Every time we move house, the amount of clutter we accumulate never ceases to amaze me. We had many trips to the dump and the charity shops and began visualising where our furniture would sit in the new house. Our buyer didn’t want our large sliding-door wardrobe in the second bedroom so we had to dismantle it to take it with us. This was quite a struggle as the men who delivered it and put it together would testify. It was heavy, one door all mirror, rather worrying in case we broke it but we managed. As we didn’t need this wardrobe we hoped to advertise it and sell it in the future.
Having packed frantically over the past fortnight, we got up very early on the morning of 18th February 2015, and packed the remainder of our kitchen utensils, food and other bits and pieces before Plymouth Removals arrived at 8.50 am with a huge lorry. The three guys marched into the bungalow, raring to go, and remarked that we had done an excellent job of packing – no clutter – making it easier for them. Two of them were very young (I thought) but totally professional. They were full of energy, very quick and ensured the carpets were kept clean with large felts runners. I made them tea and coffee three times but they hardly stopped. As they worked we learned that one of them, Taylor, was only 21, married with one little boy and another on the way! My neighbour came round with a lemon cake she’d made, to take with us; a nice thought. She got quite emotional at the thought of us leaving. Everything was on the lorry by noon. We waved our furniture goodbye and looked forward to seeing the removal lorry at Watlington the next day. The empty rooms echoed as we went around doing last minute hoovering and wet-wiping the skirting boards. The empty bungalow felt very strange and looked huge. I swallowed down the lump in my throat – I remembered entertaining one of my writing groups in the kitchen diner on a sunny day and they all remarked on the view. One member had said, ‘You’ll never leave here, will you Julie?’
Our neighbours in the old farmhouse invited us in for a cup of tea and biscuits. I was going to leave my Parisian kitchen clock behind but she took it and she said she would think of me every time she looked at it. We hugged. Neither of them wanted us to go. Everything in the village was changing. Their neighbour the other side had died and there were new people in that house ripping it apart and refurbishing it.
But time was pressing. We said our goodbyes, promised to keep in touch and left at 1.30pm.
Fortunately it was a dry day for our journey but it was slow. We stopped at Exeter services at 3.30 where we bought sandwiches and tea. Seven and a half hours to get to Littleport – so many 50 MPH restrictions on the motorways. We’d rung our son-in-law, on the way, to get us some fish and chips. Thank goodness it was waiting for us when we arrived – we were starving. Our son-in-law had been to pick up the keys to our Watlington house but the estate agent was confused when he asked for them that afternoon and wouldn’t give them to him. Luckily our new neighbours in the house next door had been left a set. We knocked at 9.45pm and the man gave us the keys without saying very much, shut the door and turned off the lights. Not a good introduction to our new neighbours!
The porch light had been left on to welcome us. The solid fuel Rayburn was cold – the fire allowed to go out of course, but the central heating had been left on and the house was very warm. There were 3 new home cards: one from my sister, one from our neighbours who we had said goodbye to only hours before and one from the previous owners with a note saying there was a bottle of something cold in the fridge! I went round examining my new home while my husband pumped up the inflatable beds. The rooms looked huge without any furniture; the lounge/diner resembled a ballroom. We made tea and sat on camping chairs and ate some of Carol’s lemon cake. Phew! It had been a long day and there would be a lot to do tomorrow. 11pm bed. I lay awake, the inflatable bed uncomfortable, and tried to visualise where all the furniture was going. Unlike when we moved into Avalon, tonight we were boiling hot!
At 3.10am we were woken up by an almighty clank – the heating had come back on! It was difficult to get back to sleep. Dogs were barking, birds were tweeting as I watched the new dawn rise.
Day 1 at Glebe Avenue. I wrote in my diary – ‘A nice sunny morning. It’s got a nice feel to it, this house. I hope we’ll be happy here’.
At 8am Plymouth Removals pulled onto the drive, the guys jumped out and set to work. The garden plants and equipment were first to be unloaded. But they couldn’t get our two wardrobes up the stairs owing to the bulkhead overhang. We had to ask them to leave them in the garage. They left at 11.25. My husband tipped them then our hard work began – unpacking, erecting beds, arranging furniture…
We stopped for a pizza from the freezer for lunch.
