In which very little happens …

starbucks-2226717_960_720…. but we look at the view a lot.

The next fortnight should have been a blur of activity.  We had just made The Big Move, the move that very many middle class, middle aged people plan to make, and some actually achieve.  We had uprooted the whole family from their nice comfy house near parks and friends and schools and moved them to somewhere east of a town known only for a couple of famous offspring, and dumped them.  I was born and bred in London and had Starbucks in my veins: my two real concerns on moving were that my children wouldn’t know how to eat in restaurants and that decent lattes didn’t happen north of Watford.  The entire contents of our not small W12 house were dumped in the farm office (accessible only from the outside) and we knew we had to get ourselves Straight and Sorted before Eeyore went back to work in two weeks.  So on day one he and I spent forty minutes before breakfast sitting on the edge of our bed, looking at the view.  After breakfast we moved to the front lawn and carried on (same view, lower down).  The children stood on the grass and looked at each other and didn’t quite know what to do with so much of it – dog poo bins and asphalt playgrounds more their thing to date.

Mercifully an architect, a designer and a builder turned up in the early afternoon, so the first day wasn’t entirely wasted.  But a pattern had been established, and we continued to explore and gaze, rather than do much.  Eeyore and No1 spent an inordinate amount of time in the billiard room; No2 preferred the bike shed.  Both were fashioned from old loose boxes and stables, and a hayrack high enough for Shires was a source of endless fascination for a three year old with a lifelong thing about elephants.

Firsts … for us, him and me

summer-still-life-785231_960_720The next morning however was absolutely gorgeous.  Hot and golden by 7am, and positively baking by 8am when we turned up at our new home to meet Eeyore and take possession.  We found the farmer, who for some days had had both our money and our keys, hurling mattresses out of a first floor window into a tractor drawn trailer like some latter-day Gabriel Oak.  The builders we had hired to paint the kitchen and one bedroom for the baby were there too, as was the Vendor’s ex-wife, and quite a few extras who just seemed to be having a look – it was chaos, and I didn’t have a clue where to start.  In a lull in proceedings I rang Eeyore and apologised for being entirely wrong.  I stood on the edge of the ha-ha and looked back at the house, and then back at the astonishing view across fields and hedges to the horizon and told Eeyore that he was right.  For the first time in our entire life together, he was right and I had been wrong.  And that although the house clearly came with baggage and complications, this was the second best decision he had ever made – after, of course, the one where he finally agreed to marry me.

Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring …

So wrong.

 

grass-455753_960_720

Two days later we got the phone call to say it was ours (yes they made us wait two whole days) and two months later we moved house.  Five weeks before the baby was due, two weeks before it was born, and in the middle of a summer so hot that the train lines buckled in the heat.  The movers came and packed us for three days and then departed in two enormous vans apparently for a lock-up somewhere before meeting us at the new house the next day.  Nos 1 & 2 and I spent the first night of our non-London existence in the hysterically bad hotel in a Northamptonshire market town.  With our new found, daring attitude to money we took what was laughingly called a suite (ie two rooms with sparky nylon carpet and an en suite with a cracked plastic shower tray) at the very top of an ancient building.  And while the floors were charmingly uneven and the windows quaintly tiny, the noise of mice and the steaming heat were such that I for one, great with child as only I ever seem to be, got no sleep at all.  None.

Deluded

chairs-1834393_960_720Conversation at supper that night was more strained than it had been of late.  At least there was some conversation mind – usually he came home, collapsed, ate, slept, shouted at the news, slept, got up and came to bed.  This evening however, even he got the message that there were Things I Had to Say, and Things he Had to Hear, and there was a full and frank discussion of the financial implications of what he had done, the logistics of a possible move given that D (delivery) Day was fast approaching, and a gnawing at the knotty issue of whether or not to move No1 child from his boarding school given that the house it seemed we were about to buy was a good 21/2 hours from it, etc.  Nearly hysterical I was finally levered up the stairs and put to bed, pretty much on the promise (he denies it now) that we wouldn’t get it anyway, and that all this angst would prove to have been pointless.

 

My husband is a … steady man

 

eeyore-2230149

Three long hours later we were driving up a hill miles from London and anyone we knew in a part of the world we’d only ever shot through on the way to somewhere else.  Ahead and on our left was a very austere, remote and clearly exhausted house.  I think my first words were ‘That can’t be it, surely?’ As we passed a tiny dew pond with moorhens on it I remember next saying ‘What a shame’.  But I know exactly when it was that Eeyore decided this was where he wanted to spend the rest of his life.  (Preferably with me but frankly, I suspect that was negotiable.)  It wasn’t when we went round the far too big, cold, dirty and un-commutable house, which was patently in need of the kind of money of which even Heather McCartney-Mills could only dream.  It was in the garden, when Eeyore lovingly tried to reach his long arm around my elephantine waist and said ‘Damn.  NOW what do we do?’ that I realised it had happened.  Eeyore was hooked.  We thanked the sad Vendor and left him disconsolately eating chocolate biscuits with his girlfriend in the narrow, long, high walled, bottle green tomb of a kitchen, and drove back in the rain to a children’s birthday party.  It took nearly four hours, during most of which, in an unprecedented role reversal, I threw cold water all over Eeyore’s enthusiasm.  He’s a man of few words, my Eeyore, and always has been, but for some reason on this occasion I chose to take his silence as acquiescence, not calculation.  Big mistake.

