Oh for a sign

Snooping round other people’s homes. That’s what I’ve been doing lately. I’m not going to apologise because most of the time they knew I was there and even told me to have a good look. I tried not to be too nosey. I didn’t open too many cupboards or peep into their drawers, but I did look in the bathrooms and checked out the neatly piled towels and noted their reading material beside the bed and in the toilets! I breathed a sigh of relief at a jumbled food cupboard and nodded understandingly at a room of partly packed boxes and paintings with nowhere to hang.

House hunting. It’s a time consuming business – especially for the seller. All that rapid hoovering and tidying up, after the phone call saying someone wants to view. Put the kettle on in case they want a tea – although the scent of coffee will make them feel more welcome… We’ve enjoyed tea a couple of times with friendly owners – what is it about a mug of tea that makes us relax? We clasp the steaming brew and sigh… You can’t beat a mug of tea towards the end of a day of house viewings and even better if you can hover in a warm kitchen smelling of freshly baked bread or gaze out from a terrace across unending hills and valleys. That was one view I wanted to fold up and take home in my pocket to unwrap another day.

We’ve met some very interesting and friendly people in the past few weeks. Of course they’re bound to be friendly because they want us to buy their house! Still, some of them went the extra mile… Like venturing out in the rain across a slippery lawn to show us the garden, despite a recent hip operation, or taking time to educate us about lichen on trees (a sign of pure air – don’t you know?) …and ground source heating systems… and the best route to the pub…

Picking the right house isn’t easy though, however pleasant the owners are. I had the idea that when we saw it, or walked in we’d know… that there’d be a sign or something. I talked about this with my fellow decision maker. Had there been any signs so far? Well, apart from him hitting his head on the doorway, I meant. There were connections – surprising ones at a rather stunning property where tea was also served. Then there was the rainbow. A complete rainbow which stretched from one side of the river to the other like an arch over the house and garden. Oh, yes… I remembered the rainbow. I’d admired it and thought how pretty it looked after the shower had soaked the grass. Should we see that as a sign? Do I believe in omens? Does God speak through signs like this?

Really I’m not sure.

So back to scrolling down Rightmove. I’m hoping we’ll know the right house when we see it – or perhaps it will know us? Maybe God will send a sign, only it better be bigger than a rainbow!

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Home sweet home

Gazumped! It’s an ugly word and being gazumped feels ugly too. But that was last week. Now it’s time to think again about where we will be moving and what it means to have a ‘home’.

I knew buying a house in the UK was fraught with ups and downs but we’d never had it this bad before. After taking months to decide what we wanted and where to buy, we thought the hard part was over. But there was worse to come – pitching bids, countering higher bids and finally that sickening feeling of being gazumped at the last minute. It was at times like this that I wished SNP MPs had more power and could bring in the same rules about purchasing houses as they have in Scotland. No fear of gazumping there as once your offer is accepted it’s legally binding.

After a dreary few days of mourning the loss of our prospective new home in the UK and watching the dreams and ideas we had been building sink to the bottom of the pool, we are picking ourselves up. There are consolations. We have an army quarter to move to. It’s got a roof and heating. I can’t vouch for the colour of the carpets or the state of the kitchen or even the age of the cooker….but it is on an island off the south coast and within a minute’s walk of the sea. It’s not right next to a main road either. In fact it’s part of an illustrious ‘gated community’ and you’d need photo ID to get there!

So, we will have a place to call ‘home’ again in the UK, even if it’s a temporary one.

So what makes a ‘home’? The perfect kitchen, open plan living, a fireplace, the tranquil garden and that climbing rose over the doorway? Trawling through estate agent house images on screen I find myself asking, what would this house be like with us living there… our pictures on the walls and our African carvings in the corner? In some places it’s hard to imagine, while others seem to fit. One of our children has told us “There’s no perfect house – there’ll always be something wrong.” And it seems very true, because with looking at so many different properties for sale the problems almost immediately jump out. I know ‘home’ is a million things more than bricks and mortar, or even stone and wood. It’s what we make it. It’s the welcome when you arrive. It’s the enticing smells from the kitchen, the familiar objects that have been with us for years and the permission just to relax and be yourself. The home I grew up in smelt predominantly of washing powder, because my mum often had clothes airing on a dryer high up above the Aga in the kitchen. That smell welcomed me into our rambling, often untidy home, whether I was returning from school or later back from university. It didn’t matter about perfection, what mattered was that my mum and dad were there and ‘Phew!’ I was back home – I could relax and I was safe.

Whichever house we end up buying in the future and wherever we settle, I want to make it feel like ‘home’ for all the family and friends that we welcome in. Time to put the coffee on and the bread in the oven – I feel in need of some ‘home cooking’ smells! And at least our Cyprus sign will still make sense in the next house for now…

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