Thursday, 23 April 2015

House Stuff

I'm still awaiting the conveyancing/searches pack (because the solicitor still hasn't received the results of the local searches). I have been to measure up and need to decide what furniture to take and where it will go. There were no nasty surprises in the survey although there are plenty of issues consistent with an older property (in fact, it's a 1950s 'Wimpey No Fines' concrete house). In the meantime, I've started packing because we have the luxury of no chain, and oh dear, I have so much stuff! My ex and I never did sort through and separate everything, so there are boxes in store to go through. They have been stored on palettes in the back of the silage shed, currently not very accessible, as it is used to store some of a neighbouring farmer's off-season equipment. I'm going to have to move the sheep shower to get to some things. Although the furniture and boxes have been kept relatively dry and at least partly covered, the store area is under the owl box, so is covered in droppings, cat spray, mouse wee, cobwebs, and specks of dirt, rust and dust. All I can say is, it's a good job I'm not afraid of spiders, because there have been some spectacular specimens which I've been too busy to photograph or look up. Although I'm not usually one for antibacterial products, I'm washing stuff from store in antibacterial washing up liquid; in some cases, twice.

I started sorting at Easter. I was on chicken duty while my ex (S) and his partner (H) were in France at her gite, doing some maintenance work and getting it ready for the summer season. Their chooks are so friendly that they're a bit of nuisance, but lovely nonetheless.  I can't leave the cottage doors open because they'll be inside in a flash, exploring and scratching in the cat litter. S left the door to the main house open while he was out the other day and came back to find an egg laid on his computer! My reward was a chocolate hen from the local (to the gite!) artisan chocolatier and patissier. It was so cute that, unusually for chocoholic me, I just looked at it for a day before opening it. One half white chocolate, the other half dark, tied together with ribbon and, as is traditional in France, containing a small praline-filled egg and fritures de ques, which are little fish and other seafood shapes in solid chocolate.

S&H are going back in July, by which time, all being well, I will have moved and will not be available for chicken duty. H remarked that for the first time since she's owned it, there are not yet enough weeks booked this year to cover costs. It's probably a sad sign of the times. So here's a shameless plug for her gite at St Julien des Landes which is marketed and bookable through Brittany Ferries. It sleeps 6, utilities are included and it's well-equipped in terms of kitchen, furnishings and so on. The Brittany Ferries price includes the ferry crossings for up to 5 people in a car, making it ideal as a family holiday. It's in the Vendée, which is a gorgeous area. I had a lovely holiday there in my 20s, touring camp sites. Fresh charentais melons and croissants for breakfast. Go on, you know you want to.

Suddenly, there is more movement on the housing market.  Having made my decision, I still have a little niggle of doubt, but I still the like the house I've gone for more than any of the other properties I've seen. I should stop looking, in case I see something which upsets me. I'm still getting emails from Rightmove and On the Market, and tend to have a quick look because I'm now starting to think about interior and garden designs, though I seldom see anything to excite me. I've gone for so long without thinking about that sort of thing, that I don't know what I want any more. My search criteria don't successfully screen out all of the holiday chalets (there are a lot for sale down here - it comes with the territory!). Normally I would delete these straight away, but one caught my attention for its interior design and I have pinned some of the photos for future reference on my SpaceTime Pinterest board. Were I looking for a chalet, I would be so tempted, but this is a first class example of how good presentation can sell something; the chalet isn't for sale with the furnishings included! Your home is what you make it.

Well, I ought to stop writing and go back to the washing, cleaning, sorting and repacking, especially as now I'm beginning not to be able to move for empty boxes. It's quite interesting, as the decisions on what to store were somewhat random. I was sympathising with a friend recently who has the same sort of issues with her partner's view that his stuff is essential and her stuff is clutter. I'm finding things I used to love, but had forgotten about. A couple of copper pans from Villedieu les Poêles are in a terrible state; I've no idea what's happened as the tinning seems to have been scratched off. They should be polishable as ornaments but probably would need to be retinned for cooking. A set of baking pans are all rusty and will need to go, but I've found my favourite salad bowl and instead of repacking it, have started using it for salads again! I'm just hoping I won't find something emotionally precious which has been ruined.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Spring is Sprung

The Spring is Sprung
The grass is ris
I wonder where the birdies is?
The birdies is upon the wing!
Don't be absurd!
The wing is on the bird!

