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Upping Sticks: Part 3 – The Move

July 25, 2021

Thinking about moving homes is one thing. But being confronted by the reality is entirely another. Once upon a time it was easy. As I mentioned in Part 1, a couple of suitcases, a few LPs, a guitar case, a mate’s Transit van, and job done. But how much baggage one acquires over forty years!

My baggage, my wife’s baggage and the junk accumulated by two daughters who now live, relatively speaking, in shoeboxes and don’t have room for their stuff. And then – because this is the meaning of downsizing – you face the prospect of putting all your belongings into a space half the size. Which meant that something had to give.

I made at least fifteen visits to the municipal recycling centre in the month before we moved. I barely made a dent in the junk mountain, but at least I got my wife, who is an inveterate hoarder, to accept that some things are not for ever.

I had a plan. The new garage was considerably larger than the old one. So I measured out by the centimetre where we would put all the stuff “we couldn’t chuck out because it might come in handy later”. It included a washing machine, two fridge freezers, six boxes of Christmas stuff, books, pictures, three sofas, all of which would be useful when the offspring move from their shoeboxes to more substantial abodes. Plus their stuff, of course: clothes, books, furniture and so forth. My stuff? Very little to be stored, apart from some tool boxes with which to dismantle or lash together all the other stuff. Much of what I value most is in on bookshelves, in my head or on a hard disc.

On the day before the move, the packers descended. There were about six of them, all women. It seems that they were from three families – one from Russia, one from Ukraine and one from Moldova. With the occasional dark Slavic oath, they attacked our belongings like locusts. But not before we had set aside two bags.

There was the wedding bag, because two days after the move our elder daughter was due to tie the knot with her beloved. Good timing, eh? And then there was the emergency bag. This was a must have. It was filled with screwdrivers, glue, WD-40, measuring tape, wrenches, duct tape and various other instruments of torture. My wife packed another: loo paper, coffee, kettle, survival rations and more duct tape. Oh, and all the medications we needed to prevent us from collapsing mid-move.

On moving day, a new team arrived. They included a South African supervisor, three Brits and a guy who spoke little English, and therefore couldn’t read the detailed instructions that we wrote on bits of masking tape stuck on each piece of furniture. As a result, there were many items that ended up in places where we didn’t want them. Things were not helped by the fact that the boss of the moving company was let down by the people from whom he had hired two of the six trucks he reckoned he needed. So the whole job took much longer than expected. So long that by ten in the evening, boxes and furniture were still being hauled into the new house by increasingly ratty, and careless, movers.

Another complication was that our new abode is a Grade 2 Listed Building. This means that it’s recognised by the authorities as a place of special historical interest. It was built in 1730. We’re therefore under obligation not to make any dramatic changes to the appearance and structure of the house. We knew this in advance. We also knew that in certain parts of the house, the doorways were built to accommodate people of very small stature, which I am not. I’m fine with that. It just means lowering your head when moving from room to room. Or at least that was the theory. In practice, on the day of the move I must have banged my head at least seven times. There was blood everywhere. Bits of my scalp were hanging off door frames. I showed up at the wedding looking as though I had been assaulted several times with a crowbar. So if in future you notice that I have a few additional screws loose in my reasoning and powers of description, now you know why.

I did eventually get used to it, but not before I’d garlanded every doorway with a layer of bubble wrap and black gaffer tape. Not really in keeping, but useful when the doorway to the main bedroom, for example comes down to your chin. I now walk around the house with a permanent stoop, as befits my age, I guess.

The other interesting feature of the new house is the Aga. This battleship of a cooker, beloved of the English middle classes who sit in their cosy homes fantasising about wild sex in the saddle room, dominates the kitchen, radiating heat at the hottest time of year. I’ve never owned an Aga before, and I was shocked to discover that you can’t turn the damn thing off except when you’re having it serviced. What kind of device is that, in an age when we’re all trying to do our bit to cut the national carbon emissions? You also can’t grill (at least, not to my satisfaction), and you have only two oven settings: hot and not so hot. How can I practise my culinary art with such crude equipment?

