All The Vain Things That Charm Me Most

90s never coming back lol

All The Vain Things That Charm Me Most

I often think about my grandparents. They live in a snug little two-bed house, compact but pleasant. They traded it for their previous home, a sizeable three-bed bungalow with a massive garden, because there was a family in their church who had several children and not enough space. That is what they’re like, and have been as long as I can remember. For their entire lives, as best I’ve been able to determine, they displayed a near-complete indifference toward making money. My grandfather was the son of a Edinburgh greengrocer who won a place at the local university in ‘50s. He worked as a maths teacher earlier in his life and later a vicar. My grandmother was a nurse who he met when on National Service down south, during a brief hiatus in his university career caused by failing the Latin requirement of his course too many times (when he came back they'd phased it out so he was able to get a pass).  

They were certainly very thrifty, but the economic balance in the UK for most of the 20th century was such that they were able to live their lives as they wished, working in jobs that were societally beneficial and to which they felt called, and still be relatively confident that even if they had to scrimp and save, if they couldn't afford super-fancy stuff, they would have a certain level of material security, e.g. a house that they owned. They weren’t out there driving Lambos or anything, and I know they had some difficult days and had to do things to make sure ends met—but they had real, fulfilling lives, raised four kids.

I think about myself, and how many of my life decisions have been unconsciously mediated by the knowledge that, at least in the part of the country where I live, that kind of stability is very difficult to attain. Brighton is a wonderful city in many ways, but you are almost completely shut out of the housing market unless you have a six-figure income or rich parents—or, realistically, both. I run a decently profitable small business and have had real trouble borrowing enough to get anything that fits my (non-extravagant) requirements within a half-hour walk of the city centre. Since interest rates went bonkers a few months back, we've had to put our goal of buying on hold entirely. Never mind me: I have friends who do real, socially worthwhile jobs—people who are teachers or nurses or who keep the gears turning for the NHS or the council—who, realistically, may never be able to get a mortgage in the city or anywhere near, barring some very good luck on discounts for new builds.

I want to have kids, but I don't really want to do that until I know I can provide them the kind of stability I enjoyed as a child, and the lion's share of that is owning a house. In the early 90s, when I was born, my parents were able to get a mortgage—not easily, and to call the house a "fixer-upper" would be like calling the neighbours having a party so loudly that I'm still up at 1am writing this bit "a little annoying", but they were still able to get one—and certainly in substantially more disfavourable financial conditions than mine are now. When they moved house a couple of years ago, we found a bunch of stuff in the attic, one of which was a local newspaper from the day I was born, full of estate agent ads with prices that these days look fantastical. Inflation alone would give you a ~2.5x increase, but looking at these places today you’d almost universally be slapping an extra zero on the end.

A 3-bed house in Brighton would cost, on average, something like £600k, a mortgage for which would require a household income of something in the region of £160k, which is well into the top 99% of national income. This is core of the problem. All I want, really, is the ability to have a stable family life in the city I've lived in for the last decade, and not to have to live with my eye permanently on the bottom line. For this, I would happily forego the layer of cheap, trivial extravagances which have coated so many areas of life like an oily film—which more and more look like the residue of a zero-interest-rate enviroment, and are now retreating, as that has. I think—or maybe just hope—that's a trade most people in my cohort would make. But it's not a trade that seems to be on offer.

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