I have moved house quite a few times now, and always single-handed. I used to enjoy moving. It was a chance to throw away surplus stuff, sort stuff out – and then the more leisurely process of finding a home for one’s accumulated equipment and ‘treasures’ in the new house. I was amazed, the first time, to find that I could. I had had years of being told – or at least it being implied – that I couldn’t organise a bun-fight in a bakery.
On one particular house move two of my husband’s friends, a man and a woman, turned up unexpectedly. Well, he knew they were coming, I didn’t. We were only moving round the corner so a van was involved, but no hired removal men.
The three of them then proceeded to carry all our joint possessions out and load them into the van, driving off and returning half an hour later for the next load, leaving me alone in a rapidly-emptying house. I asked what I could do to help; they ignored me. It was all very efficient, but I wondered what my husband had considered so defective about me that I couldn’t even lift the other end of the mattress or carry a box down the stairs. I was younger, taller and probably stronger than the woman who was doing all this manual labour on my behalf. Would it have been so impossible for my husband and me to accomplish a bit of box-packing and heavy lifting together for one day?
My first solo house move was away from him. It was a sad day. Worse, it involved two trips so there were two lots of marriage-ending horror in one day. I remember him telling me I hadn’t ‘burnished’ the parcel tape onto the cardboard boxes properly. I remember him giving me a brief, awkward hug – the first ever – but not actually asking me to stay. On the second trip I had to get petrol at a petrol station. I had never got my own petrol before – it was ‘one of my phobias’. However, the car couldn’t care less about my phobias, so in I drove and made a terrible mess of unfamiliar petrol pumps and whatnot. I didn’t realise it was a lot easier if you parked with the petrol cap towards the pumps, never having noticed the petrol cap before.
On all subsequent moves I knew I had the skills. I was a worrier, therefore a careful organiser. I was a logical thinker, and could see the ‘pattern’ of what I was going to have to accomplish. It was just like arranging visits to the Power Station, I realised. You had to get everything in place beforehand – enough people, the right people, all knowing what they needed to do. You had to ‘rehearse’ the day and imagine what might go wrong. You had to have some sort of contingency plan in place in case they did go wrong.
It all took a huge amount of energy, but I had that energy. I had files, and filed all the solicitors’ and other miscellaneous paperwork in those files, with dividers, and Postit notes. I even used to think about where I was going. Where are the nearest supermarkets, how far to the vet’s, where is the nearest recycling centre? I had a section for that too. I arranged cattery accommodation for an ever-growing number of cats and made sure those cats were up to date on their vaccinations.
My boxes were labelled with room numbers according to what they contained, and the removal men were given a photocopied plan of the new house, so they would know which box went in which room. I had notified all the services people in advance, arranged for a new telephone number and for the broadband to be moved. I read all the meters and phoned the gas, electric and water people from my car before I left, to give them my closing readings.
This time it seems harder. Physical energy seems to drain from you as you get older. There have been times, in these past few weeks, when I have longed for a controlling husband and hordes of unexpected distant acquaintances to arrive and take everything out of my hands. I’m packing a box or two a day. I move stuff around, emptying some rooms and filling others – one small piece of the jigsaw, then another. It will all be done in time, just more slowly.
Unfortunately I find slowness, this ‘bit at a time’ method really frustrating. I’m a ‘magic wand’ kind of person: I see the task in its entirety and I want it done now and out of the way. I find it almost impossible to leave things unfinished, which of course you have to do with something as complex as a house move. I know why things have to be left ‘dangling’: each item is contingent upon another item – they have to be done in the most logical order otherwise you find yourself undoing work, repeating work, doubling work.
I can see this pathway. But it will keep unrolling itself in my mind, shifting, adapting. It infuriates me not to have already done it. Not to have already done everything interferes with my writing. It stops me reading. It stops me resting. I seem to be using up a lot of energy just restraining myself from working three days flat out and finishing it all, without even a moving date.
I rather wish I could just, you know, be the sort of laid-back, Bugs Bunny sort of person who could leave everything till the last minute, work till 4 in the morning with the radio on loud (bother the neighbours); throwing stuff into any old cardboard box at random; whizzing twisted (and heinously unburnished) bits of parcel tape across the top, not bothering to label anything; then fall asleep on the sofa for a couple of hours and stagger out into the kitchen only to discover there’s neither kettle nor mug. Oh well, a splash of water from the tap. I thought I’d taken all the cats to the cattery. So what’s this one doing still here and eyeing the empty cat cupboard expectantly?
It would probably work just as well.