Thieves, Nosey Parkers & Snobs: Our Prospective Buyers

I am firmly of the mindset that my house is a fortress. It’s my safe place. Family and close friends are always welcome, especially if they come bearing white wine and gossip. Meter readers and tradesmen are tolerated, as long as they show up when they’re supposed to. Salesmen, market researchers and god-botherers shouldn’t even waste their energy walking up the path.

With that in mind, you can imagine how much it has pained me over the last few weeks to allow a constant stream of strangers into my home. They have poked in our wardrobes, commented on our decor, and traipsed mud and grass all over our carpets. One of them even stole something (yes, really. But don’t get me started on that).

‘Prospective buyers’, they call themselves. Usually they are polite enough to call our estate agents first, and then show up at a specified time. But sometimes they just spot the For Sale sign, and wander into the garden on the off chance that we’re in and they can have a look around. Sometimes they make an appointment but then show up early, ring the doorbell, and wake DorkySon up mid-nap. That never makes for a good introduction.

In the current property market I shouldn’t be complaining about having viewers, and I’m not really – we are genuinely very grateful to be getting people through the door at all – but that doesn’t mean that I can’t also share some of the conversational highlights from the most bonkers of the buyers to cross our threshold. Take it as a given that where I don’t have an answer to whatever inane comment or question I’ve just been given, I’m thinking something a bit sweary and rude.

Viewer: Was it you that put up those boards outside?
Me: Boards?
Viewer: Those brown boards in the garden.
Me: Umm yes. That’s called our fence.

Viewer: Well your cornicing is lovely, but I don’t know why on earth you painted the gold bits. I have a similar style in my house and it’s much nicer all in white.
Me: …

Viewer: Why on earth do you have this as your bedroom? It’s so big and light, it’s obviously supposed to be the drawing room. Why waste it on a bedroom?
Me: …

Viewer: Well we’d really like to put solar panels on the roof, but do you know how we’d ensure that the electricity was divided evenly between the three flats.
Me: Umm, no.
Viewer’s Wife: I think you’d probably just have to put on three times as many panels as usual.
Viewer: Christ, you’d need another roof to accommodate that.
Me: …

Viewer, looking out the window: Oh dear, that’s tree is rather menacing isn’t it.
Me: Do you think so? We’ve always liked it.
Viewer: No. No, that just won’t do. Very menacing.
Me: …

Viewer, settling into my rocking chair: Now I think I’ll just sit down and make myself comfortable for a minute.
Me, slightly taken aback: Mmmm, okay. Let me just go and let the next person in.
Viewer: No wait a minute, I wanted to ask you something. I was looking at your family tree. Is that a Cornish name?
Me: No I don’t think so.
Viewer: Oh, I think it might be. But anyway, where did you meet your husband?
Me: We were working together at the university.
Viewer: Gosh, that sounds very naughty!
Me: …

Viewer: When was the house built?
Me: Oh I don’t know. Maybe 1850-something
Viewer: Gosh no, that can’t possibly be right. I’ve been looking at the maps of the area from 1870 and the house isn’t on there. And look at the shape of the windows. They couldn’t possibly be earlier than 1870.
Me: …

And my very favourite of all…

Viewer: Is there anyone here from your estate agents?
Me: No, why, can I help?
Viewer: Well I don’t think they’re representing you very well. Come out here a minute (beckons me onto porch)
Me: What is it?
Viewer, pulling a compass out of his pocket: Look at this. The north point on your property particulars is off by 5 degrees. FIVE DEGREES! That’s not doing you any favours, is it?
Me: …

The One with the Wine Cellar

I’ve spent the last two days house-hunting. It is truly one of the most depressing ways to spend your time – viewing property after property where you just can NOT imagine yourself living, getting achey feet from pounding the streets, going cross-eyed from reading maps, and then feeling that panic start to set in because you know you really, really need to say yes to something soon.

Our search has been focused on two areas – North London and Hertfordshire. We’ll only be renting, so this doesn’t have to be the dream home that we stay in for the rest of our lives, just somewhere that’ll do for starters while DorkyDad settles into his new job and we get to know this part of the country a little better.

On Wednesday I was supposed to have five appointments… but I got phone calls the night before to let me know that two of the places had already been taken. So we were down to three.

