The agent has given my friend a form to complete. It says, ‘At [agent’s name] we have always known that people don’t really buy houses – they buy homes. And, so often, a new home is more than just a new place to live – it’s a new way of life. Every home has a story to tell and we would love to find out more about yours. Tell us about it.’
Getting the form coincided with my doing a writing workshop, Your Story Matters – Writing about Loss – with Nikesh Shukla. It was one of the lead-in events to the 23 March 2023 Marie Curie Day of Reflection programme. Although the workshop was only an hour, it packed a lot of writing reflection in. Nikesh started by giving us a ‘prompt word or phrase’, and asking us to write for 3 minutes on that word. The first word was ‘home’. After three minutes he gave us the second prompt ‘a journey begins’. We wrote again, and then got the third prompt ‘a fork in the road’. The fourth was ‘a face from the past’ and the fifth ‘the journey home’. By the end of the fifth prompt we’d done 15 minutes of writing.
This 15 minute exercise, I realised as I wrote, is a microcosm of what my friend is experiencing as he reluctantly puts his beloved home on the market – hence the form from the estate agent. The move is a difficult recognition of my friend’s aging. The house where he currently lives is car-dependent. It’s a rural area with the nearest village shop 3 miles away and the nearest small town 7 miles. There is no public transport in this rural area. Indeed, the area where he lives has been described as a ‘public transport desert … unable to access services, education or training by any means realistically, apart from the car”.
His failing eyesight has led to a revocation of his driving licence, meaning he is barred from driving. He has appealed the decision but has yet to hear from DVLA. There is a massive backlog there. Yesterday, 3 weeks after mailing his appeal, he managed to talk to a real person at the Licensing Authority and was told that will take 3 -5 weeks to log his appeal application on the system. The person declined to say how long it would then take to deal with the actual appeal. There is also a letter backlog at Royal Mail. He doesn’t know when/if the appeal was actually delivered. Unfortunately he didn’t send it by tracked mail.
And it’s not just failing eyesight, there’s the physical difficulty he’s beginning to have of maintaining a large garden with his joints increasingly troubled by arthritis.
So, my friend’s journey has begun: to find a new home not car dependent, in case his appeal fails, with the features and lifestyle possibilities that he has enjoyed over the last 20 years. The first question on the agent’s form is: ‘What have you loved about living here?’ He loves the quiet, rural isolation, the open views over rolling countryside, the small scattered community of friends he’s built up, the volunteering work he does a couple of days a week. His lifestyle is only possible by virtue of driving locations he need to get to.
With no driving licence, he decided that living in one of the two local cities would make the most practical sense. It does. Cities tend to have public transport, bike lanes, amenities, community events, and jazz clubs. Whatever he lived in had to have the hallmarks of architect designed, not one of hundreds. Weeks of looking finally yielded one house that might be possible. We went to look at it.
I met him at the city railway station. He had his list of questions, his map, the floorplan of the house and a resigned, almost gloomy expression. We walked through the car-park down towards the main street we had to walk along to get to ‘his’ street. Looking at the way he was walking I guessed he already knew he didn’t like the area – too scruffy. I’d thought that he might perk up at the six or so independent coffee shops and three bike shops on the street. He did, but not enough to make any difference (I silently thought).
The house would be perfect, in a cul de sac, not over-looked by other houses, well designed, light and bright, manageable garden. The downside? As I thought. One morning in the city rehearsing living in that house and he realised he couldn’t live there, or any city. Cities have noise, people, traffic, bustle, litter, deserted parcels of wasteland, and scavenging pigeons.
He was at the fork in the road – heart or head? Back at his favourite spot in his current house – at the dining table looking out to the garden and beyond to fields and woods, he gazed at the wagtails, the robins, the wind in the trees, the greenery, the clouds scudding and mourned the coming loss of this. With his glaucoma came his loss of view.
His face from the past came back to me. I used to watch him leaving the house and setting off to work in central London. How, he hated the tube, he hated the traffic noise, he hated the density of population. He continually wore a deep, deep frown of displeasure at having to do this. His retirement brought him the life and location he’d craved, and his frown lost depth and intensity – he’d received a form of natural Botox injection.
Home again from viewing the house in the city, he gathered himself, and firmed up his new home criteria: rural, served by good public transport, few neighbours, small community of friends, well-designed, no traffic noise, open views, manageable house/garden, good walking territory. This sounds exactly like where he is really, apart from the public transport. Maybe we could magic that up? He ploughs on with the decision that he does have to move – we can’t magic up transport.
Daily scouring of the available, affordable houses in the region has demonstrated that it’s going to be a long search to find something meeting his criteria. He re-visits, maybe he doesn’t have to move. Maybe he could stay and things could be worked out? Maybe his DVLA appeal will result in a driving licence return.
Today, the agent is photographing his current home, for the sales brochure. I wonder if the photographs will convey ‘home’, in a way that someone would want to make it their home? Home is where the heart is. Is that correct? I don’t know. Home is a physical location. It is also an emotional/psychological feeling of welcome, warmth or acceptance. The two have to mesh to create a true feeling of being at home. I wonder if my friend will find his next home.