Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow asserts one of the many magnets littering the door of our fridge.
It has been six months since Mrs P’s last post. The magnet mantra is clearly one I have taken to heart. Should the P in Mrs P stand for procrastination? Dickens said: Procrastination is the thief of time. He was so right. But why the procrastination? Why has a post been so long in coming when I used to churn them out regularly in America?
Well one stumbling block is that Mrs P is no longer across the Pond, but back in her homeland. This blog was born out of a surprise move to America in 2015. Mrs P was A British wife attempting American life. Now she is a British wife attempting British life, which is not quite the same.
I’ll admit that I have felt slightly bereft without Mrs P. Over a period of many weeks, I have sensed a missive coming on and, finally, here I am, cranking up the ancient laptop to produce an update.
Life has been hectic since we arrived back in the summer. I suppose that in effect we were overseas for almost seven years, with just a small break back in the UK in the middle, so there has been a bit to do.
Relocating from Suburbia to the Sticks
In July, after nearly three years of living in America, we packed up our life and returned to rural north Essex. This was by far our most challenging move. When we left Singapore in 2015, from memory, we just left. We had a small flat, no car, not a lot of belongings and some electrical equipment, all of which would work back home. But extracting ourselves from the US of A was a more formidable operation.
That which does not kill us, makes us stronger
Downsizing from a spacious, fully furnished American five bedroom house to a small, fully furnished English three bedroom cottage has been interesting.
We always knew that when the time came to leave America, lying in wait for us in rural Essex was a tiny and already very full cottage.
I am a disastrous hoarder and, so it was, that when faced with a sizable empty American house, we filled it. To the gunnels. But apart from the odd investment piece like our American butterscotch Angel Delight coloured sofa, we knew that we had to ditch as much as possible. It was a race against time to shift pretty much everything from our American house before the container arrived to take the few essentials we thought we could house back in the UK.
If we’d been leaving London, we could have piled up our unwanted furniture by the side of the road and it would have been snaffled in moments. But I was pretty sure things didn’t work like that in the affluent suburbs of New York State.
As luck would have it, my brother in law Tim put me in touch with a coworker of his. Kitty was moving to Rye at just around the time we were leaving. She and her husband were upsizing from a bijou apartment in Manhattan to a five bedroom mock Tudor house in the heart of Rye and needed to kit their new place out.
Happily, they weren’t fussy, and took a good deal off our hands, even down to rickety Ikea shelves, a pink plastic shopping trolley and the kitchen table we had bought in 2015 in a hurry and had, over our time in America, grown to loathe. Kitty and her husband were also, for some reason, interested in the Ikea daybed that takes even the most skilled DIY devotee approximately three weeks to build, six uncomfortable wooden chairs and various mirrors we’d picked up cheap in a garage sale.
All the electricals had to go – not so much as a hairdryer could return with us. The US voltage is 120V, half of that in the UK and the frequency, wattage and plugs are all different. Thankfully I heard that a British family was moving to America just as we were leaving, so made it my business to ensure that they took every last item with a plug, whether they liked it or not.
The rest of our belongings were sent to the thrift store, given away to anyone who happened to be around or posted on Craig’s List, a Gumtree equivalent. It was a relief to see the back of this racing car cot bed, which Henry helped an Indian family strap to the roof of their car.
I fell foul of a couple of fraudsters during my Craig’s List journey. I received two replies to ads from punters saying they were interested in the items I was selling, but could not come in person to collect them. They then said they would be sending cheques to cover the cost of the items. I subsequently extracted from the mail, two Western Union checks that looked absolutely genuine, but then saw that they were for $890 and $750 apiece. Pretty generous for a bread maker advertised for $30 and a Mr Coffee machine going for $20.
The paperwork, the movemin, we had to contend with was quite something. Once upon a time, I was a PA. I used to eat paperwork for breakfast, so you might have thought I would find this move a doddle. But no. This relocation from Rye required a new set of organizational skills that I seemed not to possess.
There was the lengthy process of making a decision about what should happen to every last thing in the house. Beyond me. There was the sourcing of quotes and commissioning of surveys from shipping companies. There was the process of selecting a shipping company, compiling a list of every item we wanted to ship and assigning a replacement value to everything on the list for insurance purposes in case the ship sank.
Anyone living out of the EU for more than 12 months wishing to relocate back to the UK now has the pleasure of completing a Transfer of Residence form. This was onerous for us because the form can only be submitted online once the shipping company has packed your boxes and produced a full packing list. After our boxes were packed, we had just two days to wrap our life up before catching our plane home, so having to complete yet another major form amidst the rest of the move chaos was an unwelcome addition to the mix.
We toyed with the idea of shipping our beloved black Jeep home, until we remembered that it was left hand drive and guzzled fuel like a tramp downs Special Brew. So we thought it would be a cinch to flog it via the Rye Moms Facebook page. A friend offered to post an ad on our behalf. At least 20 people came to view the black beauty. I imagined everyone would be clamouring for it, but nobody was, until, after fearing the Jeep would have to be donated to a thrift store, one prospective buyer emerged. Amy put forward an impassioned case as to why we should sell the Jeep to her which was sweet, as we loved our little 4×4.