But there are many compensations. We overlook a village green which boasts other houses of a similar vintage. There are plenty of pubs and restaurants nearby. And down the side of our house is a little pathway which doggie people use to reach a lake a quarter of a mile away. So we get interesting snippets of their conversations as they pass by. Beyond the garden there’s a big field. This is a pleasant change from the last place, where there was a guy who lived in the an apartment block over the back who seemed to spend most of his time on his balcony. He would let out a roar whenever his football team scored. I never needed to know how England or Manchester United were doing with this person’s incessant bellowing.

The garden is beautiful, though slightly let go, as though the previous owner lost interest once she decided to sell. I have already started an endless battle against the dreaded convolvulus.

By and large, my wife and I have worked together pretty well as we settle in. I have to bite my tongue as she takes her time to unpack the stuff in her domain, and she has to do likewise as I indulge in a frenzied effort to get the place looking as “normal” as possible in the shortest time.

There has been a price, though, as you would expect from a process reckoned to be only slightly less stressful than divorce or bereavement. A couple of pictures broken because the packers didn’t wrap them properly. An antique chair badly scuffed for the same reason. Ordinary items bizarrely absent after the great re-assembly of possessions. Stuff that leads you to ask “where the fuck is…” without the world coming to an end. And I feel as though I’ve spent two weeks constantly moving heavy boxes from one place to another, especially in the garage, which bears only the slightest resemblance to the orderly stack of accessible objects I’d originally envisaged. From Tutankhamun’s tomb in one place to the seven layers of Troy in the new one.

Inevitably there will be work done on the house itself. Tiles and wood flooring downstairs instead of the rather tired carpets, for example. Provided, of course, that the arbiters of authenticity give their blessing.

There was one aspect of the move that we didn’t anticipate. When we left the old house, we had to get the agreement of the new owners that we could leave up our cross-trainer, which is monstrously heavy and unwieldy, in place for a couple of weeks. It was beyond the power of the movers to get down the stairs without destroying all around it, so we had to hire a gym specialist to shift it in bits and reassemble it.

When we came back to the house with the fitness guys to take it away, we were met with a scene of devastation. Carpets ripped up, wood flooring in a skip outside. Skirting boards hacked away. Granite kitchen surfaces in bits. Fittings that we’d installed over decades tossed casually into the skip. Stuff that cost money, some as good as new, now unwanted and discarded as though it was of no use to anyone. Things that could easily have been recycled and re-used.

Until then, with no evidence to go on one way or another, we imagined that our home of three decades would continue to be as it was, only with someone else’s possessions. It came as a bit of a shock to realise not only that it wasn’t our home anymore, but that all traces of our ownership were in the process of being erased.

It really was over.

Two weeks on, with everything more or less in place and only a dozen more boxes to empty, we spent most of our time in the garden enjoying our glorious heatwave. Was the whole project worthwhile? I think so, but you’ll have to ask my therapist for independent corroboration. There may be one or two amongst our friends who questioned our sanity in moving to an old, quirky house. You’re getting old, they might say. You need simplicity, so you can remember where things are when your memory fades.

Tosh, I say. As we get older and more eccentric, it’s good to live in surroundings that match our eccentricity and continually challenge the brain cells (those that haven’t been wiped out by frequent collisions with doorways). Not everything has to be convenient. What’s more, our grandchildren need nooks and crannies to explore, places to hide. We relish the opportunity to put our modest stamp on a place that has withstood many generations of occupants. And we have much to discover too. What will it be like in the autumn, winter and spring? What causes the external lights to come on at night despite our determined attempts to turn them off? A ghost, perhaps? And if I ran a metal detector over the lawn, what Georgian or Victorian detritus might I find?

Much to explore, much to learn perhaps. So yes, it’s going to be fine.

From → Social, UK

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