The first one was bogging.

The second one was much, much better. Plenty space, in a nice area, clean, neutral colours… Very promising, but I figured I should see all three before coming to a decision.

The third one. Wow. I arrived a little early and decided to have a walk around the area, which was just lovely. Cute little cobbled streets, a pub with a beer garden at the end of the road, a children’s playground two minutes walk away… There was even a ‘New England Avenue’ a few streets over, which I took as a good omen since it’s where DorkyDad’s from.

Given the pretty middle-of-the-road rental range we were looking at, I couldn’t understand why this place hadn’t been snapped up instantly. It was also a bit odd that there was no To Let sign outside, but whatever… I stood there a few minutes and waited for the agent to show up.

‘Well hello,’ she said, when she arrived a few minutes later, and shook my hand. ‘I hope you haven’t been waiting long.’

‘Just a few minutes,’ I said, smiling.

We walked up the front steps, and she fiddled with the keys for a couple of minutes before letting me in. ‘Here we go… and here’s a copy of the schedule for you.’

I glanced down.


Now, had I not been a bit achey and tired, this is where I would have said ‘Oh dear, I think there’s been a bit of a mix-up here!’ But she had already whooshed ahead of me, opening doors, turning on lights, and occasionally throwing questions at me about how long we’d been looking for.

‘Here’s the second of the living rooms. Have you seen anything else you’ve liked yet?’ she asked.

‘Umm, yes,’ I said. ‘One or two. But nothing quite like this.’

‘It’s quite special, isn’t it? Let me show you the wine cellar…’

I spent an excruciating ten minutes with the woman, cursing myself for not saying something right away, admiring a house that is so far beyond our reach that we couldn’t afford to rent the garden shed.

‘One of my colleagues will be in touch later in the week to get your feedback,’ she said, as we were leaving. ‘I hope it’s given you some food for thought.’


The Gallery: Home

I’ve never taken part in The Gallery before – a weekly link-up hosted by top blogger Tara at Sticky Fingers, where participants post photos around a certain theme – but when I saw that this week’s prompt was ‘Home’ I couldn’t resist. For obvious reasons I’ve been thinking about the concept of home a lot recently, and this provided a great excuse to go and look back through some of my old photos.

I chose to make a collage, using photos of some of the bits and bobs around our house that we’ll be taking with us when we move, and using to make our new place feel like home. I’ve given a short explanation below of what they all are. If you like these photos, please feel free to check out some of my others on my Flickr stream, which is here.

Photos, moving clockwise from top left:

The rug. We love our rugs, we do. We’ve got two beautiful wooden floors in the house, which we had sanded and varnished when we moved in… and then promptly covered up with our big, patterned area rugs. When I first met DorkyDad, he had a special comb for keeping the fringes of his rugs nice and neat (can you tell that he’s a Virgo?). But since having DorkySon he’s pretty much given up on that. Now he’s just grateful to get to the end of the day without having milk or juice tipped over any of them.

The cat. I may lose readers over this, but I’m not a cat person. I’m not just ambivalent; I actively dislike most cats I meet. Partly because I’m allergic to them, but mainly just because I think they’re horrible. If it’s any consolation to the feline fans out there, the feeling is mutual… most cats head straight for me and slink around my ankles once or twice, before hopping in my lap, looking me straight in the eye, and sinking their sharp little claws into my thighs. Anyway, I digress. This funky little metal guy is the exception to my cat-hating rule; he sits in our kitchen and keeps an eye on things. He has attitude. I like him a lot.

The table. I’m not being boasty (well, I am a little bit), but we have the best dining room table ever, which we found in a wee second hand shop in Edinburgh. It’s ridiculously big and heavy and, as you can see from the photo, has had the crap beaten out of it. Apparently it was used as a cook’s table in Donaldson’s School, which is why there are so many knife marks and chunks missing. It’s coming with us, even if I end up sleeping under it on a pavement somewhere.

The lamp. This was a present from me to DorkyDad. It’s an old Cadillac headlamp, which has been fixed on top of a wooden tripod. For some reason it also has a built-in compass. For months, when we walked past the lamp in a nearby shop window, DorkyDad used to say how much he’d like it. Then one day it disappeared and he was very sad… until he discovered that I’d gone in without him one day, haggled down the price, and hidden it for his birthday. It’s kinda kooky, but we like it.

