In March this year, I received the most gut-wrenching news that can befall an actor: our beautiful production of Phantom of the Opera, which had barely been open for a month, was having to close due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I was completely devastated. Due to the nature of my job, I’m normally fairly resilient with the ups and downs of freelance work, but this one really, really hurt.
Vince and I had planned to move out of our lovely rental flat and explore the possibility of buying once I had finished my tour of the UK, in the summer of 2021. When my job closed, I felt like my whole five-year plan had been scuppered with it. That afternoon, we went out for a Covid-safe walk to clear our heads. During this ramble, Vince floated the idea that we bring our plans forward and rather than letting the pandemic get the better of us, we would use it to our advantage and get a head-start.
Oh how clever we thought we were! That evening we toasted with a couple of Coronas – the beer variety, not the viral one – to changing plans and settled in to an evening of house-hunting and interior lusting. Unfortunately for us, it seemed that every other first-time buyer in the UK had the same bright idea. The battle for good properties was fierce and not in a sexy “Selling Sunset” kinda way.
Thankfully there are plenty of incentives and schemes to help first-timers get on the ladder. What no one tells you is how long and arduous that process can be. I had been squirreling away my savings into a Help To Buy ISA (which gets a 25% top up from the Government on completion), so we had a healthy deposit, but this did not prevent banks interrogating my career and accounts to within an inch of their life. A number of friends who work in the theatre had cautioned me against even whispering that I was an actor in front of mortgage companies but I’m proud of what I have trained long and hard to do, and how I earn my crust, so “actor” was duly inserted in the box asking from my occupation. And then the cross-examination and Spanish Inquisition-esque probing began. I so should have listened to advice and simply given “part-time singing teacher” as my job. That’s definitely a lesson learned.
I didn’t go into house-buying wearing rose-coloured specs. I’ve watched enough Kirsty and Phil in my time to know that finding the house was the hardest part. Right? Right?? Wrong. We loved nearly all the properties we saw: Vince and I are fairly aligned in our design tastes (and on the rare occasion that we are not, he listens to me anyway(!)) We decided on “the one” in June -dramatic pause followed by a sharp intake of breath – and finally got the keys in October. I know that doesn’t seem so long in the grand, interminable scheme of 2020, but it felt like several lifetimes to me; as I was furloughed, I dedicated my every waking moment to helping this deal go through. I have no clue how people manage to move when they’re working full time or – as my superhero parents did – have young families to move too and are the last in a chain of nine households needing to move in perfect choreography.
The location we selected took us both by surprise. Despite being a pair of “town mice”, we fell in love with a new build in the heart of leafy Surrey, just outside Guildford. I’m delighted with how quickly we have embraced country life. Wellies and raincoats were among the first items we brought into the house and we made it our mission to discover which pubs were within walking distance of home. Our rapid assimilation into the Surrey green belt is possibly a result of the refocusing on what really matters a pandemic prompts, or perhaps because, try as we may to fight against it, the old adage is true and we all eventually become our parents. Whatever the reason, our reality is that we felt more content among the fields and quiet. And, also, that I just really, really, really want to get a cat and I needed a decent sized garden for this!
At the moment, we’re at a delicious half-way point: half moved out of our town flat and half moved into our new house. And the house is starting to fill with our belongings and to feel like home; as Vince shouted across the hallway to me yesterday evening: “It really feels like our kitchen now!” Of course we have the couple of inevitable, tedious, new-build snags to get sorted (an over-tightened hot water tap and a too-loose seal on a pipe into the boiler), the joy of waiting in all day on Monday for the satellite company to hook us up to the internet and TV and I know I’m going to have to brave a socially-distanced Ikea trip in the middle of half-term, but we’re in. I feel so blissfully happy and grateful to have achieved this.
A big thank you to all of my friends and family members who’ve put up with my whingeing and bad tempers for the summer. They all assured me that if I persevered, it would be worth it in the end. How completely right they were.
I’m sure I’ll be sharing some room tours here on the blog and over on the de-la-Haye Girls Instagram in the coming weeks, but for now I’m just enjoying making those early memories inside our new casa. Years from now, I hope to remember pizza dinners, sitting on the floor, surrounded by boxes and the ill-fated house “smudging” I decided to embark on, much to E’s enjoyment. “It stinks of weed!” she screamed as I wandered around, wafting the smoking sage bundle in each room. Her reaction was so very, very her and still tickles me. We’re off to buy blinds and curtains this weekend together, though she’s got me to sign in triplicate and cross my heart that said shopping trip will not involve Croydon Ikea. ~L