Monday, February 13, 2017

Escape to (and from) the Country

Day One:
Saturday 6.00am: got up.
7:03am: Left NN3 for DG8
8:20am: M6 Toll Road - snow (after bloody miles of 50mph zones)
9:30am: North Staffordshire - blizzard
10:30am: Tebay Services - temperature up to 4 degrees - coffee and break
11:20am: Scotland
12:35pm: Newton Stewart - a little over 5½ hours and 330 miles.
2:00pm: First viewing - Kevan Terrace, Newton Stewart. Lovely house, extremely nice setting, museum over the road, excellent condition, cheap and with shared access which proved to be the major stumbling block. Decided later that the house was too small as well.
3:00pm: Second viewing - Arthur Street, Newton Stewart. My house. My favourite for all the practical reasons to do with location, plus it appeared to have a kitchen to die for. It was massive - a four bedroom, dormer bungalow with lots of garden, a view of the river Cree and three minutes walk from the town centre. It simply failed to grab me by the balls and as much as it was a huge and lovely spacious house, it just didn't feel right. I left feeling slightly dejected.
4:00pm: Decide to drive down to Whithorn (18 miles south) to see what it's like on a Saturday afternoon.
4:30pm: Whithorn is dead. It's like a ghost town; no shops are open of the ones that remain trading. The first person we saw was in the doorway of the dodgiest looking pub you will ever have seen looking like he was smoking a crack pipe. We stopped and had a little look around; it was cold both physically and existentially. I began dreading Sunday.
5:00pm: Wigtown - heading back to Newton - we decided to check out the 'afterthought' - so called because the wife got me to add it to the list to boost our viewings and give us comparisons; I thought it looked grubby and not very hospitable on the estate agent's details, so we were both pleasantly surprised to see it had had a nice white and bright green paint job. It didn't make me think any positive things; I was convinced Wigtown would be a bust.
6:30pm: House O' The Hill, Bargrennon (West Galloway Forest Park) and dinner in our favourite pub in that part of Scotland. Newton proved to be a bit of a bust food wise, especially for fussy vegetarians, so we went where I knew the beer was good and the food excellent. Without dwelling on it - 5/10. It was more disappointing than anything else.
9:15pm: The wife went to bed; I farted about on the laptop, while drinking a pint of Bellhaven Best (keg - ugh) bitter. Avoided Match of the Day and went to bed at 11.30pm feeling like Scotland had stopped being the dream. The last person I saw before I went to bed was a slightly overweight man with cropped hair and a short-sleeved Scotland shirt staggering down Queen Street, where our hotel was, not looking in the slightest bit cold; he looked like he could eat heavy metal, with ease.

Day Two:
07:30am: I got up and started drinking coffee.
09:00am: the wife got up and we went and had a very nice breakfast and a chat with Nicole, the maitre de, and she told us some 'interesting' facts about where we were going and confirmed that the man in the pub doorway may well have been smoking crack. That feeling that if we went then we'd be home before it got dark crossed my mind, but the wife was reinvigorated...
10:15am: Sainsbury's for some food on the way home and some beer for my fridge.
11:00am: Third viewing - Wigtown Road, Sorbie. This house could have been a royal palace for a fiver and we wouldn't have bought it. Sorbie is essentially somewhere between two other places and is about as isolated a community as you can imagine. The house was fabulous and had it been on the outskirts of Newton we would have bitten their hands off; as it was location proved decisive.
12:00noon: George Street, Whithorn, or High Noon in Whithorn and the house that I've been talking about since June. What an utterly stunning house. Head and shoulders above everything else we'd seen and a place that would cost - no lie - in excess of £300,000 in dodgy parts of England. A massive sprawling Regency house in a wide road that has so much character and so many empty shells of former businesses. Whithorn is freaky. Very freaky and it was clear the people selling were doing it because the wife hated it there. We couldn't find fault in the place and it's a steal. If I had to spend the rest of my life in Whithorn it wouldn't be for long. We were gutted, because even my wife was realising that it was a wonderful house in the village of the damned.
2:00pm: Botany Street, Wigtown. BOOM! You know when you really aren't looking forward to a party but you go along intending to stay for as little time as possible and it turns out to be the best party you've been to in yonks? That was this. Ticked all the boxes from location to quirky architecture and we've decided we're going to buy it. Well... we hope to buy it. I'm putting an offer in tomorrow, subject to whatever subjects we need to meet.
3:00pm: Ferville, Station Road, Wigtown. Large, expansive bungalow overlooking Wigtown Bay and by far the best living room view so far, but the place has been empty for two years, it was cold, unloved and is showing signs of damp. The garden was too small but the sheds and outbuildings were useful - it's a modern place and had potential, but we'd already made up our minds.
3:30pm: Stopped to photograph the stunning views from Wigtown.
3:35pm: Onto the A75 - 330 miles and we would be home.
9:00pm: home, knackered but with our hopes and spirits lifted stratospherically.

