Friday, 25 February 2011

Let that be a lesson to you!

Today I thought I'd recount some of the lessons we've learned since we moved up here.  We've been living here nearly 2 months or eight weeks now and it's been a pretty steep learning curve in many ways, so I thought I'd just share a few of the key things we've picked up along the way.

1.  A lot more people go camping in Jan & Feb than you'd think. The first few weeks in Jan were pretty darned quiet.  Then the weekends started to pick up and then Feb 18th arrived and with it half term and an entire site full of people.  From being a quiet and secluded spot with a lovely quiet local we were thrust into the midst of a busy housing estate with a heaving and very noisy local.  Which brings me to...

View from Delores - just the way I like it.
2.  We're more antisocial than we thought we were.  I knew we both liked a little peace, quiet and seclusion, but I hadn't realised quite how much we needed it.  Steve's naturally quieter than I am, but because of my manic and very public job in my time away from the office I like to get away from everyone, and I mean everyone.  When things got too much on Delores it was wonderful to step outside into the peace, quiet and tranquility of Silverdale, uintil everyone else arrived.  It really has surprised me how much I need a lot of space around me.  Luckily our prospective new house has loads of that - but more later.

3.  If you have a caravan you need two cars.  This one was a big surprise to both of us.  Between Delores and the loo block are around 20 caravans and over half of them have 2 cars parked outside.  We're used to seeing motorhomes with a small car in tow, but not caravans.  Not that the second cars are small, typically they arrive with a 4 wheel drive hauling the van and then an estate car pops up on the same pitch.  It must cost a fortune in petrol.

4.  Friends prefer to hear good news not bad.  I noticed this most on Facebook if I'm honest.  Being 300 miles away from all that is familiar and trying to kick off an entirely new life is really scary and very challenging.  I've relied on FB a lot to keep in touch with familiar faces but I've noticed each time I post something happy I get loads of replies but, when I'm having an off day and post something about being down in the dumps, no-one really says anything.  I hope I'm not known for being miserable, or admitting when I need support, but sometimes when you're down a virtual hug can go a really long way.

5.  Mortgage companies don't communicate well - even with their own nominated firm of solicitors. We learned that lesson today.  Despite us opting to use the mortgage company's designated firm of solicitors they (the mortgage company, I don't want to name names, but let's call them "Birmingham Midshires" for the purpose of this article) refuse to send a copy of the valuation survey anywhere except to the home address of the people taking out the mortgage which, in our case is a 6 hour drive away.  The solicitors naturally need this report but the only way to get it to them was extraordinarily convoluted and time consuming and took up most of my coffee and lunch breaks today.  I can understand the "Birmingham Midshires" not wanting to send it to a random third party - but their own nominated firm of solicitors?  Give me strength.  Someone really needs to get a grip on the home buying market and make it a little more "customer centric"!!

6. People can be very fussy. As you know we've struggled to sell our house in Fleet.  Despite us asking the Estate Agents when they first visited us if there was anything we needed to do (and being told no) we're now being told that our house is too dated.  Apparently that's why no-one wanted to buy it and the same reason why, now, no-one wants to rent it either.  We'll admit the kitchen probably needs a bit of a sprucing up but a) if you want to buy it what's the point of us putting in something you won't like and b) if you're renting it then YOU'RE RENTING IT!  If you don't like the kitchen buy your own flaming house and put your own damned kitchen in!  (and breathe...)

Hiding from tics.
7.  There are a lot of ticks in Cumbria and they all know where Monty is.  £78 we spent at the vets last week. £78!!  It only cost us £50 when we got him new.  There's a lesson in there somewhere.  He now contains more Frontline than a vet's medicine cabinet and yet still they bite.  I'm an expert with the litte tick removal tool, but they still give me the creeps.  Nasty little bitey things...

8..Red sky at night is not a shepherds delight.  Unless the shepherd wants to lose his sheep in the mist.  Yesterday we enjoyed a spectacular sunset with all the colours of the red spectrum and today you can't see your hand in front of your face.  Maybe it was a shepherds delight because they got a day off if they lost their sheep in the mist.  Who knows.

9. Your need for the loo is directly proportional to how much it's raining outside. Just trust me on that one - you don't need the details.

