648 Moving experiences, part 16: November/ December 2015

7th November 2015. Paperwork is now the main activity. As far as Mill Farm House is concerned, the rule seems to be that as soon as I complete and return one document, another one arrives. This would not be so bad if there weren’t so much repetition from one document to the next. Very little new information is emerging; the Agent, the conveyancing firm and the buyer’s solicitor all communicate by way of me rather than with each other, which is not really what I expected from teams of professionals. It isn’t even keeping a dog and barking myself, since the barking is happening now and the dog is still a distant prospect. To make matters worse, the conveyancing people frequently entice me with additional documents and services which cost extra, without giving me any clear understanding of what purpose they serve.

There have been significant changes since the last time I sold a house. The old rule was caveat emptor, or in English “buyer beware”. Previously the onus was on the purchaser to check that the house was really worth the asking price, to check legal and practical bits and pieces such as physical integrity, planning permissions, drainage and sewerage, access and so forth. Nowadays the seller has to see to and pay for a large part of this. At first glance this seems reasonable, as anyone selling a car or a television or a fridge is responsible for the goods being of merchantable quality.

The problem arises with people like me who haven’t moved house for a long time – there must be many thousands of us – and so bought the house under the old caveat emptor rules but are selling under the new rules. These people find themselves liable for the work, form-filling and costs both when they bought and when eventually selling.

With the flat in Letchworth things are very different. The survey was done for a fixed price with no hidden extras, the work was done promptly, and I received a comprehensive and detailed report. Oddly enough, this is exactly what I would have needed under the caveat emptor rules. Once again I am paying at both ends of the transaction, but at least with Letchworth everything is very clear, there are no sudden surprises, and the charges incurred are roughly half the expenses required for the Bedfield house.

As you will have gathered from the last report, and possibly long before that, very little clearing, packing and junking is now happening. For the first time in many months, the rubbish bin may not be quite full when it goes out on Monday. Today’s 30 audio cassettes will help, and a tour of the house collecting rubbish bins may provide the finishing touch. Bedroom 2 is now designated as the place for items that won’t be going anywhere; this will involve moving a chest of drawers (wanted) to another room, probably swapping it with the less desirable chest in Bedroom 1. There are still unwanted Esperanto books in Bedroom 1 which have to be sent to Barlaston or discarded; but all traces of the unwanted bed are gone from there, reduced to useful lengths of wood piled up on the firewood bunkers. I may yet do the same with the spare bedframe in Bedroom 2. Everything in Bedroom 3 will be going with me, even the chipboard-and-laminate chest of drawers which, though of poor quality, is too useful to scrap. And Bedroom 4 – well, you know about that.

Tasks for the next couple of weeks include working out how to change the lightbulb in the bathroom without falling over, as well as five housework days, four days off , three each of Office and Library, two Clearance Days, and a Music Day; also some advance planning for Christmas made more perplexing by not knowing where I’ll be and when.

25th November 2015. One day after the last Report the outdoor stepladder appeared at the front door, so I let it in. From there it proceeded down the hallway, clattered up the stairs, and rattled along the top corridor. All that remained was an uncomfortably sharp left turn into the bathroom, and within seconds it was standing tall and proud beneath the bathroom light.

This was all that was needed for me to clamber up one step and change the lightbulb. The steps then retreated to lean against the wall and spent the next week basking in the warmth of the radiator.

My own exertions have been a little more strenuous. I should first point out that one of the nasty tricks that autumn plays is that the sunniest days are often the most chilly; and I recently heard a reputable scientist explaining on the radio that when people wake up of their own accord this is not prompted by sunlight but by ambient temperature. This may well explain why I have been waking up very late. In fact on one particularly cold day last week it was already dark when I finally got out of bed.

