(original edit of article for CallOver magazine)
It’s often said that moving home is one of the most stressful things in life. I’m just finding that out.
I didn’t subscribe to that thought in my younger days. Moving was always exciting. I’d spend a couple of weeks collecting cardboard boxes from supermarkets, then just load up a car and hit the road. In 1985 I moved from my mum’s flat in Upminster to a bedsit in Highbury – my first move as an independent adult. I continued to move around North London when I got my cab licence in 1988 and could afford better places. Stoke Newington, Wood Green, Stamford Hill and Harringey followed. I then had a bit of South London action before moving to Birmingham to take up a college place in order to pursue a new career.
When I bought my own flat I started to acquire many more items. Once you start buying furniture, things escalate. By the time I moved from Birmingham to Northampton in order to become a Careers Adviser I needed a van. I needed a bigger, medium-sized removal van with driver, to move my belongings from Kingsthorpe to St James in Northampton for my next move. Moving back to St James from Kingsthorpe with my wife and pets, things were really getting serious. What used to be a rather fun day out in a transit van had become a logistical exercise that needed as much planning as a world tour by Pink Floyd.
But more than anything, it’s the legal formalities involved in buying and selling that really causes the stress. Until contracts are exchanged the buyer can pull out and walk away. This happened to us on our previous move, and something nasty happened this time too. With our buyers desperate to move and threatening to pull out, we needed somewhere to rent and it took ages to sort out.
We found somewhere decent and finally had a completion date arranged for February 27th. Unfortunately, the legal people didn’t seem to share our sense of urgency, and within minutes of hearing that contracts had been exchanged, making everything legally binding, the landlord of the flat we’d agreed to rent pulled the plug and gave it to someone else! With little over two weeks to go, we’d committed to moving, but had nowhere to move to.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man. Within three hours, we’d driven forty miles south and put an offer in on a house in the same road as the flat we’d just lost.
I was living in Northampton when I decided to return to the cab trade after ten years in the wilderness of unsatisfying so-called professional jobs. I was still there when I became a Knowledge Examiner in 2011. Doing both jobs living seventy miles from London proved a strain, and after a few years back on the cab full time, we decided to look to move further south. My accountant, Martin, suggested I move to the suburbs of London. I met him half way and settled on Leighton Buzzard. Notice how the places I’ve moved to have got progressively smaller? London, Birmingham, Northampton; and now Leighton Buzzard, where you’re never more than a mile and a half from the town centre! Next time I move, you won’t even be able to see it on the map.
I used to find my rented accommodation via cards in newsagents’ windows. Or if I did it through an agency, I’d pay a deposit and collect the keys. These days it seems as complicated as buying. The agencies now run a referencing scam, where you not only pay a hefty deposit and rent in advance, but you pay around £150 each to be referenced (non-refundable). My credit history is lamentable, so I can only assume that Martin told the referencing people that this time next year I’ll be a millionaire.
The landlord was sympathetic to my credit history, so after an incredibly stressful few days, me, my wife, and our cat and rabbit were saved from homelessness. With two weeks to go, there was a chance we’d be living in Wetherspoons until we sorted ourselves out.
I’m not sure what Spoons’ policy is on animals. We were shocked to experience so much prejudice against pets in our home-seeking exercise. Our new landlord will accept pets, but we’re meant to pay a £150 pet surcharge. He shouldn’t worry about the animals. The cat might chase my friends out of his home, but he’s not as bad as he makes out. The rabbit, left to his own devices, might chew a few electrical cables, but he’s all right under supervision. The landlord is barking up the wrong tree: he really needs to worry about the neighbours’ reaction to my Led Zeppelin albums, collection of electric guitars, and five hundred watt bass amp. As far as the pets go, if we’re caught and have to pay the extra charge I’ll get my money’s worth by bringing in a whole houseful of pets. I fancy a monkey, or perhaps a kangaroo.
Changing jobs compounds the stress of moving. I’m not moving to a new job, but I am going back to an old one… In the final stages of selling the house I was invited back to TfL on a temporary basis. I am delighted to say that I shall be returning to being a Knowledge Examiner for six weeks starting early March. It’s an unexpected, and surreal, twist to my career. A few months ago I was giving mock Appearances at a Knowledge school. I missed the real thing and can’t wait to get back to Palestra, even if it is only for a few weeks.
To all my Knowledge customers, past, present, and future, please remember the legend on my coffee mug: Keep Calm and Carry On!