10. You can do a lot with 3 little camping saucepans and a small cooker.  I love to cook and there are a lot of fancy cooking gadgets on the market for campers, but we've been making do with a small set of saucepans (and a gas kettle) that we got from Millets for £15.  I've managed everything from toad-in-the-hole to proper roast dinners with all the trimmings - all you need is a sense of adventure and a little imagination.

And I think that's about it for now.  It's been another hectic week and I'm in the bar waiting to order pizza and more wine.  We got here early and bagged the comfy seats so I plan on being here for another few hours.  Although the place is filling up fast and I'm starting to feel anticsocial again so maybe we'll head 'home' to our tick infested cat...

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Bring me Sunshine.

I was toying with using a more Dickensian opening for today's blog:  "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" to symbolise the fact that in the past two days we have visited 2 of the big local towns and fought some epic battles over the house - but "Bring me Sunshine" won on account of the fact that a) Eric Morecambe always makes me roar with laughter and b) a little sunshine wouldn't go amiss up here.

Barrow Dock Museum
Yesterday we headed off to Barrow-in-Furness, a place that has held a certain degree of appeal for me ever since the Chewits advert of the 1980's which declared they were "Chewier than Barrow-in-Furness bus depot!".   If I'm honest I wasn't expecting a lot but we ended up having a fascinating afternoon.  Steve had spotted the Docks Museum on a flyer so we headed for that and found it wedged between the docks, BAE systems and a Tesco Extra.  The main attraction was that it was free entry and free parking so we thought we'd kill half an hour or so in there.  Two and a half hours later we emerged grumbling as we'd been kicked out at closing time before we'd finished watching all the films and checking out all the exhibits.  Heaven knows how they've managed to keep it all free, it's a huge place with loads to see and do.  A full history of Barrow (which oddly enough shares a very similar history to the region of the West Mids where I grew up, apart from it being a port) and a detailed history of the shipbuilding which took place, including some amazing scale models of the most important ships built there.  I'd thoroughly recommend it if you're ever passing.  Which is unlikely as Barrow-in-Furness isn't the sort of place you'd pass by accident.  However, if you're ever in the Lakes and it's peeing down it's a very cheap and informative way to pass an afternoon.

View from Walney Island back toward Roa Island
Having been unceremoniously booted out of the museum we headed over to Walney Island, a wierd and eirie place which is very hard to describe in words alone.  Check it out on a map, it's very isolated and it has a strange air about it, but the sand dunes are never ending and there is an enormous wind farm just off the coast.  If you spin around and look in the other direction you'll find Piel Island with it's haunting castle and it's own monarchy.  Whoever owns the Ship Inn on the island is crowned the official King of the island and is able to appoint their own knights who must "be free drinkers, smokers and lovers of women".  Sounds like a fun place to live but sadly the only permanent residents are the king and his family.

"He'll not sell many ice creams going that speed!"
Having headed off to the west yesterday today we decided to head south and check out Morecambe.  I'd heard a lot about it's promenade and was rather hoping for something a little like Bognor.  (Those who know me know my love of Bognor knows no bounds.)  However I was sadly dissapointed.  The Promenade was fabulous with loads of interesting bits and pieces, especially along the new stone jetty, and the Eric Morecambe memorial was wonderful and had me chuckling at some of his infamous quotes such as "he'll not sell much ice cream going at that speed", but that was about it.  Maybe it's because it's still out of season but the place looked rather shabby and tired and it is by far the worst place for dog pooh I have ever encountered.  There was loads of it everywhere, even on 3 foot high boulders along the prom, which was a real shame and meant you had to watch every step you took.  We walked along the prom for a couple of hours in the biting cold wind and took temporary shelter in a wonderful cafe in a strange silver pod which served us gorgeous toasted fruit loaf and enough tea to sink a battle ship, but after that we called it a day and headed back to the warmth and jam packed lunacy of the camp site.

I think we were just very spoiled in January having the entire place to ourselves most of the time but since half term kicked off yesterday there is barely a spare pitch to be had.  Our quiet and tranquil corner of northernmost Lancashire has been transformed from an idyllic reclusive retreat into a bustling housing estate with screaming dogs and barking children.  Or maybe that should be the other way around?  Either way it's not nearly so lovely or relaxing, but hopefully it won't be long now until we have a real roof over our heads.

