London is the place to be

London this lovely city.

This calypso was going through my mind as we set off for London this morning. Little did I know that later in the day, we would hear Lord Kitchener’s performance on a Pathé newsreel. But that is getting ahead of ourselves.

Today was the day of the annual Hook Scouts fair on King Edward’s field, off Hook Road. You know, the field where the travelling community set up camp for a few days before the Epsom Derby. Liesel’s WI Group, the Hook and Chessington Branch, had a stall there. We went down with the chocolate brownies Liesel had baked for them to sell. We tried to help erect the tent, but the poles didn’t seem to be from the same set. So, reluctantly, we caught a bus towards Surbiton. While we’d been waiting for the other WI women to arrive, I’d walked around the field one final time. I gazed upon the playground where a young Jenny and a young Helen spent many happy hours.

I realised: today would be a day of reminiscence, of nostalgia, of remembrance. We’d been so caught up recently with all the packing and stacking, the boxing and coxing, that I hadn’t really thought about the enormity of the move we’re about to make.

In Surbiton, I suggested one final coffee at The Press Room: probably the nicest coffee around, and a nice place with nice staff. We’ve sometimes paid a coffee ahead, so that a homeless person can claim it later on. There’s a bell by the door which you can ring if you like the coffee. I’ve been too much of a coward to give it a go, but today, I applied a very light tinkle, there was a guy right next to it and I didn’t want to give him a heart attack.

This would be our final day in London before we move to Northenden. Lots of things to do, it was hard to choose. There was a march in support of the NHS. My favourite walk is probably along the South Bank. There was a food fair at Parsons Green. Then Liesel remembered there’s a temporary work of art in the Serpentine. Yes: In the Serpentine. I passed a lot of time in Hyde Park when I lived nearby in the 1970s, so I was more than happy to revisit one more time.

There seems to be a lot of finality here, today. I know we’ll be back as visitors, but it’s a strange feeling knowing that, after this weekend, London won’t be our home city.

We caught the District Line train at Wimbledon and got off at High Street Kensington, which is on Kensington High Street. By this convention, the next station along should be called Gate Notting Hill, but it isn’t, something that has baffled me since I first lived there in 1973.

We walked towards Hyde Park, and Liesel suggested walking up the road where all the embassies are, Kensington Green. I didn’t know if we’d be allowed to. I think in the 1970s, at the height of the IRA terrorsit campaign, we were probably too intimidated by the large numbers of police officers at the entrance to enter this road, so we never walked along it. Today though, a couple of armed officers, a barrier, several bollards and a sign telling us not to take photos did not deter us from walking up what turned out to be a nice, peaceful, quiet road, right in the heart of London. We tried to guess the embassies from the flags and we got most of them right: Israel, Russia, France, Norway, Finland, but we failed to recognise Kuwait and we don’t know whether the two crossed swords flag was Kenya or somewhere else.

But I was still too much of a coward to risk taking a photo.

We walked through Kensington Gardens, towards the Round Pond and we thought about visiting the Serpentine Gallery. The long queue put us off: no need to be standing around in the hot Sun when we could be walking around in the hot Sun! We crossed the road and had a quick look at the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fountain and lots of people were having lots of fun in it. One little boy splashed me and I was outraged. No, actually, I wanted him to do it again, but I didn’t say so!

Then we saw it. The London Mastaba. An almost pyramid-like structure weighing 600 tonnes constructed from specially made oil drums. And sitting right in the middle of the Serpentine. We considered getting a boat out so that we could get up close and personal but in the end, after lunch, we left the park and caught the bus.

On the way out, we passed the playground where I spent many a happy lunch hour watching the children play, when I worked in Knightsbridge. It was OK in those days to be a young, single, unaccompanied bloke in a children’s playground. Times, sadly, have changed.

Liesel was grateful for the bus ride, a chance to have a break from the walking. It was hot on the bus too, though, even though we sat at the back, on top, where we thought we’d benefit from maximum ventilation through the windows. It was hot ventilation. It was a hot day.

