Sunday 31 July 2011

Bulletin 2; toxic waste, freedom and frogs

In haste: just wanted to put you out of your misery. The lamb tagine was found today, in the 3rd-from-last box in the furthest corner of the room in which, at my insistence, all the boxes had been left. I thought of keeping it and becoming a mass poisoner, but wisely binned it instead. I did take a photo of it, though, through its plastic box and several layers of cling film, because I thought you'd like to see what 7-day-old Very Toxic Spots look like. Be patient. I have hundreds of photos to post one day....

I texted Sandra to tell her about my find, and she - unforgiveably, I think, for not having told me this sooner, replied "the food boxes went on last, so were unloaded first". Maybe she credited me with more common sense than I actually possess.

In other news, as they say on the BBC, I have singlehandedly unpacked about 3000 boxes, and can now see some carpet in the sitting room. The Lovely Son returns on Thursday to help move stuff around, although I seem to have done that myself for days. I am beyond tired.

The cats roam free, in and out of the windows and the little diddy back door, and apart from Hamish, who mostly roams free behind the wardrobe until dinnertime, are evidently enthralled with their new life. Millie caught a small frog today, although it was rescued unharmed. I planted some of the things I had brought from Newcastle, and noted that the many snails that had hitchhiked down with us seemed to have dispersed - for now.

I will be online by the end of the week, and can immerse myself in blogs and emails again, but hope you won't go away; your comments have been so wonderful to read!

My face aches. I find myself smiling all the time, and have to get a grip lest I am branded by the locals as that loopy incomer who walks about with a deranged grin.....

More in due course.

PS It's warm here, away from the North Sea. Just sayin'......

PPS The Bacteria Gardens Potato Competition was held today; Sandra submitted my crop. Apparently I won. Life just gets better and better!

Friday 29 July 2011

Bulletin from a new life

We're here. We love it.

Oh, you want more? Ok then....

As I'm on Lizzie's computer, no chance of photos yet, although there are many, but I'll post them later, so that you can love it too. Meantime, here are the bare bones of a most eventful week:

Moving day (Monday): Lottie in puppy crate with the two boys, Scooter occasionally giving a little "Mew!" but otherwise everyone quiet and calm. Millie in a solo carrier, as her ferocious growling indicated a horror of being bundled in with the others. Flossie a bit cramped on a single back seat with a harness, Tosca on my knee on a beanbag. The car stuffed to the roof with what would be needed for the journey, that night and the day to follow before the removals wagon would arrive.

Somewhere in there was a plastic box containing a lamb tagine and cous cous made by friend Lynn for our dinner that night, a saucepan, plates and cutlery. Except that the dinner seems to have been packed inside something else by mistake and put on the wagon: it hasn't appeared yet, so may have to be searched for by sniffer dogs trained in detecting toxic waste.

Arrival : a slow journey, in hot sunshine, with several stops. Reached the cottage after 8-and-a-half hours of travel. Thank goodness for M&S at motorway services. The animals behaved perfectly; no bodily functions in evidence at all. Cats decanted into utility area for the night, Hamish leaping up onto a beam and declaring that he would never come down again. Until his dinner appeared. I forget what we had for dinner, but it wasn't lamb tagine.

The Lovely Son was under orders not to tell me if he hated the cottage. But he loved it from the moment he walked in, and said that it immediately felt like home. Cards were waiting, including from some of you - thank you!

Tuesday: The removals men arrived, after long slow diversion off closed motorway. Unloaded enormous van in narrow road, in hot sunshine; everyone now knows me and what my worldy goods consist of. Cats remained locked in utility, dogs helped the removals men. Neighbours were friendly and welcoming, and no one complained audibly about having to negotiate driving round a huge wagon obstructing the highway. Amazing and impressive to watch the wagon being reversed adeptly down the road and round the corner at the end of the day; people came out of the pub to watch.

Wednesday: Day of the Good Fairies. I was expecting friend Lynn, who had booked a day return flight and car hire to see the cottage for the first time, and to help me unpack. Tearful greetings and welcome ensued. Two minutes later, the doorknocker sounded, and there stood Sandra, secretly travelling with Lynn. Underslept and overwhelmed, I wept all over her. Two minutes later.... there was Annie. The three Good Fairies had arrived with flowers, plants, lunch, and the declared intention of doing as much work as they could manage in the time before getting their flight home that evening. The Lovely Son (who had known of the 3GFs' plot) had to get the bus and train home, but the 3GFs sorted the kitchen cupboards, watered the garden, served and ate lunch, and later we all trooped off in hot sunshine to lovely Dunster for a cream tea. An amazing day, and a wonderful start to my new life, surrounded by love, support and help from dear friends.

