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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Line!

Evoking emotion in me is like filling a massive man-made dam. You keep pushing and pushing to go further, to fill it higher, until suddenly the walls break and water goes everywhere. Many lives and friendships lost, terrible mess, nightmare insurance claim.

Problem is I often don’t know when to stop. It’s like the world is challenging me to tip toe over the thick red boundary, to see the signs and ignore the warnings. To step over “the line”.

Within our family we’re pretty good at keeping each other in check. A slip of the tongue and down the phone you’ll hear me dryly saying “line! Line!” As if I’m  voicing a submarine siren or hitting a desk buzzer. I used to mimic the action, that was until people in public places started expressing concern that I was having a some kind of seizure.

“Line! Line! Line!”

Outside of family there’s no such restriction on what I say. Now obviously I never say anything offensive or plain stupid, I’m not Donald Trump, but that doesn’t stop me saying things that are a bit kooky and classically Alice. A throwaway comment that develops into a very strange trail of thought, carrying on and on until I look up and realise that, at best, no one is listening or, at worst, I get “a look” which says it all; “must remove from LinkedIn.”

Only recently have I discovered that I’m not alone in evoking stupid thoughts. Someone at work is equally resilient to being unable to locate the line. At first I thought “oh my God, another one exists! Yay!” now I’m thinking “oh my God, how does this end? Will the world implode if we share one pun too many?”

I’ll spare you the full detailed story that has developed between us because honestly it’s pretty weird (I know, even by my standards). This fictional life started with an innocent accidental wave on Facebook – 30 minutes later and it had become all kinds of Mighty Boosh.

To make matters worse, the colourful (and ongoing) contents were inadvertently brought from the safe confines of social media and into the office today. You can only imagine the looks (or non-looks) the pair of us were getting. I may have discovered the older, more ‘out there’ version of me, but I’m also discovering why “you can never have too much of a bad thing” isn’t a common saying amongst sensible people. The banter is wonderful, but the confused looks and hole-digging explanations? Hmm, that’s harder to put up with on a day-to-day.

Where is my conversation controller, my stupid stopper, my tame talker? Where is my internal, one word, monologue when I need it the most?

“Line! Line! Line!”

 

Written in response to the WordPress prompt Evoke

Loop

I get up, I work, I sleep.

That’s how my days pan out nowadays. Nothing much in between.

Maybe come the weekend I’ll venture out and explore the world, find a hidden corner of this town that I’ve yet to discover. I’ve yet to try out that bar on Elm Street, heard good things about it. Might be worth a try. Oh, is that an email? Better give it a look…

I get up, I work, I sleep.

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.

Things Are Going To Change Around Here

You’re lying on a beach, the warm Mediterranean sun kissing your sun cream-sheen body. There’s a Pina Colada in hand (it could be the second or third, but who’s counting anyway?) And you think to yourself, “yes, this is pure bliss”. Suddenly, out of nowhere…

“Things are going to change around here!”

You’re sat in an English beer garden in summer, holding a pint of ale that comes recommended by the landlord himself. There’s a gentle breeze flowing through your hair as you idly watch dog walkers stroll by. It could just as easily be Devon or as it could be Suffolk (but who’s reading the map anyway?) And you think to yourself, “can’t go far wrong”. Then…

“Things are going to change around here!”

You’re stood by a roaring fire, munching down on festive treats. Outside it’s dark and cold, but inside you worship only the primitive flames. The wine is pouring a plenty and the boxes of mince pies are never ending. You don’t care much for the brand (who’s checking the price tag anyway?) And you soon find yourself curling up into a ball and drifting off by the glowing embers. As your eyelids slowly lower, with loving family all around, you think to yourself “life doesn’t get much better than this.”…

“Things are going to change around here!”

***

All three of the above are, give or take a few juicy words, all scenarios I’ve shared in the company of my beloved Papa Bennett. It’s basically a family tradition, when you reach a sweet spot in life he will almost always cry out those seven words. “Things are going to change around here!”

