Wednesday 9 May 2018

Why we moved to Wales - Part VI

I can remember one of the first exploring journeys we took, driving along a narrow steep-sided lane and then through someone's FARMYARD.  They must have been moving sheep or something as we had to open and shut the gates either end of the farmstead (which had buildings both sides of the road) and it felt like we were trespassing! There was nothing like that where we came from in Dorset.

We used to get lost sometimes, particularly when the children were school age, and we had to take them to their friend's houses.  None of this "just along the road" round here - schools had quite big catchment areas and housing is dispersed in the countryside. Sleepovers were the norm. We had to learn where to shop for things, as Carmarthen was a very quiet little market town, with a tiny Tesco's, and a bigger Woolworths, and then individually owned shops with a few chain shops like W H Smith, and shoe shops.  Quite often, if we wanted anything remotely out of the ordinary, we had to drive 25 miles to Swansea for it.  We grew very used to long trips to buy "things" or quite often, went without. Ah, the days before the internet . . .  When you are ten miles from the town, and living on a budget, if you have run out of something then it just has to wait until next week.  Making a shopping list of items the moment they got low became a necessity, and I soon learned to keep one spare.  I still do.

Ah yes, keeping a store cupboard was also something I learned early in our time here, as when the nearest shop is a 10 mile round trip and it only stocks essentials anyway, you need to be a little self-reliant for when circumstances - a broken-down car, icy roads, flooding, keep you within your own four walls.  You do NOT want to run out of loo-paper if you are snowed in!

We had to get used to the mud too.  When you live next door to a working dairy farm, then mud - and worse - are a daily part of your life.  A hundred or so cows puddling past your front gate twice daily make for mess.  

We soon realized just what a bad state of repair the house was in.  One of the jobs we had to have done, under the terms of our mortgage, was to treat all the beams etc for woodworm, which it had had in the past.  We had a company in to do the work before we took up residence.  Then we worked on a room at a time, taking down the horrid pine "ceilings" - when the house has been "modernised" in the 70s, all the ceilings, beams and all, had been covered in tongue and groove - that was great for firewood when we took it down - and in later years, when we took down the plasterboard to reveal the joists and rafters, we treated those ourselves.  In what became our bedroom, we just covered over the tongue and groove with huge sheets of plasterboard, and I can still remember one end of the sheet being held up with an Acro whilst I supported the other end with a broom and my husband fixed it to the ceiling.  

Unfortunately, he was still struggling with the health problems which had dogged him before we left Dorset, and could only work for short periods.  If he overdid it, he was back to square one with his blinding headaches, and then had to rest for weeks on end.  Progress was slow, both with his health and the work on the house.

Sadly, it wasn't just woodworm (and downstairs, Death Watch Beetle) which were problems in the house.  The roof needed replacing, and a main beam where two stretches of roof joined in a gulley, had been leaking for years and the big beam beneath it was weak with wet rot.  Every time there was a bad storm we held our breath, praying that the roof wouldn't collapse in that corner.  We made sure we slept in the bedrooms away from it!  As it turned out, it held on for 8 years, when we had a large Council Grant for restoration works.

Yet those first couple of years were so happy - if incredibly busy, as I was proof of the old saying: "New house, new baby" and our middle daughter joined us at Christmas the year we arrived.  I also started a business . . . and we had three horses and two ponies stabled at one point.  I never had a spare moment. . .

Then we hit hard times, and everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong.  We had by that time bought my mum a lovely cottage about 10 miles away, between us and Cross-Hands.  The garden was a bit big for her so we decided to apply for planning permission on part of it, and easily found a buyer.  Then the green stuff hit the fan and it turned out that there was a second mortgage on the property which had not been discovered by our conveyancer - not entirely his fault since the Vendor's solicitor should not have handed over the documents of sale.  But he did - and subsequently did a runner with £100,000 from the kitty of the company where he worked . . .  Sorting all this out took time and we lost the buyer for the plot, who was a builder and wouldn't wait.  We were finally able to put it back on the market - 6 weeks after the country fell into the deepest recession for generations.  The money from it was meant to go towards repairs on the house.  Well, that didn't happen . . .   It would be 9 years before we sold that plot. 