The candlesticks. These were a wedding present from a friend in Zimbabwe. I haven’t been able to find candles dinky enough to fit in them recently, so we haven’t lit them for months, but I still like having them around.

The dominoes. These are DorkyDad’s dominoes, which live in an old wooden cigar box. I am totally an old lady before my time; I love playing dominoes, especially by candlelight, with a glass of wine and some music on. I get ridiculously competitive, and take enormous delight in sending DorkyDad ‘down to the boneyard’.

The bed. Comfiest bed ever. The end.

The paintings. Our house is chock-a-block with art, none of it valuable, but all of it well loved. We are lucky enough to have some ridiculously talented family and friends; and we’ve also picked up some beautiful pieces at the College of Art degree shows. A large proportion of our paintings, including this wooden lizard, are pieces of Gullah Art, from the Red Piano Gallery in South Carolina. They are all non-negotiable; they’re coming with us.

The harmonicas. Because no home is complete without some sweet music making machines. Both DorkySon and DorkyDad are fans of playing the mouthie. Me, I just like to take photos of them.

The toy cars. Only a fool would try and part DorkySon from his red Chevy, his purple Carmen Ghia, his yellow Beetle, or any of the other several hundred cars and trucks in his possession. He knows where every single one of them originally came from. And are they coming with us to London? Hell yes.

The blue vase. This was a present for DorkyDad from some of his very best friends, when he moved house previously. Having fresh cut flowers in a house always helps it feel like home, and never more than when they’re placed in a beautiful vase.

The notebooks. This is a family of writers. We are note-takers, poets, journal-makers, scrapbookers and photographers. We are surrounded by paper. We may have to do some filing, but we gave away our shredder last week, so all the papery stuff is here to stay.

The centrepiece. The clock, the painting, and the marble fireplace in this shot are all wonderful… but the real star of the show is the Monster. He is very old, and is part of a great story, which I probably can’t tell without getting DorkyDad into trouble. But wherever we go he will be coming too. He’s our protector, and no house would be a home without him.

To see how other bloggers have interpreted the theme of home, check out this week’s gallery here.

For Sale: 2 Bedroom Flat, scuffed paintwork, full of love

It’s strange how – when you know you’re going to be moving – you start to look around where you live and see things in a completely different way. Even before the For Sale sign has gone up outside, and the first potential buyers have stepped in the door, it stops being quite so much of a ‘home’ and starts turning back into just ‘a house’.

You refer to it, in emails to estate agents, as your ‘property’. You start to notice the cobwebs in the corners, and immediately add ‘long-handled duster’ to the shopping list in your head. You spot the scuffs in the paintwork, the cracks in the cornicing, and all those trails of spilled smoothie on the cream carpet. You realise that you still haven’t fixed the hole where the neighbour’s hamster chewed through your wall. You wish you’d had the time and money to do the bathroom, the den, and the windows.

Jeez, you think. Where are we going to put all these books? And paintings? And rugs? Maybe, you think, it’s time to get rid of all the old baby clothes.

You try and remember how the wardrobe comes apart, what angle you have to hold the dining room table at to fit it through the doorframe, and where you put that special screwdriver; the one you need to disassemble the bed.

You start to become very objective, about it all, very distant. And then a draft of the particulars arrives in your inbox – all adjectives and professional photos.

Gosh, you think, what a lovely house.

There’s the dining room, where you sat with friends over long dinners, drank wine and whisky in front of the fire. There’s one bedroom, where you were helped into your wedding dress; and there’s the other, where you stood over your new son in his Moses basket, and leaned in to hear him breathe. There’s the kitchen, cosy and cluttered; pureed blueberry spattered on the wall, music always playing on the radio, family photos pinned to the corkboard. There’s the den, where you took family naps on the sofa; and the hallway, where entire cities were built out of Lego.

Gosh, you think, what a lovely home.

Haven’t we been lucky to call it ours? We have warmed up the old, stone walls and filled the rooms with laughter and love. We have tended the garden, mended the fence, and added a beautiful piece of stained glass to the entrance hall.