We disembarked at the British Library, a venue that we should have taken more advantage of over the years. There’s an exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the MS Empire Windrush.

Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land is on until October. It is fascinating, moving and in places makes you ashamed to be British. It’s not just the present Tory Government led by Theresa May that has created a hostile environment for migrants from the West Indies.

It was here that we heard Lord Kitchener singing his paean to London. It was one of many sound clips and films of poetry, interviews, reminiscence from and by the Windrush generation.

I looked around and noticed the wide range of people visiting the British Library, people from all over the world, some undoubtedly British, some visiting from overseas, but something you see all over London all the time. And my heart sank anew at the current state of western politics. Brexit and Trump are the dominating themes, both giving permission to the racists and fascists to be even more openly hateful than before. I can’t imagine anything worse than living and working in a place where everyone is just like me.

It was a bit cold in the room with all the sacred texts: old Bibles, Qu’rans, some books bigger than our suitcases, some of them really gorgeous, even if we can’t read the incredibly ornate writing, even when it’s apparently in English. Seeing works of art like this makes reading a book on a Kindle seem a bit underwhelming.

Another cup of coffee while Liesel spoke to her Mom then we caught another bus to Aldwych. We walked along the Strand, via Covent Garden, past Stanley Gibbons who sold some of my stamps a few years ago, and on to the Jubilee Bridge one more time. I had to take a picture of the view of course.

Waterloo Bridge. St Pauls Cathedral. The Shard. The Thames. The South Bank. London.

We caught a train to Kingston and dined at Stein’s, a German place. The vegan sausages and the vegetarian schnitzel were both off, so I had a cheese platter. It was nice, but there’s always too much cheese and not enough bread for me! It was filling though. And then we then caught the bus back home.

Altogether, according to the Fitbit, we walked over 9 miles today. This is much further than planned and indeed, much further than Liesel thought she’d manage with her piriformis injury. With exercise and physiotherapy, we’re hoping this problem will disappear over time, allowing us to walk much longer distances without discomfort.

Two more sleeps in sunny Chessington until we move away from the greatest city on Earth.

L at the end of the T

This is a conversation I had with myself earlier when Radio 2 played a horrible, horrible song for the millionth time this week. Why not play a CD? Ah, good idea. Oh, except we can’t, we got rid of the stereo system. We can play a CD on the DVD player, that’s still connected. Oh, good idea, yes. Except we can’t. Why not? All of the CDs have been packed. So Radio 3 it was, for a while. Back to Radio 2 for Paddy O’Connell sitting in for Jeremy Vine with a loud Brexiteer and a brash Remainer both shouting over each other and reminding me why we don’t listen to the Today programme any more, nor watch Question Time on TV: it’s all manufactured confrontation, everything has to be black and white, one thing or another.

We made our final trip to the tip today to dispose of some wood that we can’t really leave in the garden waste bin, even though technically speaking, it is garden waste. We had to take the old, much loved, heavily used but no longer wanted office desk too. Several people on Facebook Marketplace expressed an interest but none were interested enough to make the journey to Chessington. Hopefully, someone will visit the bric-a-brac area at the tip and find the desk of their dreams. Everything else that we offered has been given away to people or taken to a charity shop. And John came along as planned to take away the washing machine, microwave and a few other bits and pieces.

So everything in the house now is either coming with us or is being left for the new people. Today, I dismantled some furniture, packed up the PC and all the peripherals, while Liesel packed up more kitchen stuff including the contents of the spice drawer. I never knew we had so many spices, all in glass bottles, and that box is really heavy, man.

I think we’re on target to have a nice, relaxing weekend. At the last minute, we’ll pack up the TV and the phone connection and all that stuff.

We briefly discussed going out to the pub tonight but, nah, we’re both too knackered. We’ve got books to read, radio programmes to listen to, beauty sleep to catch up on and then, we’ll see what occurs early tomorrow morning!