Thursday: Boxes. Boxes. Boxes. Walks with Lizzie, who is a tower of strength and support. Found the towels. Didn't find the lamb tagine.

Friday: Two new-laid eggs from my neighbour's chickens. Yet more lovely cards in the post. Found my computer, although I'm not online yet. We will exchange and complete on the house today, and I won't need to be a non-rent-paying tenant in the cottage any longer (thank you, lovely Lady Vendor!) The flying freehold issue remains a mystery, but I won't bore you with the details.

More in due course. I am never moving house again

I must get on.... The Search For The Lamb Tagine: my life's work.

Sunday 24 July 2011


Captured alive - no injuries

No injuries so far, at any rate.

Those of you who have found my constant anxiety about Hamish contagious may be relieved to know that he is shut up in the shower room as I type.

This doesn't mean that he is safely in a travel crate - that will be tomorrow's hurdle - or that he is happy, oh no. There have been howls.

But as he was on my bed - the closest he gets to me as a rule - and purring next to his beloved Lottie at 5 a.m., I took advantage, slipped out from under the duvet, and quickly shut my bedroom door. An alarmed Hamish tried the door and then the firmly-closed dormer window, at which point I picked a sleepy Tosca out of her own bed (yes, I do have to sleep with cats and one dog in my room) and exited sharply.

After waiting long enough for it to be safe to wake the Lovely Son (who I think has earned the right to sleep till 6 a.m.) we made a barricade on the landing, the LS holding a huge cardboard box in place to prevent a stout ginger bullet from careering down the stairs, and I opened the bedroom door. Out sauntered Lottie, chirruping, followed at speed by the stout ginger bullet who found himself unable to flee anywhere but into the shower room.

So what? you may ask? What's so special about getting a cat from one room into another? Simple!

As indeed it proved, in the end. But a huge load of months-old anxiety has shifted.

Stage 2 involves getting Scooter, stouter and slower, and apt to crouch down and howl in defeat if cornered, into the same room, where beds, litter tray and that very special food that comes in tiny tins and costs almost as much as caviar await. The boys can spend their last Sunday in this house as prisoners of a kindly tyrant.

Step 3 involves getting them both into the travel crate tomorrow morning. My computer will have been packed up by then, so you will have to wait to know how we got on, but I anticipate prison riots, attempted breakouts, intimidation of guards, and very loud shouting.

And now, more of this:

 (Scooter is lurking under the desk)

This is my life. I'm not complaining.

See you in Somerset.

Saturday 23 July 2011

Ruthless - and cruel too!

Some things simply won't fit into my new house. Some could be parted with easily, especially if they were going to loving homes (oddly, no one wanted Hamish*....) and some simply got left out in the back lane, to vanish very quickly. I have been fairly ruthless about some things, although the Lovely Son still thinks I'm taking far too much.

The old tallboy - or Scotch press (above) - was a source of some anguish, but really was too big and too much at odds with the style of the cottage to fit in comfortably, and a friend of a friend was thrilled to receive it for her Victorian house.

But this meant getting it down from the attic.....

Four strong men spent a very long time bringing it downstairs, my warning to NOT chip any paintwork on the staircase ringing in their ears.

We three women did other things meantime (I got rid of passed on a new carpet at the same time, showed them the brochure of the cottage, chatted about how many people we knew in common, you know how you do) and wondered what on earth was taking the aforesaid four strong men so long.

When they finally got down to the hall, puffing and sweating, well, I don't know what cruel impulse possessed me, but I found myself casually remarking that it had originally been carted up to the attic many years ago by Tricia, her weedy boyfriend, and me.

But it was true; it had.

Then, with miles of rope and more puffing and sweating, they heaved the tallboy onto the roof rack, and went off with it, where it will be carted into its new home - at the top of the house.

Now I must stop blogging and get on with the chaos that is packing of all the miscellaneous items.

* only kidding, Hamish, honest

Friday 22 July 2011


The solicitors are doing their job. They anticipate the worst at every turn; they envision disaster and bad behaviour from the other side at every opportunity; they attempt to protect us from our own naive, trusting, impulsive, easily-cheated selves. No doubt this suspicion and caution is built on decades of experience of how dreadfully badly their clients can behave.