There is an advert for something – I forget what, perhaps a watch – that says ‘You never own it. You merely look after it for the next generation.”

It’s a good way of thinking about material things. We have never really ‘owned’ this house, just made it our home until it was the turn of another family. I hope they don’t mind the scuffs in the paintwork. I hope they keep the walls nice and warm. I sure hope I remember where that screwdriver is.

The One Where We Move to London

You have no idea how hard it has been to sit on this news until all the relevant contracts have been signed and sealed. I’ve been itching to tell you… sitting on my fingers to stop myself pressing publish.

DorkyDad has accepted an exciting new job with an international charity based in London. I’m incredibly proud of him for taking on such a big challenge, and trying to use the knowledge and experience he has from working in higher education to benefit another sector.

Now that we’ve had a few days to absorb the news, pop the champagne and wave our pompoms, the reality is starting to sink in that Clan Dawkins is moving to Englandshire.

Oh my.

We are doing this completely the wrong way round. Most sane people start off in the city, and then escape to a mid-size town, before ending up in a village to have their family. DorkyDad started off in small-town America and I started off in the Western Isles… we met in Edinburgh… and now, with a 2 year old, we are moving to a city with a population bigger than that of Scotland.

Ach. We have never been a family do to things the ‘right way’.

I am by turns excited and terrified.

I go to sleep with a smile on my face, imagining myself in the London I know from watching Richard Curtis films; entertaining friends in my swanky Notting Hill pad, chatting to famous authors at book launches, and running through the snow in pants and bare feet to kiss my Mr Darcy.

And then I wake up imagining myself in the London of the riotous news footage. I have been scaring myself by looking up crime statistics online. I am starting to think that two mornings of nursery for DorkySon will probably cost more than our mortgage. People are telling me I should be joining school waiting lists now. Right now. Preferably yesterday.

I suspect, and hope, the reality will be somewhere in between. London is a place that extends far beyond what I know from film and television. I am vastly reassured by the emails I’ve had from friends, some of whom have children too, telling me that they love it; that it’s a wonderful city, that I will never be bored and yes they do have parks and green spaces there too, most of which I won’t be mugged in.

To keep the excitement and terror in some kind of equilibrium, I am making trade-offs in my head.

For example… on the downside, we are unlikely to find a flat that will accommodate our massive and beautiful dining table, which was bought for an Edinburgh sized room. But on the upside, we can go for sunny-day picnics with my London-based brother and his girlfriend. On the downside, we’re probably not going to have a big private garden for DorkySon to roam around in. But on the upside, we can spend every weekend wandering round the London Transport Museum (or we can just pay £1.30 and go for a ride on the nearest red bus, which will probably keep him just as happy).

We have so much to learn. Who knew that Barnes and Barnet are two entirely different places? That the Circle Line isn’t actually a circle anymore; that rents are advertised per week instead of per month; and that the same property can be marketed by half a dozen different agents. It’s enough to make a wee Scottish girl’s head spin.

What I would really like, right now, is for someone to hold my hand and sort out all the details. Find us a perfect house, at the perfect price, in the perfect area. Make sure there’s a big old park nearby, a choice of affordable nurseries, some great shops, and a leisurely fifteen-minute walk to DorkyDad’s office. While they’re at it, they could throw in an annual membership to the Tate Modern, and dinner reservations at Nobu for the weekend we move down.

But that’s not going to happen. Richard Curtis didn’t write this life. So I have to put my big girl panties on – top up my Oyster card, keep trawling through the property listings, and start packing my books into boxes. It’s an adventure. I can do adventures; I’m just a bit out of practice.

There is a lot we are going to miss about Edinburgh – enough to warrant its own post in the next week or two – but like Alice in Wonderland, with her oversized limbs poking through the windows of a house and her giant head jammed against the ceiling, we’ve recently been feeling like we have outgrown it. When we stand on our front porch and listen to the wind, whispering in the trees, it’s telling us that it’s time to move on.

So we are. Moving onwards and, hopefully, moving upwards.

Look out London. Here come the Dorkys.

Helpful suggestions for places to live, places to avoid, estates agents to give a wide berth etc are very welcome, either here or across on the DorkyMum Facebook Page. And if anyone has a flat they’d like to lend us for a couple of months, now’s the time to speak up!