Sunday 27 April 2014

Moggy goes home to Brum

We awoke this morning at The Star Inn feeling rather delicate after last night's partying (Stuart didn't even remember his rum & coke, toffee vodka, mojito, flaming Sambuca or the drinking beer through a straw...) and the idea of us both having to drive cars to Birmingham (today's to-do list) couldn't have been much less appealing.

For a while it was touch and go as to whether we would both even make it to breakfast, but we managed to drag ourselves up and thank goodness we did! Paul and Marie joined us for breakfast, seemingly feeling similarly ropey, but it only took a glass of orange juice, a cup of coffee and some toast for us to start warming up and feeling more human, and an excellent full English/scrambled eggs and bacon worked wonders, leaving us feeling transformed - not quite as good as new, perhaps, but as near as damn it!

After packing up all of our bags into the van/car and settling the bill, we left the Star and drove to Dave & Sarah's in Harwell to drop the van off. After a cup of tea and catch up with Sarah and Ollie, it was off to Abingdon to pick up the Moggy from its garage.

Good little Moggy started on third attempt and we were off, chugging our way to Birmingham (Stuart driving the Moggy, me following behind in the Citroen). The Morris Minor will be staying in its old home with Stuart's Mum for the next few months until we can get back over here and arrange for it to have a few upgrades done and then take it over to Italy with us!

We were welcomed in Birmingham with a delicious roast - just what the doctor ordered.

Think it might have to be an early night tonight!

~ Helen


Last night we thought we were going for dinner with Jennie and Pete at The Star Inn at Sparsholt. Imagine our surprise then, when we turned up at the pub with Jennie and Pete, and the first person we saw was Paul, then Marie, then Allison, Q, Sarah, Becky, Kath, Lisa, David, Dodge and Rowan. We were absolutely gobsmacked and thrilled beyond belief! They'd only gone and organised a surprise party behind our backs and worked out a complex rouse to put us off the scent. It worked a treat - we didn't have the faintest idea anything was going on - despite actually having passed Paul & Marie's car on our way to pick up Jennie and Pete and not even registered that it really was them!

As if that wasn't already amazing enough, Colin, Louise and Sarah H arrived a little later, and then Julie and Graham appeared. Just incredible. We were totally overwhelmed by everyone's kindness and feel so very, very lucky to know such amazing, lovely people, and honoured to be able to call them our friends.

Dave had cooked us all some delicious curry to eat, and the drinks flowed very freely all night.

It's only really today that the events of last night are starting to sink in. We both have thoroughly warmed hearts after seeing everyone there on our account - and how on earth they all kept it a secret we'll never know! 

It was a truly wonderful evening and one that we'll never forget. 

Thank you to everyone.

Quite simply, our friends rock.

~ Helen & Stuart

Thursday 24 April 2014


We are now officially homeless.

Most of our worldly possessions are in a storage unit somewhere in Worcestershire waiting to be shipped to Italy, and we are living out of a suitcase (or to be more precise, 3 suitcases, 4 bags, 2 document wallets and a rucksack).

When I got home from my meeting at work at about 4.15pm yesterday the removal men were just coming to the end of their mammoth task and putting the last few bits into the lorry. I dashed round to Anne and Dave's to borrow their vacuum and started frantically going round the house trying to make it a bit more presentable. I felt terrible about the state we left much of the house in - while I'd managed to clean the bathroom and the white goods in the kitchen, I didn't manage to get around to any of the kitchen drawers or cupboards or floor, or the living room floor (which really could have done with several going-overs with a mop - there was a small stain in the corner that looked suspiciously like cat wee, and some stains underneath where the sofa had been which I've a nasty feeling were from where a couple of mice had departed this mortal coil after having been mauled by aforementioned cats...), and I would have liked to have wiped down all of the windowsills and radiators. Funny how much dirt is camouflaged when there are other objects and furnishings to distract the eye, but it stands out horribly when the room is empty!

