Well then, H is for house, home, hidden, heartsore…and so on. J is for junk, just junk. But what is I for? On yet another sleepless night, rummaging through my newly made house-moving alphabet, it’s odd I can’t remember.
In the scale of problems facing humanity, our stressful experience of the last few months hardly counts. We sold our family home of 46 years, we cleared a monumental amount of stuff from a creaky old Victorian house, we felt pangs as we closed the front door for the last time. That’s where we spent two thirds of our lives, brought up three sons, started freelance businesses, made music, lived, loved laughed, and left… So what? We were lucky to have a house for so long, weren’t we? House prices, as you know only too well, have risen much faster than wages (you could say, in gentrified areas like our old neighbourhood, they shot through the roof, along with our heating bills). Ha! And staying married to the same partner means we don’t have to split the spoils.
No need to feel sorry for us, then. We’re also lucky enough to be turning our takings into a new – or retrofitted – home. A story for our time: we’re wrapping a woodland cottage in external insulation and will (eventually) be gazing at the surrounding wildlife through triple glazed windows. It’s a dream we hardly dare believe is coming true.
But kind friends and neighbours have been kindly sympathetic. They know. Selling a house notoriously ranks as one of life’s most stressful experiences. Turning your home into a marketable commodity brings a strange, unsettling, anonymising, detachment. It can be distressing.
How not to do it
One day Ray and I will write a book on how not to sell and move house. Timing is all and we seem to have a knack for bad timing. In some ways the last few months has felt like history repeating or turning a very big circle. There are uncanny echoes of the cold December when Ray and I moved with everything we possessed into an Edinburgh Victorian townhouse we hadn’t intended to buy.
The summer of 1976 (as climate change deniers enjoyed retweeting in 2022) had been the hottest on record, we even felt the heat high up in the Pentlands where we rented a draughty old farmhouse. Inflation was around 16% when we moved into town. Interest rates hovered around 15%.
I… is it for inflation, interest, insanity?
Sound familiar? On September 23 when the estate agents’ team came to help turn our home into someone else’s rocketing mortgage repayments, Kwasi Kwarteng was lighting the blue touch paper with his mini-budget. (“Did I hear that right?” the photographer yelled from the landing as the ex-chancellor announced his top rate tax cut). Our roof was about to become the launch pad for journeys into the stratosphere.
We had trebled our mortgage nearly thirty years ago to buy a patch of woodland and discovered it came with a derelict cottage and an unauthorised dump. There was no road, no mains services and no planning permission.
So, what would you do? Fifty people came, looked, took the sensible option and walked away. We fell in love with woodland, wetland, pond, cottage, and all. Over the next few decades, we made the little house liveable but still very cold in winter. When lockdown pushed us into a long-delayed decision to move out of the city, our dear old Edinburgh home enabled us to take out a massive loan to make our reinvented woodland cottage warm enough for year-round habitation.
We borrowed when interest rates were one-tenth of one percent and inflation was non-existent. Then Putin invaded Ukraine, rates started to rise alarmingly and inflation pushed our energy bills up to and through the roof. In the meantime, finding a builder to take on our project was a longer job than we anticipated. The money we borrowed was being eaten away by monthly interest payments, costs were rising and the building work hadn’t even started.
M is for music and memories
Bad timing or not, we sold much sooner than we expected. The estate agent was not surprised. In Edinburgh, draughty old Victorian houses with good postcodes have a certain appeal. Our postcode had steadily gentrified during the 21st century – I’d need to do some proper research to back up this hunch, but I think the street that was our neighbourhood for very nearly half a century has probably only recently realised the full potential the 19th century builder, James Bisset, envisaged when he took out a loan to erect three terraced houses on a plot of vacant land in the north of Edinburgh.
Old houses echo with memories. We felt the legacy of the family who preceded us – just two families in almost one hundred years (there is a story there if I ever get round to writing it) as others changed owners around us. I felt nostalgic tugs in sleepless hours as we prepared for the nightmare of clearing our cupboards. Instead of counting sheep, I made myself an alphabet. It proved quite soporific and serves again as we tuck in to a comfy but temporary bed. Waiting for the builders to finish reinventing our cottage.
Just one problem. It’s sometimes a bit of an old person’s memory test. What is I for? Oh yes, of course. Silly me
An insomniac’s alphabet
A is for… albums, artworks, artefacts, archives (aargh)
Boxes, books, beds, bedding, boots, baby shoes, bricks, batteries, bottles, baubles, bangles and beads, blackbirds, black bags, bins
Cardboard, cupboards, cabinets, chests, computers, cards, coins, clocks, clothes, clutter
Desks, discs, dressers, drums, drawers, dreams, dust
Family, files, folders, farewell, feelings
Guests, ghosts, guitars, garden, goodbyes
House, histories, hidden, hoards, hardware, heartsore … home
Kitchen, knives, knickknacks, knickers, knockers, knackered
Lorry, loads, lists, letters, leaflets, Lego, laughter, love
Murray (the man with the van) Moves mountains of stuff, mattresses, matter, mutter, music, musicians, memories
Nightmares, NEVER again
Panic, pictures, paintings, paint, photos, plaster, plastic, pillows, pencils, pens, paper, paperclips, plants, pots, percussion, Pickfords
Quilts, Q – why so many?
Shelves, sheets, shoes, stress, string, stairs, storeys, stories, songs…sad
Toys, teddies, tears, tools, tables, tech, tip, tidy
Untidy, unbelievable, unending
Vans (and the men), visitors
Wires, walls, washing, worry, weary, winding down, well done
Xylophone (yes, with the percussion)
Years and years
Zero waste (?) Zzzzz
So much stuff…but that’s what you get in a home occupied for almost 50 years by two journalists (one an entrepreneurial author, the other a compulsive hoarder) three dear inventive musician/artist sons and occasionally by four wonderful, creative, inquisitive grandchildren .
Feature image: a late night view across the street – an early record cover by artist, musician SurfacePressure for his musician brother SType.
‘G’ is also for goodbye. It’s not been easy to say it.