The Adventures of Big Beery

Mr Litlove is a man who works in insidious ways, and so I can’t recall how he first brought up the topic of moving house. All I can remember is being in the middle of a discussion – well a fantasy session really – in which he was painting a picture of a wonderful house surrounded by land, in which he could have a bigger workshop with an apprentice and I could have a couple of artists’ studios and/or a writing retreat to hire out. Alongside our little artistic community there would be an orchard and a kitchen garden. I think Vaughn Williams may have been playing in the background. In any case, I was feeling enthusiastic and less mindful of the hellish process that is simultaneously buying and selling a house..

I last moved house twenty-one years ago and at the time I swore never again. There were very good reasons for this. I’m not sure what the situation is in other countries, but here in the UK, moving is something that only happens despite the caprice of the buyers and the best efforts of estate agents, house surveyors, land registry officials and conveyancing solicitors. It is wildly expensive and fraught at all stages with distrust and uncertainty. I had my eyes wide open and will no doubt come to regret it. But Mr Litlove reeled me in with a killer persuasive phrase. ‘We’re ready for a new chapter,’ he said. ‘We need one.’ And I knew what he meant.

Now I love my house and so I wasn’t quite ready to be fully on board until we’d found somewhere that was right. After six weeks of looking we did find somewhere that was pretty much right. That meant putting our own house on the market (whilst worrying that some other buyer would come along and snap up the one property we’d seen that we loved). And that meant removing 21 years’ worth of clutter and tidying places we hadn’t even looked at since we moved in. I have collecting genes in my family line, and Mr Litlove has hoarding genes in his; this was going to be a major operation.

Naturally the photographer was scheduled for the end of the hottest week of the hottest summer since records began. Mr Litlove and I toiled away, cleaning and scrubbing and throwing out, feeling boiled alive in our skins. Mr Litlove is so untidy that we have designated areas for him to inhabit in the house and most offered problems so complex and shaming that we simply closed the doors on them. Not an option for the utility room, however, whose counter tops I hadn’t seen in over a decade, thanks to Mr Litlove’s collection of tins containing useful half inches of leftover paint, the gardening equipment and woodworking tools that were vacationing in the house ‘en route’ to the workshop, and all the other bits and bobs he’d bought at Screwfix without yet using. But by the end of ‘Furnace Friday’ as the papers dubbed it, the utility room was so clear that it was almost aggressive in its nakedness. The whole house was unnatural in its tidiness. Then, when the photographer came. for the first time in more than six weeks it began to cloud over. A spattering of raindrops fell. The photographer dashed outside to shoot pictures of the garden and the front of the house and when I next looked out of the window it was on scenes that could have come from reportage of a typhoon in the West Indies. The village green was obscured by driving horizontal rain, the howling wind lashed the trees, and inside the house we ran around shutting all the windows and doors, forgetting alas, the skylight in the conservatory through which water poured. It was positively biblical.

Unsurprisingly, most of the photographs had to be done again. But it did give us a chance to see how the original set came out and to make some alterations. One obvious problem was in our son’s bedroom.  We have a photo of him, aged about eight, standing against his bed and hugging Goldie – his favourite bear – under his chin. Behind him towers a magnificent mountain of cuddly animals that dwarfs the two of them. He clearly inherited both the collecting and the hoarding genes as those cuddlies were still there, under his bed now rather than on it. I’d rather dreaded doing the cull as I feel tender about stuffed toys and don’t care to have their beady, accusatory eyes pinned upon me in silent reproach. Mr Litlove is ruthless, though, as I’d already witnessed from his own soft toys in his childhood bedroom, all individually bagged in plastic and stored in a cupboard like a furry kapok-stuffed version of the film Cocoon. We set about the holocaust using the movie principle: if they didn’t have a name or a back story, they were sent to the black bin bag. Our old cats liked to sleep under that bed and it became clear that coated in cat fur was also a criteria for disposal. Being lippy didn’t help. At one point Mr Litlove passed me a small, grubby chick which I binned. When he found what appeared to be the same chick a few minutes later he was completely nonplussed. ‘How did he escape out of the bag?’ he asked. I fished about in it and brought out an identical chick – evidently there were twins. Unfortunately one chick turned to the other at that moment and cheeped: ‘We’re surrounded by morons.’ Neither saw the light of day again.

Surviving that original cull, however, was Big Beery.  My son in his youth was a very enthusiastic car boot and jumble sale attendee.  One year on holiday with his cousins, they had been taken on foot – and therefore unwillingly, bitching and moaning the whole way – to a nearby car boot sale.

Once there, our son homed in on a huge, ugly, disreputable looking brown bear and insisted on buying him. As unlikely as it seems, his cousins also found a huge teddy (in better nick) and all three returned home with the bears slung over their shoulders, skipping and singing as they walked.

Big Beery & Lustleigh

Heading home from the car boot sale

 

This was the arrival of Big Beery, a bear who looked like all he needed was a hand of poker in one paw and three fingers of whiskey in a cloudy glass by the other.

