Monthly Archives: December 2009

Sold from under our feet

House number 4 is another that I don’t have any photos of, mainly because by the time we got there to view it there was a message on our answering machine telling us that we were unable to view it because it had been sold.

Indeed, when we got there and parked the car and gone to the front of the house we noticed that the ‘to let’ board was lying down on the floor and in it’s place a board marked sold. I was quite disappointed for a couple of moments, as this one, on paper, had sounded the most interesting. Belfast sink, boot room, 3 bedrooms. But standing outside the front door I realised that it was too noisy to think straight: it was right on the A39 and even on a quiet December morning the passing traffic was enough to drive me to distraction. I am told that the A39 in the summer can be nose to tail with holiday makers. The double glazing might provide quietness inside but in the garden? Also, surely a good part of the reason to live in the countryside is peace  and quiet not traffic noises right outside the front door. And getting to work in the summer would surely be a problem too.

{House 4 – the one that had already been sold}

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A room with a view?

The third house was the one that we never got to see the inside of. We had been waiting all week for the agent to confirm the viewing and then, as we drove to Somerset for our first appointment at 9.30am, we got the call saying they could confirm it after all. Only we had already arranged another viewing at the same time elsewhere. So they gave us the address and we went to see the outside to see it had potential.

Well, the view was wonderful but there was nowhere really to park our car and the garden is that itty-bitty piece of land which you can see between the house and Husband’s head. The house was also quite large but didn’t look very cosy and was on the side of a very steep hill which I really didn’t fancy driving up and down in any kind of inclement weather. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover but a quick peek through the windows revealed that it looked in need of updating and, from the outside at least, not somewhere I would ever feel was home.

And so, as we drove off and headed to see house number 4, we decided it wasn’t worth a second visit.

{House 3 – the one that had a view but not much else}

Photos by me and of the view over towards Withypool.

Exhibit 2

The second house is one that I don’t have any photos of. The agent was all tweed breekes and green woolly knee socks and thought we were rather London with our black Saab and questions about broadband and mobile phone signal and I was embarrassed to be seen taking photos on my BlackBerry.

In any event I am not sure *what* exactly I would have taken the photos of as none of them would have done it any justice. As with all country houses we went in the back door. In fact, he didn’t even show us the front door, although we could see the conservatory style porch from an upstairs window (disguised by a brown velvet door curtain in the downstairs hallway). In through the back door which was accessed through a back garden off a concrete standing area up a dirt track behind a petrol station, which was on the A39. Through a really nasty kitchen  and into what could only be described as “layout which must be seen to be believed”. All the rooms led round in a circle. And the carpet. If the breeke wearing estate agent had told me it used to be a pub I wouldn’t have been surprised. You could almost see the darts players.

Funnily enough, upstairs was a lot nicer. A bit big but with plenty of cupboards and even an airing cupboard. (You don’t really get those in London, so I always find them rather a novelty). The best bit about the whole house though was that you could sit on the loo and look at the brown cows in the field behind the house. I know because I checked. That’s my top tip for house hunting: always attempt to test the facilities. If the loo won’t flush or there is only a trickle of water out of the tap when you wash your hands, odds on you will have problems with the bathroom.

On the plus side it did have 3 very decent sized bedrooms, a larder (handily situated well away from the kitchen) and a downstairs cloakroom as well as the upstairs bathroom. Sadly, none of that outweighed the rundown feeling, the bizarre layout and the nasty kitchen. Another big fat no.

{House 2 – the one that felt like it should have been a pub}

House Searching Commences

The drive to this house was one of the most beautiful I have undertaken in a long time: climbing up onto Exmoor from the coast across russet and brown moorland as far as the eye could see. Occasionally crows swirled in circles round a tree, it’s branches leaning inland away from the prevailing wind. Dropping back down into a valley we passes tiny villages and darling pubs before climbing and circling up the other side onto the moorland. And then, turning off the main road where hawks hovered eyeing the frozen river which in warmer months would have tinkled down the fellside, onto a drive of a hunting estate: the house.

Set in it’s own piece of land, surrounded on two sides with a field with horses in, the countryside couldn’t have been more peaceful. Yet, even on the brightest and sunniest days of mid winter there was a slightly menacing air to the estate. The bungalow itself was a little grotty but for just over half the price of our London shoe-box, what could you expect? 3 bedrooms, a sitting room, open fire, kitchen, utility room, bathroom, all the space you could ever want.

It was cold though. And even if I fancied the 30 minute drive across open moorland twice a day whilst Husband is away in London, I found the place too isolated to really contemplate. The reality was that more often than not the house would be shrouded in fog, wet and hard to heat. As cooking could only be done by calor gas cylinder, water & sewage were via a private drain I wasn’t convinced, despite the estate agent’s promise that phone and broadband would be ok, that he was right. After all, if it’s not on mains water or gas I wouldn’t be surprised if it were deemed impossible to be connected to anything else either. Oh, and there was no mobile phone signal.

It wasn’t hard to decide no to this one, despite being momentarily persuaded by the views and the quietness of the place, as well as the space.