My brother texted – ‘Hope the move went well’. I couldn’t get a signal anywhere, so I couldn’t reply. I have never had a problem obtaining a mobile phone signal before. Our landline wasn’t connected and so I had to go next door to the neighbours who gave had given us the key the previous evening to ask to use their phone. She shut the two dogs in the living room while I dialled. They barked continuously making it difficult to hear the person on the other end. I felt uncomfortable, especially as I had to go back indoors for another number and try again. I finally got through to someone who could help me and heaved a sigh of relief. Then we couldn’t get the TV to work. The previous owners had had Sky TV; something with which we were unfamiliar.
Our new neighbour from the bungalow next door came to say hello. That was nice. A brief chat with him, he didn’t come in, then back to the unpacking.
The two bar stools we’d ordered for the breakfast bar arrived and my husband put them together. Slowly our new home was taking shape. It felt homely. We walked down to the village shop and bought a frozen chicken pie. The previous owners had left us some oven chips in the freezer so pie and chips was our first meal with a glass of the prosecco that they’d left us, to celebrate. The pie was horrible. I read the packaging – chicken from Brazil and Thailand! We left it; rather be hungry than ill, just ate the chips and vowed to go food shopping the next day. I looked across at my father’s bust of Beethoven (acquired from my mother before she died) sitting on the bottom half of the dresser – he looked happy in his new home. We decided the top of the dresser didn’t look right in this house so we left it in the garage. More discussion on what furniture to buy. We plugged the TV in but it wouldn’t work. Realised it was the aerial – something else to look into.
Our daughter rang my mobile but I had to go upstairs to receive it. She was very excited for us and amazed at how much we’d achieved. 10.30pm fell into my own bed. Arhhh…
The next day dawned grey. I woke up and wondered where I was. Tried to get water out of the fridge dispenser but failed. The freezer kept making ice; I read in the manual that you could turn it off.
After breakfast we went to John Lewis at Peterborough to order a washing machine and a dishwasher. It was a long journey, 35 miles in heavy traffic; had we realised we would’ve gone to Norwich. Whilst in John Lewis we had carrot and coriander soup for lunch. We came back to Kings Lynn Sainsburys, had tea and cake first then stocked up on groceries and a ceramic frying pan for the induction hob. My brother and our daughter texted on our journey home to ask how we were getting on. Came in and roasted half a chicken and potatoes and cooked some fresh vegetables. We sat opposite each other at our farmhouse table, in front of the French doors, to eat our dinner. Another glass of prosecco, ‘Here’s to us and our new life’. We continued unpacking and finally went to bed exhausted at 11pm.
In the days that followed we hung our pictures and gradually emptied the garage of boxes but there was a distressing amount of furniture still in the garage, mainly two wardrobes and the dismantled one. (Over time we reduced this and managed to get our two cars in the garage.) The shower room had been painted an acid yellow and this was the first to be redecorated with a pale neutral colour, far more in keeping with the beige wall and floor tiles. The study had been used, during the day, for the previous owners’ two dogs while they were at work. Consequently, the carpet was rather smelly and no amount of hoovering helped. We moved the study upstairs to the smallest bedroom, redecorated the downstairs room with Dusted Fondant walls and a Light Nutmeg carpet and turned it into a bedroom. I discarded the dusty Venetian blinds and bought Roman blinds with a faint purple stripe. The flowery bed linen echoed the garden viewed from the window and resembled my bedroom at Parkhurst Road all those years ago. It felt like a warm hug. Our burgundy sofas didn’t really look right against the dark feature wall, which we thought was black, but now realised was a very dark green. But we decided we could live with that and the remaining décor in the rest of the house for a while. There were umpteen boxes of books, mainly belonging to our daughter, for which my husband gradually built a wall of shelves in the second bedroom. We had another bookcase in the living room. The solid fuel Rayburn was another thing to get our heads around, but we gradually got to grips with this hungry monster that demands fuelling twice a day. (This is allowed to go out through the summer months.)
