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Posts tagged ‘friends’

The Wonderful Kindness of Strangers

A lot of people have commented on these posts (thank you all!) and many have said how brave we have been.  Well, we don’t feel all that brave.  And we didn’t do it on our own either.  Throughout this whole “adventure” there have been people by our side.  Some are old friends.  Some are unexpectedly kind people who took a bit of time to help us on our way.  And some are strangers who met us and did something kind – just because.

When we left our home behind it was a shambles.  The movers arrived late, with no boxes, obviously expecting us to have packed everything despite us telling them this was not the case.  We drove away full of worries, not trusting these men to do their job.  With good reason as we found out much later.  The mess they made of the packing and the house was mitigated by three lovely friends.  For two whole days they helped sort and pack, throw out and clean.  The house wasn’t as we had wanted to leave it, mainly if not wholly due to the movers, but under the circumstances they performed miracles.  Thank you Lynn, Paul and Su!

One of our big worries had been how to access the house money in Ireland.  On the last day our bank card came through for the Irish account – two short hours before we had to leave.  The post was already slowed to a crawl by a combination of Covid restrictions and Christmas so this was another minor miracle.  Thank you Royal Mail!

The house sale was due to be finalized on the 12th , three days after we left, and we waited anxiously for news.  The move to Saltburn had been blighted when our purchasers in Somerset failed to complete, leaving us with two houses, two mortgages, a bridging loan and only one job between us.  Late in the evening our solicitor called us.  Apologising for the delay she confirmed all was signed and complete.  She added that the delay was down to the firm’s desire to send the funds that day.  The Sterling/Euro exchange rate was exceptionally volatile as a Brexit deal seemed less and less likely and they wanted to get the best deal they could for us.  When we checked the figures the next day they had saved us almost six thousand euro by staying late to complete the transfer.  Thank you Helen!

I know I have mentioned how cold the cottage was several times but this was a big issue for us.  The electric heaters ate power and were unable to heat the rooms to any great degree.  We relied on the open fire in the main room, struggling with bales of logs, pressed peat blocks and heavy sacks of coal from the shop opposite.  After a couple of visits the staff recognised us and asked us how long we were staying.  They were bemused and sympathetic when we said maybe all winter.  The cottages, they said, were rarely let out of season and notoriously chilly.  

They pointed us to special offers in fuel, told us which were the most efficient and helped us load up the car or carry bales across the road.  Over the weeks we told some of our story – cautiously at first – but there was never a trace of anti-English sentiment from anyone.   They were kind, sympathetic and genuinely shocked by some of our experiences.  They also had the best range of cakes I’ve ever come across and cake and a warm fire goes a long way to lifting the spirits. Thank you, Kennedy’s!

“Special Edition” unicorn cakes. Taste even better than they look!

Whilst out walking in the local park behind the cottages we met several local volunteers working on the community garden.  One man, Dennis, was delighted to meet a “real author lady”. He stopped work for twenty minutes to talk, much to the annoyance of his colleagues.  Two days later he turned up at the cottage hauling three huge feed sacks full of raw peat.  We looked at it very doubtfully – it looked like wheels of mud and not anything you could burn.  It was the best and hottest fuel ever, Dennis assured us heaving the bags inside.  And he was right.  The peat threw out amazing amounts of heat and smoldered all night.  He said it was his own authorized cutting, and he wouldn’t accept any payment.  Thank you Dennis!

Raw Peat – looks dubious but burns wonderfully!

And the next week, when the snow came, Patrick the on-site manager brought a sack of coal for us.  It was wrong, he said, what had happened.  Anything he could do – just ask.  Thank you Patrick!

So much kindness from so many people, many from strangers who have become friends.  We would probably have moved from Saltburn anyway without Covid and Brexit.  We had the best of it but needed a change (and outdoor space and fewer stairs) but we would have liked the choice.  A chance to do it properly without the panic and stress and time pressure.  Without taking a leap into the unknown.  In the end we managed it but we couldn’t have done it without the wonderful kindness of strangers.

Thank you all.

A Wealth of Experience (or too much)

There are some advantages that come with age and one is a wealth of experience.  My remarkable partner Jacqui had, in another life, been in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  Refusing to panic she rang the Stranrae hotel and explained – several times, using increasingly small words – we were not travelling for “Leisure or Pleasure”.  This was an essential trip, allowed under the regulations and we had no choice but to leave our home on the 8th of December. A subtext, not articulated but lurking just around the corner, was the threat to camp out in their car park overnight if necessary.  It worked. 

