648 Moving experiences, part 5: April 2014

6th April 2014; they think it’s all over… One of the main attractions for living in Suffolk is the clean air, clear skies and low levels of pollution.
So when East Anglia made a rare appearance in the national news, it was surprising that the issue was air pollution. Desert dust had blown in from the Sahara, and as it passed over London it picked up large amounts of urban muck, mostly oil-based; then when it reached our part of the world the wind died down, and the mess it was carrying was deposited on us. Apparently things were worse elsewhere – Peterborough for example – but it was bad enough here.
I had experienced the infamous London fog as a child and even as late as the 1970s, but that was mostly damp smoke and it usually dispersed pretty quickly. This new consignment is different; it is dry and sticky. Symptoms which I can confirm are coughing, sneezing, sore eyes, and difficulty in breathing.
It also wiped out the Freesat signal – also, occasionally, DAB – and I’m told mobile phone reception was affected, all of which in turn led to some overloading on local Internet services.
This only lasted a few days – though I suspect that in smaller amounts it had gone on rather longer – and by the weekend (5th April) it had stopped. A slight change of wind direction apparently blew it all away. And the news media quite rightly now have more pressing things to deal with; HM Government has already taken the opportunity to announce some possibly embarrassing things while our attention was elsewhere.
But of course the wind only blew the mess away from outdoors. Indoors – and here’s the relevance to our ongoing story – it needs to be actively removed. As I write this I can see it on the computer desk. It’s also on and in the carpets, curtains, furniture, the kitchen work surfaces and the crockery in the cupboards, the tiles in the bathroom, everywhere, including myself – hair, skin, eyes and lungs. I can smell it as I walk around the house, especially in the hallway; a journalist speaking on television described it as “like sandpaper in your throat”.
This will mean cleaning the whole house and everything in it. I had planned to do this anyway, but now it’s more urgent, and will take priority over other things that might advance the house move.
Another small unrelated hindrance is that last Saturday (29th March), in the space of about ten minutes, I unexpectedly ran out of every kind of parcelling tape; more will arrive tomorrow, but in the meantime some improvisation, and string, has been needed. I get on better with string anyway, but parcel carriers seem not to like it.
Meanwhile the usual things have been happening. The remains of the VCR have finally gone, more cassettes have been binned, and the Freesat recordings are down to 57%. When the tape arrives I shall have four parcels ready to go to the Esperanto Centre. Almost 2 metres of the hallway are entirely free of obstructions.
Today was the first Polyfilla Day. I started with the lounge. The plasterwork was damaged in four places; one in the doorway, two on the long west wall, and one under the window on the long east wall. The left (south) part of the doorway surround had been damaged, probably by arriving or departing furniture, when I arrived here in 1998 and I’d been meaning to see to it ever since. In the event it only took a few minutes. The west wall was less easy; a lot of plaster was loose but still in place. It had surely been applied too thinly in the first place. Clearing this produced one bare patch about the size of a dinner plate and two others each about 50cm. x 25cm. I set about the dinner plate and did enough to seal the edges, then left it to dry. Next time I’ll fill this in and start on the other two.
I blame the ants for the fourth one. A few years ago ants set up home outside, under the windowsill, and had fun with the very soft rendering at that point. They also came inside to some extent; in fact they must have found their way through the mortar, also very soft, and loosened the plaster on the inside. There’s no other way they could get in. As far as I can see the damage isn’t severe.
I can do a little forward planning now. Progress with the library work suggests that before too long I shall be able to reduce the number of library days and spend more time on smartening the house. This is already the purpose of the Polyfilla Days and Kitchen Days. When I’ve done all I can in that department, it will be time to visit the Estate Agent and start house-hunting. This will not be fun, so I hope I won’t spend too long “living in a showroom”, as one of my daughters eloquently put it.