The vendor and I - in reality two sensible women with 112 years between us and a shared wish to get this buying and selling over - get to the end of our respective tethers with the slowness and caution, and trust each other not to renege on either the sale or the purchase. We email, and have even spoken today, when it all looked like it would collapse because of extreme solicitorial* caution. And we took action. If the Land Registry doesn't explain the flying freehold situation in time for completion on Monday, a tenancy agreement that I had to race to sign at the solicitors' office late this afternoon (a 32-mile round trip! on a Friday! the first day of the school holidays! imagine the traffic thundering up the A1!) has been prepared at last, although it was the first suggestion that I made right at the start of this process.

It has been emailed to the other side, a copy going by post to the estate agent, in the hope that the vendor can call in to sign it in time for midday office-closing tomorrow, when she will be in the area to finish emptying the cottage. And of course it is very possible that it won't arrive in time, or that she won't make the 3-hour journey in a hired van in time.

So she has instructed the estate agent that no matter what, signature obtained in time or not, I can have the keys released to me (or rather my proxy, Lizzie, as I will still be on the road) on Monday. The solicitors do not need to know this; they would suck their teeth in disapproval. But tonight I can sleep easy, knowing that in theory at least, I can move on Monday, and can get into my new home.

And the Lovely Son is here to help. All will be well. Probably.

*yes, I made that word up

Thursday 21 July 2011

A moving account 4: a life half-packed

Mood swings? Swearing? Crying? Dropping things? Breaking nails? Panicking? Not sleeping? But of course. I'm moving house.

Sometimes it all gets too much, and not just for me: the animals are feeling it too. Flossie is on springs all the time. Someone - well, ok, Lottie - threw up yesterday right beside a packed box which then went all soggy and had to be unpacked and replaced. Feliway and Rescue Remedy are in constant use.

I don't know where anything is - oh, of course, I do: in one of those unlabelled boxes  that are everywhere. I get up fancying toast for breakfast, having the rare treat of a crusty loaf in the house, and remember too late that the toaster has been packed.

I wake at three in the morning fretting about not having read the meters - then remember that I don't actually do that until the very last minute - but then lie awake for a couple of hours with my head buzzing incoherently, feeling sick with tiredness.

The surveyor's report contains the words 'damp' and 'beetle infestation' one too many times, and I forget that the words 'treatment' and 'guarantee' also feature.

Time is really running out, and I know that I'm not going to be ready.... and so on. Interminably.

That's when I go and have another look at the rather terrible photos that I took when I had that whistle-stop tour of the cottage, and I settle right down again, stop using words that would shock my grandmother, pause to take breath, and remind myself why this brief (as in extremely rushed) period of hellishness has to be got through, because:

Yes, because.

Because it will all be worth it in the end.


Tuesday 19 July 2011

A moving account 3


When everything is quite impossible, with too many things left to do and not enough time or bubblewrap left, and a nasty little fear is gnawing at your vitals that a flying freehold spanner has just been jammed in the works, what you need is:

a) your cheerful hairdresser coming round first thing to sort out your grey roots and   unmanageable hair while making you laugh;

b) lovely friends coming a long way to visit (arriving too early - my hair was still being dried, but no matter) and - oh heaven! - bringing lunch with them. Anne has posted pictures on her blog; we interrupted our double helpings of lemon meringue pie to take poor Tosca - by tumbril - to the hated grooming parlour;


c) several calls from estate agents and solicitors to say, in varying tones of over-optimism and over-doom-ladenness (as per the nature of their jobs), that the flying freehold will be sorted but that my move on Monday is not being jeopardised;

d) a slow walk through the Dene, under dripping trees, breathing the lovely damp, woody scents after so much rain, not caring about my carefully-dried hair turning back into kinks;

e) and returning home to find the loveliest email from my vendor, assuring me that all will be well, all will be sorted out (by her), and adding "Don't worry about the flying wotsit - who cares, eh - it will get sorted one way or the other".

The only thing that could have made things even better was to find that the packing elves had been in while I was out walking, and had finished the awful, tedious, soul-destroying task of gathering together all those little fiddly things that are impossible to pack logically. But the slackers hadn't called, and now I must do it myself.

Soon, we can all relax.

6 days to go......

Monday 18 July 2011

A moving account 2B

A disappointing day. The walk with Fran didn't happen - she was called away to her mother's nursing home, and the rain fell in sheets.

I signed everything I had to sign, and have just heard that exchange on this house should take place on Friday, with completion on the following Monday. All looking good so far. The wagons should roll on Monday morning as planned.

But..... but.... buying is another matter. I can't say I understand this problem terribly well, but the 'flying freehold' on the cottage is giving my solicitor a headache - the cottage stairs are under the roof space of the adjoining house, and the scratchy little plan provided by the Land Registry doesn't indicate either by the requisite colour coding or indeed any attempt at basic draftsmanship where my cottage begins and ends. (Higgledy-piggledy arrangements of this nature are common in areas where ancient cottages jigsaw in and out of each other, but should still be detailed in the deeds.)