The new owners arrived at about 5pm, so we introduced ourselves, apologised profusely for not having managed to do as much cleaning as we would have liked, and wished them good luck in the house. It was nice to meet them - my previous experience of British house-buying/selling has always been a bit cloak-and-dagger, with you rarely finding out very much about who you are buying/selling from, and certainly not meeting in person. They seemed like a pleasant couple, with a new baby in tow, so I do hope that they will enjoy the house and love it as much as we have. It should make a lovely family home, and I know the neighbours will be friendly and helpful.

We then started a series of house calls - first stop Anne and Dave's to return their vacuum and have a quick cup of coffee. Next stop Leigh and Chloe's to say we were off - they say they have already booked a babysitter for next Friday so they can come to our leaving drinks. It'll be nice to see them there. Next it was a quick chat with Kevin and Gerry, before setting off for Headington to deliver our spare double bed to Lena's - after having thought we would just have to take it to the tip in Stuart's van (and pay to dispose of it due to Stuart's van being classed as commercial), Lena texted me to say that George could give it a good home. Perfect!

After unloading the bed we spent a lovely hour having a chat and cup of tea with Lena and Richard, then set off for our final port of call: Allison and Q's in Wallingford.

On our arrival Allison had a bottle of bubbly and a delicious meal waiting for us. It was *so* nice to sit down in a comfy chair in a nice, cosy house with a plate of yummy hot food and a glass of wine. Just what the doctor ordered!

In all the frantic dashing about yesterday I barely had time to think about leaving our house and Wick Close, although I'd done plenty of that in the days and weeks running up to move day. It felt odd driving into Abingdon this morning though - knowing that this is no longer where our home is.

Now begins the countdown to leaving the country...

~ Helen 

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Move day

It's perfectly possible to pack up a house, clean, tidy and move out all on just 3.5h sleep, right??

I was up until 2am last night tearing up Stuart's old business accounts (dating back to 1996) so that we could dispose of them at the local tip (having left it all far too late to shred them and dispose of them properly in the recommended way...). Stuart managed to stay up until just after midnight, having had a tough day's work as well as a drive to Birmingham and back.
We were up again at 5.45am in time for me to go to the spin at the dojo, while S finished off some paperwork. We'd been told that the removal company would be with us between 12.30 and 2.30pm, so I thought that a 45 min spin class wouldn't make too big a dent in the day - but nevertheless we cracked straight on with the sorting/cleaning/tidying as soon as I got back.

S had just left in the car for a final run to the tip when the removals lorry turned up at 10.20am - 2 hours earlier than expected.

The removals men got on with the packing and moving while I frantically tried to finish tidying up the bits and pieces I didn't want them to pack, and clean the dishwasher/washing machine/fridge/tumble drier!

Having seen us busy at it, our kind neighbours Anne and Dave offered us a coffee at theirs, so we went round for a chat and a very welcome break from it all. It struck me while sitting in their kitchen that we'll miss all of our friendly, generous neighbours who have been so good to us, and that after today we may not see them again before we go! Very sad! 

We popped round to our nearest pub for a bite to eat at lunchtime as we only seemed to be getting in the way of the removals men - and not long after we'd sat down I received an email to say that the sale had completed. (Email?? Whatever happened to using the phone and letting me know in person?!!)

Thankfully, the estate agent seems to be in no rush to release the keys to the new owners until we've finished our removals and didn't have a problem with us saying it'd likely take all afternoon for the removal men to finish.

Currently, I'm at work, having come in for a brief meeting and to use the computer to complete the insurance details for the removals. Stuart has told the estate agents we're aiming to be out of the house by 5pm. I've just realised that's only an hour away. Cripes, better get going!

~ Helen

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Back on track?

Stuart received some information from the Italian side of things this afternoon.

Richard emailed him to say that he's spoken with Marco (the bank manager) who's told him that as long as the surveyor's report is submitted by this Thursday, the mortgage should be released next month. Richard is planning to check on Friday that the report has been sent.

Meanwhile, Andrea (the geometra) will have completed his duties and paperwork regarding the house by the end of next week ... so "we should still be 'on track'  for the 9th".

Well, that's a relief! 

We'll be waiting with bated breath to find out from Richard whether the surveyor's report is submitted in time!!