Right now I'm sat in the cafe area as it's the only place with WiFi but the noise is deafening - I thought your childhood was supposed to be a happy & carefree time?  If that's the case why do so many kids spend so much time screaming and crying?  Of course I'm sure I was a perfect child who never cried or caused any fuss over anything whatsoever.  As soon as I'm done typing this we're heading back to Delores for a quiet night in and a little relaxation ahead of another week battling with lawyers and insurance companies.  Wish us luck!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Computer says "no"

Are we the only people in the world ever to try and remortgage one house on buy-to-let and buy another?  A quick browse through the offerings on daytime TV would suggest not, but our insurance company seems completely befuddled by our requests.  Go and get a coffee - or something stronger - you may need it.

So it starts like this.  Our solicitors acting for the remortgage tell us they need a copy of our buildings insurance with a statement saying that upon completion the new lenders will be listed as an interested party.  Sounds simple enough?  Sounds like the sort of thing that insurance companies would be familiar with?  You'd think so wouldn't you...

Step one was calling our insurance company to explain the situation and request the document.  First person I spoke to, after 10 mins of questions, tells me to take out a buy-to-let insurance policy and have the new lenders listed.  Job done.  She puts me through to their sales department who, after two questions, inform me that they can't proceed unless we have a tennant and agreement in place, which we don't.  So she transfers me back to someone else for me to start the explanation all over again.  Person two tells me they can't give me the document I want on our existing insurance policy as it's tied into our mortgage, so the only way forward is to cancel the existing policy and take out a new one with the new lender listed.  Fine.  She transfers me to their sales team who inform me that, despite having been insured with them for the past 4 1/2 years, I'll have to start the whole application again from scratch, which will take around 15 mins.  Not best pleased, but seeing no other way forward, I agree but explain very clearly why I'm doing it and what I need and double check that they can fax a copy of the document to the nearest branch for us to collect and send to the solicitors.  No problem I'm told...

20 minutes later the process is complete and I refer back to my initial question about the statement and faxing.  At this point I'm informed that although I'm only asking for the document to sent to a branch of the same organisation, they don't have the fax number so Steve has to phone the local branch on the other phone and get the fax number for me to pass on to the muppet on the end of the phone.  To say that my patience is wearing thin at this point is somewhat of an understatement.  So, fax number passed on I repeat the question about the statement requested by the new lenders.  "Oh, um, erm..." is the reply.  At this point Steve removes the phone from my posession, which is perhaps safest for everyone involved.

Reassured that the required document will be safely faxed to the local branch we head off.  Altough local it's still a 30 min drive and of course the document isn't there.  They kindly let us use their phone to chase things through and that's when I encounter Caroline - a woman who has clearly paid close attention to every customer care course she has ever attended and managed to restore some sanity to the whole debacle.  I calmly explained that although I was furious I wasn't going to yell at her as it wasn't her fault, but I had no intention whatsoever of hanging up the phone until this was sorted.  The lovley Caroline informed me that not only couldn't they fax the document to the branch but, once she'd unearthed it, she found it had been completed with all the wrong details and still didn't contain the statement we needed.  It truly is a testament to her patience and customer care skills that I didn't run amok in a Michael Douglas "Falling Down" style episode at that point.  Her patience knew no bounds.  She ensured the document was fully updated correctly and faxed, there and then, directly to our solicitors.  Now why couldn't have someone done that several hours earlier and saved me time, petrol and several points on my blood pressure reading?

Wiithin hours we'd had confirmation that the document had arrived and was fine.  Big relief. We also heard from our other solicitors acting on the purchase of the other property that despite one very minor hiccup, things are proceeding well there too.  So, all things being equal, we should maybe have a roof over our heads in a few week's time.  We'll see.

All of that probably explains why I'm sat in the bar with a large glass of red wine and counting down the seconds until I can order a huge pizza.  If Valium were available over the counter the takings from us in the campsite bar would drop dramatically.  The campsite is packed tonight as it's the start of half term, so at least we're down here early and have nabbed one of the best seats and plan on staying here for the duration.  See, every cloud has a silver lining and, as the weather forecast for the weekend isn't great, I shall be quite happy to spend tomorrow snuggled up on Delores sleeping off a hangover.  Here's hoping your weekend is less eventful but twice as much fun!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Springs have sprung!