Although he was always very tight-lipped about it, one look told you that he had definitely had a past, and it hadn’t been kind to his fur. When we hauled him out from under the bed, Mr Litlove acquired an expression of distaste, but I rooted for Big Beery. After all, he definitely had a back story and apart from anything else, he was way too big to fit in the bag.

When those photographs came back, however, all you could see, despite our best efforts, was a still-huge collection of cuddlies. There was going to have to be a director’s cut, and it was fairly obvious that Big Beery wasn’t going to make it.

‘But what are we going to do with him?’ I wondered.  The rest of the toys had been taken to the charity shop where they had been warily accepted. But no one in their right minds would take on Big Beery.  I just couldn’t bring myself to throw him away and a car boot sale with him as our lone stock was out of the question. We could have stuck him up in the loft but a bear of that age has his dignity and – who knew? – maybe his underworld contacts to come and get him out. In the end, we put him in the spare bedroom while we thought it over, Big Beery propped up on one side of the bed, dropping ash on the nightstand and cracking his knuckles nonchalantly from time to time. ‘We’ll come up with something,’ Mr Litlove said.

Of course, by the time the photographer was due again, Big Beery was still there. We flew back and forth past him, scooting the rising tide of objects out of sight. In the end, he was our last outstanding problem. ‘I’ve got it!’ i finally said. ‘Put him in my car.’ This was a satisfying conclusion. I could picture him, a chunky silhouette in the back seat, waiting for darkness to fall and his driver to come and take him to the wharf.

So the photographer came and the photos were re-taken and after a bit more hassle our house was finally on the market. And it was…. August. The deadest month of the year apart from December for selling houses. So this is where you find us, scarcely begun on the process and already doubting its feasibility. I feel like a small miracle has to occur to create the extraordinary synergy required.

I forgot about Big Beery until a few days ago when I was considering taking the car into town. ‘Where did you put him?’ I asked Mr Litlove. ‘Not in the driver’s seat, I hope?’ I was imagining the journey into town with Big Beery hanging out the passenger window and declaring ‘Just off to get some bear necessities, mate!’ at passers-by. Mr Litlove looked a tad shamefaced. ‘Actually,’ he said, ‘he’s in the boot.’ Big Beery was in the boot! I was shocked and a little apprehensive – what kind of state would he be in when we got him out? But then I thought about it, and in a strange way, the trunk of the car had a certain… appropriateness for him. But every time one of us drives out, I can’t help a scenario from forming in my mind in which we are pulled over by the police and invited to leave the vehicle while they search it.  ‘You appear to have the body of a bear from the criminal fraternity in your car, Madam,’ they will say. ‘Can you explain it?’ And as I look over their shoulders, Big Beery will catch my eye and send me a sly, disreputable wink.

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30 thoughts on “The Adventures of Big Beery

    • I’m so glad. Moving house is so dreadful it absolutely has to be turned into comedy. We were excited a few weeks back, but less so now! Hopefully there’ll be good bits of the journey ahead too. All the rough ones will undoubtedly end up here… 🙂

  1. Congratulations on your projected move! (Are you, after all, going to have an orchard and a workshop and a little communal writing space? Can I come, if so?)

  2. What a wonderful story. Big Beery will have to move with you now and I’m looking forward to the next episode of your house move story already. I will need to downsize soon, and am dreading the decluttering and cleaning! Well done and fingers crossed you get your house.

    • I’ve been doing the de-cluttering in stages for quite some time, and it was better that way. But it is still a bit on the awful side so you have all my sympathy and solidarity for when you face that process. And thank you for the crossed fingers, we do need them! Moving house is definitely something that needs to be written about as it’s a kind way of processing it and it is so lovely to be chatting to you and other blog friends again, I’m really glad I did. That bear is going to come, isn’t he? He’s not exactly Paddington, but he does stick to us nevertheless!

  3. How lovely to hear from you. I was wondering what you were up to only recently. Good luck with the move! We’ve ducked the issue in this house for thirty years, even enduring the pain of converting our basement into an office over nine long months (and numerous magazine deadlines for me) a decade ago whan we needed more space.

    • Oh believe me, if we had any direction in which we could expand Mr Litlove’s workshop and stay put, we would. Unfortunately, if you dig basements in East Anglia, you create indoor swimming pools! But your plan sounds very sensible, given after all that extending also has its tribulations. It is so lovely to chat with you, too. I’ve been very much in my domestic world this year and it’s so nice to stick my head out of it for a moment and reconnect with dear friends!

  4. Good to hear what you are up to and good luck with the move, and with the ongoing task of trying to keep Mr Litlove under control. So glad you found a house you really like.
    I’ve moved twice and as a result the three of us have firmly rejected all manner of hoarding. We do have a few cuddly toys in storage, you are right there is something vaguely unsettling about seeing them suffocating in plastic bags.

