As the warm weather arrived we began to travel more hopefully. Despite our best efforts we could not finance a house before selling ours so the plan was to sell, put our stuff in storage, move into a rental property and then look for somewhere permanent. Seemed a fairly logical way to go about it, especially as travelling to view anywhere was still banned so we were relying on the web to explore the housing market.
Now, I don’t know if you are aware but I am slightly dyslexic but very dyspraxic. (That’s a form of spatial dyslexia. I can’t follow instructions in a sequence longer than two steps and have never mastered left and right. Hell, on a bad day I can’t do up and down and have been known to shut my head in a door trying to get through.) So looking at the obviously idealized descriptions and photographs of properties in Ireland, I was under the misapprehension that Irish houses/cottages/bungalows were similar to properties in England. They are not, but I didn’t really understand what that meant until much later.
The immediate difference that even I could spot was the amount of garden or land surrounding anything over 50 years old. Most of these were “cottages” or “bungalows” and modelled on the same pattern. They were low, single storey buildings with thick stone walls and three, maybe four windows at the front. A lot of them had “sheds” that more closely resembled stone outbuildings and these, we thought, would be very useful as storage for our stuff until we could get unpacked. Generally situated out of town, they boasted anything from 0.5 acres to over 8 in some cases. I had not the foggiest idea how big an acre might be but even I realized 8 of them might be too much for us to manage.
Alas, this inability to visualise actual dimensions sent us off on totally the wrong path. These cottages listed two or three bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and bathroom. The roofs of some were boarded and made extra space similar to the studio I had in Saltburn. What I didn’t realise was just how small these rooms would be. A bedroom 2.4 metres by 3.6 metres sounded fine but actually it’s barely large enough to fit a bed and a small cupboard.
So we pored over the listings, looked at the prices and descriptions and then worked through the photographs and videos. Now a number of the older properties had a distinctive style of decoration. Very dark, brown and green (furniture, curtains, wallpaper and paint) and often with several beds in one room. It was like peering into a time machine. We scratched those off the list. Several of the videos were very illuminating. I was particularly curious about one house where the camera flashed past a door on the first floor, giving a glimpse of several road cones blocking the entrance. Not for us, we decided along with some we labelled “fixer-uppers”. We were happy to wait and have work done on somewhere if it was basically sound and what we were looking for but some were a bit more than we were willing to tackle.
Still, there were enough hopeful prospects for us to think we would be able to find a suitable house without too much trouble, especially as we were cash buyers. The pandemic had shaken up the property market with uncertainty over jobs making the banks reluctant to lend money. At the same time there was a growing desire for personal space, inside and out, as the restrictions imposed by lockdown began to chafe.
Then suddenly it was over. Lockdown was lifted and the country went into Tiers. We were labelled Tier 2 – not as good as we hoped but much better than the restrictions of previous weeks. Shops opened, people began to answer the phone occasionally and with the fine weather came a huge rush of visitors to our little town. At the weekend we did not dare move the car from outside our house as it would be impossible to park even after a short run out for the dogs. Saltburn had always been busy during the school holidays but it had never been as packed as it was then. Our resolve hardened as we contemplated the likely impact of international travel restrictions stretching into the foreseeable future. We drew up a list of what we really, really wanted in our next home.
Fewer stairs – yes, a garden – absolutely and off-road parking. It’s a pity I didn’t check a few things, like actual room sizes compared to what we had – and was still full of stuff). Oh, and what the Irish BER rating meant in real terms. But more of that later. We were moving forward, trying to get the house ready for viewings as soon as we could. We were optimistic about the chances of getting away before autumn as we began talks with solicitors, estate agents and friends. And then the second wave hit and everything stopped – again.