There's a definite feeling of spring in the air, the snow drops are out, the sun has been shining (well at least it was yesterday), the bunnies on the site seem to have a little more bounce when we hurtle towards them in the car and there is, on occasion, a slightly less arctic feel to the weather in general.  I think we can safely say that we are true all weather campers now having lived on Delores in temperatures ranging from minus 8 degrees C to 30 degrees C last summer.  I wasn't at all keen on the 30 degree heat and it seems a lot easier to keep Delores warm than it does to keep her cool.  In fact we're making good use of the weather conditions on board and have renamed one of the underseat storecupboards "the wine cellar" on account of the fact it keeps the wine at a rather pleasingly cool temperature.  It's all part of our attempt to make Delores seem larger than she is and, as well as "the wine cellar", we have "the games room" - the area underneath the driver's seat where all the travel games are stored, "the library" - the two cupboards where my meagre supply of books are stored, "the AV suite" - the cupboard where the TV gadgetry lives and "Monty's Wing" - the cab area where his food bowls and cat carrier are kept.

Of course given recent events on the house front we hopefully won't be living on Delores too much longer.  My days are now a blur of work and trying to cram in conversations with estate agents, lawyers and financial advisors during my coffee & lunch breaks.  We're very much hoping that by this time next week we'll have made some definite progress but I guess we all know how house moves can be so who knows?  We visited the new place on Saturday to double check some of the finer details and find answers to a few final questions we had.  Turns out we have our own spring at the bottom of the garden so we're already making Delboy style plans to take the mineral water world by storm.  In addtion to that we have somewhere between 6 and 10 different apple trees in the garden so I'm also making plans to become a Scrumpy Magnate.  In fact I think that's my next career ambition for no better reason that the job title rocks.  While I'm on the subject of the new house I feel I must mention the lovely chap from the estate agents who has shown us around both times.  He's very personable and professional and has clearly done a good job of selling the place to us however he suffers from a hearing disorder which isn't a problem in itself, but did make me question his constant assertations that "it's very quiet here isn't it?".  Those of you who know me well know I would  never, ever, mock someone's disabilitiy, but I have to say I'm not entirely convinced he was best placed to comment on the noise levels associated with living there.

Now that our weekends are no longer taken up with house hunting we have time to do a little more exploring and yesterday we took a stroll around Jenny Browns point just to the south of Silverdale.  After silthering over a rather soggy hillside we arrived at the edge of one of the stretches of Salt Marsh which line Morecambe Bay.  It's not a landscape I'm particularly familiar with but it was stunning to look at and provided the perfect place for a long stroll in the early spring sunshine.  On our way back towards Silverdale we took a detour and discovered a perfectly positioned stone seat which had been built by some kindly souls and which provided an almost perfect resting place - the only thing worng was the fact that we hadn't bought a flask of tea and a picnic with us, but we're planning a return visit next time we have good weather and will remember to pack a fine picnic and lashings of ginger beer.

And that's about it for another week.  The past 7 days have been busy and eventful but in a good way and it's definitely a big relief to finally be making some progress on the house front and, having met our delightful prospective new neighbours, we're keener than ever to get moved in.  So keep everything croseed for us and before you know it we'll be flogging you finest Cumbrian scrumpy.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

An offer you can't refuse.

Well, what a difference a week makes!  After many fruitless weeks of zero activity on the house front, we've finally found a way forward.  It's not the route we originally had in mind, but it is a route.  As you know, on Saturday we saw a house we both loved but we initially couldn't afford it however, after making use of some very handy family contacts, today we were in a position to make a more sensible offer and it was accepted.  It does mean going down the "buy to let" route in Fleet and although that's a scary thought at least it means we can describe ourselves as having a property portfolio.  And for those of you who are concerned about how we raised the additional cash can I just say that no rich elderly relatives were harmed in the making of this offer.
It's a sign!

