Soooo, after a fun-packed birthday-loaded summer hols that came hot on the heels of 10 months of caaancer treatment, it’s time to take it easy for a while, don’t you think? Slip back into work, get the kids settled in Year 1 and pre-school, keep things quiet and calm and normal for a bit, yes? Er, no. The thing to do is, OBVIOUSLY, buy a derelict house.
We weren’t looking. Well, I wasn’t. Apparently DH was. He had casually mooted moving out of Guildford earlier in the year and I tried to love Camberley, really I did, but Guildford is home now. It’s where my two babies were born and where my best friend lives. It’s 20 minutes from my sister, and 20 minutes to London. I had a dream of exactly which area we would move to, at some point before secondary school applications in five years, but in reality couldn’t see how we could ever afford a bigger house two miles down the road, even with the extra bit of cash left over from the critical illness insurance that has supplemented my income all year.
And then at the end of July DH presented me with some property details. A four-bedroomed, late 30s detached house, in exactly the right place. And it was pricey, but much less so than other similar houses in the same suburb, thanks to needing what I think the trade would call ‘extensive modernisation’. It was empty, as the old lady who lived there had moved into a nursing home, and none of the 10 people who had viewed it in the three weeks it had been on the market had put in an offer, presumably baulking at the scale of the project for that sort of price tag. The agent had advised DH that we should just try putting in ‘a silly offer’. So we looked round, quietly fell in love with it, and did exactly that.
We made a pact that we would do this in a spirit of non-attachment. We knew what we could go up to, and we knew what we had to sell our house for, and if the process turned out to be smooth and easy, we decided that this crazy project was fate. If, on the other hand, it was all a bit strained and effortful, and the numbers started being stretched, we would walk away and start looking again next year after DS starts school and nursery fees would be freed up to contribute to a bigger mortgage.
DH put on his Super Negotiator red cape and went for it. Meanwhile, we put our house on the market, since the vendors weren’t going to accept anything until it was sold. We sold it within 24 hours, for exactly what we wanted for it, the day after my birthday. So far, so meant-to-be. Our parents came to have a poke round. Everyone started getting excited. Then, after a nail-biting day waiting for the agent to tell us the response to our final offer, which was still a cheeky 15% less than the asking price, DH called me with the news: WE GOT IT!!!!! I remember shrieking with joy. I couldn’t stop grinning. Now that’s what I call the best birthday pressie E.V.E.R.
Our new home has blue shutters, and a 150ft overgrown garden you can get lost in, and a monkey puzzle tree in front that will look amazing decked in Christmas lights. It also needs an awful lot of work. It’s structurally sound, but that’s about it. But when I drive past (as I go out of my way to do almost every day, sometimes parking in the drive for a few minutes to say hello) I don’t just see a house with huge potential, or somewhere that will eventually be our dream forever house, or somewhere within walking distance of a really good secondary school.
As well as all of those things, I see my silver lining. Our family’s silver lining. The payoff for enduring the sort of year no-one should ever have to go through. We all need a fresh start. We need to draw a really tangible line under the past year (yes, it’s nearly a year: I was diagnosed on 13 October 2010). Embarking on this new adventure feels like exactly the right thing to do, for all of us. The house with the blue shutters has never seen me throwing up after chemo, for one thing.
I’m under no illusion about the amount of work required, or how long it will take, or how exhausting and stressful it will be, or how much money it will cost. DH is more worried about all those things, because that’s his nature, but we are pretty much on the same page and ready to work as a team. He has the final say on technical and practical stuff, along with his dad (handily, a heating engineer with great trade contacts), and I get the final say on aesthetics. We’ve been reading books on 1930s style, and a vision is emerging of somewhere with a lot of black, white and grey, with splashes of colourful fabrics and dramatic wallpapers and fabrics, clean-lined furniture, and seriously luxe bathroom and shower room. (I have a theory that a bathroom with two basins is the secret of a happy marriage.) And, eventually, maybe, some sort of extension with a lot of glass.
We started packing books, files, and photo albums at the weekend, junking and recycling as we went. It’s impossible to pack a photo album or an unlabelled file without opening it, so there were a few unexpectedly emotional moments: absent friends, my dusty university dissertation (the poncily-titled ‘Literary Games in John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman and AS Byatt’s Possession’), dead cats (actually pictures of an alive cat, now deceased. Pictures of dead cats would be macabre).
DD is excited because she likes her new bedroom and is making noises about a chandelier, of all things (She’s five, FFS. Where does she get these ideas from?). DS is a little more reluctant, initially saying he ‘wasn’t coming’, but I think we may have won him round by demonstrating proximity to his favourite park, and reassurance that his Fireman Sam stuff and the Toy Story DVDs are coming too.
We’re due to exchange in the early part of next week, and our chain is aiming to complete a couple of weeks after that. Naturally, this will coincide with one of my big annual work deadlines, so that’ll be fun. But while I like the idea of a calm, quiet life in theory, and should probably slow down and take it easy for a bit, right now I’m kinda into having plenty of energy and being, well, alive. Plus, these days I have a policy of never doing anything with a ‘should’ attached. Carpe diem. Or in this case, carpe domus…