16th April 2014; … but not yet. The Saharan dust has settled, and things are much more comfortable, but the dust still has to go; every time I do something or move something it rises up again and I start sneezing again. After a couple of months of trouble I do now, at last, have a fully functioning vacuum cleaner, so I should soon be able to get on with it.
Another continuing nuisance has been that the strong parcelling tape I ordered was “not available today” (is this really possible?) and the ordinary brown tape, also ordered, is of pretty poor quality; so the packing activities will still be slow.
It will come as no surprise than ten more cassettes have been discarded, and watching a very long documentary about Wikileaks has reduced the Freesat recordings to 54%. Nearly half of the hallway is clear so before too long there will be an exit route for the piano. Another suitcase has arrived at the bottom of the stairs, this one containing blankets and curtains.
The second Polyfilla Day was brief but useful. In the lounge, one more session will see the west wall finished. When this is done I’ll be able to put the furniture back, move on to the east wall – not a large job – and stand a chance of cleaning the floor and carpet. After that a patch in the Snuggery needs attention, and then I can move on upstairs, or return to the Kitchen Days. The lounge, bedroom 1, the kitchen and the bathroom will be the main targets for the “showroom” display.
Another visit to the Esperanto Centre is due next month; it will feel very good to do something entirely different for a while, even though this will mean the house move gets no attention for a couple of weeks.
Years ago when I still used headed notepaper, underneath my name I had a quote from a Bob Dylan song: “The only thing that I knew how was to keep on keepin’ on.”

26th April 2014. I like to listen to the radio as I drift off to sleep at night. Sometimes the things being said are so interesting that they keep me awake.
In particular, last Saturday I heard an interview with a young woman who had moved out of her parents’ home in London to run a small farm in a remote part of Northumberland, with only a flock of sheep and a few dogs for company. She said that after living in such tranquil surroundings for five years she could not imagine living in town again.
When I woke up again a couple of hours later, studio guests were spending half an hour talking about the pleasures of solitude, which of course is most easily found in the countryside.
You’ll have to take my word for it that I’m not actively seeking out this kind of talk, but it wasn’t the best message for a person planning to move back to town, especially a town which seems to be populated mostly by Londoners in exile.
Without repeating too many things I’ve said elsewhere, I’ll mention that for the first 18 years of my life I could look out of my bedroom window and see cows in the fields. One of the big pleasures of my student years in Bristol was wandering about on Clifton Downs or cycling out to Portishead (the town not the band). Even in Leyton we had Walthamstow Marshes close at hand, not to mention Epping Forest. Over the last twelve years I have spent a total of about six months in Barlaston, again with cows within sight of the bedroom window. Add on sixteen years in Bedfield, with no cows but open fields on the other side of the road, and I’ve spent nearly 50 of the last 66 years in close contact with the countryside, usually within five minutes’ walking distance.
It would be difficult to continue this in the centre of Letchworth, even though it doesn’t seem to be a particularly frantic place; so I’ll need to be very careful in the choice of a house. Having lived so long in a very distinctive house, I wouldn’t want to move to a house that looks just like all the 2000 houses that surround it. There are some slightly more rural spots on the fringes of the town, and some of them do have shops, buses and even trains; this will surely be the place to look.
Meanwhile the routine work goes on. Removing the Saharan dust will combine with the “showroom” effort. Currently I’m at work on clearing the floor of the lounge so as to do a thorough job on the floor, carpets, walls and furniture. This will require raising a lot of trailing wires off the floor, removing one of the bucket seats, finishing the plaster repairs, completing the trimming of the carpet edges (not done since I bought the carpet about 5 years ago) and clearing the round table (again!); and this will start to clear the exit route for the piano (sorry, you’ve heard that one before).
Last time around I forgot to mention that for the first time ever the kitchen table is actually in the kitchen. I can now do the parcelling there rather than in the lounge. This will allow me to remove a couple of coffee tables and will help to clear the lounge floor; it will mean less time spent moving things from pillar to post and back again in order to get jobs done. Small things like this make the house look better and also make the work easier.
The filler has run out (delivery expected soon), but the parcelling tape is here and is being put to good use. A 20g parcel of magazines will leave on Monday and before long seven others will go to the Esperanto Centre. Within the next few weeks I should complete enough of the library work to start negotiations on sending about 30 seriously big boxes up there too. Today or tomorrow I should again have ten audio cassettes for the bin (currently very full, but they’re coming on Tuesday), and the Freesat recorder is down to 52%. Yesterday I chanced on the website of a firm that specialises in disposing of miscellaneous junk; they might be handy for the unwanted mattresses and discarded furniture.
I must be wary, in doing these major operations, of running ahead of myself and thinking the end is in sight. In fact, once a particular room is clean and tidy, I’ll still have to keep it that way; and after the lounge there will still be the hallway and stairs and seven other rooms to see to. The aim is, as far as possible, to get the physical work out of the way before I add in the mental stress of selling this house and finding another one.
I am in very occasional correspondence with a German Esperantist who moved to southern France a few years ago. At one point he mentioned that the removal was going well and he had “only a few more tons” to shift. Rather him than me; but then he was moving from an industrial town to a small country village, and, I think, to a larger house. That does sound attractive.


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