So now we enter a brave new world.  We now face six weeks or so of dealing with estate agents, solicitors and removals firms, but I'm remaining focused on the fact that I will spend Easter sat on my new balcony (yes it's a house and yes it has a balcony!) sipping chilled wine and admiring our new garden - which is substantially larger than the one we've left behind in Fleet.  We're not sharing any more details of the property with anyone other than our immediate family as we don't want to jinx things, or have someone zoom in and steal it from under our noses.  And for those of you hoping for a few free nights accomodation in the Lakes then I'm sorry but that won't really be an option for at least another couple of years, so you're going to have to keep being nice to me for a little while longer!

Much as I love life on Delores, after nearly six weeks some things are begining to wear a little thin - mainly the 100 yard trek to the loo block each morning - not so bad when it's fine but somewhat challenging when it's pouring with rain and you have to get back into bed in soggy pyjamas.  I know we spent this long on board over the summer but when you're living on board and working full time in the middle of winter, it takes on a whole new dimension.  If it wasn't for the fact that we're pitched up on a fabulous campsite I think we'd have killed each other long ago.  Plus the fact my clothes supply is somewhat limited and I only have 4 work skirts with me.  I'm waiting for someone to notice, but luckily I work at a different venue each day and no-one seems to have noticed yet, or at least if they have, they're too polite to say anything.

I really do hope things work out this time.  It's been an interesting couple of years and it will be lovely to finally draw a big red line under it all and move on.  I'm also itching to put down some roots and dive into the local community, which is a problem when you've no idea where you'll be living and which community you should be diving into.  Which is maybe another reason for not telling you all where we're moving too - I don't want you warning them all off, I think we all know it's better if they can relax in blissful ignorance for just a few weeks longer.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Sticky as a sticky toffee pudding & Windier than a 5 bean chille.

The past 6 days haven't so much flown by as blown by.  For the past week or so life on Delores has been rather like living on a small dinghy in the middle of a large and somewhat angry ocean.  The wind has been rocking her from side to side causing assorted ornaments to swing around alarmingly, it's driven poor old Monty into hiding and caused me to seek solace in a fine bottle of Merlot.  Well, to be fair, I only sought out the Merlot on the night Steve was away down south and as well as numbing the nerves, once I'd consumed my third glass I found the the alcohol induced stagger pefectly countered the swaying of Delores.  Man and machine in perfect harmony.  Well, woman and wine glass anyway.

So this week I spent my first 24 hours alone up here.  After over a month away we decided it was time for Steve to head south for a quick visit to sort out the post and shake up the estate agents - we're a little worried that out of sight might be out of mind as far as they're concerned so have settled on a new battle strategy of hounding them on at least a weekly basis and seeing how long it is before they run out of excuses.  Apparently we now have 'several' people intereseted in our home but none of them have yet sold, so I can't see things changing anytime soon.  After sorting out everything at the house, and pausing only to have all of his hair hacked off, he headed for a night of cosy family fun at his parents while me and Monty rode out the storm up north.  As soon as he was safely on the motorway I'd stocked up on spicey food and prawns and had a fabulous evening downing red wine and eating mind blowingly hot food.  Maybe that was the real reason Monty was in hiding and it had nothing to do with the wind outside the van at all...  Steve arrived back safely late Friday afternoon and his 2 long days of driving provided the perfect excuse for us to hit the bar for beer and pizza.  Or in my case, more red wine and chille.  He'd spent most of the previous evening stuck on the M25 (a place I don't miss at all) and it was in particularly fine form causing him to declare it "stickier than a Cartmel sticky toffee pudding with a particularly large helping of sticky sauce poured all over it".  Good to know even when he's caught up in enormous traffic jams he still thinks of puddings.

Home. All of it.
Saturday saw us indulging in more house hunting but approaching things from a slightly different angle this time.  Instead of looking for perfect houses we're now looking at smaller places with potential.  After poking around a couple of nice bungalows we found the near perfect place - nice location, bags of potenial but decent enough for us to be able to move into it without having to do any work.  We spent the evening crunching lots of scary numbers and tried to come up with an offer that might possibly tempt them.  Without any movement on our place down south our only other option is to try and secure a 'buy to let' mortgage and see how much else we could scrape together.  Not enough sadly, but at least I feel like we're doing something constructive instead of sitting around at the mercy of estate agents.  It's lucky we really like each other as life on Delores is far from ideal and at times can be downright stressful.  Yes this is a fantastic adventure but that's not to say it isn't incredibly testing at times and with our days on the campsite numbered (we get booted off on 31st March) we really need to start putting together a plan B.  And C.  And possibly D and E for that matter.

