“What do you think?” Claire asks her children as they settle into the back seat of the car.
They were halfway through their first week of house hunting since returning back to England. They had two weeks in a holiday home in Bath. Her poor, jetlagged husband was commuting to Reading everyday, getting up around 5am and returning by 8pm. They had hoped they would be able to live near his sister and her family but only a few days in and it was disappointingly obvious it wouldn’t be sustainable. Plus Claire had already realised that UK city life wasn’t going to work for her.
Back in New Zealand, they had lived in a house in Christchurch city, but it really wasn’t city living. The house had a 200 metre square footprint and another 400 metres of garden. It was detached, on a leafy avenue. The beach was 10 mins away, as was a huge expanse of woodland. Going back to terraced houses with concrete gardens and the 24/7 life of a city, even one as stunning as Bath, made her stomach knot into a tight ball.
This was the second day of travelling down the M4 for an hour, in the search of suitable country properties. The days were filled with travelling in cars, calling agents on the phone and endlessly checking the Right Move app on her iPhone.
The cottage they had just looked at was the first real contender. It was in a charming village, with a pub, a pretty church, a nicely branded cafe (always a good sign) and a river running through it. The cottage was tiny and as Claire wandered round with the friendly agent she quietly wondered how on earth all their furniture would fit in, but by the end of the tour she was convinced they could make it work for 12 months. After all, there was a wonderful little garden that would mean a lot of time could be spent outside.
When they first arrived the children had taken no interest at all in the interior and had headed straight for the garden. It was narrow and very long. A lawn first, which then partnered with a veggie plot, followed by a shed under a tree where her son had found an egg laid by the neighbour’s chicken. Major tick for the garden from the youngest member of the family! It then continued right down to a stream at the bottom of the garden with a tyre swing hung from a large tree leaning over the water and the current tenants even had a little dingy laying on the grass. With the water safely shallow, Claire could imagine her two spending hours of happy play in garden/playground.
Already running late for the next house viewing and with her phone battery about to die meaning a strong possiblity of getting lost on the way, Claire was conscious of the time but wanted to get the children’s first reaction on what she thought might be ‘The One’.
As she turned to look at them, they both exchanged worried glances.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. Claire knew the looks all too well and was expecting Jackson to produce a stolen egg any second.
“Jackson put the boat in the water” exclaimed Minnie.
“What?” shouted Claire. Jet lag, months of stress, an unusually large amount of time spent in confined spaces with her boisterous children, meant Claire had lost the ability to manage her reactions the way parenting books suggested she should.
Glaring at her children, she implored, “But you put it back on the grass didn’t you?
“No he didn’t, and he untied it too!”
“STAY IN THE CAR!”
“OH MY GOSH!”
“YOU BETTER PRAY I CAN REACH IT!”
Returning back to the garden and feeling like a trespasser, Claire sprinted down what felt now to be an incredibly long garden, to find the newly released dingy. Nothing to see. Leaning as far over as she could, looking left to right, desperately hoping for a glimpse of the yellow plastic raft. Nothing. Dread filled her stomach.
Storming back up the garden, shooting her worst evil stare at her now frozen children in the back of the car, Claire jogged down the road to see if she could get to another part of the river and retrieve the lost dingy before it reached sea. Surely it couldn’t have got that far, it’s a shallow stream? Finding the stream again, she looked right and left. Nothing. However this time she noticed a fence running across the stream to her left so the escape was contained, at least in this direction.
Perhaps the best thing to do was to start back at the garden? Roll up her trousers and wade along until she got to the boat. The next appointment was looking less likely to happen and most likely the phone didn’t have enough juice to let the agent know. The jogging mixed with anxiety rising was causing her to sweat. Getting back to the car, the friendly agent was parking up.
“Is everything OK?” she asked kindly.
“Erm well no. My son has put their dingy in the stream and I can’t find it.” Claire confessed, red faced from embarassment, jogging and pure rage.
“Oh dear, are you sure you can’t see it?” the agent asked as they both walked back to the garden.
“Yes it’s definitely floated away, and I couldn’t see round the corner. They must have done it when we were inside. I am so sorry about this. Obviously we’ll pay for a new one if it’s lost.” Claire silently resigned herself to the fact that the agent was most likely ticking her off the potential tenant list – ‘uncontrolable children’.
Once it was confirmed that the dingy had definitely gone and had not magically returned with a changing of the tides, both returned to the cars. Whereupon the agent began pulling out a pair of wellies from her boot, slipping off her 4-inch heels and getting all girl scout striding back down the village to where there was a fence.
“I’ll start there and walk down to the garden” she shouted as Claire runs back down to the bottom of the garden, not missing an opportunity to shoot another stern look whilst shaking a fist at her still mute children.
As Claire waits for the agent to appear from around the corner, she looks down at the stream to see if the depth of the water might be too deep for the agent’s little wellies. Mercifully it is really shallow, and she now notices, flowing to the right! Moving over to the other corner of the garden, Claire desperately looks for any glimpse of yellow down this end of the stream. Nothing!
“Are you there?” Claire shouts to the agent. “Have you seen anything?” she asks, knowing fine well the agent will have probably had the same realisation as she wades with the flow of water.
“No it’s not along here” replies the agent as she appears around the corner. “I think it will be in the other direction…?”
“Yes, I’ll run along and see if I can see it further down.”
“OK, I’ll just keep going” the still friendly and totally gracious agent says as she slowly makes her way through the water, ensuring her shorter than average wellies don’t suffer overspill.
Claire once again sprints back up the garden, past the children who she hopes are feeling the magnitude of the minute of curiosity that is now causing a full on search for missing property (of innocent tenants!). This jog is longer than the last as a suitable gap in the houses doesn’t come along for a while and it’s a car park for the village social club that provides the next lookout. Running down, Claire considers how long the search can practically carry on for. Would the dingy turn up in some random villager’s garden later tonight and the missing item be put in the next village newsletter? How much would it cost to buy a replacement? If only she could fast forward to two weeks time when this is just a distant, rather hilarious memory. Perhaps she’ll write a blog about it….
Reaching a corner of the car park and stepping back as a rat scurries under a broken down wall (eew), she realises that the dingy has not reached this point. To the right is another fence and there is no dingy there so it has to be somewhere between her and the agent. Claire whispers her gratitude for the fences and villagers who don’t want random crap floating in their part of the stream.
“Have you got it?” Claire shouted hopefully. No reply. The agent’s pace was slower than Claire’s sprint. Another minute and some nervous glances towards the rat’s lair. “Are you there? Have you got the dingy?”
“Yes it’s here! I’ll take it back to the garden now.”
“OK I’ll meet you back there”, Claire shouts as she sets back for her final jog through the village. When she gets back to the car, whilst waiting for the agent, she leans into the car and warns the children that if they don’t say a very heartfelt sorry to the kind agent who has just waded through half a kilometre of stream to correct their vandalism (frankly), they will be living in a dingy for the rest of their lives.
Apologies made. Gracious, “that was the most exciting part of my day” quips from the rather wonderful agent. And a damp and utterly embarassed mother sets off with her children to look at the second property of the day, wondering what new kind of menace they will inflict on the next unsuspecting agent.
Starting over in a new country is never dull.