We slowly acquainted ourselves with the area. Kings Lynn retail park, ten minutes away, has a huge Tesco Extra and an equally large Sainsburys, where not only can you buy food but home-ware and clothing. There is a B&Q, The Range, PC World and other retail outlets. In the other direction Downham Market has a fresh produce market on a Friday and Saturday, a butcher and two supermarkets along with some independent shops. This was a refreshing change as Cornwall has very little in the way of outdoor markets. But we missed Trago Mills, the huge discount store in the Glynn Valley! We needed curtains in the lounge/diner but couldn’t find a suitable shop. However, all the windows had either Venetian blinds or roller blinds so there was no immediate need.
Next I had to find a writers’ group. This proved more difficult than in Cornwall where I had belonged to four at one point. Whilst in Ely library, about 35 minutes by car, I saw an advert for the Ely Writers’ Day and rang the number. The lady sounded cheerful and welcoming and when I attended the day proved to be inspiring. But there were no writers’ groups in the area. Disappointing. I decided to put a notice in our local parish magazine asking for like-minded people to get in touch. Two people replied – a man and a woman. I invited them to a meeting at home and we arranged to meet monthly. But the man eventually decided it wasn’t for him. However, the woman and I became good friends – I found out later that she had moved from Cornwall the week before us! Since then, I have found a group that meets monthly at Downham Market library and have taken part in two courses of Writing for Radio. These have been very enjoyable and we have attended BBC Radio Norfolk to record our stories. Hopefully, they will broadcast them at a later date.
Wanting to make friends, I decided to visit the monthly pop-up cafe in the village hall one Friday. I was invited to sit with two elderly ladies who were quite friendly and gave me a few ideas on where to buy curtains etc. but I didn’t find anyone my own age. Then one evening I toddled along to the Watlington W.I. I had belonged to the Haddenham branch for a number of years but this one had fewer members. However, I was put on a table with two other women, one being very easy to talk to and we hit it off straight away. We go out regularly for coffee and a chat and as a foursome with our partners for days out; something we never did in Cornwall. I have since made friends with two other local authors and we regularly meet up for tea and cake.
I have mentioned the small development of houses being built at the end of our road. Every time someone moved in we would have a power cut; usually on a Friday. This was very annoying to say the least. We put it down to an overload on the power supply and hoped it would soon be rectified. Then in July 2015 there was a storm and a massive power cut that knocked out my Outlook email system, something I have never been able to regain. Eventually these power cuts lessened and finally stopped.
When we came to view the house we thought it was in a quiet area. However, a dog in one of the houses opposite now barked continually for no reason, the owner being out at work every day. Neither of us has been used to living on an estate with all the noise that brings and we miss the peace and tranquillity of Rilla Mill. We also miss the wonderful views from our back garden, the buzzards circling above and the walks from our front door. To take advantage of Hunstanton, our nearest coastal resort, we often have to queue in traffic to get there. In the height of summer it can take us over an hour, whereas Looe was only twenty minutes away from Rilla Mill. The A10 trunk road is very busy, even out of season, something we never took into consideration before we moved. We have learned that there are more houses due to be built in the village and this will only make matters worse. The doctor’s surgery is already over-loaded having patients on their books from twenty surrounding villages and the junior school is under a similar strain.
However, the proximity of family makes up for a great deal of the misgivings. My sister and brother-in-law live the other side of Norwich, a seventy-five minute journey. They were our first visitors. We provided lunch for them and they thought the house was impressive. Although they had lived in their house nearly three years we had never seen it. This is a single-storey property in the village of Upton, close to the Norfolk Broads.
Our daughter and son-in-law are the closest at Littleport and we often have them to dinner. My stepson lives in Leicester, a comfortable train ride away for him. My eldest daughter and my granddaughters live near Woburn which is reached by car in under two hours. My brother, being the furthest away, has a flat and his own shop in Margate which is easily reached by train in three hours. And our youngest daughter finds the train journey from York to Watlington less stressful than when we lived in Cornwall. (She has since graduated and now lives in Rickmansworth, doing a PhD.) Previously, all these journeys meant planning a few days away in a B&B, so all in all we manage to see the family far more often.