This has of course disrupted my routine, as it greatly reduces the working day. I’ve had to keep a list of intended activities held over from one day to the next; this list currently contains 10 items, which means I’m running approximately one day late. Even so things are getting done. I can now start packing things which are likely to stay untouched until the house move. In particular I’ve packed about 500 CDs and some 100 audio cassettes. I’ve also started work on my book collection, as many of these (encyclopedias, dictionaries and an atlas) can be replaced by web searches. Six parcels for the Esperanto Centre are at last completely ready to go. I’ve made a start on converting Bedroom 2 to the upstairs junk room.

Very little rubbish is going into the black bin (only 10 cassettes this time), but there is still plenty for the recycling bin. In fact there is something of a backlog on this, as there is only so much weight that I can drag to the front gate.

Yesterday the first of at least two removal men came and looked. An estimate is imminent. This afternoon the next owner came and made some measurements in the back garden. I was able to explain to him the origins of some of the many confusions about the property boundaries, which date back literally decades. Not that he’s being difficult himself, but he’s trying to calm his solicitor.

All of this is not helped by some slightly shoddy paperwork. Today I received a document from the conveyancing people which had my neighbour’s surname misspelt, so I couldn’t sign and return it. Getting this put right will surely delay things.

Tomorrow’s delivery of groceries will probably be the last but one before the house move. I’m trying to run stocks down. Between now and the next report, if I keep to time, there will be six housework days, four days off (joke), three Office Days, two each of Library and Showroom, and a Music Day. And one month from today it will be Christmas!

14th December 2015. Where to start? The last couple of weeks have been a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity with very little outwardly to show. E-mails, paper documents and phone calls have gone back and forth, and most of them have concerned points of detail which make very little difference to the final outcome but are required, whether usefully or not, by the various solicitors involved.

The Letchworth end of things is going pretty well, though this leaves the selling team there slightly baffled as to what is taking so long. The troublesome minutiae all concern Mill Farm House, such as documenting the precise boundaries, down to the last yard, of the back garden, and getting the paperwork for some minor electrical work that was carried out at least seven years ago.

As a result a great deal of time is being spent on largely fruitless phone calls; for my part, I find myself answering a stream of e-mails when I could be packing my worldly goods.

As I write this, the minutes, hours and days between now and Christmas are ticking away and it will only be a stroke of luck, and the result of some heroic efforts, if I go anywhere before the festivities. The effective deadline for a pre-Christmas move is next Monday (21st), one week from today. I have contacted three removals companies; one was, barring emergencies, too expensive and probably doesn’t want the job. A second has said that if it isn’t 21st December, the next opportunity will be 4th January. The third got in touch today and I’m awaiting their prognosis.

Given the opportunity I could probably finish the packing in two or three normal days, but my days are not normal; they’re usually rather short. If it has to be the 21st then I’ll also have to do the “going on holiday” type of planning; what clothes and food I’ll need in the meantime, what urgent items I can carry with me on the day, and so forth.

I mentioned that my working days are short; it’s usually midday by the time I’m clean, clothed and fed. On weekdays there’s a short burst of television fun from five o’clock, then about six o’clock it’s time to get to work in the kitchen. After dinner, from about eight o’clock, I try to do something constructive but not too effortful (such as writing this). And a little before midnight I go upstairs.

This is the point at which a little sanity returns. While drifting off to sleep, which usually takes about three hours, I listen to BBC World Service radio. News, documentaries, sport, tales of individual exploits, sufferings and successes. Hearing all this reminds me that each of us is, as the song says, “only a drop in the sea”, and that one person’s trials and tribulations are minuscule in the context of all the other things that happen. Moving one person from Suffolk to Hertfordshire isn’t going to change the world very much.

31st December 2015. It’s entirely coincidental that this report falls due on the last day of the year; but as radio and television are full of reviews of the year in sport, politics, technology, entertainment and all sorts of other things, it seems perfectly reasonable to do my own review of the House Move Year.

This time last year I wrote that “it has been Christmas and I have been in Letchworth with the family. Now that I have been home a few days it seems more like a dream, but there are Christmas cards on the kitchen shelf and presents in Bedroom 2; last night I had chicken for dinner and followed up with an orange; so it must have been real.”