Strong advice has been issued that I should not buy the cottage until this is sorted out. The Land Registry may need to clarify matters, and this could take a long time. The risk seems to be that until it is sorted out, and clearly set out in the deeds, the next-door neighbours could deny me access to my staircase or some such unlikely scenario.

So, bit between teeth, I went back to Plan A - the plan that seemed to be agreed at the time I made my offer to buy, but that everyone ignored because things seemed to be going along swimmingly - that I move into the cottage as a tenant until the legalities are sorted out. I did not wish to hold up either the sale of my own house or my planned move while solicitors tried to set things straight.

So, I now await news that a tenancy agreement has been drawn up, faxed to my solicitor, and that I am able to move in on Monday. Down the phone, I could feel my solicitor thinking that she was dealing with a reckless and foolhardy woman who would come to rue her impetuosity - she even said "Purchase in haste, repent at leisure".

Meantime my poor vendor, unaware of this high drama little hiccup, is on her way to finish the last of the cottage-clearing. She may be able to shed light on the matter of the freehold, but until she is contacted, the situation remains unresolved and worrying.

And to emphasise the moment, and express some of the tension we are all experiencing, Lottie climbed into Flossie's bed and wee-ed in it. Can't say I blame her....

A moving account 2

One week to go.

Friends have come in and pulled their weight - we passed a wet Saturday afternoon dealing with the horror of the boiler/tools cupboard, with Annie and Lynn being both methodical and ruthless.

Sandra comes in daily, and even after she has gone home to collapse, pops in again with delicate proposals "It's stopped raining (torrentially, she means) for a few minutes; shall we tackle the shed?" and who am I to say no to such an offer?

The big things have been done - oh no, wait, there's still Lesley's mum's garage, in which a vast heap of big things lurk, already packed, thank goodness. Boxes and boxes of stained glass and equipment - definitely coming with me. The old kitchen table - being left for the buyer. Bookshelves. Laundry baskets. I can't remember what else, but I know it's there; I must go and look soon, soon....

But today, Fran and I are meeting at Plessey Woods for a picnic lunch and a walk; she was Flossie's boarding school Head (remember the lessons that Flossie so enjoyed?) and they will be delighted to see each other, if not so happy to say goodbye.

While I'm up there in Northumberland, I shall call in at my solicitor's office and sign some more papers - all this last-minute reliance on the post leaves me a nervous wreck.

Tonight friends are coming over for our once-a-month get together, and I must clear a space for us all to sit; they'll find things to pack, I know they will, and will be cheerful, but it will be our last time together in my house, and I know we will all be awash with emotion.

I am NEVER moving house again.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Getting worse before it gets better

Every room in the house is in a mess of some sort. The boxes are piling up very satisfactorily, although it's still a shambles, mostly because a packed and sturdy box tends not to fit into the (spotlessly clean) cupboard that once held its contents. Sandra comes in every day and helps; she is completely undistractable, and we get immense amounts done, without stopping to read emails or pop out for biscuits. It's nice to spend so much time with her. Margery came for the last time today, before she goes on holiday; she has been my weekly cleaner for about 20 years, and we said a stiff-upper-lipped goodbye so that she wouldn't collapse entirely.

I am tired, tired, tired; my neck hurts, my back hurts, my nails are wrecked, and I am thoroughly sick of the sight of my own belongings, wondering why I'm bothering to take most of them.

The dogs trot round after me, interested, unsettled, trying to lure me away to play. The boy cats hide. Lottie and Millie, my constant companions and supervisors, work in shifts.

I was so dozy this morning that I accidentally medicated myself with Tosca's painkiller instead of my own blood-pressure diuretic; both are small white pills. Just as well it wasn't the other way round, I suppose. My cruciate ligament (left back leg) coped well, I found, with all the stairs I've climbed, up and down, all day....

The new sofa was delivered today - flatpack - with a footstool (and a new computer chair: why do you always come out with more than you went into Ikea for?). I'm going for washable removable covers this time round, although when it came down to fabric choice, I chose the dry-cleanable covers, which I shall risk with a cool wash when the time comes that the cat sick and dog drool stains reach unbearable density.

When the current sitting room furniture is redistributed amongst friends next week, I shall assemble it here, as Ikea is closer to me in Newcastle than where I'm moving to, and I don't relish the idea of a 4-hour round trip to Bristol just to collect a missing bolt.

This is hard, getting ready to move in such a short timescale, after so many dreary and anxious months of waiting. But I'm not complaining.

