9. Completion

When I went to pick up the house keys from the estate agents on a grey drizzly Saturday morning I felt in a rather neutral mood. Being stubborn and British I decided to walk the distance of almost two miles up hill to avoid paying for a bus or taxi, resulting in a matt of tangled, curly hair and a nose that continued to pour, even when I stepped inside the ultra clean office.

A man with overly gelled hair and patchy stubble directed me to a sofa while he consulted with a female colleague. All the staff looked like dolled up fifteen year olds, and I think no one could quite believe a young woman in unbranded jeans and a tatty Gap hoodie could possibly have bought a house from them.

The lady tottered over with a clipboard and let me sign for the keys. I politely smiled and said thanks, but she’d already gone. Everyone else was continuing to hit their keyboards in a monkey-like fashion, so I took my cue and left.

That was it. I owned a house, my house. I checked the envelope ten times over just to be sure.

“Oh my God.”

I was so overjoyed I didn’t know what to do with myself, so ended up marching straight down the hill in record time and landing back to the house I lived in. I dumped my bag, threw off the soaked hoodie and dashed around next door with nothing more than the key.

I held my breath as I inserted the key into the door and slowly opened the door. I stood there for a moment before walking in and sitting on the bottom step. I stroked the banister rail, like some prized pet.

“You’re mine now, and I am yours” I muttered.

With rain cold feet I ascended the first flight of stairs with ease and entered the bare living room and then the empty kitchen. Suddenly without warning I started laughing, then screaming, then running up and down stairs and into rooms and out of rooms. Slamming doors, apologising for slamming doors. Spinning round and round and round. I lay on my bedroom floor and took my breath.

“This isn’t happening, pinch yourself Alice, you just can’t have done this. Oh my God, what is happening? A homeowner? A homeowner…A homeowner! You. Are. A. Ruddy. Homeowner!”

I ran next door and grabbed my laptop from the top floor before rushing back round to my house. I turned it on and loaded Spotify, before blasting out Nina Simone, Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, B*Witched. Anything and everything which came to mind. I screamed every lyric from every part of the house until my throat was hoarse from all the yelling, before lying in a heap on the cold, dark living room floor.

Why? Because I could.

 

This article is part of The First Time Buyer Diaries. To view the entire series (so far) click here.

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8. Swapping Solicitors for Social Media: Impatient Sellers

With the mortgage in place and all the relevant forms filled in, my solicitors were deployed.

For cost sake, said legal representatives were located nowhere near Swindon, but their website and documentation reliably informed me they had a small office in Suffolk. The price I paid was so low I never questioned my solicitors’ insistence on email and postal communication and in return they didn’t spit in my envelope for paying them peanuts and putting Swindon-based solicitors out of business.

The next day I strolled down to the nearby pillar post box and posted off the initial fee. “Lovely county Suffolk,” I thought, “shame about all the Londoners though.”

For the best part of a month there was little more for me to do. My energies became more engulfed with buying, collecting and, in Mum’s case, painting furniture from around the region and storing it in the furniture warehouse (alias, my parent’s garden room extension).

Meanwhile, at work, people were beginning to realise why I’d been so stressed of late. Although I’d frequently commented on “looking at houses” or “difficulties with the bank”, many colleagues had wrongly assumed I was moving into a new rental property. Given my age and martial status I can hardly say I was that surprised by the confusion, in fact I was more taken aback by the ripple effect my purchase had on these same people.

Suddenly I was the Martin Lewis of home buying, everyone had a question to ask and apparently I was the girl to give advice. The hints and tips recited beside boiling kettles and in toilet queues was little more than a blended mix of common sense and random statistics from The Telegraph, and yet that was enough. I was the Marmite of the organisation, people respected me or envied my very guts. And slowly, oh so slowly, habits of those around me began to change. People stopped buying coffee, packed lunches started making a comeback, and a night in with a made-from-scratch lasagne became the ultimate date night experience. All subtle signs of people putting money to one side for an unspecified goal.

“What have I created?” I thought.

Apart from changing the psychology of my fellow workforce, up until February life was blissful (well, compared to the fiasco with BankUK*).