Our neighbours in Cornwall had put their house on the market shortly after we moved to be closer to her daughter at Northampton. They told us that the woman who moved into Avalon had the greenhouse removed (she has dogs and was anxious they would cut themselves on the glass) and gave it to the woman in the house adjoining the field at the bottom of the garden. My husband was sad to hear this after all the hard work that went into putting it together and the enjoyment he gained from growing his own plants.
My husband is in the garden most days, weather permitting, and he was pleased that there was a greenhouse already here. He makes full use of this, growing plants from seeds and cuttings. We have made improvements, digging out a larger bed for the different species of grasses we brought with us and have since added to these. We dug out an oval bed in the centre for herbaceous plants. My husband has taken out three trees – a plum, an apple and a medlar, all diseased, and/or planted in the wrong places. The shed has had a coat of grey/green paint and the log store has been improved. There is a raised bed of strawberries that have been very abundant and succulent recently. On the wall of the extension is a young wisteria which has flowered for the first time this year. (2016) We planned to train this over a larger area. In the far corner of the garden was an old sculptured plaque leaning against the fence. I wanted to move this to another part of the garden to try and make a feature but I gave up on the idea as the plaque was in a dilapidated state. I would like an urn on a plinth in the far corner but these are rather expensive, unless sourced from a reclamation yard or the internet. Leading to this, where there is less light, we plan to have a timber arch with honeysuckle growing up it. In the garden beyond ours, the owner has let their conifers grow to over thirty feet which make the top end of our garden cold and dark. They are unsightly because the lower branches have been thinned causing them to die back. With a bit of luck we hope these will eventually be lowered thus opening up our garden to more light.
The patio was another area for concern, being uneven and too small, but this summer (2016) my husband has re-laid it, made it bigger and a more interesting shape. Having already done this at Avalon, my husband was reluctant to do it by himself – as he gets older he finds manual jobs take him a lot longer – but he took his time and went about it in a methodical way. However, he encountered a problem – he uncovered a manhole under the existing paving slabs! The whole patio had to be lowered to accommodate the manhole within the new paving. It is now a usable space and looks as though it has always been there.
The front garden needs attention: there is a square patch of grass in poor condition and flower borders on three sides. The concrete path is showing signs of wear, puddles when it rains and the gravel drive needs replenishing. Front gardens seem to pose a problem; there are very few examples in the village from which to gain any inspiration. Most houses in Watlington favour our old enemy the gravel, resembling a pebble beach. We don’t want to pave it all, feeling block paving is better suited to urban areas. We don’t want to re-turf it either. I look back at all the houses I have lived in but to no avail. Modern living means there has to be somewhere to park the car but I’m reluctant to make the front garden into a car park. (There is enough room for three cars on the drive anyway.) We often visit open gardens for ideas, but as yet, none are forthcoming.
We don’t know if this will be our last move. Perhaps in the years to come we might find the stairs difficult to climb, who knows? We are already looking at peaceful, non-estate properties, but as we get older we need access to amenities. Also no one can guarantee a good doctor or dentist will be available, or short queues for hospital appointments. Like the old saying – better the devil you know…
Looking back at the other twelve houses, Parkhurst Road remains my favourite, where I grew up in gentler times with wonderful parents who understood the importance of home.
UPDATE on the garden:
My husband has made a wooden arch and we bought a honeysuckle and a jasmine to trail up it. This is now established and makes the garden look bigger as the eye is led through to the urn. I spotted this at one of our garden centres whilst having coffee with a friend. It was ideal! I took my husband back to see it, he agreed it was just right and we brought it home. I use different plants in it depending on the season. Last year we planted a large bright yellow begonia that brightened up that dark part of the garden. The overly tall conifers are still there. We are still hoping that the owners will reduce them by at least twenty feet. The raised bed of strawberries has been removed to make way for more plants. The front garden is still posing a problem but we have reduced the amount of poor grass by creating a large flower bed and adding some shrubs. This year we plan to improve the remaining grass, skim the path with concrete and top up the gravel drive.
Where to next?
Julie Ann Newman. 2020.