M minus 4 days

This week has been the hottest of the year so far. In some places, even hotter than the long, hot Summer of 1976. That was the year they had to appoint a Minister for the Drought.

So hot, in fact, that all we want to do is sit still, enjoy some cold drinks and relax. Instead, we’ve both been working really hard to finish off the packing.

I spent about 5 hours this morning dismantling the tandem and packing it up into its two Samsonite cases. This should only take about 20 minutes, according to the DVD. The first thing that happened when I walked into the garage brought back happy memories of when I worked. I got a faceful of newly spun spiders’ web. Yuck. I can’t say I miss that feeling, nor the taste and I didn’t need to see the size of the tarantula that escaped. It was huge. And no, it didn’t offer to help with the tandem.

Meanwhile, Liesel was upstairs cleaning every available surface, and there are a lot of surfaces available when the things that used to live there have been packed. And there are a lot of things that sit around for years causing little to no trouble, until you want to take them to a new place. One day, I’ll let you know how many boxes we have, but there are literally too many to count accurately now. Dozens. Scores, even.

Sadly, we’ve packed the tools so a couple of last minute fixes won’t get done. The middle hook on the back of the bathroom door broke years ago and it’s still there. Not the useful part, the hook, just the backing plate.

There are lots of challenges that you don’t think about until it comes to the crunch. What should be take with us in the car so that we have it straightaway? Valuables? My PC? Important paperwork? Decisions, decisions!

What can we leave until the last minute? Bedding? TV, DVD player, Freeview box and all the associated cables? Breakfast stuff?

Yes, apart from all the physically hard work of moving stuff around, putting it into boxes, then moving the boxes around, it’s been quite a challenge knowing what to do next. So many lists have been compiled:

  • Things to do
  • What to take with us in the car
  • Businesses that need to know our new address
  • Things to do in the new place before we go travelling!

Liesel has been a trouper, despite her aches and pains. We’ve both used muscles we forgot we had. Here’s a tip: buy shares in Ibuprofen.

It was strange on Summer Solstice day: we brought everything down from the loft and Liesel was re-packing all the Christmas decorations. One day, well, one Christmas, we’ll get a nice big tree and show them off. Not this year though: we’ll be somewhere exotic. The travel plans keep changing. But we can’t concentrate on that until we have settled in our new place.

It’s been too busy for me to be too emotionally distracted. I’ve lived here for 33 years, lots of happy memories and some sad ones. It is definitely Liesel’s house now though, rather than Sarah’s. I think it’s fair to say that because we’ve been thinking about moving on from here for so long, I’ve been ‘grieving’ for this old house for a while, so it won’t be such a shock on the day we close the door for the last time. 33 years in one place: more than half of that time without Sarah, which just doesn’t seem right.

Facebook Marketplace should be a great place to give things away. But I’ve had responses from Bulgaria, USA and Switzerland. They’re not seriously going to come to Chessington just to pick up a free item of furniture. The way it usually worls is:

I put an item up on Facebook Marketplace with a price of £0, ie Free.

Within a minute someone asks: Is it available?

Within another minute, I respond: Yes, can you collect from Chessington today or tomorrow.

Then I sit back and watch the tumbleweed drift by. Never hear from them again.

But now and then, maybe one time in ten, someone follows through and does turn up to take the item away. And as I sit here in front of a fan (that somehow escaped being packed in a box) in the living, surrounded by nn boxes, three people have expressed interest in my old office desk but none of them have committed to coming over to take it away. The good news is, this is the last item of furniture that we need to dispose of. John, the rubbish man, is coming over tomorrow to take away the old washing machine and some other bits and pieces and if he ends up taking away the desk too, that would be a shame, but we can’t take it with us.