I suppose I was a bit naïve to think the sellers would let the house sale proceed on my terms. Throughout the entire mortgage drama there had been not a word from either of the two solicitors to suggest concern, so I guess I assumed that with things moving at a normal pace I shouldn’t have the cause to be concerned.

On February 14th 2017 the tenants of the house formally moved out. I knew this because a) They told me this when I met them to discuss buying furniture (of which I bought none) and b) I saw the van on their drive that very evening as I walked back from food shopping. The tenant had wanted me to buy his wares to avoid use of a van, which made me watching him struggle with an oversized pine bed particularly awkward. Unable to commit my vocal cords, I made somewhat awkward eye contact and mouthed “hi” in the winter darkness before scuttling into the house next door and telling myself I was not to go out again that evening.

On February 15th the chasing began. My solicitors informed me that the sellers’ Swindon solicitors were constantly asking for updates at request of their client. This was frustrating my people in Suffolk because they were not being paid enough to care or give five minute updates to first-time sellers who weren’t clients. I thanked them for letting me know and assured them that I’d see any documentation was returned promptly upon receipt and funds were moved into place ready for exchange.

To save boring legal and financial jargon, the planned exchange date fell through. The fault was not down to myself, nor my solicitors, not even the sellers, but due to incorrectly submitted documentation from my old friends BankUK.

I called Katie* to inquire as to the hold up.

“We sent both sets of documentation through, your solicitors should have read them and used the right one.”

“But why wasn’t it made clear?”

“They were sent both the first and second versions because of the difficulties we faced with your application before. If they’d read the figures correctly…”

I was already impatient. “I can’t believe this. At the final hurdle BankUK have messed up. Look, whatever documentation my people have got it’s wrong. They need a different form to either of the two you sent them. If the exchange falls through again the whole house sale might fall through. You can understand why I’m a bit frustrated, no?”

“We are aware of this Miss Bennett and looking into it now. I’ll remind you to watch the tone of your voice on the phone.”

“For Christ’s sake” I said as I hung up the phone.

I never spoke to Katie again.

I cursed under my breath but hoped that the sellers would accept the revised date and understand there was nothing anyone could do until Thursday, two days later.

That was when the seller’s fiancée crossed the line.

Before this situation had kicked off I’d met them very briefly to check out the white goods which were being included in the sale. From that I learnt the house belonged to the man and he and his soon to be wife were buying a new build on the edge of Swindon. In turn they learn my first name and I lived next door. In the world we live in that’s all she needed.

I don’t know how, but she found me. Of all the millions of Alices on Facebook she found my profile that evening and, in blatant convention of legal process and regulation, she sent me a direct message.

“Hi Alice, My solicitors have just told me we are not going to be able to exchange today due to BankUK not being in a position to go forward…We’ve been advised by our sellers that they are very reluctant to continue with the sale to us if the completion date is affected, consequently if they pull out we will have to too. Many Thanks.”

I was stunned. Was she seriously threatening me to pull out on the entire sale, over Facebook? She wasn’t even the owner of the property.

Eventually, after fully processing what I’d read I wrote back a response with the help of my parents down the phone. I sent it thinking it would be the end of it, but no the messages came in thick and fast from her, pouring her heart out with the added threat of turning at any point and making her partner put the property back on the market again. After all I’d been through and money already sunk in, I couldn’t bear the pain of living in the shared house next door, forever watching people go in and out of my ‘could have been’ home. I’d had enough, I ratted them up to my solicitor and under their instruction ignored all of the messages sent from thereon.

It transpired that the real reason why the house sale almost fell through was so petty it was almost a joke. My sellers’ sellers didn’t want to pay another monthly repayment on their mortgage which would happen if the exchange was delayed by two days. The news came to me via phone after we finally exchanged. It was one of the few times I actually spoke with my solicitors.

“But if they relisted the property they’d have to make the payment anyway?” I questioned. Surely no one can be that stupid?

