It’s been a while since we last posted, just as we were leaving our hibernation cave to go back to “civilisation”. I think the fact that we couldn’t quite summon up the enthusiasm to nail a post together says quite a lot about the last couple of months, to be honest.
Despite living in the same house for fifteen years, in the town Ellie grew up in, we just didn’t really feel like it was home any more. Odd, eh? I don’t know if it was the changes in decor, or the fact that our previously rammed-solid little house was all austere and stripped down – set-dressed for the benefit of potential purchasers – but we really didn’t much regret our decision to put that For Sale board up.
We clearly crossed our fingers hard enough, because with the help of some wonderful estate agents (not often you hear that said!), things moved quickly. Within three weeks, the board changed from “For Sale” to “Under Offer”! With no chain from our buyer, a completion date was set for around two and a half months from the board first going up.
We felt a bit in limbo during the time we spent back there – we couldn’t really get stuck into anything much, because we couldn’t get any of our stuff out of storage. Spring in Chorleywood is our favourite time of year for two reasons – the bluebell woods and the magnolia tree in the front garden. Fortunately, although by rights we should have missed them, the late spring meant we caught both in full force…
Time was spent catching up with friends and neighbours, and Ellie’s Oyster card got a battering for London art exhibitions. Daytrips to Waddesdon Manor, and the utterly wonderful Highgate Cemetery – overgrown and atmospheric, home to unknown Victorian wealth and the known from Karl Marx to Douglas Adams via Alexander Litvinenko’s lead-lined grave.
We finally got to visit the fascinating Bletchley Park – home of the wartime code-breakers, including Alan Turing, one of this country’s most sadly wasted talents. I’ve read plenty about the German Enigma coding machines, but just being able to finally see one (or several) in the flesh answered several questions that had hitherto puzzled me. As for the sight and sound of the Colossus “bombe” in action…
The van was pointed towards the wealds on the borders of Kent and Sussex, for a weekend of the National Trust membership card getting used hard – Chartwell, Sissinghurst, Bodiam Castle, together with some smaller NT properties. A little bit of a wait for the rather wonderful Smallhythe Place (the house of the Victorian actress, Ellen Terry) found us in an early-Monday-morning wine tasting session at the Chapel Down winery in the village. For a brief moment, our life was back on the road again…
But we still didn’t quite feel right. We’d got a few things to do in the interim, but – time passes somehow both slowly and quickly simultaneously whilst you’re waiting. You’ve not got much to do, but there still doesn’t quite seem to be time to get round to it.
Perhaps we were just building our stores of energy? We’ve certainly depleted them over the last week!
Being fortunate enough to have a short overlap between getting the keys to the new house and handing over the keys to the old one, we had a brilliant idea… We don’t have that much stuff at the house. All the storage unit contents are neatly stacked and filed. There’s some gumf piled up in the garages, sure, but… Why do we need a removals firm? They won’t want to do the garages anyway. We can do this ourselves! A few quotes from the various compare-the-removals websites came in. Some looked worryingly cheap, others looked very high by comparison. A chat with a mate who runs a removals firm WAAAAAY up north confirmed our suspicions – the cheap ones were too cheap, the others high, and that was based on nothing more than a guesstimate on our part as to volumes.
The day dawned. We loaded the car trailer with something that almost passes for a car, and tied it to the back of the camper.
With the Peugeot in convoy, we headed into the future. Eventually, we pulled up to our new front gate – and stared at a brace of removals vans blocking the driveway. Not much need to panic, though. Tim-the-Vendor was just finishing the last few bits of packing and sorting, and as he’s such a damnably decent guy, it wasn’t a hardship to have a cuppa and help check everything was done. Just as well we did – as Tim was about to leave, Ellie noticed that the storage under a window seat at the top of the stairs had been completely overlooked… Full of beautiful old books, with a lot of sentimental value.
Eventually, we were alone, facing a garden that seems to have exploded since we last saw the place – barely a couple of months before, but still in winter deadness. Some things have definitely changed…
But that’s another day. Is it now time to relax? Oh, no. The fun was about to start. After an echoey night on the camping airbed, first thing the following morning saw the keys to a 3.5t Luton-bodied Transit van in our hands – and the real work started… With huge thanks to our soon-to-be-ex-neighbour, Roger, we made serious progress in loading most of the house contents on the first day. Despite a comically incompetent attempt to drop a bookcase on my own head, as the sun set, the roller shutter on the back of the empty van was closed, and it was time to think about assembling the bed frame so we could get in it.
The second day, we started to attack the storage unit. Box after box after box of books, until we started to become seriously concerned about the weight compared to the van’s payload. Time to fill the remaining space with some of the house furniture we’d not managed to fit in the previous day.
The third day, the storage unit and house seemed both to be almost completed. Over the eight years since Ellie’s family house was emptied and sold, family heirloom furniture and other items of great sentimental value have been tucked away into a 75sqft corner of a Big Yellow warehouse. No more! The back wall of the unit was once more visible.
And so, on the fourth day, we felt confident enough to tackle the rented garages. The lowest priority – if we couldn’t get them done in time, they could wait. No problem – I can chuck the heavy stuff from the lockups in, then the few bits from the garage at the house, whilst Ellie has a quick hoover-around, then the last few bits from the house can tuck in. Except it didn’t quite work like that. By 6pm, I was still at the lockups, facing the admission that the van was stuffed to the gills. Eventually, thoroughly worn out, we arrived back to the new house at 11pm. No point in even thinking of unloading now – just time for some cheese-on-toast as our main meal of the day, and bed.
The fifth day started FAR too early. Unloading a van before 6am is not my idea of restful. Still, this would be the last day – just a few bits out of the garage, the last couple of bits from the house, and we’re there. Umm, no. As the afternoon wore on, it became clear that the clutter fairy had been busy overnight. Either the van had shrunk or we’d forgotten just how much there was to go. Unloading started, but failing light forced an early end.
Day six. Cutting it FAR too fine now. Another pre-6am start on unloading, before that lovely restful 150 mile drive. Again. This time… Surely? There could only be a few things left. It was surely ridiculous to take the huge van again. Should we stop in the rental place and swap it for a smaller, less thirsty, one? No, don’t be daft. Let’s just get down there. Wise move. Very wise move. I had to hold the last few things in as the roller shutter was pulled down once more.
We were done. Complete. The house was empty. The house was cleaned. The house was ready to hand over.
Just one final early morning to go – the van had to be returned, and we had to get back home in time for a little local village fete starting that afternoon. Ellie’s talking more about that over on her Colourboration friend Lynne’s Dove Grey Reader blog… and you can read the second part of this post on Lynne’s blog here.