Many of you will know what it’s like to leave a place you call home. I have lived in Milton Keynes for just over 40 years, and it has been a home, though I don’t have a place that I call home or feel is home, except wherever I am with my loved ones. As a child of migrants England wasn’t home for my parents, even though it was the ‘mother country’. My father’s job in the UK Air Force meant that we moved regularly until I was aged 15, finally settling down in a rural market town in South West England, which I left when I was 18, eager to escape what I considered to be a mundane future.
In 1975, I got a job as a fledgling researcher at the UK Open University and two years later moved to Milton Keynes. Milton Keynes as a city was still being built and there were few roads and few amenities. Employees in the public sector could rent public housing as the new city was keen to attract and keep a workforce. For young professionals, this was superb. To have a job with income, a home to rent and to be part of a city that was growing around you, was quite a unique and exciting experience. There was always something new happening, and we all felt like pioneers. Families were also being encouraged to relocate to a house with a garden, green space all around, community facilities and more good things promised.
I met my husband at the same workplace, and we moved in together. We both had rented one-bedroomed newly-built terrace houses, but they were big enough for two, and only a ten-minute walk from where we worked. After we married, we were allocated a three bedroomed house on an even newer estate, overlooking the canal with a picture window and balcony to sit on and watch the boats go by.
We built our life together, bought our first house, then moved on to our second, then to our third, which we are now leaving.
The first house was a solidly built Victorian mid-terrace with an original and unusual white marble fireplace, and coving and cornices intact. It had been tastefully modernized by the owners, except for the Artex (stippled knobbly plastic based paint) that covered every wall, and which we loathed. As well as steaming off the Artex from every wall and ceiling, we were not content with their renovations, but wanted to put our stamp on our first owned home. This meant sanding all the floors and sealing them several times with industrial yacht varnish; stripping back and sanding all window frames, staircase and all the doors, and bringing in as much Victorian and Edwardian clutter as we could fit in.We loved it, and so did the people who bought it two years later. We moved on, wanting a garden and having found a house nearby in very poor condition, but with a third acre garden backing onto the river.
We stayed in our second home for 26 years. Our daughter was born there and we lovingly restored the house and built a wonderful garden from scratch. This was also a time of growing responsibility for each of us at work, as well as the opportunity we had to spend three years living and working in Solomon Islands when our daughter was young. Having to rent the house unfurnished and store our possessions was a great lesson in downsizing. We took loads of items to auction, sold through the local paper, and gave things away. There was no internet trade in those days, but we still got rid of quite a lot. When we returned from Solomon Islands, the house looked so dark after three years of sun, so we gave it a makeover with light paint, furniture and fabrics, and felt better. We settled into full-time responsible jobs that involved several hours commuting each day. Eventually, our work commitments and being parents took priority over the house and garden, and from then on it was a regular battle to maintain them the way we wanted. But we loved what we had created and didn’t think we would find anything better to move to, at a price we could afford.
However, without really looking to move, we saw a house down the road advertised in the local paper, and took a look. It had an even larger garden, but the house itself was only 35 years old, instead of the 100 years of the current one. During more gloomy times, I had vowed to never let a house get into a poorly maintained state again; there was always something that needed repairing. This house gave us the opportunity to start afresh, and we were able to buy it and completely extend and renovate it. It had been built badly, so needed it. For example, the walls had been painted before the plaster was dry and the plaster fell off when the walls were tapped. We could afford to have the major work done before we moved in, and finished the work ourselves. This was helped by Brian being made redundant part way through the project, and therefore having time to work on it.
The house is really comfortable. We have made our lives as we want them, and had the money to do so. We are still avid seekers of bargains though, and IKEA bargain section has furnished much of this house and also the one in France we have just sold. Brian loves house and garden design and is very good at them. He also loves new technologies, and the house has a central vacuuming system, solar panels, underfloor heating and a fresh air exchange, which means it can run much of the year as a sealed environment. This cuts down on dust and bills as well as keeping the heat in and cold out. When we moved from the previous house we again downsized and got rid of lots of furniture. This house has more built in cupboards and fittings, but also ample storage space for our possessions, which are still too many. We have had 10 years with this house, but although we feel we have the best house in Milton Keynes, it has never been our forever home.
Our daughter has never really lived here as she was a student when we moved in and then left home to live in London permanently. We went to Solomon Islands again in 2010 not long after we moved here, and had not completed all the work. We finished the last rooms when we returned, the final one just two years ago. We bought a conservatory some years ago and didn’t get around to building it, as we had the travel bug and spent time in France as well as other places.
There seemed no reason to stay in Milton Keynes. We have friends but had commuted and worked away from home and travelled so much that we had not become part of clubs or other organized groups. Our friends were scattered around the country and we felt no strong ties to Milton Keynes, despite having lived here for more than 40 years. It is a functional city, built in the middle of England between London and Birmingham and Oxford and Cambridge. It has excellent road and rail services, a system of grid roads that move traffic up and down and across the city with few traffic jams. There are Redways for walking and cycling that keep people and traffic apart, plenty of public housing (though not enough as many were sold off privately), and an enviable acreage of parklands running through the city alongside a river and canal. The bus service is good, we have a railway station to London less than 10 minutes’ walk away, and we never feel crowded. When it’s written out in front of me, I wonder why we are moving at all? What could be missing?
The answer is itchy feet. We have grown out of the place, but also found that we had a love of living by the sea. Brian had grown up on the South Coast of England; we had lived in Honiara, capital city of Solomon Islands in a sea-front house; our two French homes had been by the sea. We had spent many weeks in various seaside towns and cities in Australia and New Zealand, toured the coast of Sicily, and stayed by the sea in Helsinki Finland, De Panne Belgium, and Gothenburg Sweden. Milton Keynes is as far from the sea as it is possible to get in England. We want to live the retired-people’s coastal dream, but in our own way. In addition, our daughter and partner are clear that their next planned move would be to Brighton, so choosing the south coast would make us close to them.
Now we had decided to move, ironically we made time to build the conservatory, fill the settlement cracks in the house, lay wooden decking in the top end of the garden and, once again, clear our clutter.
We have a half-acre plot which contains the house, a very large rear garden and a double garage within a large front garden. We had talked for a couple of years about converting the garage into a small house that we could lock up and leave whilst we were travelling. We thought we could either rent out the main house, or sell it all together. As our thoughts developed, we decided to have plans drawn up for a new house, which gave us options. We could build and sell separately; or sell the building plot with planning permission; sell the house separately or sell the house and building plot together. House prices on the south coast for something equivalently attractive to us are greater, so we need the sale of the building plot to make up the shortfall.
Stop Press! We have sold the plot of land, but not the house. However, we have decided to go ahead with buying the house we found in Brian’s home town near Brighton. The owners had waited almost 6 months so we could sell our house, but then put it back on the market as they felt they couldn’t wait any longer, and we did not want to lose it. So with the sale of the house in France, plus the plot of land, we ‘just’ need a mortgage to make up the shortfall.
We have agreed to try and move by the end of August. So as well as arranging finance, this will involve paring our possessions down to a minimum as the next house is quite a lot smaller. Exciting and stressful times ahead as we juggle properties, solicitors, estate agents, moneylenders and surveyors, and hope all the balls land safely in the right places. The house needs quite a bit of work, but that’s another article! We are moving to a place Brian calls home, which is good enough for me.