The speaker sighed. “Yep. You’d think someone would have told her that before she started shouting and getting your sellers into a state. I don’t know what game she was trying to play and we don’t know why it wasn’t handled better as opposed to scaring everyone in the chain. As for the Facebook messaging, well that’s taken us all aback.”

“I suppose it’s the world we live in right?”

“Where rules don’t apply because it’s social media and everyone thinks they can be a solicitor,” there was a slight pause, “I’ll send you the final invoice via email shortly. If you can pay it ASAP we can at least complete on the original date everyone agreed to, even if the exchange was delayed.”

 

I did all that was required by me, signed a few bits of paper, moved a few digital numbers from one place to another and then waited. And as if by legal magic I received an email saying I owned a house.

No big deal.

 

(Names marked * have been changed for the benefit of this article.)

This post is part of The First Time Buyer Diaries. To view the full series (so far) click here.

An Irrelevant Account

I remember the racket they created in the minor feud between black and yellow. A child of only infant class, I dived under my cot bed while the scuffles continued in the second room. They took my mother away with relative ease on their part. Owing to disease the birthing rate of Executive class were at an all time low, so naturally there was only one place for her.

“Where’s the girl?” Came a wheezy voice from the room beyond. My father’s answer not forthcoming enough, the guards hit their victim with meaty blows and turned to searching the apartment themselves. Five men and three rooms, they found me soon enough.

I remember kicking and screaming as they brought me out into the communal space where my father was being propped up. The lead guard stood beside him, like a puppet prince, he sickly smiled as I was brought forward. 

“Good food makes for bad honour” he commented as he took a single dirty finger down the length of my dark skull.

“How many times Jacon? If you feed your women you’re going to get only pain and misery. This daughter of yours looks positively balanced, how can you let a juicy thing like this wander the township? No signs of hardship or rationing at all.”

This being evidence enough, the stranger proclaimed my father’s fate. He was to be branded as an enemy of The Cause and sentenced to hard labour in the Southern fields.

“Reduce me to Half-Kind!” My father begged. “Or an Executive! Anything but the fields!”

The Cause representative was unmoved as he turned again to look at me. I vaguely remember his face, it was angular and dented, covered with a stretched yellow skin and two dotted eyes. He lowered himself to my level and took my face in one of his bony hands. The official’s dirty spider fingers sprawled across the sides of my face as he turned it side to side. I dared not flinch.

“This one will make a fine candidate,” he said as he turned to face my father. “Thank you for reminding me of the State Agreements Jacon. Despite all your flaws you always had a way with making sure we stayed true to The Cause.”

Recent law had declared that each family of Cousin class offered support in the disease ridden fields South and East. An Executive was required from each household, but the age and gender had never been specified. So, alongside his own, the prisoner also witnessed my sentencing to become a field Executive. My father’s loose tongue decided my fate. Stupid Fallen. As they took me away I remember the briefest of looks on his face as the front door shut on my old life.

By the time I’d been dispatched into the Executive role the field plagues had tapered off and, unlike many of my colleagues, I survived. Our role was meant to be a temporary position, but as the years passed and my life continued I came to reassess my outlook. To develop feelings for others was pointless, humans die, but The Cause remains. Glory to The Cause.

But then my father is now dead, so this account is irrelevant.

 

(Written in response to the WordPress prompt of the day Torn)

MHAM FAQs

Because I get a lot of “what inspired you to start writing?” and “what motivates you to be creative after a long day’s work?”, here are some of the reasons I started writing and why I write now. In short, I’m fed up of answering the same questions and I’m now too lazy to respond to them. Read this instead.

 

Q. What Made You Start Writing?

A. I was debating which multipack of loo roll to buy one evening and I decided to start a blog. (FYI I bought the larger pack which was on offer – I had more toilet paper than sense, but I was the smuggest housemate that Winter.)

Q. How Did You Come Up With The Title?

A. I was walking back from the supermarket and thought it up. It also helps that it is/was a true statement and I’d been using “I live with a mermaid” as an ice breaker for months before.

