Moving on …

I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way — leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.

Beryl Markham

As Sarah, my wife, and I separate, a significant step is selling our home. It’s preparation for that which has occupied us over the past week or so. Choosing an Estate Agent and Solicitor. Having the place photographed, marketing material produced and providing information to help subsequent ‘searches’ etc. We’ve had a positive response so far with several viewings and an offer we’ve accepted. So, the ball is rolling …

Being so occupied is good for us because it moves our thoughts to the future. However, inevitably, as we’ve come across some item or other, we’ve both lapsed back into a warm memory of a time passed.

This will be my 14th house move and Sarah’s 17th, so we both know the ropes. Over the years, the amount of paperwork has increased, but the fundamental process remains the same. We also know that, as with every other move, there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and the lip.

The most memorable of those was our move to Wiltshire when a lapse by our solicitor saw us technically homeless for a night. He managed to complete the sale of our home in Hertfordshire. Then he spectacularly failed to transfer the funds to allow completion of purchasing our new place. All sorted the next day, but it made for an uncomfortable episode.

The first house I purchased was with my first wife, Kym. It was in 1976, and I was the grand old age of nineteen, while Kym was twenty.

We’d married the year before, and our first home together was a beautiful ground-floor flat in Twickenham. Just beside Richmond Bridge on Cleveland Road. From it, we had an uninterrupted view of the Richmond Ice Rink. That’s now long gone, so if we were still there, we would have an uninterrupted view of the Thames across Cambridge Park. The rent on the flat was £120 a month, paid in advance. Kym and I could afford that, but the challenge was finding another £120 for the deposit. We had around £150 savings, and our combined salaries were circa £5,500 a year before tax. However, at the time, inflation was still at 16.5% (it had earlier peaked at 25%). As we are now seeing today, high inflation quickly eats into take-home pay.

However, we so wanted the flat that we persuaded the kindly elderly husband and wife Landlords to take two cheques for £120 each. They could take the first to the bank immediately. But we asked that they hold off for 7 days depositing the second cheque to allow me to cover it by borrowing £100 from my father (repayable at £10 a month). The week’s delay allowed the transfer of the money from my father’s bank account to mine. Such arrangements seem so slow these days of almost instantaneous bank transfers, credit cards and the like.

My memory of the Landlord’s office in Richmond is of something out of Dickens. You reached the tiny room by climbing a steep set of creaking stairs. Within the room, the couple sat opposite each other at high desks surrounded by piles of papers. There was one little window high up in the wall above them. The glass was so discoloured that it threw an amber hue over everything. Anything you touched threw up a cloud of dust. The couple gave me the impression that they rarely left the office and seemed dust-covered too.

The flat Kym and I rented was small. Comprising a bedroom, lounge, kitchenette, and bathroom with a handkerchief garden dominated by a plum tree. However, the tiny rooms always seemed bathed in light. The bedroom flooded with sunlight in the morning, and the sun’s mellow glow bathed the lounge in the evening. So many places I’ve lived in my life have been just that. Places where I lived. But that little flat in Twickenham will always have a special place in a quiet corner of my heart.

Sadly though, spending so much on the rent wasn’t sensible, so Kym and I decided to buy a house. And in March of the following year, we moved to 37 Third Avenue in Leagrave, north of Luton. A small two-up, two-down. It cost the princely sum of £8000 on which we took out a 95% mortgage. In those days, mortgage calculation was 2x the higher wage earner. Kym. And half the lower wage earner. Me. During the time in our flat, we had saved hard. With the return of the deposit on the flat, we had £400. The purchase was completed in January, but we wanted to ‘do up’ the place. So, for several weekends in late winter, we travelled from Twickenham across London and then on to Leagrave to spend time painting, wallpapering and the like. Eating fish and chips out of newspaper and supping tea from mugs with paint-stained hands. Simpler days. And the circle now completes as it’s likely that the last house I purchase will also be a two-up two-down or something of similar ilk (but sadly, not at 1970’s prices).

The road to the sale of our home and the purchase of new properties may be a familiar one to Sarah and me. Yet, as I wrote earlier, experience tells us there will be at least one bump as we travel along that road. As Rabbie Burns wrote in ‘To a Mouse’…

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men

Gang aft a-gley.

Fingers crossed, not too a-gley

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