Usually the statement will be followed by something that he feels is currently out of balance. These fall into two categories and you can usually pin point what he’s going to say and when he’ll say it down to a T. For example, Christmas time after eating four mince pies in one sitting = health, three days into a beach holiday = work balance. And every time we tell him “work less hours!” Or “eat less junk!” all we get is a look of horror. “I couldn’t possibly do that!” he says.

Papa Bennett aside, used in the right way the statement does have weighting to it. I think to myself, wouldn’t it be better to, instead of pledging resolutions at New Year, instead say TAGTCAH? (Does that read like a Lord of the Rings character? Or a nasty throat infection?)

Without going into the potted year of the Alice Bennett show, 2017 has been so unbelievably busy. New house, new car, new job (and everything else in between). I’ve dealt with busy builders, evil energy suppliers and a mortgage provider who tried to fob me off with a blank cheque. Swindon stays the same, sure, but everything else has changed.

What’s going to change around here in 2018? Well, things I hope for:

Life to calm down (at least the things I can control)
I received a Christmas card this year with the added note “hoping 2018 is just as thrilling as the one before!” Well no, no I really hope it isn’t. I’ve invested enough time and money on the power three (house, car, job) in the past year, I welcome a break!

Stop worrying over the little things.
Recently someone gave me a piece of written feedback. I highly paraphrase, but it went something like “you’re doing great, but you’ve seriously got to stop worrying and overanalysing everything.” (So I’m going to stop fussing so much over the little things.)

Learn how to read electronic messages.
…My knee jerk reaction to the above email was to heavily defend why I cared so much about my job. I reread heir comments a week later and realised that I’d completely misread what they were trying to say. They’d written the comment in good humour as part of a longer email as a gentle nudge to relax a little. And yet I latched onto one slightly negative thing. That was silly and I wish I could take it back and not given out the Alice Bennett sob story. So as a writer I also need to learn how to read (hah, how ironic).

Stop overanalysing emails. (See above.) Because colleagues will think it weird and will be scared that they’ll appear on blogs, like they’re working with some kind of corporate Taylor Swift.

Write something awesome
Like truly awesome

Grow nails, preferably by finding something/one as actual motivation.
Because nothing else is working and I hate my hands and want nails so bad. I’m thinking like The Rock or Channing Tatum as personal trainers, Richard Branson staring me down from the other side of the office, and/or a naggy Martin Freeman? Not fussy, whichever comes easiest to hand (eh, see what I did there? Pun Goddess.)

Be you Alice because when you’re not spilling coffee everywhere you pass off for a decent human being. And you need to damn well appreciate it more.

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(Also because Oscar Wilde’s people called. Turns out he’s already taken.)

So there’s my ‘things are going to change around here’ list for 2018. Comment below any of yours, in the meantime I’m off to take on the new year.

Lets do this.

Jolly Lobsters, Glamourous Thermals and Stick Deer: Could This be the Most Hipster Christmas Ever?

woke up this morning to find God had bestowed a belated birthday/early Christmas present on me…

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Now I know most normal people would look at this with utter delight, but because I am basically the love child of David Mitchell and Richard Ayoade I naturally am disgruntled by this sight. If God had four Christmas parties to attend to and several board meetings lined up I’m sure He’d feel the same.

So my day started with that, followed by the world’s most middle class Christmas argument, fuelled by the family having too many Christmas lights:

“We’re not putting multiple sets of lights on the tree.”

“But look, these are similar.”

“The clue is in the word ‘similar’. They’re not the same.”

“We can make it work. Lets lie them out first and turn them on…”

“Oh just turn the frigging lights off. Look, I’m having to get off my backside now to do something.”

“Wow, that language is a bit strong.”

“Dad, if you’re going to judge Mum’s use of the word ‘backside’ then seriously we’ve got issues. Also, I’ve just found another box of lights…”

I kid you not, Times Square has nothing on the Bennett household right now.

The evening has now drawn to a close with four adults heckling The Snowman (35 years later and I still think it’s nothing on the 1998 often overlooked classic The Bear)

(Why did you take the bear from his home! Then the girl loses her toy and starts crying even though her Mum gets her a replacement and then…well it’s about then that I start to lose my faith in humanity and become an emotional wreck. It’s a rapid spiral I grant you.)

