It’s been one of my longer periods of silence on the blog, and I’m still not ready to post at my old rate. I owe my readers an explanation.
Covid-19 is today’s excuse for everything. It has been an important part of what has been happening to me, but it isn’t the reason that I haven’t had time to devote to my blog. That is because in the New Year my wife and I finally took the plunge to move out of London. We’ve been plotting it for years, to the mounting boredom of our friends and relations. We are frustrated with our life in the big city. We love the countryside and feel trapped in London. We also want more space and less jostling with our neighbours. We weren’t looking for the full rural experience, but to take a big step towards it, to live somewhere with more space and with better access to the countryside: preferably a very short walk.
So in January we took steps to put our terraced house near Clapham Common on the market. I was hoping for a bit of a “Boris bubble”, before relief at the breaking of the political deadlock was overwhelmed by the contradictions in what the new government was trying to do, and an overdue global recession struck. Our plan was to achieve a quick sale if possible, so we promised “no chain”. In other words we were happy to move out to temporary accommodation in the probable event that we were unable to synchronise a purchase.
This proved well-timed. The local property market had been dead, but with quite a few potential buyers. Very few properties were coming onto the market. In a week the house had 40 viewings and we had five offers, though none for the asking price. We picked one of these, with our objective of a quick but secure sale in mind, negotiated a slightly higher offer, and we had exchanged contracts before Valentine’s Day.
This left the other half of our plans to move a bit adrift. We had been doing a bit of surreptitious looking over the previous two years. We initially focused on West Sussex and the Chichester area. But we were unimpressed with what was on the market there, and it was relatively expensive. So we started to investigate East Sussex, in the Battle and Rye area, and lined up several viewings. There were some near misses, but none quite hit the mark. We did find the area just as beautiful as further west, so we made a second visit, just as we were about to exchange contracts.
This time we combined the east of East Sussex with the region where the two parts of Sussex meet, in the area around Lewes and Eastbourne. This part of the world quickly grew on us. Lewes is a lovely and interesting place. The South Downs are nearby. And it is within easier reach of both central London and the west of the country, where most of our relatives live, than Rye. We found two properties we really liked there, and offered on one of them. After a bit to and fro our offer was accepted before my birthday on 21 February, though it was clear that there would be a gap between moving out and completing on the new property.
And so started the process of preparing to move out. We had been living in our house for nearly 24 years, and our entire married life. Although we had done a lot of sorting out last year, the amount that still needed to be done was massive. We set a completion date of 27 March, a bit later than our buyers wanted, but about as quickly as we thought we could manage. As usual I was more optimistic than my wife, but on this occasion she proved correct. Getting ready became overwhelming. Sorting things into boxes to take, or into various categories of throwing out. We made regular trips to the dump and local charity shops. We also needed to work out what we would need for our temporary accommodation and what was to be put into storage, without having any clear idea of how long the temporary interlude was going to be.
And then came Covid-19. Like most people I didn’t see the seriousness of the impact until quite late. It was something happening in China. But as it took hold in Italy it slowly dawned that it could affect our plans to move. So our feelings differed from most people. We were willing the government to slow down on imposing restrictions, while most people thought the government was dithering (and most people were surely right). And while most people were stocking up for the crisis ahead, we were doing the opposite to minimise what we had at movement day. Slowly restrictions started to get in the way. The charity shops stopped taking donations and then closed altogether. Some quite usable things went to the tip instead. And then the tip closed, and more stuff had to go into regular bin collections. And the question nagged: would we be able to move at all on 25 March, when we had booked our removal company?
On Monday 23 March, I honestly thought we’d lost the race. Boris Johnson announced lockdown, and the four reasons that we could go out of the house, and completing a house move wasn’t listed. At this stage a high proportion of our stuff was packed; only the bedroom wasn’t taken over by boxes. Normal life had become impossible: we were camping in our own home. It was worse for the people moving in. The wife was six months pregnant and they had a young child. Their rental contract expired at the end of March. The emergency might be able to stave off eviction; it would not delay a new arrival.
On Tuesday we contacted our removers. They were keen to proceed, though they wanted to telescope a two day move into one. Government restrictions on work were vague, it turned out, and ministers talked of keeping the economy going. That gave our removers the wiggle-room, and we were asking no questions. Our relief was immense. It was only slightly marred by Premier Inn calling us in the evening to tell us that our booking for Wednesday to Friday was cancelled. We realised that staying at home after the removal had started was not a practical proposition and had planned to stay there. We managed to find a local apartment instead, though this proved not nearly as comfortable.
On Wednesday our removers turned up. A first there were five of them, and then eight. They worked hard and cheerfully, and got the job done. They marvelled how just the two of us had managed to accumulate so much stuff; we lamely said that a lot of it was inherited. That gave us Thursday and Friday morning to pack up the stuff we weren’t putting into storage, and to clean the place up a bit. On Friday completion happened and we became technically homeless.
We are now in Broadstairs, Kent, in a holiday apartment. We are then moving into a house nearby that a friend owns as a holiday hone and very generously offered to us for as long as we needed it. Our purchase is frozen, without us being able to exchange contracts. We are one end of a four property chain; nothing can move until restrictions are eased. On the Friday that we completed the government published explicit rules on the property market, effectively freezing it. We had only just made it. The landlady of our current apartment now says that she can let only to key workers; we would not have qualified. While our position is certainly not what we had been hoping for, it could have been a lot worse. Compared to the stresses that so many are now enduring our problems are small beer.
Up to the 27 March we had been focusing on completion to the exclusion of everything else. Since then, we have been recovering from the whole exhausting experience. I have actually been quite busy. There was a backlog of work on my various voluntary duties, and two online meetings last week. That has kept me pretty busy; there will be not let up for another week or two, with an ongoing audit and two important compliance deadlines to meet. And then the lockdown will finally catch up and I will have for reading, thinking and blogging (though most of the backlog of reading is in storage!). Service will resume.