June 22: How to move house without really trying

Well, whoops! Joel and I seem to have sold our house in London. How on earth did that happen? A truck full of all our worldly goods arrived at my mother-in-law Denise’s place today, and three nice guys who’d driven down from England deposited everything into a couple of rapidly swept garages.

They say that moving is one of the most stressful experiences you can have, but I guess we’ve either been drinking way too much, which softened the blow, or we’ve cracked it. So, taking the optimist’s position (rare for me), I’m assuming we’ve cracked it and I can offer you the following advice:

1) Make sure you have a team of Lithuanian builders working next door.
Our house was squeezed in-between two total rebuilds – a Polish team on one side, the Lithuanians on the other. It meant we had two enormous skips/dumpsters to choose from right outside the house. An English team might have challenged the fact that I threw things, as I was clearing out, from the first and second floor windows directly into their skips. When I missed, the Poles left whatever it was where it landed, while the Lithuanians just picked it up and chucked it in. The Lithuanians never thought “hmmm” or “no” when we asked, or offered, them something. We thought that in order to get a lovely old oak table safely out of the loft, which was built around it, we might have to cut the legs off. The Lithuanians carted it out the back window and down into the kitchen in less than 10 minutes. It didn’t seem worth bringing our ancient, cat-scratched, stained and in-need-of-recovering sofa-bed, and we like to think that many a Lithuanian builder will sleep on it in future.

2) Don’t worry about being organised
It’s good to start out in an orderly fashion, but don’t fret when you can no longer interleave your washed, ironed and neatly folded sheets with lavender sachets in preparation for storage. Let’s face it, life just is just not like that. Life squelches. It’s not orderly. Its patterns don’t match. Not all its wine glasses fit in one box. Sometimes a moth-eaten toy elephant, whose ear was chewed off by a long-dead family pet, is the only thing that will fit in the last space among spatulas and wooden spoons. (The solution to this, of course, would be to recognise that a one-eared toy elephant is an inanimate, useless object. But I’m talking about making moving EASY, ok?)

3) Don’t try to be brave.
Be sentimental during a big move. Stop to look at photographs as you pack them, sit on the sofa and moon about old letters before not throwing them away, pat bits of old furniture fondly as you dust them. But don’t do it for too long. To stop yourself from wasting precious time doing this sort of thing, take a break and see friends. It helps if they are also doing something life-changing. Heather and Andy, for instance, who have been rocks like Everest in my life in London: they’ve sold their amazing house, Tanglewind, and are about to build their own house on an island in the middle of the Thames. And they’re retired! Panache, madness, genius? Whatever it is, I’m inspired by their guts.

Joel with Oliver and Heather on their plot of land on Eel Pie Island

4) Don’t look back.
Even when you have to rent a van to take things to the special big-stuff dump, don’t falter. Don’t turn around to see an old kitchen chair and an armchair being scrushed by a vicious huge orange noisy thing. Just don’t, alright?

Joel getting in touch with his inner van driver

The consolation of this particular dump is the quality of its clientele. Once my sister Lucy and I saw newsreader Trevor Macdonald, and this time Joel and I saw Sheila Hancock (wife of Inspector Morse actor John Thaw). So, there you are.

5) Assume it will all be alright in the end
Well, this was definitely the hardest part for me. I had a long apprenticeship in the craft of expecting the worst, trained by a master worrier (my mother). Despite the good work Joel has done to cure me, I fall back on old habits when faced with Big Events. Briefly it became impossible to sleep between 3am and 5am, during which time I imagined almost every single thing that could possibly go wrong. I often think about that poor girl in New York, who, a few years ago, was out walking her dog in the snow. She happened to step on one of those little metal covers you see on the street, beneath which was a loose connection. Her weight on the box, the slush, the wire… electrocuted. The dog must have been so confused. What were the chances of that happening? And what about Isadora Duncan, killed right here in Nice by her own long SCARF? It got tangled up in the wheel spokes of her Bugatti and actually pulled her right out of the car and slammed her down on the Promenade des Anglais!

A dance performance by Russians here in Nice, in honour of Isadora Duncan. Strange…

If things like that can happen, there’s no limit to what can go wrong. Joel says I should re-train as a risk assessor, as I cover every angle so thoroughly.

But I shouldn’t have wasted my time. Look, everything was OK in the end. We’re here, the house is sold, our things are safely stored. Joel’s having a good night at the restaurant. Ted is prowling outside in the warm night. Between writing points 4) and 5), I spent a few minutes hanging out the bedroom window, watching someone’s fireworks while the golden crescent moon set behind the hills. I’ve never seen a moon-set before. It was beautiful, and I’m taking it as a very good sign.

Joel and I had lunch in a caff the day we hired the van. This was the menu. We eventually figured it out…


About Suellen Grealy

In 2011, a series of coincidences led my husband Joel, our cat Ted and me away from London, where we lived quite happily for 30 years, to Nice, where Joel grew up. While he and his sister ran their restaurant, I wrote a novel. Family being family, Joel and his sister no longer work together. Writing being writing, the novel lingers on... Meanwhile, we've found ways of living a completely different life from the one we had in London, including running our own restaurant together, 7 Villermont. The only constants are our Ted, our now-battered Peugeot, and each other. Everything else is a complete surprise
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