Yes, the old washing machine. The one that Sarah bought soon after she started work again once Helen started school. It’s done well, 26 years hard labour, but it leaks a bit and the on/off switch is broken. The kickboard hiding the thing that you unscrew when there’s a blockage has been kicked off. And it’s very slow by modern standards. We can’t responsibly pass it on to someone else, but everyone has their price…

I had a dream last night in which a nice looking iced bun the size of a loaf of bread had packing paper screwed up inside. In fact, apart from the icing, it was all paper. Such a disappointment. But I haven’t had a work-related dream for a while. The one in which, along with everyone else, I am being asked to perform a task so ridiculous, so time-wasting, so pointless, that we just know we won’t have time to complete the day’s delivery. But then, within the dream, I suddenly remember I’ve retired, I don’t even have to be here any more… and I wake up with a great sense of relief and a big smile on my face.

Liesel designed a beautiful card that we will send out once we’ve moved and we know with 100% certainty that nothing will go wrong with this whole project!

While I’ve been blogging, Liesel’s been writing the envelopes for the cards. It’s preferable to her other option: CPD. Continued Professional Development would entail sitting down with a hot laptop on her lap, and today’s weather is not conducive to such an enterprise. The smell of macaroni cheese is drifting through the door: a hot meal for a hot day, Liesel is to be praised for slaving over a hot stove. No wonder she doesn’t want to get up close and personal with a laptop as well!

Compromises

With less than two weeks to go before the move, Mick and I have been working hard to pack the house, recycle stuff we don’t need or simply don’t have room for, and cleaning after each room is complete.  My expectation is that come move day, we will be relaxed and rested enough to make our four to five hour drive to Manchester bearable.

All this to do and what did Mick want to do yesterday?  Go into London to take part in the People’s Vote march against Brexit.  I wasn’t too keen to spend the day with over 100,000 people, walking slowly, potentially kettled by police, and no place to take a comfort break.  But then it occurred to me that if we were going into London for the march anyway we could stop by the sofa store and inspect the sofa I’ve been researching for months!  Ah ha, finally getting Mick into the store would be a feat.  Funny enough, he agreed, so I blister proofed my feet and off we went before breakfast.

We forgot it was Ascot and the scene at Waterloo Station was lovely.  A plethora of men in tails and top hats, ladies in heels, hats and dresses waiting for their train to take them to the races.  We watched them from the upper level of the station, and when their train was called they galloped for their platform. ‘They’re off’ I cried.  The spectacle over, we made our way to Tottenham Court Road.

Mick was a trooper providing his opinion on sofa stuffing and fabric, after he’d had breakfast and a latte of course.  Unfortunately, the cost ended up being  £200 more than I anticipated and we took a few minutes to discuss where we could make adjustments when it occurred to me that this was the first piece of furniture I’ve purchased in over 25 years, longer for Mick, and it may be the last.  Why should we settle for something that wasn’t exactly what we wanted for the sake of £200!  We bought exactly what we want and it should be delivered to the flat the day after we move it.

The People’s Vote march wasn’t difficult to find, almost everyone (but us) were dressed in blue and yellow.  These same people also brought packed lunches and water.  Why hadn’t we, because we’re often clueless in this respect.  We did get a couple of stickers to add to our lapels and spent the next two hours with people from Wales and Yorkshire, walking very, very, slowly.  The atmosphere was very positive and it was fantastic to see such a wide age spectrum represented.   Eventually we came to a standstill and our need for food, water, toilet and a place to sit down won, so we caught the first bus we could and ended up in Golders Green and the ‘Abbey Road’  which had a bunch of silly tourists standing in the middle of the road obstructing traffic.  .

It was a lovely day, we bought our first grown up sofa, and felt proud to be marching for Europe.  There is not a lot we can do to help with our grandchildren’s future, but we can protest their options being taken away from them, and we did.

Exchanges

It was a pleasure to meet up with my old friend Michael B today, in Paddington. Yes, after ten years, we managed to be in the same place at the same time once again! We caught up on our careers (well, his) and our travels. He’s still very interested in hospital radio, which is great, podcasting and writing.

