2013: A year in boxes

It was a year ago that we decided to move house.

We stayed in last New Year in our flat in Stoke Newington. We went to bed about 1am, feeling smug about the potential of not being tired and hungover on New Years Day for a change. But, living in a flat, at the front of a house, on a busy-ish street – sleep, we did not. People coming in and out drunk, people having long conversations about how and when to get a taxi right outside our window, people singing down the road. The next morning, possibly more tired than had we been out, we started the conversation. If only we could have a house, maybe we should just think about moving?

By lunchtime, we were on Right Move, looking at houses in Manor Park and Forest Gate, after having spent Christmas with my other half’s parents there, having a nice walk on Wanstead flats and thinking, could we live here? Became pleased about how much we could get for our money if we sold up in N16. Decision made, we started planning. People had said to me, it could take you a year to move. Well, it didn’t quite take that long, but it certainly did take up the whole year, in many ways. I kept thinking in January, maybe by the end of the year I might have a house, and space for a Christmas tree.

And here’s how it happened:

January:

Having made the decision to move, it was time to ready the flat to sell. A.k.a – do all those jobs you’ve been putting off for the last few years. A.k.a – find handyman to fill small hole in bedroom wall, look at the light in the bathroom, fix the cooker hood. During time he is there: cooker hood explodes, upstairs washing machine floods, water comes through ceiling; handyman is booked to return again to repaint the kitchen ceiling once the damp has dried out.

February:

Flat finally goes on the market. After panicking for weeks about whether it will sell, it sells in four days,  after an open house viewing. To a cash buyer. Stoke Newington had become ‘that’ kind of place. Go to New York; panic about finding somewhere else to live now we had sold so quickly.

March:

The house hunt in Forest Gate and Manor Park starts. Take afternoon off work and see a house on Godwin Road (with holes in many walls), house on Sebert Road (detached! With huge garden! But which needed complete gutting and starting again) and house on Durham Road (fall in love, immediately put in an offer!). Offer accepted the next day. Start planning work and picking paint colours. Think, well, that was easy. Two weeks later: house falls through after vendor pulls out. Heartbroken, we return to search. See house on Ridley Road (dank, damp and depressing), another house on Sebert Road (open house viewing, sizing up other couples like us, could be amazing, but it again needs gutting, though, I am keen). Call estate agent – house has gone for full asking price offer. Nothing else on market.

April:

Dearth of property; completion date on own sale set for 11th April. Receive kind offer of a room at both parents’ houses. Decide to pack up and do it. See house on Rosedale Road, just south of Romford Road. Could we live there? Beautiful features, needs some work but all liveable. Amazing cornicing and tiles. It’s under budget. My grandparents were born around the corner. It could be fate. We offer. Have gastro-enteritis, find out offer is accepted. Feel numb. Book survey. Pack, pack, move to temporary room in Whitta Road, Manor Park, take more boxes with us than necessary. Ten days later: receive email from old estate agent about a house back on market in Godwin Road (not the one with holes in walls) that we’d seen early in year but was under offer. Bigger house, better location, near Wanstead flats. Decide we should take a look. Other half is away, so I go alone with instructions “if you like it, offer”. Pressured viewing with two other couples. Feel nervous and excited. Love the road. House needs work but area is just perfect. Decide to offer. Go to Cornwall with friends. Offer accepted while standing in middle of a field with limited mobile reception. Jump up and down, then feel immediately guilty about Rosedale. Call other estate agent to pull out. They are sad, but happy as we have just saved the Godwin Road chain from falling through and they act for the house our vendors were buying. All is well again.

May:

Rush to get things in order for exchange at end of month. Everyone keen to move as quickly as possible. Still staying with parents. Exchange date is imminent when we hear that top of chain are now buying a different property and there is a hold up. Everyone is angry. No movement.

June:

Constant calling of agents and solicitors to find out progress. Play the waiting game. Get more angry. Go to stay with friends for a week to give parents a break. Hassle all the agents in chain to no avail. Finally we exchange contracts after everything nearly falls through on day of exchange. Completion date set for 28th June. Day of completion comes. Solicitor’s bank has error and no money leaves their account. Cry at Westfield and cancel our movers. Error is sorted by mid-afternoon, and money starts to move. Solicitor calls to say they sent the wrong amount of money. Everyone panics. Eventually, somehow we all complete at 4.45pm. We finally get keys at 5.30 but don’t get to move in that day. But, we do, finally have a house!