~ Helen

The day before move-out

Tomorrow is the day we leave our lovely Abingdon house, and while it looks nothing like the lovely house we are used to - with furniture stacked up and boxes all over the place - we both feel very sad to be leaving and can't quite believe that tonight will be our last night sleeping here.

After getting back from Bristol yesterday we dashed around trying to get a lot more jobs ticked off, but somehow seemed to have lost a lot of the momentum that we had on Fri & Sat and didn't manage to power through the jobs as quickly as we had hoped. We were both exhausted, which didn't help.

We failed on our very first job of the day yesterday - we tried to donate several boxes of bric a brac, toys, etc. to a charity but they refused to take it, saying that they were only open for selling, not for taking anything in! We both felt quite annoyed and frustrated at not being able to tick a job off and as a result I've had to take the morning off work today to run errands to the charity shop, tip etc.

The good news is that Emmaus, the Oxford-based homeless charity, came round this morning and have taken away almost all of the spare furniture - the only thing they wouldn't take was a double bed, so we will have to scratch our heads and work out a way to dispose of that tomorrow!

Stuart has gone back to Birmimgham today to continue work on his Mum's bathroom, but is coming back this evening to try and get the last few bits done before the removal men arrive in the morning.

We've still had no news from Italy regarding the bank/the final meeting for the house purchase, although we had an email from the current owner, Keith, over the weekend. Keith's email was a little incomprehensible (nothing unusual), but it was at least good to hear from him and there was nothing to suggest the whole house sale is off or anything as drastic as that!

~ Helen

Monday 21 April 2014

Easter - cat moving day

On Easter Sunday, while the rest of the world was waking up to Easter egg hunts and chocolate-eating marathons, we were up at the crack of dawn to prepare for our journey to Bristol with Lucca and Florence.

They seemed to be able to sense that something was up and were very skittish while we went out our preparations trying our hardest to pretend that everything was normal.

Disaster almost struck at the last minute - just as we were loading the car with the last of their paraphernalia before setting off, the front door accidentally swung open and both cats escaped outside. Thank goodness for a chilly, grey morning, otherwise I don't think we would have been able to coax them back in!

Thankfully Florence was quite cooperative and went into her box relatively easily, and while Lucca was more troublesome, we managed to catch him and get him secured in his box fairly quickly, and by 8.40am we were ready to set off.

It was horribly sad taking them away from their happy home in Abingdon.

The journey was relatively quiet and stress-free though. There was a fair bit of idignant miaowing (especially when going round corners), but we've had far worse just taking them across to the other side of Abingdon to the vets. We had taken the precaution of spraying the car and their boxes with the pheromone-based calming solution Feliway and dosing the cats up with the cat stress-relieving food supplement Zylkene, so maybe that is what made the difference.

We made it to Bristol just before 10am, with a warm welcome for all four of us from Mum and Dad.

On being 'set free' from their travel boxes, Florence quickly came out and started sniffing her way cautiously around the living room, investigating all the furniture, nooks and crannies. Lucca, meanwhile, ran straight to the nearest safe haven he could find - underneath a large wooden chest - and stayed there. In fact, he refused to budge for two hours - not even being tempted out by food or toys.

Lucca in his 'safe place' - where he stayed for the first two hours.

Florence, meanwhile, quickly found her confidence, checked out the view from the window (lots of birds for her to watch and chatter at in the garden) and even ventured out of the room, to inspect some of the rest of the house.

Florence the Brave.

When Lucca eventually felt confident enough to come out from under the chest, he let us stroke him and play with him for a short while - before going and hiding behind the grandfather clock in the corner of the room...

Lucca squeezed behind the grandfather clock.

By the middle of the afternoon, though, both cats seemed to be feeling a little more relaxed and started settling into their new surroundings.

Feeling more at home.

After a delicious lunch courtesy of Mum, we had a visit from my friend Louise in the afternoon, who got to meet Lucca and Florence. It was great to catch up with Louise briefly, but it felt odd to be saying goodbye knowing that the next time we saw her it might be when she comes to visit in Italy!

We stayed the night in Bristol, and the cats got up to all of their usual tricks during the night: attacking our feet while we slept (and Mum's and Dad's - not the best way to ingratiate themselves!), jumping on shelves, knocking things over, hissing at each other, and general messing about. ALL night. It was nice to know they seemed to be feeling more like their usual selves, but by the morning I felt like I had only managed about 20 minutes sleep!