My Dad taught me this when I was a youngling and it stuck with me, popping up to the top of my memory every spring. It's the idea that spring suddenly leaps up which I like the most, because it always seems to me that one minute, everything is still dormant, or at least drowsy, and all it takes is a little sunshine and warmth, and boinggg! Everything is awake and growing like mad. I'd never really thought about the grass 'rising' until I studied small-scale livestock management and found out about 'first bite', when the grass starts growing again after winter. When you have stock to turn out, having enough grass for them, and that it has indeed started growing, is important. In fact, it becomes something of an obsession. We had sheep on tack this spring (Lleyn x Texel x something else perhaps) and they seemed to go quite well on what grass was there, even before it started growing away. The lambs have been totally cute, pronking and butting one another, several of them forming a temporary creche before running, bleating, back to their ewes for milk and comfort.

I know exactly where the birdies is because they are all flying around and showing off, singing and eating like there's no tomorrow. The jackdaws have rebuilt their nest in the false chimney on the main house, and Mr Jackdaw sits on the stack providing a running commentary about something, presumably telling his Mrs what she's missing as she sits on the eggs. ('Those chickens are in the yard again, and that mad woman who talks to me all the time ....').

It has officially been Spring for just over three weeks now, since Ostara/Spring Equinox. Even so, it has only been in the past week or so that things have really started to flourish. The weather on Good Friday was abysmal, heavy rain and high winds. The chickens were not very impressed at having to stay in all day. Greebo insisted on going out, getting soaked, complaining and sulking about it until he was dried off, and then going out again. I don't know what he's going to do when I move; I can't persuade him just to use a litter tray (although he has taken to spraying more frequently, including in the house, the little &*%%£$!). After the horrible weather had blown through, the usual April high settled in for a few days of warm sunshine, chilly winds and brilliant blue skies. I saw my first butterflies the other day, a Small Tortoiseshell and a Peacock, and have noticed growing numbers of moths at night, but haven't yet done any trapping to see what they are.

Glorious spring weather notwithstanding, it never feels like spring to me until the swallows start to arrive. I had to pop into St Clears yesterday to run various errands, and as I was enjoying the drifts of primroses, daffodils, wood anemones, wood sorrel, violets, the first of the bluebells, stitchwort and red campion, there were the first few swallows overhead.

Yes! The sun is shining, the birdies are upon the wing, and spring has truly sprung.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Decision Time

Have you ever gone out shopping with something specific in mind, searching for hours without finding it? Then, after looking at everything, you conclude that what you wanted must exist somewhere in the multiverse, just not here, but you still need something similar, so you go back to the first thing you saw or tried on? Often with an exasperated friend, who says 'Why didn't you just buy that in the first place, instead of traipsing around for hours looking at everything?'. Or who has no sympathy whatsoever and unhelpfully informs you that beggars can't be choosers and she can't see why you're making it into such a big deal.

Well, the same thing can happen when shopping for a property. Thankfully, in this case, without the unsympathetic friends, because mine have been lovely, keeping an eye out for properties and helping me with a bit of lateral thinking. Even if they don't quite understand my wish list, they appreciate that this is a bigger deal than trying to find, for example, the right dress.

The property search was starting to get to me. I had set up automatic alerts from a couple of property websites, based on a drawn area and search criteria, and found myself checking my mail several times a day to see if anything had come in. The expected flood of properties onto the market in time for viewings during the Easter holidays was still only a trickle. One of the estate agents confirmed that there had been a lot of valuations, but few were turning into instructions. I went to see a few other properties, which all had more drawbacks than benefits from my point of view. Browsing around, I started to notice price changes; with a couple of properties which had been on the market for a while and had dropped their price suddenly leaping back up to their original listing price. A couple more 3 bed semi properties appeared, outside my budget, and were promptly sold. I got a call about another one which was just coming on the market, and hadn't even had all of the details agreed yet. A 3 bed semi 'with off-road parking for at least 2 cars', in a residential close, with a 'decent sized back garden' with patio, decking and sheds. It was on for £124,950 in Haverfordwest, would I like to go and view?

