Retrospective 2014

It’s been a year of change. Mary stopped working for City of York Council, I retired and we nearly moved to the Leicestershire wolds. It feels as though we spent more time sorting out our possessions and getting rid of decades of accumulated junk than anything else. And thereby hangs a tale…

First Quarter Clear Out

The year began with decluttering. Our third bedroom in York had only ever been used for storage – we called it the Junk Room – and we started with a blitz on its contents. I sold my Quad 33/405 hi-fi amplifier on eBay, my vinyl LPs fetched a good price at a local music shop and the electric guitars I never played went to a local online music trader. That left me with a big bass cabinet to get rid of.

big bass cabinet - large

I advertised it on Gumtree (a sort of local eBay) hoping to find a buyer who would collect it. After a week or so with no response I contacted a couple of music studios and student music societies in York. Those lines of enquiry also drew a blank. Then, as the Gumtree ads were about to expire, someone with a Polish-sounding name expressed an interest and asked if I was going to ship it. After a few emails we established that the buyer, Juliusz, knew a courier that could collect it from Nottingham and we took it with us next time we were visiting Mary’s folks.

We had agreed to hand over the cabinet between 4 and 5 pm. When no courier had arrived by 5:30 pm I called the first of two mobile numbers Juliusz had given me in case there was a problem. The call went through and I asked the man on the line if he was coming to collect a bass speaker cabinet from Nottingham. The reply was “No English. Moment…”. Then another voice came on and I tried again to explain that I was expecting a courier to collect a bass speaker cabinet. But a combination of heavy accent, broken English and poor quality connection defeated our best efforts at communication.

Changing tack, I called the other number Juliusz had given me. This time, over a lot of traffic noise, I managed to get across that I was waiting for a collection from Nottingham only to be told that they were driving round North London on another job and I needed to call their other number. With a sinking heart I once more looked up the first number I’d been given. As I was about to hit the ‘call’ button my phone rang. It startled me but, almost by reflex, I hit the ‘answer’ button and said, “Hello”.

A voice asked if I wanted something to be collected from Nottingham. There was still a foreign accent, rather poor reception and a fair bit of background noise but his English was good. Soon I had established that this guy hadn’t been asked to collect from Nottingham but he was willing to organise a pick-up and asked me to text him the address (as he was driving). So I terminated the voice call and sent him a text. Then I noticed that he wasn’t using either of the contact numbers that Juliusz had given me. “Who was that guy?”, I wondered.

Telling myself the courier must be genuine, we set off for the two hour drive back to York. Almost as soon as we got home my phone rang. It was the courier saying he couldn’t get an answer from the address I’d given him and could I, please, come outside so that he could collect the goods. Carefully, I explained that the speaker cabinet was in Nottingham and we were in York, but we had left the cabinet on the drive for collection. On hearing this he immediately confirmed that there was, indeed, a big bass speaker on the drive and that he would pick it up for us.

A few days later I received an anxious email from Juliusz asking if the cabinet had been collected OK. I told him the story and invited him to let me know if and when it arrived. The following day another email from Juliusz announced that he had received the cabinet safely in Poland – someone had packed it in a box for shipping. And that, dear reader, is where this little story ends – all’s well that ends well, as they say.

Preparing the House of Sale

There were a few little things to sort out before we could put the house on the market. Several tradesmen passed through: a bit of painting here, a small repair there. Mary got stuck into the Spring cleaning. We replaced the hall carpet with vinyl, changed the door handles and had the conservatory professionally cleaned. One day I came home from work to be told that the man who was cleaning the fascias had fallen off the roof onto the patio! He was quite shaken and badly bruised but, luckily, he was not seriously injured.

While this was going on we were keeping an eye on properties for sale somewhere between Nottingham and Leicester. We had a budget of £250,000 or so and wanted an energy-efficient house big enough for the two of us and, some day perhaps, an elderly relative. At the end of February, while browsing the Web, Mary spotted a new housing development on the edge of Sileby, a few miles north of Leicester. It was the Miller Homes’ Brookfields site where a few houses had been built, a few more were under construction and further phases were planned.

