Re: Good news mostly

A fine day, out on me bike. First, along the canal to Littleborough where I had tea at Ralph’s new place; then up the Blackstone Edge road to the top of the ‘Longest Hill’; down to Hebden for a look-see (still busy); then home along the road.

Introduced myself to Tony and Sheila in Warland Gate End. He’s just come back from leading cycle tours in France & Italy; he’s happy for cycling company any time.

Popped next door to return a beer bottle. Dave’s DIYing and I can hear him from our kitchen.

Next, I have to drop a card in to Bill, the journo, and Hillary who did same for me this morning.

What a busy chap!

First guests

Tony and Eileen have confirmed they’re arriving Sunday arvo and staying here overnight. I’ll sleep in the single bed; tried it last night and the small front room is very cosy with the Aga pipes in the wardrobe.

Bought a £4 bag of cutlery from antique shop in Tod. It contained a tea scoop made locally plus 17C knives & forks. Treasure!

Ordered an ‘Aga Essentials’ kit because not much remains. Will be able to cook Tony’s dinner, though.

Used Ralph’s pressure spray to de-slime back passage; don’t want guests breaking necks.

Warland Days

Was thinking of how I’d like to spend days here. My brainstorm suggested, in no particular order:

  • music & dance
  • baking
  • fruit picking & preserving
  • brewing & wine-making
  • tending the forest
  • woodwork
  • blacksmithing
  • project work
  • cycling
  • being visited by friends and family
  • exploring
  • hunting and gathering
  • hammock days
  • community focus—helping others and the environment

Flynn and I fly away

We’ve been extra-busy for a couple of months, getting 107 ready for sale and our stuff ready to deliver to Warland. It’s been a trying time, with other factors impacting our schedule, but the end result is that we look hope to be all done in Australia soon.

The plan still stands: that I leave to pick up the keys while Monica remains to sell 107 and close down our life here. We had the house on the market only a week late but, as it turned out, that was for the best.

With only a week to go to the first open day, with stylists, cleaners, gardeners etc all working or booked, poor old Flynn was diagnosed with cancers throughout his abdomen, chest and blood. We asked the vet to call to help the dear boy on his way on the Thursday, when he could no longer breathe very well. We had a last walk on the beach, when he asked me to carry him home. He was very thin but still smelt wonderfully of the sea and straw. After sitting in the shade on the lawn next door for an hour, just sniffing the breeze, it was time to await the vet. When the moment was upon us, Flynn was happy to be fussed over in Monica’s arms. He looked at me for the last time with his brave, brown, loving eyes and quickly faded away. What a sad, sad loss! While he was waiting to be buried in the dunes, Bandit lay next to his body to say goodbye; we planted a native grass over him so that he can return quickly into the cosmos.

At this point, the cleaner let us down and set back the sale preparations a week but, of course, we were glad of the time to grieve. We still miss him with passion. He was a strong-willed animal who, it turns out, set the schedule for our days by organising walks, meals, wake-up calls and sleep-timers. The three of us left have missed our meals because his gentle cues haven’t been there to guide us.

That was on the 8th of September. We’ve now shown the house for three weekends and had good interest in it, especially as the overall housing market is sluggish. Our agent, Kris, will now close down this phase towards the end of October, by which time we should have enough registered bidders to find a buyer.

The house looks wonderful, hence the interest, after we’ve spent many hours and dollars getting it up close to perfection. Unfortunately, keeping it that way means no cooking, no shed-work, not much fun, really. I’m very pleased that Monica is keen to stay to complete the sale because I feel like I’ve been on the move for years now; slowly bringing our lives back from Sydney and now bouncing off Adelaide to Warland Farm in the Pennines.

So, I leave Australia, perhaps forever, on Sunday morning. Everything I can do or wanted to do here is complete; all that’s left is to pack away the computer and to help Monica prepare for another weekend’s showings in any way that I can.

The farm calls strongly; I’m keen to start a dialogue.

Monica preparing to deliver

She’s on her way from Manchester to Una’s with Carmel, in preparation for the Heathrow flight which gets her here on Wednesday morning.