July:

Moving day, but no sign of movers. Swear we are never moving again. Eventually move in 2 days before we go on holiday. Call electrician friend who comes day before we go to look at electrics – find out we need to rewire. Start process of drawing all over the walls night before we go away. Rewire started while in France! Rest of month taken with rewire, dust and more dust. Oh, and a bit of gardening.

August:

Still rewiring. Get the garden in order. Hmm. It was sunny…? Discover lovely restaurants in Wanstead, just a short bus ride away – Tapas, Pub and Italian (actually owned by our electrician’s dad, who sadly recently retired and sold the restaurant).

September:

Rewiring finally finishes! And clean up begins. Forest Tavern opens to much delight. Friends decide they will also try to move to Forest Gate. Remove horrible en-suite bathroom. Decide to redo kitchen. Finally put clothes away, but still have hundreds of boxes as yet unpacked.

October:

Quiet in the house. Move all the boxes to another room, and make a spare room for our first overnight guest. Take up carpet and discover nice floorboards! Duct tape up the holes in her ceiling. Guest comes and loves the house. Phew! Get call from our builder – he’s ready earlier than planned and can start work on the kitchen at beginning of November. Panic buy floor tiles and take trip to Ikea to decide on kitchen.

November:

See great, free, firework display at Wanstead flats. Try to meet up with other friends who moved to the area from Dalston. Fail. Too many people and rain. Work starts on lounge. Give up all living space downstairs and decamp to our bedroom. Lament decision to do kitchen and lounge at same time. Go on holiday! Return to no kitchen. Eat many excellent meals at Forest Tavern and Siam Cafe and have many curries delivered from Sagor in Manor Park (now, also, sadly closed). Have breakfast with a colleague who tells me ‘Everyone is moving to Forest Gate’. Honestly, nobody had heard of it a year ago.

December:

Kitchen starts to take shape. Lounge is painted, orange! Move back into the downstairs of house. Buy A CHRISTMAS TREE from The Old Slate Yard just down the road. Spend happy day decorating tree. Think back to January and feel pleased. Panic about finishing kitchen and diner by Christmas. We are cooking for 11. Have final day with builder where our glass splash-backs don’t fit, and when trying to trim one, it smashes.  He looks like he might cry. We raise a glass to great progress and not worrying about splash-backs. We move yet more boxes and make up the spare room again for Christmas guests. More holes are covered, but this time with pictures. Sofas are moved around. A shower is made in the downstairs bathroom out of a painting pole! Guests arrive, love house. Phew. Diner remains unpainted for Christmas day but we decorate with paper chains and garlands and nobody cares. Oven works, there is a lot of wine and we christen our kitchen and new house with our family. Card is put through door from someone desperate to move to Forest Gate. Friends are still trying to find a house here. Go on weekly run on Wanstead Flats and feel lucky. Paint the dining room on New Years Eve, but don’t mind.

Feel so pleased we made the decision to move when we did.

Resolve that by next Christmas we will have unpacked the rest of the boxes.

Open wine. Rest.

Happy New Year Forest Gaters!

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E7 Gardening: Ups and Downs

It’s a bit quiet on the house front at the moment as we’re between jobs, and are just planning which next room to take apart. It’s funny, you have weeks where the dust annoys you, but when it stops, you’re like…hmm, we should be making dust again! When shall we next make a new building site?

In the meantime I’ve been trying to turn my attention to the garden. As you might know, I’m not the most green fingered, but I am trying. Since my epic B&Q trip a few weeks back, the weather has been unpredictable to say the least. We had one week of intense heat, and then nothing but rain, and then a dramatic plummeting of temperatures.

Some of my plants have faired okay, (despite the influx of snails)…but not my thyme. It’s been looking sorry for itself for a week or so, and just when I was considering bringing it inside, it seems to have completely given up the ghost. The other pots are doing okay, but the poor thyme. See exhibit A:

pots progress
Sad looking bottom left pot

I’m not sure what happened? I think perhaps the drop in temperature was too much for it? In other better news my Rosemary is thriving (far right pot). That is obviously one hardy herb that I can get behind.

