Moving day dawned bright and early (as the cliche goes). Although actually as it was a December morning in London it was, of course, neither of those things, but it did at least dawn, in a grey and sluggish sort of way.
The old house looked like this:
The new one looked like this, only this picture is not showing up the dirt
At 9am the removal men arrived and started loading everything into vans – one for the new house and one for storage. As we knew it was going to be a big project we had decided that all the books (63 boxes of them), the children’s baby clothes and a certain amount of kitchen equipment, as well as CDs and various other non-essentials should be stored until the house was finished.
It took ages to load up the vans and get everything to the right place so it wasn’t until about 3pm that we finally arrived at our new home. I had only ever visited during the day and assumed that what light bulbs there were had blown and that we would just need to turn the boiler on for the heating and hot water.
So, you know where I’m going with this don’t you? Needless to say changing a bulb in the upstairs flat (which had been empty for about a year) made no difference and the boiler was as dead as a dodo. As the light gradually faded to a wintry dusk, we managed to find the electricity meter and there the truth was revealed: the upstairs flat was run on a key meter. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of a key meter, it works like this: you have a plastic key which you take to a participating shop who will charge it up with £10, £20 or £100 of electricity. You then re-insert the key into the meter and hey presto the lights come on.
Only there was no key.
Now yes I’m well aware that we should have ascertained this before moving in. But what with the moving itself and the arguing over price and timescale and the fact that they needed to remove their godawful rental furniture (yes I’m sure it’s a lovely picture of a cafe in Greece, I’ve got my own pictures thank you. D’you know I don’t actually need a three-legged dining chair, or that bed which looks, well let’s not even go there. TAKE IT ALL AWAY). So what with one thing and another the key meter issue was somehow overlooked. And let’s face it, neither the vendor, the estate agent or the solicitor were lining up to volunteer this information.
The removal men began patiently unloading the van by the light of the street lamp and I stood on the stairs with a torch directing them up and down. Then in the upstairs kitchen I found a letter from the electricity company. This would at least give us a number to call and someone to shout at.
The letter said the previous owners owed £250. My husband, A, rang them up and explained the situation. Amazingly the company accepted with very little fuss that the debt was nothing to do with us and explained that he would need to go to the nearest electricity-charging shop, which, according to their records, was a ten minute drive away, in an hour with a number that she would give him. Once there he would be given a new key, which he could charge up and we would have light.
5pm. The men were still unloading. The battery in my torch was running down and A came back from the shop with the key in the nick of time.
Nothing. Nada. It was by then, as they say, well dark.
He rang the electricity company back. Our woman had gone off duty. The new one explained that her colleague had failed to insert the right numbers into the computer and that she would correct the problem the following day.
A said in ringing tones: “But we are not key meter people. We are direct debit people. You must do something.”
We sat down to wait another hour.
6pm. Light. Hurrah. Followed by a lot of smart-arse texts from various friends drifting back from work along the lines of: “You should have just made a daisy chain of extension leads from the bottom flat to the top one and plugged in a lamp.”
I include these comments not to show up our complete lack of initiative, but as a helpful guide to anyone else who might find themselves with a similar problem. It is, I grant you, quite niche, but you never know.
There was still no heating though. The removal men were building beds in the pitch dark and when our new neighbour turned up with a bottle of wine as a welcome, A practically snatched it from her and then realised he couldn’t find a corkscrew.
We had the inevitable take-away for supper and, by some happy chance, the spare bedding – duvets and blankets – had turned up at the house instead of going to the storage unit so we went to bed under three duvets each. The house was chilled to its very soul after having been empty for so long and when I woke up to go to the bathroom at 3am it took an hour before my feet warmed up again.
At 8am the next morning the man from Virgin arrived. By 8.30am we had about 136 television channels, high speed broadband, a telephone landline and no heating or hot water.
Our lovely builder, Andrew, arranged for his heating engineer to come round after work that day.
Andy duly turned up at about 8pm. Apparently the elderly boiler had seized up through lack of use and needed a new part. After various phone calls to and fro British Gas agreed to sort it out within the next four hours. In the meantime Andy had a glass of wine, watched the telly and told us about his various skiiing exploits.
By around 1am we had hot water and heating, which, we would later discover was either to be constantly on. Or off. And if it was off there was no hot water. So on it remained. Until about June, but that comes later.
So we were finally in our new house. My mother-in-law had decided to come for the weekend. It was about to snow and the architect had gone AWOL . . .