{House 1 – the one that was too isolated, too big and too cold}

All images by me

Speed To The West

gosh, sounds like we are some sort of mid-nineteenth century cowboys, doesn’t it? Actually, we’re not going by train at all, this time (although Husband will be commuting to the capital every week in its more updated cousin come February), we’re driving. Yes, the car arrived today.

We are heading down to Somerset *extremely* early on Saturday morning. It might even be dark when we first arrive, as our appointments commence at 9.30am. For we are going house hunting. We gave notice on the London flat. We felt it only fair as our landlady has been amazing. If anyone is interested in a slightly quirky one bed flat in Islington, kinda near the Arsenal stadium, get in touch. Which means come the end of January we shall be homeless, regardless of whether the job commences on time or not.

We have lined up a variety of 2-3 bed properties to visit. Some of the most exciting have things like Belfast sinks and Agas. And boot rooms. Who wouldn’t want to live in a property with it’s own boot room? Seriously, a whole area for boots. Or an aga? Some of them have sweet names. But they are towards the more expensive end of the market. But the cheaper ones are the ones that are isolated on the middle of Exmoor. And I am wondering whether a wimpy-woo town mouse like myself could cope with all that rural-ness every week when Husband is away in London. Although, the extra money that we would save every month could buy me a Barbour jacket and a dog or two for company.

So I am making a list, for comparison purposes, to grade each house. With categories such as length of drive to work in the morning. Pressure of the shower. Coldness of the floor in the kitchen. Mobile telephone signal. View from bedroom window. Presence of bath, Belfast sink, Aga,  boot room and other cottage essentials.

Anything I have missed, people who own houses out in the countryside?

Poster by BR from here

just because I like it. in fact, I like all of them. Maybe something on which to spend my new income…

…the gateway to Exmoor…

I love these old railway posters and when looking for this one online I discovered that I could buy them as prints. Sadly this one for Minehead, soon to become our nearest ‘town’, is a little out of date in more ways than one.

Aside from the distinct lack of retro swimming costumes when I visited (although considering it was November it was hardly surprising) the beach has far less sand than the poster suggests. And the railway poster itself is also somewhat misleading: the only train line which serves Minehead these days is the West Somerset Railway, heritage steam line and the perfect place to play out your Polar Express fantasies with a trip to visit Father Christmas.

Which means we will need a car. As pretty as steam is, it is not the most time effective way of reaching one’s destination. So a car it is.

I passed my driving test the day after I received my A Level results in August 2000. Quite why I chose to schedule a driving test the day after results remains lost in my history, but take it that day I did. And, to my surprise, passed first time. I had no car to drive and was unable to be insured on my parents’ Volvo as the engine was too large and I was too young. And shortly thereafter I went down to Exeter to university where there was no need for a car for it was small, permits were expensive, my hallmate had one (and conveniently lived very close to my parents, so it turned out we could share lifts) and you could get a taxi from one end of Exeter to the other for about a fiver. Oh, student days. Occasionally I borrowed an (ex) boyfriend’s car. Occasionally Husband would borrow his parent’s Astra when we wanted to go surfing. But by and large, we managed.

And then we moved to London. Where parking was even more expensive and, mostly, the buses and tubes are more than adequate. And when they aren’t, there are taxis. But now, we need one. And had no idea where to start. We began by looking at auto trader but the idea of being conned into paying cash for something I couldn’t return, couldn’t wear, or couldn’t sell again on e-bay struck the fear of something into me. And so I pretended that the problem would go away.

And then one day last week, it did. We are to inherit Husband’s Dad’s car as he has bought a new one. It may have driven a million miles up and down the motorway but it has only had one owner and it is the first car we drove after we got married as we borrowed it for our honeymoon.

Now all we need to do is find somewhere to park it…

Image by BR from here.

May – August 2009

Six months ago I was made redundant. That is where the story really starts. But months of job applications and interviews which ended well but not successfully are not interesting to write about and they certainly are not interesting enough to read about. (Yet readers may wish to fill in the background details to a story they knew some of at the time, so I will be succinct.)

Christmas was my cut off point. Although I had picked up freelance work in a variety of areas, if I hadn’t found something in my qualified field by the end of December then I was going to have to look for a permanent role in another industry.

Somewhere around July I realised that I had to start looking for work outside of London. The statistics alone  (900 on JSA rather than the 44 a year previously – and that was very low as many in my profession would have not even qualified for JSA) meant my chances of getting a job in London were small and reducing due to competition from those with more experience who had also been made redundant through no fault of their abilities. The companies with whom I was being called for interview in London were also too similar to the company from which I was made redundant and the likes of which I swore I would stay away from where possible. Vague, but necessary I am afraid.

My job search initially took me to the West Midlands and I narrowly missed out on a position which was mine in all but a contract when the company decided to merge with another. In retrospect a move to the West Midlands did not seem right for us and I am glad that it did not work out. I continued to apply for London positions and to explore other potential avenues of future employment, taking on a number of projects on an internship level, paid nothing save my expenses for getting there and back.

By the end of August I was feeling pretty bleak. Summer was ending, I had been unemployed for 3 months and I was starting to think I would never get a job in my profession ever again.

Image of Bicknoller at the foot of the Quantock Hills (just because I like it).