So I did, but was very disappointed. Built in the 1980s, it looked as though it had not been redecorated since new, and smelled stale. Although it wasn't obvious from the photos, it would have needed completely redecorating, including floor coverings. The seals on the double glazing had broken down, so that would have needed replacing too. It felt too small. Downstairs consisted of a living room and a kitchen/diner. Bedroom 1 was a small double, room for a double bed but not a full set of bedroom furniture. Bedroom 2 was a single, and bedroom 3 was a box room. You could have got a cot or a child's bed in there, but not a full-sized single bed. Outside, the render was crazed and cracked across, showing stains from the rusting angle irons around the window openings. The garden was very wildlife friendly, in a good way (bird feeders, bug boxes and vegetables), but the small pond was full of algae and the decking was rotten. You could have got two cars on the drive, but only if both were small. It would have been a good house for a young family, with the money to do it up, but not what I was looking for and I told the estate agent that I thought it overpriced for what was essentially a fixer-upper. I drove back, feeling thoroughly depressed.

I arrived back to a job rejection letter. I'd struck out on all of my applications. I brooded for a couple of days, then decided it was time to make a decision. Given the lack of work, I should just go for somewhere with good communications links, where I could picture myself at home. Given the trickle of properties and the way in which the sort of thing I was looking for was snapped up, I should make a decision soon. I went back to my shortlist of properties. Every time I scrolled through it, I kept coming back to the first place I'd been to visit. Of my top 5, it was the least overlooked, most central and had the largest garden. I checked the Environment Agency site to look for flood risks, landfill, pollution and so on, then realised the house might be in the old Pembrokeshire coalfield. Fortunately, the Coal Authority has online maps, so I checked and found that the area is (just) outside the coalfield, so no old mine shafts or spoil heaps.

So, here I am, offers made and accepted, solicitors and surveyors instructed (although no-one is going to do any work until after the Easter break) and the first of the packing boxes waiting to be filled and stacked (although I still need to find a removals firm). I've started to think about where to put my furniture, what to grow in the garden and having a house-warming party. And all the other things I'll need, like a new phone and fridge freezer, curtains, lampshades.

It will be so strange to be within easy walking distance of a local shop, post office and pub (I currently live two miles away and the steep hills do not make for easy walking!). I'll have the hassle of changing doctors and pharmacy but they will also be in walking distance, not seven miles away. So strange not to have to drive for miles on country lanes to get to a main road, or have a 40 mile round trip to go to a major supermarket. So strange to have street lighting (thankfully not directly outside the house), to be surrounded by other houses and people. So strange to be surrounded by English place names, as I'll be in south-west Pembrokeshire, the Little England Beyond Wales. It will be flatter, closer to the sea, and I'll have a whole new area to explore and get to know.

Strange, too, for my new neighbours, who will have have this strange person playing belly dance music, calling my cats (who will probably hate being confined, first to the house, then to the back garden), and occasionally lighting up the neighbourhood with a moth trap.

How exciting! And stressful ... but mostly exciting.

While I was writing this post, I did a quick search on 80s interior design, just to see whether others remembered it as a disaster area of black ash furniture, wallpaper borders, octagonal mirrors, swags and flounces, ditsy floral prints, pastels, bright red or green with white and strange colour combinations like dark green and burgundy, or dusky pink, terracotta and sage. I found this blog, by an estate agent out in Arizona, which put my own experiences in perspective. I can recommend it for tips on how not to present your home for sale. I sat with a cup of tea and browsed his 'What were they thinking?' section, and laughed and laughed and laughed.