We were immediately attracted by the plots overlooking the Public Open Space. Unfortunately, the ones that had been released were either sold or unaffordable but there were a few unreleased plots just 50 yards along the road, including one that seemed to fit our requirements perfectly. The next time Mary was in Ruddington she went to look at the site and she wasn’t disappointed. Further enquiries established that the plot we had in mind was due to be released in July and was expected to be ready for occupation around the end of the year. Once it had been released we would be able to reserve it provided our present house was sold subject to contract.

To complete our preparations a new lounge and stairs carpet was fitted at the end of April and the house went on the market on Wednesday, 7th May. Over the next eight weeks we had sixteen viewings. Several prospective buyers seemed very interested but they were waiting for an offer on their own house before they would be in a position to make an offer for ours.

Boundary Fence

At the end of our back garden there’s a fence. A few feet beyond the fence there’s a slight dip where some sort of ditch or gully used to be. Between the fence and the dip there’s a splendid old oak tree, a few small young trees and some scrub. Before the houses were built it must have been the boundary between two fields. When we bought this house we assumed that our land ended at the fence but, subsequently, the neighbours told us that the gully actually formed the boundary – the oak and the scrub were on our land.

It was nice to have that extra sliver of land and we were delighted that the oak tree was, apparently, ours but we felt the uncertain position of the boundary might be a complication when it came to selling the house. Thinking that we should clarify the situation we asked our solicitor how we might go about it and then contacted the neighbours at the back. They turned out to be a really nice young couple with two small boys.

We suggested that we define the boundary at the fence, effectively giving them the awkward strip of land. They were really pleased. The boys like to play in the wild area and the woman works as an agriculturist – she loves trees and was very happy to become responsible for the health of the oak tree. In fact, they were so pleased that they offered to pay the £250 or so we were expecting it to cost.

First Offers

Two days after the house went on the market a Mr. G. came for a viewing. He almost sprinted round the house – in about 3 minutes he had come and gone. He obviously wasn’t interested in living here. Then, two days later, a really nice couple came to see the house with their grown-up daughter. They were very enthusiastic about the property. I’m sure they would have made us a sensible offer if they could but they were waiting to sell their own house. Our sale was underway in earnest.

The following day we were surprised to hear that Mr. G. had made us an offer. But it was an unacceptably low offer. Well, we didn’t like him anyway! Over the next eight weeks we had lots of viewings. Most of the potential buyers seemed to quite like the house but none liked it enough to want to buy it.

I visited the Sileby development for the first time during this period and we both popped in again a few weeks later to check some details. On this last visit the sales lady had some news for us. Miller homes had decided to re-schedule the building work and the plot we wanted wouldn’t be started until next year. That didn’t fit with our plans at all. It was very disappointing.

We consoled ourselves by renewing our online searches for houses to buy. There was an attractive house in Wymeswold – about 6 years old, 4 bedrooms and a study, and in an ideal location. It was only a semi and the asking price was a bit more than we wanted to pay but they were having an open day when we were in the area so we dropped in. And we liked it.

Then, at the end of June Mr. & Mrs. V. came along. They didn’t seem to like our Lea Way house much. When we showed them the back garden Mrs. V. remarked that she would like to remove the oak tree. We didn’t say anything at the time but we hastened to put the new boundary agreement in place to protect our beloved tree.

To our surprise Mr. & Mrs. V.  came for a second viewing the following week and then made us a reasonable offer. Of all the people who had come to see the house Mr. & Mrs. V. were the ones we least wanted to buy it. However, checking the Web we saw that the Wymeswold property had been reduced in price so, reluctantly, we accepted their offer and made our own offer for the Wymeswold house.

Making and Breaking the Chain

House buying chains build from the bottom up – a buyer with no property to sell at the bottom, a seller with nothing to buy at the top. Not long after we made our offer in early July Mr. & Mrs. M, the owners of the Wymeswold house, found a house they wanted to buy. The seller wasn’t buying another house, so the chain was complete and, all being well, we could be moving in 8 to 12 weeks.