On the phone last night, she was coy about her experience of the family holiday in Ireland, only saying that she doesn’t want to do it again if all that’s on offer is sitting on the beach.

Interestingly, when I asked whether she saw the hostel (one of the home-hunt’s more interesting discoveries but not pursued), she gave an answer that I’ve used but haven’t heard from her before: ‘We’ll talk about it later’. She said that she and Kevin crawled all over the place; that it’s just as beautiful as its pictures; that Kevin would like to renovate it when he retires in a few years; and that, ‘It’s complicated’. I feel a project proposal in the wind!

It’s Project Season at last

Danté was built during my first official Project Season, the four months without an ‘r’ in them, last year. This year, of course, this brilliant scheme was blown sideways by the madness of looking for somewhere to live in England. Well, that episode of lunacy has officially been declared the New Sanity by the decision to buy Warland Farm; and now projects will overspill their annual bounds for a long time. The original reason to declare an official season was to allow me to get down to doing work, like writing the book, and to escape Nero’s curse—constant fiddling—so that I can actually pursue some of the hobbies that the projects purport to enhance. Riding the bike instead of building a new one. Get the idea?

I was travelling during May and then there was little point starting any project upon arrival back in Australia in June without knowing where life would be taking me. For a week or so, I fell back upon the Switcheroo, the pack of cards that allows me to balance up my activities outside of Project Season while waiting for us to decided where next.

Well, the decision has been made, of course, so now projects stretch to the farthest horizon. I may be able to keep the ‘Sell 107’ project contained within the 2011 season but, when we get to England it’ll be tempting to barrel into the projects that we are looking forward to there such as planting forests and converting the barn. I guess some of this depends upon how much of such work I take on personally and, in turn, how much cash the move liberates that we can use to pay others to do some of the work.

One thing’s for certain, I don’t have enough project seasons left in me to do everything I have in mind. Maybe that’s a good thing?

Hebden by Bike

My obsession with Warland Farm continues. It’s my favourite of the properties I’ve seen and, when indicated that it had been withdrawn from the market, I had palpitations. Turns out the problem was just a new uploading of data and that we’re still in the box seat. I booked the visit for Monica and I on Monday week, including a walking of the boundaries.

Then, I bestrode Stacy’s crappy ATB and cycled onto the Rochdale canal and up to the farm, just to see it again and to assess the ride as a possible future activity. It’s not far, 19 miles from Manchester according to an old sign on the canal, but it took me a while to find it in Manchester; and there were a few diversions that added time and effort to the journey. As well, the surface varied from smooth to cobbles to shale. Not much mud this time but that would normally add to the effort required.

After lunch of nuts and nibbles below the farm, I continued into Todmorden and on to Hebden Bridge along the canal, to time and assess those journeys from the farm. Tod is about ten minutes away, Hebden an easy hour. The canal’s overflows are worth noting: their cobbles are almost baby-heads and could damage a tyre thinner than an ATB’s.

By Hebden, the bike’s saddle was arguing with my posterior so I determined to research the train journey back to Mammy’s. The main Leeds-Manchester line runs through Calderdale, providing an excellent transport facility, even stopping in Walsden, a short walk from the farm. Forty comfortable minutes from embarking, I was back in the warm sunshine of Manchester city centre. After carefully orienting myself, I found Deansgate and the Stretford road home easily. Down to Rochdale, the train follows the canal so the ride has a Plan B in case of weather or mechanicals.

A fine day out; and a world record for Stacy’s bike!

A week for me

After scooting around England accompanied by Neil, Chris and others, I’ve completed the house hunt on time, with the results: a) that there are at least four places suitable for us to buy at the moment; b) that the family are keen for us to move back and many could do with our help; c) that England and the English seem kinder and more caring than when we left. For me, this means that I could move here and be reasonably confident of enjoying my life here at least as much as if we stay in Australia.

There are some cautionary notes, of course. First, the weather has been remarkably fine every day except one which presented, to my Australian eye, a normal level of light and humidity. Of course, this is nonsense but, with no wet or dull days to calibrate to, it’s very hard to imagine what these properties and this life would really be like. I can’t wish Monica poor weather but, if that’s what we get, it won’t be entirely bad.