Battle Commences  Nothing daunted, there followed a ludicrous bidding war (for a wreck?!) during which Part II of the crisis became apparent and Eeyore threw all his natural, northern caution to the winds and chucked figures around in a way I thought only I could.  The children and I carried on with our London lives, secure in the knowledge that this wouldn’t come to anything: I put the unborn baby on all the school lists, did the obligatory ante-natal yoga, booked in at Queen Charlotte’s – you know the routine.  And then he rang to say the deadline for full and final offers was in five minutes; we had been outbid despite our absolutely ridiculous, unaffordable, way OTT latest effort; he was suicidal and going into a meeting.  ‘Never mind darling’ I said, pulling a relieved face at my mother who was sitting with me at the nice safe kitchen table in W12.  ‘It clearly just wasn’t meant.’  Three minutes later he rang back.  ‘I’ve upped the offer and we’ll know tomorrow.  Got to go: late for this meeting.’

And breathe …You can’t even begin to picture my panic.  Two worst case scenarios: 1) we get it and have to live in it and freeze to death and no-one knows or cares, or 2) we don’t get it and I have to live with Eeyore whinging about it for the rest of our lives.  I was also seriously concerned that this man, with whom I had lived for the past sixteen years and whose every whim and thought I assumed I could predict with 100% accuracy, was behaving so completely out of character that I could only assume he was having a breakdown.  Or an affair – I wasn’t sure I minded much which.  I too wanted badly to leave London, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there – I had somewhere warm and friendly in mind; somewhere clean and smaller and preferably done up, and somewhere with a non-Dickensian name.

 

But I wasn’t really worried.  Dramatic domestic things don’t happen to us – we would be fine.  We’d stay in Shepherd’s Bush, I’d bounce another pram up the front steps and take first babies, then toddlers, then increasingly reluctant schoolchildren to Dog Shit Park (aptly named, believe me) every day, and this silly crush would pass.

Ah, the innocence of – relative – youth.

In which we discover the dangers of Boredom

countryside-2175353_960_720Somebody left a copy of Country Life somewhere, and one of us – to this day we both blame the other for this – leafing through it spotted something interesting.  Not in the flashy front pages of course, but in the back where the pictures are usually a bit old and out of focus.  A phone call was made and in due course The Envelope – as it turned out to be: not ‘an envelope’, you understand but The Envelope – arrived.  I can only assume that it landed on the mat with no louder a thud than any of the others had.  And yet somehow I heard it, above the noise of myself shrieking at the children, the telly, the radio, the washing machine, and the music from next door.  (Dr Hook it was, I remember distinctly.)  I only got round to opening it some hours later of course, when I had shaken off two determined children and managed to get into the loo ON MY OWN and was looking for something to read as I sat on the floor in peace and quiet for all of forty seconds.

I looked for the hidden howlers that would sound the death knell for this latest shiny dream.  Words such as ‘characterful’, ‘requiring’, (anything or anybody that required anything at all was a no-no as far as I was concerned) ‘charming’ or ‘rustic’.  Or any mention of abattoirs, nuclear silos or high speed rail lines.  None such leapt out at me, and it was with slightly less ennui than I had demonstrated of late that I read some of it out to Eeyore over the phone.  ‘Hmmmm.’ he said.  ‘What d’you think?’.

 

 

Life changes; with or without you

stop-634941‘Why?’  people said.  ‘Why now?’

The truth was we’d been trying to move out for at least a decade.  For the first five years of his life our eldest child rather annoyingly kept having to be rushed into either The Royal Brompton Heart & Lung Hospital or Great Ormond Street, thus selfishly cramping our style in a pretty serious way.  Then he was fixed and his sister appeared; and then lo and behold it seemed I was pregnant for a third time – IVF again: you wouldn’t think it would have been quite the surprise it was – and the thought of space and light and fresh air just became too much.  So off we went again ….

As mid-life crises go ….

…  this was a doozie.

After 14 years of marriage Eeyore turned 40 and decided life didn’t amount to a hill of beans.  I knew I needn’t worry: we’d talked about The Move for years without actually doing it, so I decided to humour the dear boy.  He said he resented my patronising tone and that after eighteen years of living in London when he’d  only originally come down for six months, he meant it this time.  Knowing full well this was just another passing phase I smiled indulgently and we started the process again.  

We did it all exactly as Phil and Kirsty said we should: we took into consideration commutability (7am at the desk, all that), schools, direction from London, proximity to our families, where our friends lived,  my need to be near water, his need for somewhere seriously rural, etc etc, and drew a triangle on the map.  Next we rang agents, scoured the internet, leafed through Country Life and started tearing open exciting A4 envelopes with glossy brochures and thrilling names on them like ‘Strutt & Parker’ and ‘Savills’.  Then we saw every single benighted hovel within a 200 mile radius of London and waited until I was very old and five months pregnant with child number three before we found what was clearly,  according to the details, The Home of our Dreams.  Were it not too far from London and 50 miles from the sea – but hey, that Saturday we found ourselves at a loose end and set off for a look, on the basis that it was easier than trying to occupy a truculent two year old in Shepherd’s Bush.  Again.

If only we’d known.

Living the Dream …

Who hasn’t dreamt of doing it?  Making ‘The Big Move’.  ‘Getting Out’.  Casting off the grime and dirt of city life; swapping traffic and noise for fields and space.

This is the true story of a monumental step taken with the best of intentions but not quite enough research.  Told with humour and affection, and in the full knowledge that not many of us come out of it with our reputations intact, I hope it’s a heartening, uplifting tale told at a time when we could all do with a bit of warmth and cheer.