We left Bristol straight after an early breakfast as we still had so much to do back in Abingdon. It was horrible having to leave our little cats behind, even though we know for sure that they will be very well loved and cared for - and when we got home the house felt very empty without them.

Mum and Dad updated us today to say that both cats seem to be coming round to the idea of being in their new temporary home, and getting used to Mum and Dad. It's a relief to know they are doing well, but we still miss them!

~ Helen

Wednesday 16 April 2014


So one thing is now definite: we will be completing and moving out of our Abingdon house on 23rd April. A week today!!

The solicitor phoned this afternoon to say that the buyers were ready to exchange contracts, and then called back about 10 minutes later to say we have exchanged.

It would be rather nice to have some more certainty on the Italian side of things - at the moment it feels like we are leaving our lovely Abingdon home with no certainty of having anywhere else to move to! Needless to say, we haven't heard any more about the possible hold-up/problem since last Friday, so we're still none the wiser as to what the problem is, how serious it is, whether there might be a delay of a few days or a few weeks, or even any delay at all.

I experienced my first farewells today - Ana & Jenny at the dojo, who are off on holiday to Thailand next week, so may not see me before they go, and Monika, who I visit for my daily coffee from the Sophos restaurant, who is off to Poland to visit family and won't be back until the start of May. It feels very odd, and slightly surreal!

Stuart is having the first of his farewell drink get-togethers this evening in Birmingham, with as many of his Birmingham-based buddies as can make it.

As I said - surreal.

~ Helen

Monday 14 April 2014


Trying to put the potential delay at the Italian end to the back of our minds (never mind the fact that we have yet to exchange contracts on our Abingdon house), we spent a significant part of the weekend packing, sorting and clearing out.

After 8 hours at it yesterday, the loft is now completely clear, the shed has been cleared out and tidied (we are leaving a few items in it for the new owners), and we are up to 21 packed boxes.

We had a brief visit from Jennie, Pete and Megan yesterday afternoon, who came to relieve us of some toy storage units that there simply won't be room for in Italy. We managed to grab a half-hour break and a cup of tea with them in the glorious sunshine in the garden. It was really lovely to see them all and a very welcome distraction, although they were gone all too soon and there was nothing else for it than to get back to it.

The cats have not been impressed with all of the disruption, and frankly I know how they feel! It's all very unsettling and now Stuart has gone to Birmingham for the week, leaving me and the cats sitting amongst boxes, dust, cobwebs and general disarray.

There have been no more updates on the Italian situation as yet (no surprises there - we must get our heads around doing things the 'Italian way' at Italian speed!), but the solicitor dealing with our Abingdon sale has reported: "Apparently there is a bit of a hold-up in relation to [the buyers'] own sale transaction. They are selling a Leasehold property and the Management Company have not put in place the necessary fire risk assessments and asbestos checks regarding the Building ... those are being dealt with now but it may take a few days for them to be resolved."

I'm finding the uncertainty of it all very difficult to deal with - I need concrete dates and definite arrangements! 

~ Helen

Friday 11 April 2014


'Four weeks today we should be completing the purchase of our Italian home!' ... Or maybe NOT!!!!

Stuart received an email from Richard this afternoon, saying "Andrea [the geometra] has spoken to the bank today and there may be an issue with them been ready for the 9th. He is going to keep the existing appointment and will let us know if it needs to be changed."

Arggh! What sort of issue?!!! Are we going to get our mortgage ok?

Hopes of a non-stressy weekend have just gone out the window...

Might have to sink a large glass of wine or two this evening :-/

~ Helen

8 boxes, a birthday and a fight with a tiger

As good as his word, Stuart started packing boxes the same evening they arrived. Our house is now in disarray, with piles of things to be donated to charity shops, stacks of packed boxes and other stacks of yet-to-be-packed boxes. The living room looks very bare with all of the books gone from our bookshelves (not to mention DUSTY! - I'm no major fan of dusting, but even I am appalled by the build-up of dust on the shelves) and we are reduced to eating dinner on the sofa, balancing plates on our laps, as the dining table and chairs have been moved out of the way to make room for the stacks of boxes.