Now we had the problem of the sale.  There was not enough time to begin the whole process again, with viewings, surveyors, mortgage assessors, solicitors… But a number of our previous viewers had expressed a keen interest in the house and sent in offers, so we sent out messages.  “If you can guarantee to complete in less than four weeks the house is yours”.  Much to our astonishment that worked too.  All we had to do was finish packing and get ready to go.

We had found a removals firm in Ireland who claimed to be expert packers and experienced in handling antiques and fragile goods.  If I do not name them you will have an inkling that these claims fell somewhat short of the truth, but more of that later.  The move was planned for 2 trips, a week apart. A storage room was already arranged some seven miles from the cottage in Ireland. We had done a lot of packing ourselves but there were still large areas of the house needing an efficient and professional hand.  When the mover arrived he took everything we had got ready, filling half the van. Then he walked around the house and said he’d be back to finish the job on the 8th.  We were not sure how he planned to do it but he was confident and drove off after barely four hours. 

The next part of the move still gives me bad dreams.  When we looked around we found there were several items missing.  Two green boxes from the Pet Crematorium were gone.  We had lost Trevor, our cat and Saffron our oldest dog during the year and had not had time to find suitable urns for them.  And a red folder had gone from the table – containing the papers and passports for two of the dogs.  We were frantic, distraught and close to despair as without the papers we could not take our dogs abroad.  Already ill and exhausted from stress and overwork Jacqui had a relapse and was unable to do anything for most of the next week.  Sensibly she slept and recovered in time to drive to the vets where the wonderful Len issued two new, replacement passports.  We could only hope the green boxes were safe in the first load.

The hardest setback of allAlmost a total disaster

We would not have managed as much as we did without our wonderful friends.  Always a tower of strength, Lynn turned up every day to help us pack, sort and manage the dogs.  As the final deadline loomed and it was obvious I would not get everything done two other saviours materialized.  Paul and Su offered some much needed muscle (Paul) and organization (Su).  Together they helped us salvage something from the disaster of the house and we were thankful we would have a professional packer to clear the china cupboards and take down some of the furniture. Ha!

When he arrived, four hours late, it became obvious he was not expecting to pack anything even though I had phoned and warned him we were way behind. Also we and hadn’t been able to get any more boxes.  After he threw a hissy fit we walked him round and showed what was needed.  We had been due to leave at the time he finally arrived. Four hours to help and answer questions built in to the day had seemed enough and we had a long journey ahead.  Instead we had to rush through what was left, trusting him to make proper notes. 

As we set off, late, shaking with fatigue and sick with worry we were buoyed up by the unexpected rush of kindness shown by friends and neighbours.  We had cards, wrapped gifts, kind words and people waving from doors and windows as we finally left our home in the north-east.  It was two days short of thirty one years since we had arrived and as we set off through the increasingly dark and stormy weather the enormity of the whole enterprise finally hit home. 

Even writers need friends

It has been quite a month.
First, the new book, “The Moth Man”, is finished and now I’m waiting to see the proofs before it goes to press – but more of that later.
Then there was the London Book Fair and I’ve given a few thoughts on that experience in my previous post.
This week I’ve been working on producing the perfect pitch for yesterday’s “Meet the Agent” event, organized by the splendid “Writers’ Block” in Middlesbrough.
I had forgotten just how nice, supportive and welcoming writers can be. When I took the MA at Teesside University I met some wonderful people, a number of whom have become good friends but writing is a solitary affair and writers often seem -well, a bit odd. We do a lot of pacing around and muttering to ourselves. Sometimes we seem to be utterly lost in our own imaginary worlds until something captures our attention, at which point be become frighteningly attentive, homing in on the object of interest with the ferocity of a starving vulture.
It is a hard world out there with hundreds of writers chasing an ever-decreasing number of opportunities and you would think we would guard our ideas and knowledge jealously but actually in the hot-house of a ten-minute pitch my new companions were funny, open and so pleased for one another’s success.
I hadn’t realized how much I have missed that and I hope there will be another round of workshops and sessions soon. Like everything else, this depends on funding and the money to support groups in this region is extremely limited. The fact “Writers’ Block” can run a series of workshops culminating in an opportunity to pitch to two of the biggest agencies in the country is testament to their professionalism and the pool of talent with which they work and I really hope they are successful in their next bid.
For myself, I feel I have made some new friends and even someone as anti-social as I am needs friends.
Thank you to everyone who made the day so memorable and enjoyable and a special thank you to Steve, Mike, Luke, Beatrice and Jenna. And the very best of luck with your work.