could get cheap insurance and the TSB were practically giving him the mortgage. Nor for him some scummy flat in deepest south London any longer. He was going to leap up the property ladder.
He couldn’t believe his good fortune at stumbling across the ad, and then the fact that when he rang up he was able to secure the very first viewing of the show house.
“Hi,” he said, practically running into the Portakabin at the entrance to the site, “I’m Mark and this is Julie, we’re here to visit the three-bed in Lacuna.” He had no idea what lacuna meant, nor did Julie, though she thought it sounded sort of watery, the name of a fancy yacht or a marina. Mark was worried about bringing his long-term, live-in-girlfriend — he wasn't sure she’d be able to see beyond what was obviously going to be a building site. He wasn't sure she’d be able to imagine the finished village, with its retail, recreational and community features, its cycle lanes and pedestrian walkways, its premier league landscaping. But she could, certainly she fell for the show house and its uncompromising modernity. She was a a sucker for anything new. Old was boring, whereas new was exciting, as well as being so effortlessly neat and clean. Housework, she imagined, would be a thing of the past, though to be honest she had never paid much attention to it, like cooking. Mark did the cooking. Mark pretty much determined all their domestic practices — until they sold their flat and had to move to a spare room at her uncle’s in north London while they were waiting for Lacuna to be built.
She put her foot down when Mark started to boss her around in front of her uncle. When, for instance, Mark said she couldn't have a packet of crisps, McCoy’s at that, while she was waiting for him to finish cooking them all supper one evening — something from a Jamie Oliver recipe which was obviously a lot more complicated than he had imagined.
He was always doing this, embarking on projects that he thought he’d whizz through only to become seriously bogged down. Of course, she should have realised the bloody house would never be built on time. They very state of the building site, the fact that none of the external infrastructure was in place when they visited, should have warned her. There were no roads, no pavements, nor, as far as she could make out, any indication of where the other houses were going to go, let alone the supposed communal gardens the water feature and the kiddies’ play area. Amid the mud, there was just the gleaming show house, which, in retrospect, could almost have been craned in the day before.
She had been contemplating having kids with Mark, throwing way her contraceptive pills and making him marry her. The thing was, she believed that Mark wanting to buy such a property — a proper house in so safe and quiet an environment, full of family-friendly amenities — indicated that he was thinking about kids and marriage too. Okay, on the surface the Lacuna appeared to be cool and spacious, fit for fashionable young urbanites like themselves. But obviously that was something of a charade. Behind the floor-to-ceiling windows and double-height rooms, beneath the hardwood flooring and the stainless steel surfaces, it was a three-bed semi with two bathrooms and a utility room. Or would be if it was ever built.
She gave it eight months, which was two months longer than she intended to give, then she kicked him out of her uncle’s and rented a room in a friend’s flat, back in south London. By then the Lacuna was 15 months behind schedule. Mark still believed it was going to built — he had to, he’d sunk too much money into it. Every so often he’d drive out to have a look at the progress, then relay the information back to Julie.
“Julie,” he’d say on the phone, “it’s looking great. Another couple of weeks, a month at the most. Believe me.” But she’d moved on. She had a wonderful new boyfriend, who was more restrained with his money and saw things for what they truly were — he wasn't a stupid dreamer, nor a control freak. She slowly forgot about the Lacuna, until Mark rang her out of the blue and said, “Guess what? It’s finished, I’m in and I’m loving it. You should see the kitchen. And the master bedroom. There’s so much space.” “Drop it Mark,” she said. “Space isn't everything. Do you think I really care about living in a fancy new home. It’s who you share your life with that counts, and in that department I’m now well sorted, thanks.”
Originally in The Independent On Sunday, April 18th, 2004