We promised Amy that she could have the car the day before we were due to fly back to London and she handed over a check by way of a deposit, but begged us not to cash it. Other than wondering if she would leave us in the lurch at the final hour, the sale looked like it would be perfectly simple. But obviously it wasn’t. There was the usual pile of forms to complete and all sorts of peculiar stipulations like having to hand deliver our number plates to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Yonkers. Tedious when we needed the car until moments before we were about to leave the country.
We were looking good on the Jeep sale, when Amy sent me a panicked text. She had done some homework and discovered various skeletons in the Jeep’s cupboard. What was all this about an accident? – she wanted to know. Oh yes, the time when a Chinese grandpa rammed into the side of the Jeep one of the few times I ever took Barnaby to school by car. I reassured Amy that the ‘accident’ had led to nothing more than a dent in the back door, since repaired. She didn’t seem convinced.
Our prospective buyer then gravely informed me that the power steering return hose clamp (whatever that was, I had no idea) had been recalled a couple of years previously. Why hadn’t we told her about this? Had we returned it to the manufacturer? No, we hadn’t. We’d been oblivious to any recall. Would Amy do a runner at crunch time?
Thankfully, in the nick of time, we allayed Amy’s concerns, resolved the necessary and the handover of the Jeep took place moments before we boarded our plane.
It did then occur to Henry and me that actually we could have sold the car back to Enterprise, from whom we’d bought the car in the first place. They would have given us the same amount as Amy and we could have avoided all this hassle.
Here is our Jeep, sporting a clamp or boot as they say in America. Shortly before we left America, I parked in a virtually deserted parking lot while nipping in to the dry cleaner’s and this was the result – an immobilized automobile and a heavy handed flyer from a crooked little weasel called Freddy, who had allowed me a full two minutes before booting me and demanding $70.
Informing utility companies of our impending departure was, of course, anything but straightforward. Several demanded we terminate our accounts by writing letters – nothing as new age as a telephone call or email would do. Numerous outfits owed us money, but the idea of wiring us funds into our account or giving us a rebate onto a credit card was an alien concept – we would receive checks instead. In fact, one check arrived with us only last week, four months after we left the country.
Over the years, I have vacated more rentals than I can count and I am familiar with last minute nightmares rearing their ugly heads. Landlords, in my experience, have very different ideas about what constitutes general wear and tear. Sometimes you get lucky. But when cute animal stickers are peeled off a wall at the end of a tenancy and savagely take most of a playroom wall away with them, you don’t have a hope in hell.
And so it was that our last weekend in America was spent, not sunning ourselves on the beach sipping rosé with friends as we had hoped, but frantically sanding, priming and painting the sad and sorry looking playroom, in an attempt to restore it to its former glory.
Certain, miracle working friends have been known to clean their rental houses themselves at the end of their tenancies. I knew that this would finish me off, so I found a cleaner, a cheery chap called Francisco who gave an enthusiastic spiel about his exemplary cleaning record. I knew nothing about him, having just spotted a billboard advertising his services parked in our neighbors’ front yard. But Francisco would be just perfect, I knew it. I booked him for the day of the great house key handover with the landlord and heaved a great sigh of relief when he turned up with a team of cleaners.
When I returned home at the end of the day to see the fruits of Francisco’s labors, armed with a pile of dollar bills for him, I was aghast. He and his helpers hadn’t touched the refrigerator, the freezer or the range. Surely it was a given that outgoing tenants could expect these to be left sparkling? Oh no, Francisco smugly informed me. These were extras, they weren’t included in the original quote. Baffled, I put myself to work, scrubbing furiously with sponges, scourers and Lysol. We had under an hour until the landlord would arrive for the handover and it wasn’t looking good.
Meanwhile, out in the garden, Henry, whom I had summoned back from work with a frantic SOS call, was attempting to get the back yard into some sort of order. We had always been in the minority choosing to do the landscaping ourselves. Everyone has a landscaper in Rye, the idea of mowing one’s own lawn or weeding one’s flower beds is anathema to most.
Unfortunately, we had done minimal gardening over the past few months and the garden was a sorry sight. The removal of the trampoline several days earlier had left an arid patch of brown which Henry had covered with grass seed and was assiduously watering. The flower beds, which had always been devoid of flowers, had recently attracted a reckless rash of weeds. Now, with moments to spare, we tore out as many of the weeds as we could and dumped sack after sack of black mulch on the beds. Miraculously the end result was surprisingly good.
And who’d have thought it? – after all that stress, our Irish landlord declared that she was delighted with the state of the house. We handed over the house keys and with light hearts, skipped off to Rye’s only hotel, The Courtyard Marriott, for our final few nights in America.
Nothing is easy, but who wants nothing?
Well, Trump, I wouldn’t normally quote you, but, for once, I will. You have a point.