The last four months have been … odd. A bit … nothing feels permanent.
The past few years have been surreal to start with, but being evicted from our home of ten years last January, right on top of our beautiful girl dying, then fighting to purchase our first home here and walking away at the 11th hour because we had no faith in the system to get us out of our old home and into the new house before we ended up on the street – stressed doesn’t come close to describing it.
Inside a week of walking, we had found our new home and been accepted as tenants. A week later we were in. It made the letting agent’s head spin. I don’t think they’d ever seen the force of nature my sweetheart and I can be when we need to be.
Then the move, for which we had been preparing for six months and still weren’t ready on the day. It was a massive amount of work. Boxes created corridors in the living room and kitchen, or walls around which we had to walk upstairs and we were still only about 98% of the way there on moving day. We’d hired a skip to get rid of what had to be sent to the dump. It was full. A lot was given away to charity. But I was emotionally stretched and physically exhausted, and I couldn’t make the final push.
Of course there were other factors at play. The shopping still needed to be done, the house looked after and no matter how busy I was, our Wee Gurrl still needed exercise, so every day, out into the lane we would go. It all took energy that I sometimes dredged up from depths I didn’t know existed.
One day, five days or so before we moved, a tiny black intact male pug had a very obvious response to saying hello to Ana through the gate. At 13 months, five days before we moved, Ana went into heat. There were no physical signs, yet, when the pug had his reaction but it was clear. I had no idea what I was in for.
The next sign of heat that came was that her bleeding began three days before we moved. Until her breeder warned me not to have her fixed until after her first season (because the hormones protect giant breeds from damage to the leg bones as they grow as well as protecting against certain cancers), it had never occurred to me that they bleed. Of course they do, they’re mammals, but it had never crossed my mind. And nobody warned me how bad the bleeding could get, or how incredibly stinky it is. Or that I could get diapers for her. I suppose I could have looked it up, and I did, but no article I read suggested diapers. Apparently, you can use diapers on female dogs in heat.
“Just buy baby diapers and cut a hole for the tail,” one dog owner told me when I was talking to her about it, afterward. I looked at our girl’s tail … there would be no diaper left her tail is so huge!
We moved into a house with brand new soft grey carpets and she had her period for the first eight days we were here. I can’t even. I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the floor and carpets, as well as trying to bathe my girl, because you can’t take them to the groomer when they’re in heat, in case they spray blood and the scent should linger. It would excite every male dog to walk in the place and create ever so many problems.
I couldn’t walk her in the lane in the days before we moved, because she became so aggressive toward other dogs, especially females. Sadly, not in her usual, exuberant joyous way, but angrily. She began trying to chew apart the gate as they walked by, to get at them. It was a little frightening to watch my sweet, mischievous good-natured Wee Gurrl turn into this vicious beast around other dogs. She was very definitely a hormonal teenager with her first period. It’s the only way to describe it.
It also occurred to me that if she met an intact male dog, of which there are many here, we were going to be having puppies because I wouldn’t be able to stop it. So, in the final few days, before the move, we stuck to the property and yard. Once we were in our new house, she was on leash every time we stepped out the door: partly to help her learn the parameters of ‘home’; partly because she was in heat and I had to keep her with me on walks; and partly because the walls around our yard are quite low and she could get over them in a heartbeat. She even tried to climb some of the higher walls. She figured out that if she jumped slightly, she could get her back claws into the bottom course of stone and go from there. I had to get her down more than once. I had visions of our Wee Gurrl harassing lambs and ewes and in the case of the wall she tried to climb, the rams.
Until we could get fencing in, which itself was an exercise in frustration that lasted until mid-October, she was on leash every time we went out the door.
The move occurred over two days and my movers were wonderful. The supervisor could see how stressed I was and they just took over. They were contracted to disassemble any furniture that needed it as part of the contract, which was a relief. If it hadn’t been packed yet, they looked after it. If I needed more boxes, they provided them. Things disappeared so fast they might never have been there in the first place. It was a tad confusing because all of my boxes had been labelled for the house we were trying to purchase. I had tried to relabel as many as possible, but I couldn’t reach a fair number of them.
“If it says ‘conservatory’ or ‘back bedroom’ it goes in the loft,” I told them. You should see the array of boxes up there. Thank goodness for that loft because it is my basement. And our landlord gave us use of one of the stables for things that had been in the garage at the old place. The greenhouse I built is in there. I wasn’t leaving that behind. We have the use of any of the unused outbuildings, as well.