Q. Had You Ever Written Before?

A. Other than for educational purposes, no, not really. I mean there was one time in university when I tried to start a blog about the adventures of a Pineapple in a party hat…

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…But then I quickly realised that Pineapples go off and are relatively expensive to replace (as fruits go). I also don’t like Pineapple so the fact we shared a room together naturally got a little awkward, especially towards the end when it started to rot. Also Instagram happened.

In all seriousness though, I think because I was doing so much essay writing and constant research it completely drained any creativity I had in me, the thought of returning to a keyboard for pleasure seemed crazy, if not impossible, at the time. Now that I’m not writing 10,000 word dissertations it’s easier to make the time for type work in my free time.

Q.  Where Do You Think Your Writing Style Comes From?

A. No idea, I think I’ve always been a bit kooky (see Pineapple example above), but then before I started blogging I never had an output for it. Turns out when I started doing that I realised I wasn’t as bad as I thought.

Q. Why Do You Write?

A. It may be a shocker for some, but often I writing as a form of procrastination. One night it could be that I don’t want to wash my hair, another time it could be linked to an email I’m putting off. Right now I’m completely starving, I haven’t eaten since 4pm, but I’m typing away because I’m putting off making dinner. It’s very typical for me to type and type and be completely unaware how late it is or how hungry I am. I’ll only discover it when I stop typing and hit the Publish button. In short, I write because I’m too lazy to do anything else.

Q. How Much Time Do You Spend Per Piece?

A. Varies. The maximum I’ll spend is two hours, but those are bigger posts which feature a lot of imagery or video links. Less than that is the goal, with most pieces getting the bare minimum amount of editing (unless it’s a particularly creative piece). In my mind’s eye it used to take me about two hours to write a first draft of a 2000 word History essay, so I apply the same approach to my writing. If I was paid I’d obviously invest more time in it, but in the wonderful, sparkly, world of WordPress no one gets paid for setting up a free account.

Q. What Do You Listen To When You Write?

A. Classical or I type in silence. Anything else is a distraction.

Q. Would You Write For Someone if They Paid You?

A. I’m currently working full-time but if it was on a freelance basis, sure. I’ll consider anything.

Q. Are You Planning On Writing a Book or Something more Substantial?

A. I keep doing dribs and drabs for books but I want to get more invested into them. The truth is I find it easier to blast out a blog post in a couple of hours and get the immediate feedback as opposed to spending months/years working on something which may take longer to gain gratification from (if at all!) Basically me writing this is distracting me for being a famous author. Gee, thanks guys!

Q. Anything Else To Add?

A. No, not really. I’m sure people will comment below if I’ve missed anything off.

 

 

Famous Speeches Reimagined with Tea

Because the world would be a better place if we let out the hate and let in the tea.

 

Speech to the Troops at Tilbury Fort – Queen Elizabeth I

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a strong tea drinker, and of a tea drinker of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade my beverage stocks on a Monday morning…

 

Address to the Army at the Beginning of the Italian Campaign – Napoleon Bonaparte

Soldiers, you are naked and ill tea-ed! Government owes you much and can give you nothing. The patience and courage you have shown in the midst of these rocks are admirable; but they gain you no renown; no glory results to you from your endurance. It is my design to lead you into the most fertile tea plains of the world. Rich provinces and great cities will be in your power; there you will find honour, glory, and rich beverages. Soldiers of Italy! Will you be wanting in Breakfast or Earl Grey?”

 

We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches – Winston Churchill

We shall drink tea on the beaches, we shall drink tea on the landing grounds, we shall drink tea in the fields and in the streets, we shall drink tea in the hills; we shall never surrender…tea

 

I Have a Dream – Martin Luther King Jr.

I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be replanted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made green, and the crooked places will be made straight rowed, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation’s into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, coffee drinkers and tea lovers, knowing that we will all have tea one day.

 

Chairman Mao Zedong

An army without tea is a dull-witted army, and a dull-witted army cannot defeat the enemy.

 

Neil Armstrong (on the invention of fruit tea)

That’s one small step for tea, one giant leap for mankind.

 

Dali Lama

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own action to make a good cup of tea.

