FROM THE BLACK­SMITH’S COT­TAGE

Re­turn­ing to help her age­ing par­ents move out of her child­hood home, OC­TAVIA LIL­LY­WHITE dis­cov­ers that when it comes to life in an English vil­lage, some things never change

Country Living (UK) - - Contents -

Re­turn­ing to help her age­ing par­ents move out of her child­hood home, colum­nist Oc­tavia Lil­ly­white dis­cov­ers that when it comes to life in an English vil­lage, some things never change

One cou­ple were rel­e­gated to the ‘bam­pot’ cat­e­gory by ar­riv­ing two days early

My fa­ther is in a black mood. Hav­ing made the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion to put our fam­ily home of 40 years on the mar­ket, he has iden­ti­fied a flaw in his grand mov­ing plan: no one will ever buy it. “We’ll come,” I say. “We’ll clean up.” “It doesn’t need clean­ing,” he seethes. “Any­one who buys it will gut the place and start over.” But I’m per­sis­tent. He comes from a gen­er­a­tion that looked at a house and saw po­ten­tial, but these days peo­ple are all about first im­pres­sions. My hus­band, the Lawyer, and I spent 30 min­utes at a view­ing in the Home Coun­ties re­cently. While I was gaug­ing how old the cooker was and sur­rep­ti­tiously turn­ing on up­stairs taps to check wa­ter pres­sure, he spent ages in the study. I came out im­pressed, but he was al­ready shak­ing his head. “The guy had an aw­ful record col­lec­tion,” was all I could get from him.

My fa­ther says he wouldn’t want to sell to a ‘bam­pot’ like that any­way (he’s Glaswe­gian, so his choice of in­sults can be a lit­tle es­o­teric). But I think when it comes to it, he’ll sell to who­ever of­fers some­thing akin to the ask­ing price, so we head down for a week­end of clean­ing.

The mood is brighter. Three peo­ple are booked for view­ings on Mon­day. One cou­ple un­for­tu­nately rel­e­gated them­selves to the ‘bam­pot’ cat­e­gory by turn­ing up two days early since they were ‘just pass­ing’. As my fa­ther tried to look non­cha­lant while wear­ing a boiler suit in the hope that they wouldn’t (cor­rectly) sur­mise that he was re­paint­ing the out­house, Mama, whose mem­ory isn’t great (hence the need to down­size), mis­read the sit­u­a­tion and cried, “What are you wear­ing? Have you been paint­ing?” The cou­ple didn’t come back. Those first im­pres­sions, eh?

When you’ve lived in a house so long, noth­ing strikes you as strange – it’s just how it has al­ways been. No lock on the down­stairs cloak­room? I never thought to ques­tion it un­til the Lawyer’s first visit. “I just walked in on your brother in the loo.” “Why did you go in if the door was shut?” “I thought it would be locked if some­one was in it, like ev­ery other loo I’ve ever used.” “Seems rea­son­able, now you men­tion it.” In fact, with a crit­i­cal eye, this old cot­tage is full of odd­i­ties. It’s not even a sin­gle build­ing for a start – but a row of two cot­tages and a barn, hence three stair­cases for only four down­stairs rooms. It’s more like a train, with one car­riage lead­ing off the next. Be­tween car­riage two and three is a link-room with book­shelves, which Mama is cur­rently paint­ing in Far­row & Ball’s Ar­senic: ap­pro­pri­ate as my fa­ther is look­ing some­what mur­der­ous. I grab boxes and start col­lect­ing up para­pher­na­lia that’s sur­plus to view­ing re­quire­ment.

“Do we have to get rid of ev­ery­thing?” Mama asks. No, I say, just clut­ter. And things other peo­ple might think weird. Like our World’s Ugli­est Post­card com­pe­ti­tion (con­grat­u­la­tions, Nether­lands), or SUPERMUM BY OC­TAVIA, AGE 6. I’ve cleared the kitchen and Mama has daubed one patchy coat of Ar­senic when the phone rings and a de­lighted es­tate agent in­forms us we have an ex­tra view­ing. “Fab!” says my fa­ther. “On Mon­day?” No – in an hour.

In the en­su­ing pan­de­mo­nium, the books are sac­ri­ficed to the shelves, leav­ing our en­tire fic­tion col­lec­tion with at­trac­tively green fore-edges from the paint, the heat­ing is cranked up to max to ease the edge off the cold, and the dog, over­come with ex­cite­ment, re­lieves him­self on the floor.

With sec­onds to spare, we shuf­fle the whole fam­ily-plus-dog out of the back door with in­struc­tions to take up res­i­dence in the pub un­til fur­ther no­tice, just as ex­cited view­ers come in the front. Lin­ger­ing be­hind, I hear some­one ex­claim, “Oh dear, what’s this wet stuff?” and my heart sinks. At least we’ve got two more view­ings lined up for to­mor­row.

Read next month’s is­sue of Coun­try Liv­ing for more true-life vil­lage tales

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