I still don’t know where some things are.
Oh yes, we’ve moved into a small working livery. We drive through the stable yard to get to our house … a converted stone barn with a vast, south facing view that is incredible. You know how England always looks in movies, with the fields and trees and rolling hills? Welcome to my new home. It is the quintessential English countryside and we feel so lucky to have fallen into it.
There are two dogs that also live here, two sweet little females. I couldn’t let Ana meet them until her hormones had calmed down, because she was so aggressive. It was all very stressful, because her friendly nature began to war with the hormones and we came to a point when her reaction to hearing them or seeing them was more frustration at not being able to make a new friend than it was anger at another female being around. I was able to introduce them all, slowly, by the end of August. But that was difficult because having been isolated so long, she was too excited to meet any new creature, canine or human, and jumped all over them. It’s one thing when a Spaniel does it, but when a Sarplaninac, even only two-thirds grown does it, you know you’ve been jumped on.
If anything was ever meant to be, it was us and this house. Everything fell into place so smoothly once we made up our minds to walk.
There were several issues that had occurred, both in the mortgage process and in the purchase process. In the end, the inability of the lawyers on both sides to act with any kind of alacrity … or indeed, in one case, knowledge of the law when it came to precedent in property law …. Even I knew that if someone had been driving their car across the sidewalk through their gate to their backyard garage, plans for which were approved by Council, for over 20 years without Council coming at them about it, Council wasn’t going to have any issue with it ever. There’s a time limit of something like seven years after which right of way is assumed to have been given under the law, simply because Council never said anything about it.
This right of way issue was a sticking point for the better part of two months. I kept trying to ascertain what the problem was, but my lawyer was always vague. When I finally pinned her down on what the problem actually was, the drive over the sidewalk to the gate, I mentioned the seven year assumption to her. My property lawyer had to check with her superiors to make sure this would be all right and I (and more importantly, my mortgage company) had legal protections. That took five days. This delay was heart-breaking and extremely stressful. Especially since our old landlord had already extended our notice period three times to accommodate the purchase. We were coming to the end of the final extension fast and were still at much the same point as we had been back in May.
The whole process had been cruel in its slowness at times, between the lawyers and the mortgage process. It took the mortgage company three months and several re-submissions of our documentation before it finally deigned to make us a full mortgage offer and then it was at a higher rate than we had been given in our Agreement in Principal (pre-approved mortgages do not exist here) at the beginning of March. They said it was because we had applied for a ‘Green Mortgage’ (which our broker didn’t even know – it’s supposed to encourage people to purchase energy efficient homes) and the lower interest rate is only for homes with higher than a ‘B’ rating for energy efficiency. Since about 85% of the houses in this country can only rate about a ‘C’ at best and more likely a ‘D’, there is nothing green about it. Just a way to scam more money from people while trying to look like the mortgage companies have grown a social and ecological conscience, so far as I can see. Since our new house would only rate at a ‘C’ and just barely, they jacked the rate by almost a full percentage point from 1.99% to 2.69%.
It was the end of May before we even knew whether we would be able to buy the house we had been working toward. We needed the mortgage and had to move in just over four weeks. We felt we had no options, so we signed. The stress was unbelievable.
The Solstice came and we had nine days to get out of our home. It was day six after my lawyer had sent her query about the right of way up to management, and I had just been told that there was a further delay on the vendors’ side. I began looking into properties to let to see if any were happy to take dogs (which is why we were trying to purchase in the first place – no rental properties would accept dogs back in January and February) in case we needed a short term rental until the house purchase completed.
What I found was that things have changed in the ten years since we started renting here. The financial checks and application process were almost as complex and painful as the house purchase and mortgage process had been. In one case we had to go through it all before we could even view the property. We looked at each other and decided that if we were going to have to go through all of that again anyway, and since there were now several rentals happy to take dogs, we might as well walk away.
The next day, we called the vendors and my mortgage broker to give them the news. The vendors, with whom we had been quite friendly over the months, were predictably upset, which we truly regretted. Their dreams were being dashed as much as ours had been. It is our hope that they were able finally to sell and move into the home they wanted. My mortgage broker was disappointed, but when I outlined our reasons for the decision, agreed we had cause and didn’t blame us at all. And that was that.