The trip to the vet on Tuesday evening was traumatic to say the least. 

I was thrilled when Florence went up straight up to her travel box to sniff the inside of the box, I gave her a gentle nudge on her rear end, and she walked in of her own accord. What a well behaved little cat!

However, Lucca was another matter altogether. It's unfortunate that this has all come very soon after his recent stay in 'cat-hospital', and he absolutely did NOT want to get into his box, or be lowered into his box, or be coerced into his box, or be shoved into his box... It took Allison and me a good 15 minutes to get him securely in - a very stressful 15 minutes for everyone involved. I ended up looking like I'd been in a fight with a tiger as every time I picked him up he wriggled and squirmed and tried to get away by crawling up across my back, using his claws to gain purchase. Poor Lucca - I felt horrible putting him under so much stress. Allison was an absolute angel (and far too polite to say whether she had taken any blows). I'm sure my back was bleeding as I finally left the house.

Once I got them to the vet everything was very straightforward. Neither of them even so much as flinched when they were jabbed, and then Stuart came to help take them home (the easy bit!).

On getting home, Lucca immediately ran and hid under the bed, and I had to resort to taking his dinner to him (under the bed). He cowered every time one of us went near him all evening, but thankfully seemed gradually to forgive us and ended the evening being his usual cuddly and affectionate self. Phew!

The idea of taking them to Bristol in a little over a week's time fills me with utter dread!

Today is Stuart's birthday :-) He only had a half day's work to do this morning, so has been able to have his birthday afternoon off. He hasn't been taking it easy and enjoying himself though - he's had an afternoon of more box packing and lawn mowing! Hopefully dinner at the Crown and Thistle pub in Abingdon will be a bit more of a relaxing birthday treat.

Four weeks today we should be completing the purchase of our Italian home!

(Although we still haven't exchanged contracts on the sale of our Abingdon house!)

~ Helen

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Two weeks (and a day) until completion

Provided our buyers' buyers get their act in gear (apparently they are "waiting for management company information to come through"), we will be completing the sale of our house two weeks tomorrow.

Over the weekend we arranged for Oxford-based homeless charity Emmaus Oxford to collect some of the large pieces of furniture that we won't be taking with us (they have a shop that sells second-hand [donated] furniture on to people who have been homeless and are just getting set up in a home for the first time).

We also tried to make some sort of plan for the 10 days in which we will be nomads before we leave the UK (all but two of the nights are accounted for so far, with a combination of staying in friends' spare rooms, B&B nights at pubs and visits to family). We also set up mail forwarding and booked our Eurotunnel crossing for Monday 5th May!!

This evening Lucca and Florence are due to have their rabies injections at the vets. I'm not looking forward to that one little bit, especially as I now have to take them on my own as Stuart has an appointment elsewhere (hmm, very convenient...). Thankfully, Allison has agreed to pop home with me to help me wrangle them into their travel boxes.

We took delivery of 30 packing boxes from the removals firm today, so tonight the packing starts!

~ Helen 


Saturday 5 April 2014

three weeks until completion

Actually, it's less than three weeks until completion if the removals company can accommodate us - our buyers have asked if we can complete on 23rd April - two days sooner than we were expecting, and less than three weeks away. Suddenly it all feels very real, very scary, and there's still SO much to do.

We both feel very sad about leaving our lovely house in Wick Close - and the idea of not having a new home to move into immediately will make it even more of a wrench to leave. We've had some very happy times in this house, and have both realised we are way more attached to it than we realised.

Our 'mogglies' Lucca and Florence have an appointment at the vet next week to have their rabies jabs done and the paperwork stamped for their passports - and we are hoping to take them to their 'holiday home' in Bristol in two weeks. Mum and Dad have very kindly offered to look after the cats for us until the animal courier company can collect them in June - the very idea of it all makes me feel panicky and teary - it's such a long way for two little cats to travel on their own!

We have also been trying to work where we will live after we have moved out and before we leave the country - we will be homeless for a little under two weeks in a little under three weeks!

~ Helen