Day 28 - How not to move house x7
As I repeat endlessly, this is move 6 for our oldest in his 6 years. It's actually move 7 for Mehdi and me. We've used different methods for every move. Our first move over to London from Belfast was for a trial period in January 2011. I flew over, then Mehdi and one of my brothers drove from Belfast to London, via Scotland. I remember being alone in the beautiful big apartment we'd sublet from a Derry native, wondering if they'd make it through the snow storms that were sweeping Scotland. They sent me occasional updates and photos, showing blizzards on tiny country roads that Google maps had decided were a shortcut to London. They arrived hours late in a car stuffed to the gills with the basics we thought we'd need to keep us going for a few months. My brother helped us carry things into the apartment, then gazed over the London skyline. He named the famous buildings I was only vaguely familiar with and showed me where the Olympic park was under construction. He's never lived in London for more than a few weeks - I've no idea how (why?) he had a catalogue of London buildings in his head. He took a cup of tea standing up, then left on the return journey without eating (this brother has done epic stuff like this for me several times without hesitation).
We stayed in that apartment for about 3 months. It's still easily the nicest place we rented, though I spent my time loathing the location (Mile End) and feeling endlessly nauseous and exhausted with early pregnancy.
Our second move in April 2011 required the services of a man with a van, recommended to us by one of our Irish friends who had moved around London a few times. We'd found a 3 bed Council flat in Greenwich which was horribly expensive by our Belfast standards, but was the best we could afford. London is huge city - we based our decision to rent in Greenwich on it being a nice place, and there being a decent bakery within a 10 minute walk of our flat. I did a lot of the packing, but Mehdi and the van guys did all the heavy lifting, then drove our stuff under the Thames via the Blackwall tunnel, and I travelled via public transport. We flew back to Belfast in May and packed up what remained of our stuff - we were committed to London for at least a year. We stored the stuff we couldn't ship, and shipped the rest to ourselves, then let my flat. I thought these moves were hard work. Like everything pre-kids, I now look back fondly on these moves as joyous road trips, filled with fun and adventure...
The Council flat had space and light, a tiny kitchen, and heavy smoking neighbours below and beside us (their smoke curled into the flat as they stood smoking outside, and when they smoked inside downstairs). One day I was walking down the stairs (the lift was often broken) and a rat jumped from the stairwell above me and landed a few stairs below me. It rose on its hind feet to stare at me, meerkat style, before nipping off. Shortly after son number one was born, I was standing in a daze in the lift that always smelled of piss, watching my sister who was holding my newborn, oblivious to the cockroaches scuttling up and down the seams in the lift walls. When I reported the cockroaches in our kitchen, our Australian landlady sent us a shipment of pesticides that were banned in Europe, but are still widely used in Australia. The instructions included leaving the flat for 24 hours while the chemicals did their work. The landlady refused to put us up in alternative accommodation during treatment, because she said she'd never done that when using these chemicals herself (this landlady was in and out of hospital for our various mysterious illnesses throughout our whole tenancy). I refused to use the chemicals.
Mehdi's sister lived with us as our first son's au pair for the first year and a half. When she decided to take up a place at university, we thought we'd sacrifice a bedroom to move someplace nicer. We found a sweet little 2 up 2 down docker's cottage in East Greenwich for more rent, but it was close to three of our NCT friends and on the doorstep of two gorgeous parks. Problem was, we had a gap of a month between the date we could move in, and our Council flat lease ending. We'd rang the landlady and asked if we could stay an extra month. Though she hadn't let the flat, she refused to let us stay. Turned out we'd disappointed her by giving our notice.
That left us in a tight spot. As a couple we could've disappeared off to any number of places and worked remotely on our start-up. But with our nursery based in Greenwich, we couldn't afford to leave the area and work elsewhere. We turned to Airbnb where we found a single room (with no windows) to let at the same price as our 3 bed council flat. It sounds odd to me now, but we were desperate enough to view it, kind of hoping something else would come along. It didn't look any better in real life than it did online. Every room in the house was crammed to bursting point. But we had no other choice. We said we'd take it and tried to view this as an adventure, something we'd look back on in years to come as a crazy time in our lives. We were figuring out where we could store our stuff while we lived in the cupboard when some lovely friends of ours suggested we housesit their empty place while they tried to sell it. So in July 2013, we made our third move - decamping briefly to a gorgeous 3 storey Victorian terrace in Southfields, near Wimbledon.
This time, we thought we'd be more self sufficient - hiring a van and doing the work ourselves. As I recall it now, that was a mistake. We had the help of another amazing friend, who helped us pack and do the heavy lifting, which was a godsend as we also had to keep the toddler occupied. This move was different to the others. Babies result in stuff - a cot, toys, clothes - and then we had all the stuff we'd shipped over ourselves. It felt like a LOT to shift. Mehdi needed a couple of trips in the van to get all our stuff over to our temporary home. On one of the journeys he clipped the wing mirror of another van while driving, resulting in a confrontation with an incredibly angry driver. It was really stressful.