Anyway, I digress (and have had multiple Christmas parties and realise I should really get this post written before Mariah gets put back into her festive cave with Michael Buble and half of Band Aid).

Ah Christmas, that wonderful time of year where decorations cover the shops, festive TV adverts fill our little homes and language that in any other context would be weird and mildly uncomfortable is apparently acceptable.

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It’s also a time for those working in marketing to don their “how far can we push this?” hat in a bid to convince consumers that very uninspiring, essential, items are really amazing things.

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(“Oh Jeffery, you saucy man you. I thought we promised to keep presents strictly Victorian this year? You know what Georgian clothing does to me.”)

 

That said, I did wonder if we were approaching the end of the world and/or Christianity when, before Advent had even begun, I saw this in Wilko…

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(Naturally I stock piled a lot of thermal leggings and chocolate in preparation for what would happen on the 14th December. Spoiler – my boss still expected me to be in work and double spoiler the Devil didn’t make an appearance. Let down.)

As for me this is the first Christmas in my new house (would be smug but have no money), I set out on the very new experience of buying decorations for one’s own home. Typically the conversation in my childhood around buying festive ornaments has gone something like this:

Alice: “Mum can we buy this bauble?”

Mumma Bennett: “How much is it?”

Alice: “£4.”

Mumma Bennett: “No.”

(Still better dialogue than Twilight.)

And, to be fair, one must be watchful because if you’re not careful the big retailers can run rings around you. Take these decorations for example. Now although they’ve been reduced in price, if you look very closely you notice there’s actually nothing ruddy well there.

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(Don’t worry, it took a while to spot it myself.)

This year however the conversation on my purchase of decorations was altogether different…

Mumma Bennett: “You must buy lights.”

Alice: “Ok. Here, what about these?”

Mumma Bennett: “Oh no! That many will not do, you need more. Here, get the next box up.”

Alice: “Really?”

Mumma Bennett: “Trust me, a tree with too few lights is worse than one with too many. They’re worth paying the price for.”

*Days later*

Alice: “Hey Mum, it’s Alice. So what you were saying about lights the other day…yeah, I have too many. Decided to put them around the large canvas and hope they don’t burn the house down. How flammable is oil paint? In other news, Georgi has never seen mulled wine in a bottle and the other Alice thinks Tree Skirts are the work of black magic. Gotta dash, speak soon!”

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When I returned home next I returned the favour of giving bad advice by getting them to play this awful, awful song:

Other than the minor health and safety issue of LEDs and poorly labelled products, I’ve discovered that there are also a great wonder of WTF goods out there to be bought. E.g. when it comes to buying Christmas interiors I draw the line at pooping into an elf.

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I mean, this girl has standards.

And as for this craze which randomly appeared overnight and now is at every Christmas market…what?

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I know a way to radically reduce your costs and overheads. You get a stick and sell it – it’s called a stick man. Even better, get a few and you have this wonderful thing called kindling which you can set on fire and use to keep warm. No need to thank me.

But then I see a pair of punny socks and my blood pressure drops a little.

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Then I see this sign and I hope to goodness that the designer drew their inspiration from Friends.

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If not than this whole hipster craze really needs to calm the shizz down.

Oh, and for anyone buying me presents this year, don’t get me this:

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Or this:

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And women, if you really want to please your man, may I recommend you take him to this stand and leave him whilst you do the present shopping?

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So there you have it, another Christmas edition of Alice Bennett’s inner warped, deeply sarcastic, but wonderfully enlightening mind. Things to take away from this piece:

  • The Bear is amazing, snow on roads is not
  • Christmas lights were sent by God to test us, just like a number of stupid products being sold under the umbrella terms “festive” and “Christmassy”
  • Thermal leggings are NOT a suitable present.

 

So Merry Christmas to all, and to all may your gingerbread lattes be overflowing and your heads forever covered by wolf hats.

 

AB. x