38 hours, 700+ miles and I couldn't sleep when I finally went to bed. The excitement is almost visceral. Updates will follow.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Emotional and Practical Maths Thing

Much to the wife's bemusement and pessimism, I set a six month time limit to move away from Northampton and start afresh in the south west of Scotland. This is me being far more optimistic than I have been for a long time and it's because the way time goes now if we don't set a target, realistic or not, we'll never get around to it.

Therefore if all goes according to plan I'd like to be in the vicinity of Wigtownshire by the end of the forthcoming summer. This would be the most ambitious of all of my potential life-changing ventures and one that pretty much has a dead end attached...

We both view this as our final move. The house we go to has to be the house we want to spend the rest of our life in and one that the wife will feel happy about staying in when I, logically, shuffle off to Hades long before she does. I joke about having a list of reasons why I want to get away from Northampton and England, but there is a mental list which seems to be forever being added to. The reasons for staying here are becoming limited, but there are some strong reasons that will take a lot more emotional toll than I'm probably expecting.

The practical mathematics behind this potential move into the unknown is pretty simple: if we get what our house is worth on the current market and other personal issues are settled quickly, we will buy a house outright (no mortgage) not far from the sea and have a substantial nest egg to sit on until I reach retirement age or the wife can access her own work's pension - which should negate the need for her working after 65. A little over 10 years of working whatever part time jobs I can do, while the wife pursues and develops her own interests and we can have however long our retirement together lasts where we want (or hope) to be.

The maths downside is property doesn't move up there and profit isn't often in the sales equation; location plays a big part and if it did go tits up and we hated it, moving 'home' would mean downsizing considerably and only if we were lucky enough to find a buyer - the main house we're looking at has been on the market for 12 months with little interest, the others we have shown an interest in are not newcomers either.

Also in the mathematically column is the access to free prescriptions, good local and regional services, excellent air quality and a slower, less stressful, way of life (hopefully, because nothing is ever guaranteed). A house big enough to entertain visitors, with access to a cheap holiday base in a sumptuous and relatively uncommercial corner of the kingdom. Yes, if we take the isolated option, we would be 20 miles from the nearest supermarket; nearly 30 miles from the nearest train station and as distance is probably more of a worry as you get older than anything else, the things such as ambulance times might sound like scary things we shouldn't have to factor in, but I have an incurable disease and even if I look after it well and do all the right things, it will gradually beat me (hence why the air quality is pretty much a deciding factor for me), so the last thing I want to be doing is dying while an ambulance is 40 miles away...

If both or one of us can get even just seasonal work, as long as we're bringing in £12k a year, we won't really have to worry about the nest egg and one thing we've not just learnt but sadistically enjoyed at times this year has been how frugal we can be on ridiculously small budgets - but being a forager has always helped in some areas - from July to November, there are apples, blackberries, sloes and plums (although not this year), chestnuts, hazelnuts, mushrooms and an assortment of other things that save money and in a place that's just south of the Galloway Forest Park, I know that mushroom season will bring untold delights and new specimens and I've always fancied trying seaweed so living by the sea will also help. I also decided that I might start eating locally caught sustainable fish again - I might not, but it is something I'll consider exploring especially if the local fishermen of the Isle of Whithorn and Port William sell off their boats.

Plus, and a key fact, I forage because I love it not out of necessity, so it's a win-win situation.

But what of the emotional impact? When someone wins the lottery the usual advice to them from Camelot is 'don't move away from your family and friends', and this is because some people want to buy a castle or a house overlooking the sea 300 miles from everyone they know and then discover life is a wee bit lonely or not as idyllic as they expected. The same applies when you do something like this at an age when it's probably not as sensible in reality as the intention feels it is.

The obvious biggest wrench is going to be friends and family. The way my family is, it pretty much doesn't matter where I live I'll probably see them as often as I do currently and the wife knows that her only relative that she wants contact with spends a couple of months a year, maybe longer, in Wigtown, where his wife has a studio, so there's a good chance we'll probably see more of them. My brother-in-law did ask the most pertinent question so far: "Are you going to fall out with all your neighbours like you usually do?" I can only say that I won't go out of my way to napalm any new bridges; but, you see, this is what some of it is about - de-stressing to the point where my intolerance of fuckwits is back down to 'ambivalently uninterested' and I feel the only way of truly doing that in the 21st century is to go to a place where the likely concentration of fuckwits is going to be considerably less per square kilometre than it is in Northampton.

Of course, the problem there is: what if all that peace, tranquillity and semi-retirement is so fucking boring I go even madder than I already am?

