Saturday, 19 April 2008

... and what happened next

Do you remember that W.H. Murray quote on commitment? (I'll dig it out in a minute and add it to this post). Well, that's what happened next. Somehow, on the side of that mountain, something inside both of us had shifted from the perennial "wouldn't it be great if we could ..." to "okay, we're going to do it". And, true to form, things did then start to happen. We put our Cley house on the market; within a week we had a choice of five buyers. Although we initially 'chose' the wrong one (who turned out to be a Timewaster with a capital T), one of the remaining four came back in with another offer before we'd even put the house back on the market, and everything then proceeded normally - well, as normally as the sale of a quirky, historic, listed building can ever proceed. We went public with the news that we'd be closing our doors in Cley in Setember 2006, which led to longer than ever waiting lists, enormous curiousity about our plans and even the occasional bit of hate-mail. Hmm.

We finally left England in January 2007, with everything we thought we'd need for up to a year piled in the back of our slightly beaten up Berlingo, and everything else in long term storage. For six wonderful days, until we arrived at the little house we'd rented, we were homeless:
sans domicile fixe. The sense of freedom was, for two people who'd spent the last eight years working absolutely by the clock, profound. We could go anywhere, do anything. We were sorely tempted to go AWOL, to keep driving, stay somewhere different every night, live on the move ... but we didn't. I did it once before, some fifteen years ago: spent more than six months living out of my rucksack, sleeping on people's floors, in tents and tipis and attics. It has its limits. But when we arrived at our destination, it was with a determination to find a way to live at a more natural rhythm. The first thing I did was to take off my watch. I rarely wear one now.

After a couple of months of generally not doing much other than a bit of walking, reading trashy novels and staring at the Pyrénées, we felt ready to start looking for our next home. Being the precocious daughter of an estate agent and surveyor, I spent a good part of my childhood years on the other side of the desk, so to speak (I always tell people that I sold my first house at the age of ten, which is in fact partly true), and as a result I suspect that I'm an agent's nightmare client. At least some of the agents we visited gave that impression, and more than one was seen cringeing in the back office every time we they caught a glimpse of me through the window. Strangely, though, we found few descriptions that resembled English-style estate agent speak - you know the kind of thing: where 'charming and characterful' really means 'pokey and delapidated' and 'internal viewing recommended' means that the outside looks like the back of a bus. Actually, and let's be honest here, we found that few of the French agents bothered with descriptions at all. 'House, 6 rooms' was about as good as it got, occasionally accompanied by a picture of a pile of washing, or the toilet. Requests for information about particular houses I'd seen on an agent's website, or in their window, were often met with a blithe dismissal of how horrible/overpriced/badly situated the house was (and it usually was, too). We knew that the kind of house we wanted didn't come on to the market very often, at least not in the area that we wanted to be in, and were quite prepared to be looking for a year or more. In fact, that didn't happen.

"Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plan: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamt would have come his way, I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: 'Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.'

W.H. Murray, from
The Scottish Himalayan Expedition

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