The surveys of the cottage come back positive; nothing unexpected, given its age, and no remedial work required, although the vendor's insurers will poke a camera down the drains just to make sure.The vendor (such a nice woman! and unlike the last ones, genuine in her desire to make my move easy, smooth and speedy) writes to me, and I to her; if she were a neighbour, and not a previous owner who lives elsewhere, we would be good friends, I think.

She tells me why the cottage bears its name - after her old cat; how delightful is that?  - that there are frogs and toads in the garden, that anything grows there, that the house was a squalid stinking wreck when she fell in love with it 14 years ago and saw past the dog faeces throughout to the lovely tranquil home that she and her partner would create. He died last year just before they could retire to it, and she is glad that someone who loves it (and cats) will be living there soon.

She says that in autumn, when the neighbour's trees drop their leaves, I will be able to see the sea from my bedroom.

One week and three days to go.....

Wednesday 13 July 2011


You sort methodically, you label neatly, you pack tidily, you label some more, and then.... come to THAT kitchen drawer.

You gaze in despair at the junk that undoubtedly holds some essentials, and will take more time than you have to separate one from the other. Cat-medicating syringes, rubber bands (perished), saved string, an old toothbrush, a sheaf of tokens clipped together for some money-saving scheme long ended, a knob from something important, flower food sachets, a single earring, a strainer bag for jam-making, several packs of those bizarre cat treat sticks that have to be hidden from Millie, who adores them but who hasn't learned to open drawers in order to steal.

And so much more. Rather squalid, rather unappealing, but not so nasty that you can throw it out untouched.

And so you tip it into an M & S carrier bag, and tie a knot in the handles. Then you put it in the large cardboard box marked 'Kitchen Misc.' and walk away briskly, humming to distract yourself.

You don't think about unpacking it at the other end. Hum hum hum, la la la.....

Monday 11 July 2011

A moving account 1

You've suffered alongside me all this time, so you might as well stay for the rest of the stressful bits!  This is what we are doing. Chaos, disorder, brown cardboard, and helpers everywhere.

On Saturday Charlotte and the Handsome Young Policeman are coming with her dad and his van to take away all sorts of small items of furniture that I didn't want to keep but were of some sentimental value, i.e. not just to be left for the buyer. Charlotte and the HYP are setting up in their first home soon, and are delighted with our arrangement, as am I.

Human helpers Rose and Sandra, who unlike some folk, didn't have to hop into every empty box first, worked like little machines yesterday, wrapping all the mirrors and pictures.

The walls are almost bare now, and the bones of this house are showing. I am too busy to feel very much, and in fact I think I said goodbye to my home and all it meant last year, at the time of the first intended sale. But there's no doubt that I love it still, and that it represents a large and eventful period of my life. I refuse to think about the people I am leaving behind, or I would be in tears every five minutes, but there is a deep well of sadness about friendships and neighbourliness having to change that I must face again when I can.

The Lovely Son arrives some time next week to help finish things off, and to drive with me to Somerset. I don't need him any sooner, as I have my own scheme of packing (I'm trying to be tactful here!) so I'm trying to get most of the heavy-duty business completed this week so that we can have a quieter final week to follow. (Anyone offering to lend a hand finds that yes, they certainly can, and is given a job very promptly!)

I will then attempt to lull the cats into a false sense of security before the dreaded transfer (oh, Hamish, Scooter, how I agonise over you!) into containers and car for the long trek south.

And Txxxxx Cottage awaits. It's 400 years old, and is very patient. I'll tell you about it next time.

Now where did I leave the packing tape?

Friday 8 July 2011


No, can't show you yet*. 

But you might want to walk with me through the neighbourhood. We'll step out of the little house with its thrilling Sold sign, wander along to Lizzie's house to collect her and her dogs, and stroll up the lane.....

Maybe we can say hello to the neighbours....

We can look at the scenery and listen to the birds....

If we look beyond the horse, we can watch the deer leaping the fence....

We'll amble past the cottages on the path with the walnut tree. Good for windfalls in autumn.

Then we must climb a little. Come on, you know you can; it will be worth the effort.

Past what Lizzie terms the Auntie oak.

And higher yet, watching for little ears popping up from the bracken as the shy deer watch us pass by.

Or big ears and curious faces....

Up and up, until we can see the sea, and Wales across the water.

And then we can see the next village.

We'll have lunch there, I think, before we go back by another route.

There are so many lovely walks like this near my little house! I plan to move into it in just over two weeks' time.

I hope you'll come again.

*No house-peeking, not until all contracts have been signed, sealed and delivered!

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