The following day I told my boss at work that we were expecting to be moving and that I would be handing in my notice when we had firm dates. Just a few hours later I heard that someone further down the chain had dropped out. Mr. & Mrs. V. were no longer in a position to proceed with the purchase of our house and Lea Way was immediately back on the market. And, of course, we were no longer in a position to buy the Wymeswold house. It was a very disappointing setback.

For another month or so there was a slow stream of viewings. Finally, a lovely couple, Mr. & Mrs. C., came round, liked the house and made us an offer. The new offer was a little higher than the last and the Wymeswold house was still available. We were back in business! Now all we had to do was to wait for the solicitors up and down the chain to do the various searches and hope that nothing untoward came up.

A Short Delay

Time passed. Eventually, our solicitor completed her searches and we signed the papers so that we could exchange contracts as soon as everyone else was ready. Then we heard that Mr. & Mrs. M. had decided to buy a different house. Their estate agent assured us that this was unlikely to delay the process because their new seller wasn’t buying another property – the chain was still complete. We took the ‘no delay’ comment with a pinch of salt, but we were grateful that the chain remained intact.

And so, once again, we waited. By the middle of September it looked as though we would be ready to move in late October. I handed in my notice at work; I would leave Isotek at the end of October, taking the last two weeks as holiday. The house move was still progressing when we held my leaving do at Gusto’s Italian restaurant on the 17th October.

The next two weeks were spent packing things we weren’t going to need until after the move. By the end of October we were anxious to get a completion date so that we could book a removals company. Our solicitor told us that a completion date of 24th November had been suggested, although it wasn’t clear whether that had been agreed across the chain. Nevertheless, we went ahead and booked the removals, taking out the cancellation insurance just in case.

Another Delay

It was then that our solicitor took two weeks off because of a family bereavement. When she returned to work on the morning of the 18th November she phoned us to say that she would be exchanging contracts that same day. When the phone rang mid afternoon it wasn’t the solicitor, it was Mrs. C., our buyer, calling to tell us that the exchange of contracts wasn’t going to happen. Apparently, the seller at the bottom of the chain had a new buyer and we were all going to have to wait, again, for the searches, etc. to be done.

Mrs. C. sounded very upset but it could have been worse. The buyer at the bottom had dropped out but this news wasn’t passed up the chain for several days. In the meantime another buyer had been found, preserving the chain. But, of course, it meant another delay. There was now no realistic prospect of moving until the new year.

We cancelled the removals, thankful that we had paid for the cancellation insurance, and called a halt to the packing. Now we had time to do our Christmas shopping and we took full advantage of it.

Back to Square One

A month later, on the 15th December, our estate agents called to say that the new buyer at the bottom had also dropped out. It seems that the survey on the property they were buying had identified ‘movement’ and they were not prepared to proceed until the problem had been sorted out. This was devastating news. With no-one able to proceed all the properties in the chain had to go back on the market.

For six days we fretted. I published my retrospective finishing this section with the following gloomy comment:

As Christmas approaches that’s where things stand. Anyone want to buy a 3 bedroom detached house with a study in a quiet suburb of the desirable city of York? It would make a terrific Christmas present for someone… especially for us!

Then, on Sunday, 21st December, Mrs. C. phoned to thank us for our Christmas card and for delivering a card for them that had come here. She mentioned that their house sale was progressing. I was eager to hear more. Mrs. C. then told us that they had had three viewings that week and two offers, one of which they had accepted! Needless to say, we were ecstatic. We couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present.

Our estate agents phoned the following day to confirm that all the properties in the chain were still available and that we can now expect to move sometime in February. We’re keeping our fingers firmly crossed.

And In Other News…

Music Acquisitions

Between February and April I added one album a month to my music collection and September saw another:

I’d heard Half Moon Run’s Full Circle earlier in the year and stumbled on a video for Call Me In The Afternoon in late February. Both songs stand head and shoulders over run-of-the-mill indie tracks and the video’s nice, too, so I dug out the credit card and bought the album. It’s become one of my favourites; highly recommended.

Elbow has been one of my favourite bands for some time and The Take Off and Landing of Everything is another excellent release. Elbow’s music defies categorisation; that’s one of the things I like about it. And yet they have still managed to become one of the biggest bands of the last few years. For anyone who hasn’t discovered Elbow yet I suggest you listen to Fly Boy Blue/Lunette from “Take Off…“; you’ll love it, I promise!