Thus, we became part of a fast-growing statistic in the UK: the one in three purchasers that walk away from home purchases in this country because the process takes so painfully long. It’s upwards of six months, in some cases, of ponderous backing and forthing before final contracts are exchanged and the deal is complete. People lose the mortgage over it because there are time limits, or they just give up, lose hope as we did. This issue formed a part of the current Government’s plan for the year … the need to simplify the process so this doesn’t happen (‘Levelling Up’ they called it, two Prime Minsters ago, last spring). Sadly, the plan left it up to the estate agents, lawyers and mortgage companies to make the decision to do the right thing and simplify, rather than legislating. With predictable results. When it came to us, the stress of the process killed our desire to live in the house we had fought four months to purchase.
The immediate release of that stress at ending the process was incredible. We felt, instantly, physically and mentally lighter.
From that moment, and as has happened many times in my life when I make the decision to do what is right for me for once, the Universe paved the way. We got to know the market for a few days, viewed some houses and then I saw this house in an online listing the first day it was listed. We called and came to see it the next day. There was some competition for it and we ended up paying a bit more than asking per month to get it, but we had hit it off with the landlord and his wife and they wanted us here. We were in on July 1, seven days after we saw it. The paperwork wouldn’t be complete for another seven days, but our landlord, knowing our circumstances, was content to go ahead and deal with the details like paperwork later.
I had my fourth Covid vaccination on July 8, but I had dropped my mask habit during the move and while we had maintained a strict regime at our old home, in the new house the regime had slackened. There were so many strangers around without masks it became almost futile. By July 15, I suspected I had Covid. I tested and I was positive. I tested again the next day to make sure. I spent the next eleven nights sleeping on the couch so as not to risk my sweetheart any further than had already occurred. We went back to strict protocols and I isolated as best I could.
I was sick for over two weeks before I tested negative and it was September before I really felt myself again.
My sweetheart refused to get sick. He didn’t. Thank goodness.
Ana’s hormones returned to normal at the end of August and we were able to introduce her to the dogs on the property here. We walked the property four times a day, as we couldn’t get anyone in to install fencing around a small area in the yard for a dog run. Until then, I put garden mesh around the deck to allow her to be outside without the hazard of her jumping through the deck rails … which I know she considered one day when there were sheep out there. It took a while, but she acclimatised to seeing sheep in the yard periodically.
She won’t be off leash for some time, really, because she’s a bit impetuous and excitable, but she is such a bright light in our lives. She loves nothing more than being with us, curling up in the room I am in and playing with her favourite squeaky toy – as a giant breed, she’s larger than most adult dogs, but at 17 months, she’s still an adolescent puppy, some way from maturity. She has a lovely sense of humour and joy emanates from her at times.
We were able to get fencing in, finally, in October, and the day she could run down off the deck and play in grass without a leash was a good one.
Here’s the thing … we live in a beautiful home in an incredible location, we’re safe, and I cannot bring myself to finish putting it together beyond what we need to live. It all feels temporary.
Now, we did have a bit of a fight to get the Royal Mail to deliver to us at our new address. You see, this barn was converted some 25 years ago for the original owner of the farm. He sold the Grange and some land around it, and moved into the barn. But he never registered the barn as a separate address, so all the post for the barn would just go up to the Grange, as it had since the Royal Mail began. But as tenants, we have a different entry to the property, with its own drive off a different lane than the Grange and that drive has a different post code. It needed to be registered with Council as a separate dwelling and then they would send confirmation of that over to the Royal Mail, who would then set us up on their system and we could start getting post delivered to us directly, instead of via our landlord. That also would make it easier for couriers and deliveries to find us.
Here’s the thing, every online post code search engine in the country has a drop down list of every address in that post code. That drop down list is updated by the Royal Mail. If they don’t acknowledge that you exist, you don’t. Until they do, it takes ingenuity when it comes to couriers and deliveries.
It took three months for this process to sift down through the various issues that needed to be addressed (pun intended) before we finally were recognised by the Royal Mail as a separate property. In that time, we had packages delivered a quarter of a mile down the lane from us, because our property name did not appear on the drop down list of their satnav (GPS) systems, despite specific directions to our gate being provided. We still don’t know where some of them are and at least one shop is out several hundred quid because the courier company couldn’t find us and didn’t bother following the instructions that said to phone if they had difficulty. Then they claimed the package was lost. The shop had to replace the shipment, which luckily, this time, did reach us.