This year I’ve been at home and the outside world seems even more like a dream. Once again the cards are in the kitchen and I see them frequently, but mostly I’m perfectly happy upstairs, sleeping or drowsing or listening to the radio. Now and then I get hungry or thirsty and I come downstairs and eat or drink something suited to the time of day. All of this is very reminiscent of the time I spent in Ipswich Hospital in February.

Then I gradually settle into the routine of whatever would normally be scheduled for that day. I have a list of recurring activities, currently 15, such as e-mails, washing and ironing clothes, dealing with items of post, and suchlike; I start at the top and when I get to the bottom I resume at the top. Each circuit typically takes three days. This may sound dull, but it has its moments and I could happily go on this way for a very long time. When I finally get to Letchworth I’ll probably do much the same, though the arrival of spring weather will surely wake me up a little.

In January I wrote “I am nearing the end of what I can do to get Esperanto Library materials out of the house.” What was I thinking? In fact, just a few weeks ago I sent six perfectly normal parcels to the Esperanto Centre and there will definitely be some more after I unpack in Letchworth. One thing that’s sure to happen is the final demise of the “for sale” collection. I expect that, as I sort through, some things will be added to my own collection, some clearly unsaleable items will be discarded, and quite a few will go off to Barlaston. Some things, such as the handover of the website, are not yet decided, and I’ll still be involved in some online activity. There are now no physical books awaiting action (though some indexing and scanning remains to finish) and only a small number of documents and periodicals.

Also in January I mentioned my health worries. It’s clear that I’m on a kind of long slow downward slope, but if it stays as slow as it has been for the last 12 months I’ll be doing better than a lot of people. I’m definitely speaking less clearly, though this seems to depend a great deal on how stressed or relaxed I am, and how tired or energetic. Mind and body both operate, but preferably not both at the same time. I’ve lost some weight and a good deal of physical strength (not that I ever had much), so it’s just as well that I’ve finished the “heavy lifting” part of the packing operations. I strung up what will surely be the last big heavy parcel about a week ago; in the process I strained my left wrist and had to do everything right-handed for a few days, but now here I am typing this quite normally.

Decades ago, possibly when he was in the Home Guard, my father learned the art of falling over, and on one occasion he gave me a practical demonstration of this by tumbling off the garage roof. The essence of the thing is that, once you’re sure you’re going down, you relax all muscles (which is not the instinctive reaction), curl up by bending forward, and do your utmost to land on your back, or at worst on your side, rather like a swimmer taking a dive. I’ve been able to practise this a few times now and so far I’ve got away with occasional bruises.

February was one of the many occasions when I’ve charted the progress of the music collection. This work continues; in fact I’ve just taken 30 cassettes out to the rubbish bin. For a long time now I’ve been transferring the music on these to CDs, either by copying the cassettes or, more often, by downloading from various lawful services. As predicted in May, I can now say clearly that 114 cassettes remain so some of them will be going with me to Letchworth. I could have packed all the CDs, but in fact I’ve kept back some, currently 50, to entertain me in the kitchen.

August brought the first specific reference to no. 91 Wissen Drive in Letchworth; at the time I said “All of this is naturally ‘subject to contract’ and the whole thing could still fall through leaving us back where we started; we shall see”; right now it hasn’t exactly fallen through but, shifting the metaphor slightly, it’s hanging by a thread.

So that is pretty much the middle and both ends of it. Healthwise I’m doing better than I expected, the house clearance has gone extremely well, and only the house move formalities have been disappointing. Thanks are due to the various medical and legal teams, to my neighbour Russell Ruffles for getting me out of some tricky situations, and above all to my daughters Debora and Leonora for help, encouragement, and a huge amount of what must have been tiresome and tedious work.

And now on we go into 2016; I hope that in a couple of weeks’ time you’ll join me on the next page.

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