Goodness, how time passes! The last update I wrote on this blog, we were putting our house on the market and were all set to start a new venture somewhere that we could have a bigger workshop for Mr Litlove and possibly some sort of writing retreat or artists studios for me to run, yes?
Well, none of that happened.
So let’s go back to where we were last summer, with an unnaturally tidy house (‘Did you stash it all in the car?’ the estate agent who came to take photos asked us. ‘That’s where most people put their stuff.’) a grand plan and, in actual fact, a criminal bear in the boot of my car. In retrospect, August probably wasn’t the best time to put the house on the market, and an August in the run up to Brexit was even less promising. We did have some people come and look, but for the most part they were what Mr Litlove termed ‘tyre kickers’. Showing your house to strangers is an awful business, and we also had two new kittens who were brim-full of curiosity and wanted to do the showing for us. This problem was summed up in the moment when I was making small talk with one woman while Dexter edged in and started to lick her toes. How cute, I thought, until I saw the woman’s face and had to drop kick the kitten gently into the garden. I was having a bad day that day in any case. I’d managed to chat gaily about my son having thrown over his chemistry degree in favour of training as a counsellor to licked-toes woman’s husband, who turned out to have been a chemistry professor all his life. But for me the epitome of house viewing awfulness was the elderly Chinese man who came in complaining about the road outside our house. We live opposite the village green, and the main road through the village passes in front of us. We have a queue of cars at the lights at 8 in the morning and 5 in the evening, and the buses to town go through, but it’s just a village, and so mostly it’s quiet enough that children from the school and ducks from the pond wander across it. Anyhow, this man came in saying how busy and loud it was and weren’t we bothered by the noise? As we were standing inside the house in my study, I asked how loud the noise seemed to him. At which point he threw his hands in the air. He was hard of hearing, he told me, how should he know?
So August rolled into September and the estate agents said, ah now the market will pick up again after the summer holidays. But what happened was the complete opposite. We had no viewings whatsoever in September. And it didn’t seem to be just us – the same story was happening across our region. First houses were selling, and houses over the million mark. But all of us four-beds in the middle of the market were stagnating in the economic uncertainty. By now we had had too long to think about the house we’d been wanting to buy. Mr Litlove was very unsure about it, and there was no certainty we’d get planning permission for either his workshop or my retreats. By the middle of October, we’d only had one more viewing, and by a family who thought they ought to downsize but didn’t really want to. We were starting to feel very uncomfortable with the process. Neither of us could get on and do any work because we seemed to be waiting all the time for this miracle to happen, a buyer to arrive, and there was no sign that one would.
One day I said to Mr Litlove, why don’t you have the car port? If we incorporated the car port into the garage, you’d have double the workshop space you have now. So we got an architect in to discuss it, and it seemed viable and the thought of being out of the range of the circling dementors of a stagnant housing market was so tempting. Plus, it was killing Mr Litlove to be that tidy all the time. With many a mixed emotion, we took the house off the market, and the saga of building the workshop extension began.
But you’ll be wanting to know what happened to Big Beery, right? Well to begin with I kept forgetting that he was in the boot of the car, until I popped the trunk to put the supermarket shopping away. Then there he lay in all his disreputableness, as other shoppers wheeling their carts past threw us strange looks. So I moved him into the back seat of the car, which was nicer than the boot, but increasingly cold as winter approached. When Mr Litlove and I got into the car together, we kept having the same old argument. I’d say, couldn’t we move Big Beery back into the house for a bit? It seemed such a shame to leave an old bear out here in the damp and the cold. But Mr Litlove was adamant. ‘We were only supposed to be housing him while he got back on his feet,’ he’d say. ‘If you let him back in we’ll never get rid of him’ I’d protest that it was hard for him, when even the charity shops wouldn’t take him. Then Mr Litlove would complain that he wasn’t even trying and all he did all day was sit drinking cans of Stella from the Co-op in the village. About this point in the conversation Big Beery would often attempt to defend himself with his own brand of lobbying, and Mr Litlove would reply that wherever we were going, we could go past the council tip on the way there. That would shut us all up.
As I write this, Big Beery remains in the back seat of the car. If you listen carefully, you can probably hear him belch.
Also I don’t think I’ve told you about our new kittens, Dexter and Deedee. They came from different litters but they might as well have come from different planets. Dexter is a big, fat, fluffy bundle of schnuggles, a laze in the sun cat, a beautiful tabby with kohl-rimmed eyes but oh so dumb. Deedee is a whippetty black ninja with crazy golden bat eyes and relentless curiosity. They are very bound to one another but in an odd, mismatched sort of way. Now the days are lengthening they love the early evening hours when they head out on cat business in the neighbourhood together. Deedee scampers ahead, gesturing wildly and talking nineteen to the dozen about tactics and strategies, while Dexter plods alongside her, saying every now and then, ‘But Deedee, I don’t want to fight him.’
However, it’s not just Pogo, the big marmalade tom, whose animosity has been aroused. Our next door neighbours, who professed their pleasure that we were staying, are probably changing their minds now, as unfortunately, the cats have taken to using their garden as a toilet. It’s a lovely garden and if I were obliged to go outside, I’d probably choose it too. But our elderly neighbour was incensed when, having risen at five one morning, he looked out of his windows only to see Dexter squatting serenely in the middle of his vegetable patch. Just the other day he came to fetch Mr Litlove to complain to him about an especially awkward discovery. I remember that he’d paid quite a lot to have his driveway gravelled in such a way that the little stones are thinly glued to the surface, providing an easy upkeep version of a raked zen garden. Well, one of the cats had done a poo smack in the middle of the driveway and had evidently been surprised while scratching to find that the gravel did not shift to cover it as they expected. Mr Litlove said that he did feel a bit guilty about that one. We’ve provided earthy areas and shady areas in our own garden for the cats, but if you’ve ever owned one, you’ll know that they do not take instruction well. Personally I think our neighbour has missed a trick by letting the cats know that he is so displeased. Disapproval is, for them, an open invitation to ever more provocative acts of defecation. The only thing he could do is, I think, to beam appreciation on them and tell them they are behaving exactly as he wishes. That can sometimes cause a u-turn in feline policy.
Well, look at me rambling on. This post is already too long and I haven’t told you half the news. And the next one must be a review I have promised. I will cross my fingers that my eyes hold up well enough for me to post a bit over the summer. In the meantime, if you’re reading something really good (that’s available on audiobook), do let me know.