One delivery company has lost/delivered incorrectly and lied about it on so many of our orders that the last time, just last week, they refunded our order and told us we could keep it if it showed up.
We got a call one day in August from some people down the lane. They’d been on holiday for several weeks and packages with my mobile number on them (thank goodness) had been left on their porch. We had received notice that the packages had been handed to the recipient. Of course, they hadn’t. That couple didn’t even know anyone was living here, because they’d been away and out of the loop. But they were lovely about it. They’ll be getting a card this Yuletide!
Add to this that British Telecom (BT) took three months to get our internet and telephones sorted. The company that does the infrastructure work for BT had surveyors and engineers at the house the first week we were here to get our company connections up and running in a basic sense, but not completely. We spent the next three months trying to get them back here to hook up our home phone and internet. One person said that he had called us on July 1 to set an appointment, but we hadn’t taken his call or responded to his text, so he decided we weren’t very interested after all. It took him a month to follow up with us.
“What phone number did you call?” my sweetheart asked with more patience than I would have been able to muster. The customer service representative gave him our old landline.
“You do realise that number was disconnected on July 1 because we were moving into the new house that day, right?” my sweetheart said. “And that if you texted to that number, it was a landline, right?” But apparently, we were supposed to know they were trying to reach us and it was our fault for not returning the call. They did text us, after all.
Every time my sweetheart talked to someone at BT, he was assured we would only have to wait two more days until this, that or the other … three months worth of ‘two more days’ gets pretty tired, after a while.
For three months the infrastructure company claimed repeatedly that they couldn’t find the house. We kept reminding them that they had had people here in the first week and they had actually done some work. Indeed, they had strung wire and attached it to the house and drilled a hole through 18 inches of rock wall to put in the company lines. The nice people on the phone kept expressing surprise and then having to acknowledge the truth of it. And the next time we called, having yet again waited an entire day for engineers that didn’t show up, the person would tell us the engineers couldn’t find the house. And on we would go. We had complaints open at so many levels, at one point, it was ridiculous.
The only way we were able to be online at all was because our mobile phone accounts are also with BT and they had a mini-hub that would get us online by piggy-backing on our mobile signals. That little gizmo is brilliant. It served heroically as its battery life slowly decreased due to long-term use that I’m certain it wasn’t designed for. They are meant to be a stop gap of about a week, in case there’s a short delay. It was not designed to be the sole WiFi hub for three months.
Finally, around the beginning of October, the very same engineers that had been here in the first week of July came back to finish the job and we had a home phone number and home internet. That same week, we began to receive post in our post box at the bottom of the drive that had been there for two months, waiting hopefully beside the beautiful house name sign we’d installed next to it.
We cheered! Finally, we existed!!
It’s still hit and miss. The other day, our landlord gave me our post in the stable yard. I had just left his from the day before in his post box. Yesterday’s came through our landlord. I should probably buy a box for it. At this point, I have a feeling we’ll be going back and forth with each other’s post for a while yet.
And I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. It really does feel as though the sword of Damocles is hovering over us.
Because of when we moved, we missed seeing this year’s Goslings fly. We missed it by two weeks, based on when they were born. We had some wonderful farewell visits with Mama and Papa and this year’s Goslings in the days prior to the move. They seemed to understand something was changing.
However as a sort of consolation, last year in mid-July, for the first time in ten years, I was able to photograph the Goslings’ first full flight across the property. It was so exciting. They were gone the next day.
I wonder if Mama and Papa will miss us. I think they will. We had a unique, intimate, relationship for ten years and we will treasure it always.
So, like them, we have moved on. Where we will be going forward is completely unknown, beyond this house, this farm, where Sheep wander around the property and Horses greet us as we come home. Pheasants, Fallow Deer, Muntjac Deer, Roe Deer, Rabbits and Squirrels cross our path in the woods and as we walk down the drive. Pied Wagtails, Swallows (in summer), Blue Tits and Great Tits chitter at us in the afternoon as they swoop and swirl around the barn, and we can watch the skies, broad and wondrously varied above us.
Here’s a short video I shot from our deck one August afternoon. This happened every afternoon at the same time. It was magical to our weary spirits and every day, we would just stop and watch until they migrated south for the Winter.
Perhaps we can learn to breathe again, here. Perhaps, the other shoe that I sense stooping above our heads will disappear. Perhaps.