curiosity about the ways of the world

P is for panic in the A-Z of moving house

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.

Cold comfort in March, our cottage before the great retrofit wrapping in 2022/23
Before the new wrapping, it could be very cold

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.

Through the roof: a view to glorious blue skies through the heat releasing cupola. Picture Fay Young

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.

S is for stairs, stories, sleeplessness – picture shows a last look up towards the rooflight
Looking up, one more time – to the roof where pigeons bask in our warmth

‘G’ is also for goodbye. It’s not been easy to say it.


  1. fay

    Thank you so much, Fiona. I always feel very humbled when people take the time to read my blog. So much going on in the world! I’ve recently been involved in some work researching and documenting the experiences of people who have been displaced and made homeless – which has been especially humbling. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have your homes, streets and neighbourhoods completely obliterated. Hoping things are well with you.

  2. Fiona Mackenzie

    Extraordinary experience Fay and extraordinarily documented ! You have survived . Moving recount of moving xx

  3. fay

    Twice blest…kind words from two fellow journos. Thank you young bro (Robin) that’s a lovely tribute, from one who is no slouch. And thank you my Sceptical partner (David). Looking forward to a grand celebration when the building is done.

  4. Robin Young

    When it came to the literary gene pool, I know who got the greater share of the talent. Beautifully written. And extremely moving. X

  5. David Gow

    Feel your pain: elegy for a left-behind but unforgotten/unforgettable life full of joy good karma and laughter as well as love (j, k, l)

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