Clare Mackintosh: Just hoping for a home

Photo credit: Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock

Photo credit: Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock - Credit: Archant

Gazumping sounds like something Winnie-the-Pooh might do in the woods, but there’s nothing fun about it

Remember the house I fell in love with? The beautiful rectory with the waterfall in the garden, and the holiday cottage business at the end of the garden? The reason we upped sticks and left the Cotswolds? The house of my dreams? We lost it.

It was always a gamble; we did everything in the wrong order, and perhaps it was inevitable that it wasn’t to be. Such pragmatism didn’t stop it hurting. Like a dumped teenager I consoled myself with a litany of hither¬to ignored faults; flipping the convenience of the house’s proximity to town into the undoubted irritation of the constant road noise. Even a waterfall wouldn’t have drowned that out, I told myself.

We rallied the children and reloaded Rightmove. Could hardly believe our luck when we found another house – just as beautiful, just as grand – barely a hundred yards from the first. Set further back from the road (so much quieter, we said smugly to each other) and with stunning views over the lake. This was the one. This was it. Our Forever House.

For weeks we held our breath, as we inched ever closer towards taking possession. As each milestone passed – survey completed, mortgage approved, contracts signed… – it began to feel real. We mentally furnished each room; made plans for the garden. We fell in love all over again. But love hurts, particularly when you’re half-way up the aisle when your groom does a runner with another woman. Or in our case, with another set of buyers.

Gazumping. It sounds so harmless, doesn’t it? Fun, almost. Like something Winnie-the-Pooh might do in the woods, with Piglet and a stout pair of wellies. Yet, as anyone who has been on the wrong end of a Gazumper will testify, there’s nothing fun about it. There were tears (from me and the children). There were empty threats (from my husband). There was much despair (from us all) as a renewed house search proved fruitless. Not just no dream houses, but no houses at all. Nothing big enough; nothing in the right place. Jilted and abandoned. On the shelf without an eligible bachelor in sight. “We should just go back to the Cotswolds,” I muttered, putting words to the thought we were both avoiding. But just as soon as I said it, I knew we wouldn’t be going anywhere.

We came to Bala because we fell in love with a house; we’re staying because we’ve fallen in love with Bala. With the glassy lake and its protective circle of mountains; with the Welsh slate roofs and the grassy fields, filled with sheep. With the unpronounceable syllables of a language we’re trying our best to learn. With the people. It is a testament to the community here, that after everything we’ve been through, we still feel so welcome. That despite all our belongings being in storage, and without a place to call a home, we still feel lucky to be here.

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We would have to wait, we decided. Rent somewhere more permanent, perhaps. Something would come up. I said as much to the hairdresser, as she snipped at my fringe; more stoical than I felt inside. We spoke of gazumping; of unscrupulous estate agents and greedy vendors. I felt better for the gossip, walking home with a spring in my step and the wind in my newly shorn hair. It would all be okay. The next day: a knock at the door. Were we the English family looking for a house? Would we like to see theirs? Not on the market, but ready to sell.

We were wary: hearts bruised from recent relationships; not ready to jump into another one so quickly. And yet… I felt my heart quicken as we stood at the front door; caught a glimpse of tiles and a curved staircase behind. I stifled a cry of delight at the high ceilings, the fireplaces, the Aga. Perfection. I stole a glance at the others, to see if they felt it too, and was rewarded with the tiniest of nods from my ever-reserved husband. The children were less guarded, their mouths open in delight at the attic bedrooms, the tyre swing, the garages ripe for bikes and scooters. “Do you like it, Mummy?” Josh whispered on the stairs; at ten, already sufficiently savvy not to seek my views in front of the owner. “I love it,” I told him. And I do. More than the first house. More than the second. It is warm and happy and filled with love and light, and I want more than anything to make it my home.

And so we begin again, with the anxious wait that conveyancing brings, hoping that this time will be the last time. Hoping for a home.

I See You, published by Sphere is out now in paperback. For more information or more from Clare Mackintosh, visit her website or follow her on Twitter! @claremackint0sh