Before Monica arrives, early next Sunday, my time is pretty much my own. I hoped that my Moulton bicycle would be here and that I could use that to enjoy some days around Manchester. I especially want to ride up the Rochdale Canal to learn what the route to Todmorden is like because it’s my favourite place to set up home, where I’ve already found two likely places. As that bike hasn’t arrived, I’ll do the journey on Stacy’s old mountain bike, tomorrow. That should at least provide some useful exercise.

Other exercise this week has included some enjoyable paving with Al and Daddy at Al & Bev’s house and a ride into Manchester’s Northern Quarter with Stacy, to take a look at our flat on Thomas Street, which I have only seen on photographs. I finally got a first-hand feel for the area around the flat and the handsome look of the old Fish Market building in which it has been created.

Stoodley Pike

Just back down from my first moorland walk for many years. Hebden Bridge to S.P. and return, fueled by an English breakfast.

I’m staying with Kevin in Bacup, this week, and have already found two great potential homes: Warland Farm and Lower White Lee. The first is a small farmhouse with two large barns and 19 acres on the Rochdale canal; the second is an old doctor’s residence in Mytholmroyd. Both are in fine order. The farm appeals to my heart with walking, boating and cycling nearby plus a great barn conversion project. It’s a landmark for traffic of all forms and we’d have lots of casual encounters as well as providing holiday accommodation for family and friends. The other is rather more splendid and has no renovation to be done: perhaps a better head decision. On Friday, I travel to pick up Neil in London and head to the South-West, where there are also some fine options to explore.

Hunt that wascally habitat!

Well, it’s nearly time to shoot off to England to see if we’d rather live there than here. Next Tuesday is when I fly. I’ve set out a schedule to visit the Pennines, South West and the Lakes, the last two with Neil and Chris, respectively. Unfortunately, due to their other commitments, I have only a short time in each area and I need to be efficient about seeing houses. This includes doing an effective triage on the candidates on the web; getting as many visits in as possible; recording data and impressions carefully.

The triage is proving difficult, though I may be over-thinking the problem. Three weeks ago, I searched RightMove’s web site for likely places and saved those pages as webarchives. When I repeated the search for recent listings, I seemed to miss a lot of places that Monica has now highlighted. As well, Monica has re-prioritised several places I’ve already rejected so I have to go back and re-evaluated them.

The usual process follows this pattern:

  • set up a regional search based upon: #beds, price, detached, not new
  • work through about ten pages of this search
  • for each interesting property
    • gauge first impression of the look of the place
    • check its match to the main selection criteria*
    • take a broad view of the property’s location in Google Maps
    • try to check the satellite image of the property and its surroundings
    • try to get a street view
    • make an assessment and score the property as must-see, could-see or don’t-see

Now, I’ve found it hard to record each of these steps, hence I’m forced to repeat evaluations and new properties are piling up for evaluation. I need a system! DevonThink or Finder seem to be the front runners. The spreadsheet approach may be a useful adjunct for scoring but is unlikely to be the basis for what is likely to be a fairly emotional decision.

The requirements for the system are:

  1. Record data and images for each house
  2. Allow comments and scoring to be attached
  3. To be repeatable and uniform
  4. To be compatible with a hard-copy form for use during an inspection

In the Finder, this will require a folder for each property containing images, web link, brochure, notes and data capture sheet. All that’s needed is to draft the data capture and comments sheet, including fields to flag whether a brochure, image, map, satellite view and street view were obtained. I’m sure this could be done in Pages or Bean and saved as a template.
It’s hard to see how DevonThink could improve upon this. It has a template facility but it doesn’t look easy.

*From ‘House criteria’, the house we choose will:

  • be old, fine-looking and sound (listed is OK)
  • look out over a changing view
  • have four bedrooms and three reception rooms
  • include a separate accommodation for visitors
  • be blessed with several sheds
  • be set in a few acres
  • be private and quiet
  • be near water and hills
  • be within five miles of an excellent market and the railway
  • be a couple of hours from a city or cultural centre
  • cause family and friends to want to visit and stay
  • More detailed criteria and scoring are in an spreadsheet ‘House selection table’