I have no idea, but I can guess what would happen down here, if we had no mortgage but still had to adhere to the excesses of the modern economy and with the knowledge that the Tories are going to be in power until I'm a distant memory and that we're all going to die, probably in our own filth being tormented by a YTS twat forced to work in social care by the UKIP coalition...

We're also talking about a place that is 350 miles away from where most of my people live; it isn't even well positioned for airports and it's easier to get to Belfast than it is to get to Glasgow. It's less than 20 miles from England - as the crow flies, but almost 100 miles by road or rail and to add insult to injury, geographically you drive 250 miles straight north and then turn left and drive 100 miles west - the Irish Sea prevents you from travelling northwest and cutting time and distance from your travels.

Friends, however, is a different kettle of fish. I might have 400+ Facebook friends but in reality our close friends are the ones we still see, socialise with and exchange gifts on special occasions. We know that some of them will not hesitate to visit us and we know, sadly, that it could be the last time we see some of them, in person. And we're blessed with having a lot of friends, even if we don't see them all as often as we'd like (so you could argue never seeing them again won't be that difficult, but even if that is true I don't ever think I'm not going to see people again).

It would mean the end of the quiz team and while that sounds like a trivial (heh) loss, it has played a big part in our social life since the turn of the century - we're good at it, we have a laugh and we're probably still in profit over 15 years. If we can't find a quiz (or two) when there, are as far as I know, only NINE open pubs on the entire Wigtown 'peninsula' and over half of them look as rough as a haggis' arse, it curtails our nights' out, unless we want to travel 25+ miles.

Whatever happens, it will be a massive change to what we've grown accustomed to. Can we do it? Will we do it? We can, whether we will depends on the next six months. If we can sort out the Doug-destroyed interior of the house, scrub it up a bit and get a top price valuation - which I think is very achievable - then yes. I pretty much have to stay in reasonable health throughout the coming year and start earning again, even if it's just a part time job. My biggest worry is that the wife is condemning herself to the rest of my life without any feasible exit plan; I mean what if I end up worse than Victor Meldrew? Murder is still illegal in Scotland...

Then there's this EU thing. I see Scotland as a way back into something I never wanted out of. I see Scotland going for independence again and winning it and I see myself as being part of it. I see Scotland as being vehemently anti-Tory and, frankly, I'm not going to find that anywhere else in the countries with the same degree of autonomy. The majority of Scots hate Tories; I feel something unifyingly spiritual about that...

I want to do it. I'm fed up with my life at the moment and want a new challenge. I've lived in Northamptonshire for all but 2½ years since I was 7; that 44 years I've been within a 15 mile radius of Northampton's Market Square and, if I want to be brutally honest, I really don't like the place any more. Local scribe Alan Moore can wax lyrically about the town, but it's become a metaphor for the general feeling in the country - a lack of tolerance, selfish, self-centred people spreading their discontent into even the most easy-going people. I've seen a lot of the town and its inhabitants over the years and the decent people are becoming few and far between. Oh and it's a fucking shit hole.

Plus, while I can harp on about the health benefits enough, the 'social' problem is simple - I won't be able to go out for a beer with Roger or the other Phil - even if it doesn't happen as often as it should now. I won't be visiting Tony in Duston to set the world right and won't meet up with the Dog Crowd to watch madness on four legs run around like headless chickens and cheer us up.

Popping round a mate's will have to be a new potential discovery and having friends over for dinner or to watch a shit film will have to be with a new bunch because the old bunch might only get up once a year. I won't have my blood close by, but my chosen family, however disparate they are to each other, will be the wrench in the works for me.

I have to make the decision, alone, but with the wife as well. We have to be sure it's what we want together and individually. It is scary, but in a really exciting way as well as the frightening bits. If I really did sit down and write a two column list of the pros and cons, there is no competition, the pros would win easily.

There is one other silly thing... When I moved back to England in 1969, I had already adopted Tottenham Hotspur as my football team, but felt I should adopt a Scottish football team (I adopted cricket and rugby teams as well). So, since 1970 I have supported Stenhousemuir. I know they play at the Ochilview and they're situated midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh and they average 500 attendance. They have been in the bottom two tiers of the Scottish league ever since I followed them. They have won one thing, some obscure lower division cup and have been relegated more times than promoted. I've never seen them play and I kind of would like to. They are in the same division as Stranraer and have been in the same league as Queen of the South (Dumfries), so I could finally go and see what lower Scottish League football is really like. I mean, how good is that?

And now shit begins to get real... At around 7am on Saturday morning, as the sun only begins to rise and with the chance of some snow on the ground, we're off to see SIX houses, 357 miles away. And we'll be back by late Sunday night... This blog entry was originally started in October. Time marches on relentlessly and without any pause; we need to grab hold and let it shake things up, one last time.