A shout-out to Marie as well, another friend with whom I met up a couple of days ago, over in Orpington. We had a good chat and a coffee.

Both will be very welcome to visit us in our new, northern home, in the fullness of time. As will anyone else that we don’t meet up with one final time before we move on.

And last night Liesel and I went out to see Jeremy Nicholas again, this time at the Museum of Comedy. His show, ‘After Dinner Stories from my Disastrous Broadcasting Career’, was much more slick than last time. Some stories have gone, some new ones are in. And no drunken heckler. Go and see him in Edinburgh if you’re there in August.

And what a fascinating venue. Lots of artefacts from the world of comedy. I don’t know if this is the one from Steptoe and Son, but here is a picture of Liesel with a bear behind:

liesel bear

On this day in 1973, David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars?’ was released as a single. It’s still one of our favourite songs of his and it’s still fascinating to hear which radio presenters play it right to the end. When the phone rings, I emit a small cheer and Liesel rolls her eyes.

So here’s the news you’ve come along for… Our solicitor called early this morning to tell us that we’ve exchanged on both our sale and our purchase! Liesel and I had a bit of a hug and a cry and a bit of a dance, such a relief! We’re definitely moving out on July 2nd, the lorry will be loaed up with our stuff which will move into the flat on the 3rd: the poor removal guys will set off at 5 o’clock that morning. As described a few days ago, if the flat becomes unavailable for some reason, we have storage booked. So, yes, definitely moving out!

So now, the emotion will begin to set in fully. It has a bit already, as we’ve been packing up stuff from 33 years in this house.

We’ve packed up well over half the contents of the house and we’ve set ourselves the target of finishing off by Friday, disposing of the stuff we don’t want, such as the washing machine that should have been replaced a long time ago.

And the best news of all: here comes the weekend!

 

Lofty Ambitions

The bottom line is, we still don’t know if we’re moving into a flat or into storage.

We are proceeding at a pace with the packing. So much stuff. There are at least five boxes of photos. Actual printed photos. It’s been on the to-do list for years, and I think it’s on everyone’s list: sort out the old photos.  We really feel that progress is being made, though. There is a nice pile of stuff to pass on to the children as soon as is convenient. (Don’t tell them.)

A removal man came along this afternoon to give us a quote.

It’s official: estate agents lie. This week, again, we tried to find out when our flat would be vacant. The agent said that because they’re moving into a newly built house that isn’t finished yet, they would never give a date.

But they gave us a date right at the start. They said May. Later revised to mid-June due to a spell of bad weather. But now they can’t give us a date because anything could go wrong. The agent couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see that they’d given us dates before so there can’t be hard and fast rules about getting dates from builders. Also, being told May, at the time, fitted in perfectly with our plans. If they’d said then that they had no idea when they’d be able to move out, I doubt that we would have put in an offer, regardless of how good the property is.

Our seller is under stress now, said the agent, as she tries to confirm with her solicitor that they can exchange this week and complete on 2nd July. I didn’t take the bait and tell that actually, we’re quite stressed out too. Yesterday, she regurgitated a conversation I’d had with her on 2nd March. I explained that the situation is totally different now.

Anyway, that’s where we are.

Freegle is a great resource: you can get total strangers to come to your house and take stuff away. I’ll miss the old 1990s stereo system that hasn’t worked properly for years. The record player was disposed of years ago. Buttons on the cassette player broke many moons ago. If you play a CD, it usually skips the first time, but is OK if you restart. Plus, one of the speakers only works intermittently. The FM aerial is meh. The AM aerial is meher. Other than that, it’s in perfect working order. I recorded may radio programmes on it in the olden days.stereo

It’s a lovely sunny day, we should be outside enjoying the weather, not inside packing and emptying the loft. Maybe we’ll go for an early evening stroll, after the man’s picked up his stereo system!