 

Presidential Inauguration Speech – Donald Trump

From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be only Tea First. Tea First. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American Teabags and American Tea drinkers. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our caffeine, and destroying our mid-afternoon breaks. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never, ever let you down Mr PG Tips Monkey.

 

You get the idea.

Written in response to the WordPress prompt of the day: Tea

The Fifty Words That Started It All

I found this under my bed the other day…

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To the vast majority of people it represents just another book. Priced at £16.99, to my parents it probably represents an overpriced, emotional blackmail purchase, but to me it will always represent something far more significant. Unknown at the time (and for many years afterwards), this represents a key cornerstone in my life so far. For in this thick little book is my first ever published piece of writing.

Back when I was thirteen years old my English teacher got the class to write mini S.A.G.A.S (short, adventurous, gripping amusing, stories), short pieces of writing no longer than fifty words in length. At the time we were suitably hyped up by the prospect that the top students would get their work published in a book. My teacher’s words had the same effect on me as a child on blue Smarties (I was that sort of kid). Rising to the challenge, I poured out tens of short pieces in quick succession. While my peers scratched their heads over content, I found the greatest difficulty was knowing when to stop. Fifty words in which to write a complete, self-contained, passage is actually quite hard. In the end I selected the piece of work I felt best reflected who I was and my writing style (it was also the piece that my teacher chose to read out to the class. Take that Will Townsend!)

Unfortunately what our teacher had failed to tell us was that being selected to appear in the book wasn’t quite the big achievement originally billed up to be. It turned out that every submission made it to print, so long as their parents were prepared to stump up the money to buy the book in advance. Barring one girl, everyone in my class got a mention in the publication (even Will Townsend). Of course at thirteen this didn’t stop me being dead chuffed that something I’d written had achieved a degree of recognition. It meant that someone had seen value in my work. The fact that I still own this book in a state of near mint condition says it all.

Flicking back through the pages of Mini S.A.G.A.S. all these years later I still feel the same way as I did then, that for a thirteen year old my entry is by far the best. It’s certainly the most cohesive and unique of my class and regional peers (oh yay, yet another entry about a crush). And, although it would take another eight years to get me into proper writing, I like to think getting a little piece of my mind published sowed the seeds of creativity. If there was a prologue to my blog’s creation this would be it.

(And the best bit? You’ll never know what it was.)

Five Minute Review: What the F*** is Normal?! By Francesca Martinez

Do you like the cushion? Yeah, me too. I thought that when it came to summing up this book it struck the right balance between deep and pretentious. Okay, so five minutes to review a recent read. Lets go.

What The F*** is Normal?! is an autobiographic affair by the comedian Francesca Martinez. Born with cerebral palsy, but waging a one-woman campaign to rename it to simply “wobbly”, Martinez gives a first-hand perspective of growing up with a disability in 1980s/90s Britain. Making light out of what are often very bitter or bleak encounters, Martinez takes us through the various stages of her life that have shaped her into the woman she is today. In one instance Martinez describes with mild humour an experience with a GP who doesn’t know how to handle the author’s disability. Reading the account for first time you feel frustrated and even a bit angry that this scene could have possibly played out so recently over something so small as a sore ankle. This is an author that has been through a lot at every stage of her life. It made me wonder whether society’s attitudes towards disability is much improved now, or whether as an able-bodied person I’m just unaware of the difficulties faced by millions each day.

Martinez also devotes a portion of her autobiography to re-educating Western culture. Never shy of a challenge, Martinez addresses the very real issue of consumerism and how it can damage our own self-respect. Simply put, depression of the masses fuels the yachts of the few. Despite being bullied by similar types in Secondary School, the author reaches out to the popular teenagers of today to stop worrying about appearances and embrace body confidence instead.

What The F*** Is Normal?! is an autobiography that ticks all the boxes; easy to read, humorous but also a fascinating study. All by a comedian who is not afraid to challenge disability stereotypes and poke fun at one of the great taboo subjects of modern culture. In the subtly of a true comedian, Martinez points out that ultimately life could be worse. After all, one could be starving in Africa, aborted in the womb…or even a pot of hummus.