So the horses had to go.  That in itself was traumatic.  We found a super home for our TB broodmare Rou, and her foal Rosie, who went together to a private home in Monmouthshire.  We were desperate to sell Rou's 2 year old daughter Tiffin, but there was no interest in my advert and we had to take her to Brightwell's auction at Malvern.  We just missed the H.I.S. sale (she was by an H.I.S. stallion) and the transport company who had brought Rou and Rosie back from stud, and who we thought were reliable, double booked the horse lorry.  She was due to go at 10.30 in the morning, and at 2.30 we will still waiting.  An hour later the box turned up - a gigantic cattle truck with a slippery steep metal ramp - not the old wooden horse box with the gentle slope of wood we had ordered.  We loaded Tiffin, all bandaged up to protect her legs when travelling, and set off behind the box for Malvern, with two wee girls and an overnight bag.  I was pregnant at the time too.  

It was dark (a November evening) when we finally got there and Tiffin couldn't see properly to come down the ramp.  She panicked and leapt off the side, hitting her hock on the ramp and cutting it.  With the aid of a torch I managed to clean off the cut, which didn't seem too bad, and then we left Tiffin munching on a huge haynet and went in search of B&B.

The next morning she was lame.  I got the Auction vet out to look at her and he said it was probably nothing much, but he couldn't guarantee her OK for the sale, and we had no option but to remove the £1500 reserve we had on her. It had cost £150 to get her to the sale, and we didn't have the money to bring her back again. She sold for half that, to a horrid rat-faced dealer from the Forest of Dean.  To say I was heartbroken was an understatement.  She was a beautiful filly, my pride and joy.  I hadn't wanted to sell her but distress sellings are like that.  On the way home I was shaking so much I had to ask my husband to pull into a pub where I had a brandy to calm my nerves.  After that, I had depression and was in a bad way for months - until our son was born.   My husband insisted I made a claim through my horse insurers against the transport company, and this carried on for months, with each letter bringing back all the memories and unhappiness of that sale.  We won, eventually, but it didn't bring Tiffin back.

In those early years, I can remember trying to keep house with a dustpan and brush when our vacuum cleaner bit the dust.  Finances were very tight - almost non-existent in fact - and when we planned to paint a room, we had to save up for a can of paint.

I can still remember wearing a mask (I am allergic to dust) and taking a stiff brush to the hideous nylon carpet up the stairs, which used to cling on to the bristles of the brush.  If you can imagine the colour of the mud outside the front gate, mixed with a Saturday night pavement between the boozer and the takeaway, you have a rough approximation of the carpet underfoot when we arrived.  You have no idea of how ECSTATIC I was when that sh*tty carpet finally went!  I felt pretty much the same when we had finally saved up for a new vacuum too!

When I see blogs with "Frugal" in the title these days, I know exactly where they are coming from . . .


  1. I would love to say something jolly and full of admiration (which I am) for your hard work, but I can't get beyond the way my heart is aching for you and Tiffin, they were tough times.

  2. Indeed it wasn't a good time Elaine, but we lived through it. I became very resourceful - well we both did - had to. I still wonder where she ended up.

  3. I have read all your posts about moving to Wales. This one almost broke my heart. I am still up to my neck (but not drowning) after our house move three weeks ago. It has been exhausting. Three years ago we bought a tiny 18th century listed stone cottage that had not been touched since it was sold by the farm in the late 1970s. Now that really was EXHAUSTING. You will move BB but like us it is just taking time to find the right buyer and the right house.

  4. Sorry it got to you too Sarah. It was a horrid time. You get spells of bad luck - ours lasted about 6 years, by which time we were heartily SICK of it. Your cottage sounds gorgeous and you probably want never to move again!! Thank you for your support - I will hold the moving faith too.