A surprisingly nice thing in a different part of the garden, and which has pretty much nothing to do with me, as it was already in the garden when we arrived, is that this green plant (of which I don’t know the name…) has developed very nice pink heads. It had sort of creamy green heads in the summer, and now they are bright amongst the autumnal colours. But, for how long?

Pretty in pink & the makings of a rockery.
Pretty in pink & the makings of a rockery.

My lawn, over the last month or so, has become friend to many, many weeds. So, yesterday I took out the Weedol and started spraying viciously. I’m pleased to say my revenge is working. This was starting to look sad (or happy) when I came home today:

Take that
Take that

A few more sprays and then…*evil laugh*

So, there are some ups, despite the death of the thyme.

There is one very big down unfortunately.  Our garden is directly below an overhanging walnut tree. A very tall, very large walnut tree which we can’t reach ourselves to trim. Here’s exhibit B:

My enemy
My current enemy

You know, it looks nice enough, it doesn’t completely block out the sun, and eventually we will get ‘a man in’ to cut the overhanging branches. But for now, you go out into the garden and hear a sound. You can’t quite place it. Is it someone doing some work in their house? Is it a child nibbling on some particularly noisy nuts? You hear a rustle in the tree above and then suddenly, a bunch of walnuts, or should I say walnut shells come tumbling into your garden. Like this:

The aftermath
The aftermath

You look up to see a squirrel peering down to see what has happened to his spoils. You have a stare out until one of you gets bored (normally me) and normal service resumes.

Repeat about a hundred times until your garden beds end up looking like this:

Walnut graveyard
Walnut graveyard

It’s a becoming one of those things that is bothering me. This week I’ve also started to see the same squirrels BURYING THEIR NUTS IN MY LAWN. I mean, come on. I know they’re preparing for winter, and I feel for them, but I’d also like not to have my lawn dug and re-dug over and over again.

In order to mow my lawn, I need to spend about half an hour first raking up all the walnuts. And only to turn your head and see a new load of shells appear.

*Sigh* I’m fighting a losing battle. Save stringing a large net across the garden to catch the debris I am out of ideas.

When is walnut season over?

Autumn Garden prep

We moved here in July, and, despite me attacking the garden with shears, chopping back everything I could with the hope I wouldn’t kill it and pulling up loads of weeds (mainly all just to reach my washing line), I hadn’t progressed much with it I must admit.

And then, suddenly, it was nearly the end of the summer, and I half thought: do I just wait now till Spring?

Apparently not. According to the INTERNET now is the time to prep your garden for the colder months and plant things that you a) hope won’t freeze b) hope won’t get eaten by slugs and c) hope will come shooting up to cheer you up at the first sign of Spring. I have had some, but not much, experience with gardening up to now, but that was pretty much just pots on a balcony (but hey, one year, somehow I managed an almost excellent tomato crop) – but from my limited knowledge I knew there were plenty of things I could do now for the autumn.

Armed with Google’s finest list of winter plants, and a helpful companion who KNOWS about these things, we hit the wonder of B&Q.

Here’s what I ended up with:

Flower Haul
Plant Haul

Rosemary & Thyme (top right) – are hardy herbs that should survive winter I found out. I also got: Heather, for some of my empty border patches, Cyclamen (bottom left, pink) which will flower through autumn, Winter Pansies (same), Viola and Dianthus (the top white small flowers) which are basically just pre-ety, but also great for pots, plus also a Sedum, for my rockery(ish) area.

What you don’t see underneath here is also a lot of bulbs. I must have bought at least 50 or 60 bulbs. Tulips! Daffodils! Hyacinths! Snowdrops! Many other things I have already forgotten the name of…! The thing with bulbs is you do need patience. I have happily stuck my bulbs in pots and around the flower beds, and I have no idea what I planted where really, but hopefully come next Spring I will have a surprise…that is, if the damn squirrels don’t dig everything up.

I spent most of the afternoon grafting with compost and topsoil and pots and trowels but suddenly my empty pots are looking happy again, and I felt a sense of satisfaction:

pots
Better than a bit of mossy patio eh?

Now I just need to remember to water them.

And hope we don’t get a frost. I never thought I would become one of those people that worried about getting a frost.