Due to the tempestuous weather we stayed put on Sunday watching dodgy old movies as the rain lashed down outside.  Ever the intrepid cook I decided to try and cook a full roast beef dinner with roast spuds, yorkies, veg and gravy - all on my little stove and with a tiny oven that only has one shelf.  Necessity truly is the mother of invention and I just about managed to pull it off, heaven knows how giddy I'll get when faced with a fully stocked kitchen!  Nigella eat your heart out!  Mind you it's tough being a domestic goddess when trying to cook a proper dinner in a kitchen that has about 2 square foot of work surface, 4 square foot of floor space and a cat trying to 'help' you by nuzzling your legs the entire time.  It's only a matter of time before Monty gets accidentally roasted and I try and stuff cat treats into a joint of beef.

And that just about brings us up to date.  I'm off to spend an hour or so catching up on my emails (sorry to all of you I owe emails to and Tracey, thanks for the call & I promise I'll try and call you back this week!).  My excuse is that I have to sit in the bar to get WiFi but I can't afford to eat and drink in here every night.  That's not to say I couldn't sneak off and get a nice large glass of Malbec while Steve proofs this.  Once that's done there's just time to scour the web for more potential homes before scampering back to Delores for dinner.  Left overs from our roast beef dinner last night - although I checked the meat before we came out and it was looking suspiciously grey and furry and I haven't seen Monty in a while...

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Sexy Pants and Estate Agent Rants!

Please don't be worried by the title - unless of course you're an estate agent, it's just that we've finally succumbed to the chills of the north and have invested in thermal underwear.  It may not be high on the stocklist of Ann Summers but it is practical and warm - remember we're currently living in a small motorhome and passion don't enter into it.  Well not very often anyhow!  (If you're looking for dirt look elsewhere, our parents read this!)

To be honest it's been a little challenging this week - I really miss familiar faces and places, but I know it's only a matter of time until we put down roots and in a year or so's time it will feel like we've lived here forever.  There's been zero movement on the house situation, which brings me to the estate agent rants.  We have 2 esatate agents on the case 'darn sarf' and although they're only 50 yards away from each other they are completely unable to share a key.  Last time I spoke to one of them they claimed "they'd told the other agent they needed it but they wouldn't give it to them" - hard to believe these are all grown adults...
Your names not down...

Our weeks have developed a pleasing routine with Wednesdays and Fridays spent lurking in the site bar, although we've been warned that with half term only a couple of weeks or so away things may get hectic quite soon.  Already we've acquired a neighbour.  Because of Monty we're parked up in the furthest point on the entire site and our nearest neighbours were previously a good 300 yeards away, but last weekend someone became unable to resist the magnetic pull of our van and parked directly opposite.  So now we have neighbours for the season (well till the end of March) but at least they don't appear to have dogs and they're only here at the weekends and school hols.  How antisocial are we?!

Due to the lack of movement on the house front we're now looking at different possibilities, though at the present time they remain just that, possibilities.  We're looking at bungalows, the logic being we were very happy in the past when we lived in a flat and a bungalow is like a flat but with a decent a garden and without the neighbours - what's not to love?  Also if you're on an estate full of bungalows no-one is overlooking your backyard, and if they are you can just grow a decent sized hedge and restore your privacy.  We've a couple of viewings lined up on Saturday for places that have stunning views of Morcombe Bay so fingers crossed!

I have to admit that tonight I'm on the wrong side of a couple of large glasses of red wine, so don't expect anything too witty.  Whoever said alcohol wasn't the answer didn't fully understand the question.  Mind you we think we have it bad, we just overheard a couple saying they were off on a cruise tomorrow to the North East coast of Australia.  They reckoned the storm would have gone by the time they got there.  True, but would the entire infrastructure of the region be sorted?  The North West UK maybe a little cold and windy, but we're not expecting gusts of 200mph anytime soon.  Famous last words!

And with that I'll sign off and head back to Delores.  We're really enjoying getting a decent night's sleep but it does rather rely on Monty getting a good run outside during the evening.  Heaven knows where he goes but so far he hasn't come back with any pheasants and for that we're grateful.  Although I'm sure I could rustle up a decent roast if he obliged!