But when we finally settled in, our stay in that house was one of the loveliest memories I have of London. The house was airy and painted in shades of white. We listened to Andy Murray win Wimbledon for the first time not on the radio or TV, but just by opening a window (it is a sign of how generous my friends are that they offered us a 'housesitting' job for a month, when they could've let this house to Wimbledon fans for a substantial sum). There were no rats or cockroaches. When I noticed an insect infestation on a tree in the garden (they had a garden!), my friend's gardener came to deal with it. We had cleaners come to clean a house that was already sparkling. We did have to commute from Southfields to Greenwich each day for our offices and nursery during a heatwave (35 degree temperatures on the tube), but even that turned into a revelation - with only one exception, commuters gave up seats for me and the toddler, engaged us in conversations, and showed us a lot of kindness. I loved London that summer.
All too soon, that month was up, and move number 4 saw us back to Greenwich where we settled into a cottage that seemed small and crammed with stuff after the lovely emptiness and space of Southfields. We loved the little house however, despite it being poorly maintained and booby-trapped with a range of hazards we uncovered one by one. One day a cupboard door was left open while someone made a cup of tea. I smelled burning from the living room and ran into the kitchen. I realised the cupboard door was wedged up close to the halogen lights, and had started to smoulder. When I reported the hazard to the letting agency they said they'd send an electrician and would send me a bill for the damage. Luckily the electrician pointed out the illegality of the ceiling and lights, and he replaced the hot halogen lights with cool LED bulbs at the landlord's cost. Our landlord cared more about maintaining her feature fireplace downstairs than sealing off the dirty fireplaces upstairs that dropped pigeon droppings and dirt into our bedrooms. When the pipes from the bath burst and flooded the kitchen, the landlord rang me and demanded I tell her what I'd been doing. She then came out for an inspection of the property. I was on crutches following a fall, and was heavily pregnant. I huffed and puffed my way around the house to show her various repairs that had been half-heartedly carried out (tradespeople hired by letting agents in general didn't care too much about doing anything to a high standard - I supposed it suits them to have to come back). I showed her the things yet to be fixed (there were several holes in our bedroom floor). Towards the end of the inspection I showed the landlord the heavy old garden furniture that was literally falling apart, exposing long nails that we frequently snagged our clothes or skin on. I asked her to arrange for its disposal (it had been listed as unusable when we'd moved in a year earlier and was flagged for disposal, but despite numerous calls to the letting agency, no one ever came to pick it up). The landlord turned to me and said haughtily 'Between you and your husband I'm sure you could disassemble the furniture and arrange for its disposal in a civic amenity.' I couldn't quite believe what she was suggesting. I pointed out I was in no condition to do heavy jobs, and that we didn't have a car. I didn't share with her the realisation that I didn't want to pay her mortgage any more.
Move number 5 happened shortly after that encounter. Another of Mehdi's sisters was coming to London, to study, so we upped our budget (again...) and started to look for a 3 bed place. For some reason, we lucked out. The second place we viewed was perfect - a family home being let out for the first time. It was the 'garden' (basement) flat in the bottom of a large Victorian semi-detached house. The rent was within budget. There were a lot of stone stairs up and down from the street which I knew would be a PITA with a buggy when the second baby arrived, but the huge private garden and stunning view over London made up for that. For this move, which was to a furnished place, we donated or sold the temporary sofa and things we'd bought, and moved ourselves in our car. I was due to give birth any day, so was restricted to packing and cleaning. Mehdi's sister was on hand to help. Everything went smoothly.
For move number 6 to Dublin we went professional. Best. Choice. Ever. I got a few quotes from moving companies for an all-in-one packing and moving service. The best (but not cheapest) quote came from a national moving service who said they'd use our super early booking as an 'anchor' for a large lorry load for delivery to NI. Because we didn't have a firm delivery date in mind (most of our stuff was going into temporary storage) they could then fill the rest of the large lorry with lots of other loads - other people piggy backing off our initial booking. This suited us - we got a great price and in the end, a fantastic service. That moving day, our only job was to bring our perfectly polite and careful packers pizza and fruit juice. We waved our stuff off on a slow journey to Tyrone, while we packed the last of our stuff into our car for the drive to Dublin. Of course we'd underestimated how much stuff we had, and had to pack up one last big box for shipment over to Tyrone. But we did OK. The car was crammed, the baby was in a foul mood, and we made our long farewell journey across London, then through England and into Wales. It only took about an hour for the car to stink with food and treats, and for all my carefully organised packing to come undone. Then of course after we boarded the ferry, it broke down, and we were ordered to disembark, then wait on the docks for hours for the next sailing. By the time we eventually arrived in Dublin, it was too late for us to get to the shops to buy mattresses like we'd planned. Luckily we had another amazing friend who had gone to Argos and purchased an inflatable mattress for us. She also popped into a shop and bought bacon, eggs, peanut butter, honey, bread and tea. This was heaven to us that evening and the next day as we sat shellshocked in the bright light and biting wind of Dublin city.
So. Move number 7. With everything we learned, you'd think we would've stayed professional. But no. It must've been the DIY bug that bit me when I was stripping wallpaper, because somehow we decided to do this ourselves. And I mean, really by ourselves - with 2 kids and no help. Madness. Absolute insanity. I hope with all my heart that move number 7 turns out to be lucky number 7, and that this is our forever home. Or, as my mother would say, may they carry me out in a box.
Photo by Scott Rodgerson / Unsplash