On this day in 2014, we went to the British Museum to see The Vikings Exhibition. We went with Myra, Sarah’s Mum and found it a very interesting display. They certainly got around, those Vikings. We ate at a Turkish restaurant afterwards. I must have been suffering from my earlier fast though, as there are, unusually, no photos.

Yes, I fasted for 12 hours overnight prior to my free old farts’ health check with the GP. This is when the rot set in. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure but as I was training for a long bike ride, I chose not to start taking medication until after that event. So, in the following November, I started taking anti-hypertension medication. Wow: shortness of breath, no stamina, I felt horrible. Even after a change of drugs, I still felt ridiculously weak and feeble.

Once I stopped working for Royal Mail, the BP dropped to fairly normal and I stopped taking the medication. But here I am, two years on, still with nowhere near the stamina I once had. I don’t have dizzy spells as often as I did back then, but every now and then, if I stand up too quick, I feel all wobbly. I know there are risks with high blood pressure, but really, I was much better off before I knew I ever had high blood pressure!

But that’s all in the past. The really exciting news is that Liesel had been talking to a Travel agent about our travels. All very exciting but the bad news is, I forgot we had to pay for it. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but the schedule so far looks quite breathtaking, although subject to change: Vancouver, Anchorage, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Botswana. This will be much more fun to write about when the time comes than all this house-moving mallarkey.

 

Plan B

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve looked at the wall where the clock used to be. It’s a surprise every time. Then I remember, it’s been packed. All the pictures have been taken down too and bubble-wrapped. We have twelve boxes of books, seven of CDs and DVDs and several more boxes yet to fill.

Yes, we’ve caught the disease from Jenny and our house is sagging under the weight of filled and empty cardboard boxes. Aha, so we have a moving date in mind, you’ll assume. Well don’t assume anything, as they say, you’ll just make an ass of u and me.

We received an email from our solicitor this morning telling us that our vendors are still waiting for replies to their searches and enquiries. A process that we followed several weeks ago, and we assumed they had too. See what I mean about making assumptions? We thought the hold-up at their end was that their new-build house isn’t finished yet. But no, it’s admininstration that could and should have taken place weeks, if not months, ago.

The sellers’ agent waffled a bit while I was on the phone, I didn’t get  a definitive moving date, so reluctantly, we threatened to pull out of the whole thing.

We want to get out of this house so that we can get on with our travels. There are reasons why we want to be in Alaska as soon as possible and not just because of its blink-and-you-miss-it Summer.

Plan B is to put all our stuff into storage for a year so that’s what we’ve arranged. A nice Big Yellow Storage room in (or somewhere close to) Cheadle. We’ll be homeless, yes, but the stuff will be as safe as possible, and we can look for a house when we get back. Scary, Mary. Ideally, we’d prefer Plan A, to move into the flat, which is still the best one we’ve found while searching online. And far better than any of the others that we actually went to look at.

This week, then, we’ll carry on with the packing up, dismantling the old stereo system and shelf units, disposing of items that we’re not keeping and that our buyer doesn’t want us to leave behind. We believe she’s keen to exchange soon and to complete maybe within a couple of weeks. And if we get the bulk of the packing done, we’ll celebrate by going into London and having some fun at the weekend.

I can’t remember the exact details but I suspect that this is the sort of nonsense that led Sarah and I to vow that we would never, ever again, move house when we first moved here, 33 years ago.

While we’re looking back: On this day in 2011, Liesel and I saw Alison Steadman in Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit at London’s Apollo Theatre. We enjoyed her performance…

In 2007, we were having our new kitchen installed. This is the day on which Richard the plasterer plastered the kitchen. In the process, many water and gas pipes were hidden within the walls, giving us much more wallspace for storage.

In years to come, I hope we can look back at today’s conundrum and just laugh it off. We’re listening to some nice, relaxing songs. Moving house and all that is frightening but the music is soothing and we both started grooving, yeah, yeah, yeah…

Sorry if you were hoping to read something about Plan B, the musician!