Foster the People’s Supermodel was a Spotify recommendation. They’re a good indie/rock band – nice melodies and a strong beat. According to Spotify they’ve been nominated for several awards, including the BRITs and the Grammys. Certainly worth a few minutes of your time if you like that sort of thing.

Alt-J is another band that can only be described as ‘alternative’; they have their own unique sound. This is All Yours was never going to be as attention grabbing as their first album, An Awesome Wave, but it mixes their extensive repertoire of instruments, voices, textures and tunes in interesting ways once again. A top notch addition to my collection.

Bird Watching

My birthday presents this year included a session with professional wildlife photographer Steve Race at the RSPB nature reserve at Bempton Cliffs on the east coast between Filey and Bridlington. It’s a haven for seabirds including puffins, razorbills, kittiwakes and gannets. I needed a longer lens really but I did get some nice pictures of gannets soaring on the wind at the top of the cliff.

There are more photos here.

Another Milestone for Mary

For Mary’s 60th birthday we went to the Blue Bicycle restaurant in York. It has an excellent reputation and we’d been meaning to go for most of the 16+ years we’d been living here. It does have a lovely atmosphere, the service was good and the food was very appetising. We felt the meals had too many ingredients, though – too many tastes competing with each other. It wasn’t cheap, either, but it was a very enjoyable evening.

In the summer Mary resigned as an adult education tutor with City of York Council. Her last class was in late July and her employment officially ended in August. It took several more weeks to hand over to her colleagues and tie up all the loose ends. During the years Mary had been working for CYC there had been a number of organisational changes – not for the better as far as she was concerned. So it was with a sense of relief that Mary was, finally, able to put all that behind her.

Azaleas and Sculptures

At the end of May we took our annual trip to the Himalayan Gardens near Ripon. Here are a few photos. There are more here.

OU Memorial Garden

Mary responded to an Open University appeal for legacies and they invited her to visit their memorial garden on the OU campus in Milton Keynes. It was a sizzling June day. The photos here show the Tree of Life ceramic plaque, brass plates commemorating OU students, general shots of the garden and details from a wooden sculpture nearby.

The inscription under the Tree of Life reads:

A society grows great when we plant trees in whose shade we shall never sit.

A Visit from the Old Man

My dad came up to stay with us for a couple of days in August and we took him to Newby Hall to see the gardens and the sculpture trail. The gardens were at their very best and there were some impressive sculptures, too. The pony in these photos, for example, is made of bronze but you’d have sworn it was driftwood unless you tapped it and heard the hollow ring of cast metal.

The Yorkshire Arboretum

There was no Wild About Wood festival at the Yorkshire Arboretum this year – it was replaced with several smaller, family-friendly events, which we avoided. We did visit the arboretum, though, from time to time throughout the year to relax and commune with Nature. I took far too many photos to include here but there are a couple of albums on my flickr site: August, October.

A Day in York

One bright, warm day in September we were in York doing some shopping. As we were having lunch in Harlequin’s coffee house I spotted a photo opportunity. The cafe is usually packed with locals enjoying the excellent light meals but, on this occasion, it was quiet and none of the customers was likely to notice a surreptitious shot with the iPhone. Bright sunlight was streaming in through the window but the phone’s camera did a pretty good job of capturing the scene.

After lunch we came across an advertising stunt. Outside the south entrance of the Minster a vintage car decked in white ribbons and flowers drew up. Actors playing the part of the happy couple got out of the car, chatted with the onlookers and handed out leaflets promoting a wedding fair. It was pure commercialism, of course, but it made for a pleasant interlude and one more memory to take with us when we move.

Burnby Hall Gardens

For my last visit this year with the SLR camera we went to Burnby Hall Gardens. It was a warm, bright autumn day and I got some really nice photos. Here are a few:

As usual, there are more photos on my flickr site here.


… it just remains for me to wish all my online friends a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

By stoneyfish

Humanist and retired software engineer with a love of music.

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