    • When I saw your comment come in I remembered that you had moved not that long ago. It’s always good to be reminded that it’s possible (it doesn’t feel it at the moment). And I bet that two moves encourages a person to own less stuff! I really need another cull in the autumn. I am so glad that you understand that keeping Mr Litlove is some sort of order is actually a full-time job. 🙂 He says himself he only has one employee now and he’s the most recalcitrant he’s ever worked with. I shall carefully say nothing. But cuddlies vacuum packed in plastic – *shudders* Too creepy for me, though I do get the practicality!

  5. Oh, this post did make me laugh – lovely! And I so empathise and sympathise. I have a house which is still full of junk that my Offspring seem incapable of taking away and I am dreading the time we have to downsize (which seems to be becoming more and more essential). In particular, there are soft toys EVERYWHERE – mainly from Youngest Child’s rabbit collection and Middle Child’s unicorns. Many have gone, but the remaining ones look at us so accusingly that when either I or OH manage to put one in the charity pile, the other tends to rescue it… There are about twenty or so small ones glaring balefully at me at the moment while I type. I suspect I may be followed around by them for the rest of my life…. But seriously, good luck with the move – I haven’t done it for decades and I can’t begin to imagine how stressful it will be. Fingers crossed…

    • I just adore that phrase ‘middle child’s unicorns’ – lol! And you clearly know exactly what I mean about that accusing stare. How can you possibly decide the fate of an animal that looks at you in such a way??? Mind you, I am thinking about my son’s belongings times three…. That would be quite the challenge. Thank you for the good luck wishes, they are most gratefully received as we will need as much luck as we can get. It’s a ridiculous business! There may be more of the story on here as time passes…. blogging can be so therapeutic!

  6. One day I might introduce you to Flat Ted, who owns two humans now living in Chesterton. They rescued him from massacre-by-car-wheels many years ago (hence his epithet). I can vouch for his good advice on the topic of house-moving, imparted when I shared his bed in their spare room recently.
    Good fortune and blessings, Mr and Mrs Litlove, from all at Dhruvaloka (including Teddy, Squilley, Kanga, Roo, Little Weed) and Dalefield (including Albatross, Marten, GreenEars, Whitey….).

    • Oh please do send my very best regards to Flat Ted, who sounds like he has truly lived and has the wisdom to prove it. And naturally those greetings extend to all his friends too! I very much appreciate the good wishes. 🙂

  7. Good luck for your move! Yes, it is the most stressful, impossible process to go through and that’s before you even start thinking about decluttering. I remember when we moved here 13 years ago, bringing some things in white plastic bags which remained in those bags until thrown out. I’m definitely not going to do that when we eventually move up north (in a few years) as we will be downsizing – but how?

    • Ha, yes, I think we had boxes in the loft from our first move, but they did get thrown out when Mr Litlove insulated it (see, insulated loft, how could anyone not like our house?). I now have quite a few plastic crates of books up there and whether they stay or go is too painful a question to contemplate at present. I think I’ll back into that one! And thank you for the good luck wishes. Boy do we need them.

  8. I do love your stories, Victoria. And how lovely to hear about your impending house move – I hope all goes well for you both over the next few months. Such a stressful process, but it will all be worth it in the end, especially if you can secure your chosen dwelling!

    • Jacqui, it’s lovely to have you visit and thank you for your good wishes. New houses do bring a fresh, clean energy, which will be great if we can get there! I say ‘if it’s meant to be’ a lot lately. 🙂

  9. What a great story. Big Beery sounds like he should definitely have more adventures (and will do so, moving house). I wish you luck of course and good weather, but also more adventures (so we can read about them here). Hugs to Big Beery and also Mr Litlove 🙂

    • Thank you, dear Pete. Big Beery is thrilled to have this new lease of life, especially when he was on such a dangerous precipice! I do fear that he is spending his time in the boot of my car plotting…. no good ever came of bears with too much time to think! And thank you for the good luck wishes too – we will need them.

  10. Well, I moved house in May after four frought months of negotiations and have since been through another three frought months of trying to sort out major problems with the services, leaking sinks and windows operated by mechanisms that are no longer available. There is also the small matter of a very ancient boiler, but as it appears to be working without endangering life and limb I have decided to leave replacing that until the spring. I am too tired to even contemplate it at the moment. So, I do not envy you having to start out on this process and my thoughts will be with you. However, The Bears would like you to know that they are very concerned about Big Beery. When we moved they sat in the front seat of the car and were driven over in state, waving at the populous as we drove by. And then, while we went through the tedious process of waiting to be allowed access to the keys to their new home, they sat on the estate agents desk and informed all and sundry that they had come to live in Bromsgrove and the locals had better watch out. They think Big Beery deserves better!

    • Big Beery totally agrees with your bears! Hello and how lovely to hear from you. Yes, your moving story sounds about par from the course and there are many times when I can’t quite believe we’re attempting this! But I am very glad to hear that you are the other side of the worst part, ancient boilers notwithstanding. I also think Big Beery should get out of the boot and into the car, but Mr Litlove keeps driving mine around at the moment (his car is indisposed) and I haven’t sorted it out. Plus, I’m a little afraid of what Big Beery will say when I rescue him…. But reassure the bears that he will get out of the trunk eventually!

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