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How are YOU?
We’ve missed you.
Somehow, it’s been 6 months since we enjoyed our last sail and signed over ownership of Mirounga. We left her a few days later and got back to Scotland on May 9th.
I’ve wanted to give updates so many times, but I just haven’t had the chance. To say life has been a whirlwind would be an understatement!
Coming back home was just that. Being home. We moved back into the flat we renovated for my dad in late-2020, and straight into doing ‘normal’ things. We went to my dad’s wine club. I got a haircut and visited the beauty salon, and we had family round to watch Eurovision. All with our little black cat, Schrödinger, back by our sides. It was almost like we had never left, for a few days anyway.
A week after we got home, Colin started a new job. He works remotely in a full-time position for SH:24, which provides online and mail-order sexual health support. We’re both proud of the fact that he works for a progressive, vital service.
I was in a state of limbo, waiting for security clearance to go back to work, so, between catching up with friends, I got stuck into my interim job – yup, a renovation.
West Wing is part of my dad’s house. We had already renovated the East Wing for us to stay in temporarily in 2020-21, and for Dad to use as an Airbnb. Dad wanted us to do the same to West Wing. Again, it was partly in case we needed a place to stay from August onwards (giving him East Wing for some of peak season), but mostly so he had another part of the house to rent out and renovated for when he comes to sell up.
Unlike East Wing, which had been untouched in parts since the early 1980s, and used as office space since 1991, West Wing had been worked on. When Dad bought the house in 1988, West Wing was completely derelict. We’re talking holes between floors, 30 years empty derelict. It was fully renovated in 1989, giving us a little extra living space (Mum and Dad’s bathroom, Mum’s study, a formal dining room), plus guest bedrooms. At the time, we often hosted business associates, and having a separate guest space was perfect.
Working against the clock
It seemed like an easier job than East Wing had been. But 32 years takes its toll. It wasn’t just that carpets get worn and colours fade. Mum’s heavy inclination towards Laura Ashley had not aged well. The wing felt dark and dated. And of course, as soon as I started to prepare for decoration, I found a lovely wall of black mould from a leaking roof… So there may have not been a full kitchen and bathroom replacement needed, but it was a big project.
The challenge with West Wing was never knowing when I was going back to work full-time, so not knowing how long I had. With Colin and Dad both busy, and the focus being design and painting, this time I worked alone more. It was intense. And it turns out that Laura Ashley vinyl wallpaper takes a hell of a lot of covering up…
But, it got done. Meanwhile, we were already househunting and had our first viewings only 2.5 weeks after moving back.
A month in
It seems mad to think about it now, but within a month of moving home:
- We had taken all of our stuff out of storage and settled back into East Wing;
- Colin had gone back to full-time work;
- I had decorated West Wing to the point that it was ready for tiling, carpets and vinyl;
- We had reunited with friends with a weekend away for my 40th birthday;
- I was on the cusp of going back to work;
- We had met a mortgage adviser and had pre-approval granted (a huge surprise as we thought we’d have to wait for months of payslips); and
- We had viewed three houses, and found ‘the one’.
We just didn’t stop. I hadn’t actually worked out how fast it all happened until today. Yikes.
A summer of chaos
That set the tone really. Through June we both kept working full-time and finishing as much as possible of West Wing, whilst also going through the house purchase process (more on that later). By the time we took a week off to go on holiday to Iceland at the start of July, we had all but one room of West Wing pretty much finished, and I was already elbow-deep in new projects at work with a summer of deadlines ahead.
One thing we learned – NEVER plan a holiday for a hugely stressful, tumultuous time in life. It’s just not a great time to go. Iceland is beautiful, we loved what we saw and had some fantastic moments. But I got horrific food poisoning on day 1, and we both felt sick and out of it the whole week. The near-constant chilly rain and long driving distances didn’t help. We got home to find that we had Covid.
Yup. It finally got us. We felt HORRIBLE for flying while sick. And whilst it was ‘like a cold’ for Colin, it hit me far worse. I spent most of the week after we got home in bed, sleeping 14 hours a day, unable to even carry a cup of tea from the kitchen to the living room. I’ve never felt anything like it, but thankfully I took the advice to rest and recovered fairly quickly.
It knocked a week off a three-week deadline at work for me, right in the run-up to our planned moving date. And then, our moving date changed. We ended up moving into West Wing because East Wing had August bookings, but not for long. We had all of 2-3 days before we went up to Iona to celebrate (and video!) our niece Elena’s wedding. It was a busy but wonderful 3-night trip, and such a joy to be surrounded by family. We got the keys to our new house 6 days after that trip, but were due to go back to Iona 2 days later for our own holiday! To minimise the stress for Schrodinger we moved most of our belongings, went to Iona with her, and then came back straight to the new house.
Oh yeah, somewhere in that we also bought a car. I’m still not sure how. One week we didn’t have a car, the next week Colin had chosen and researched one and it was delivered. It’s our first in 10 years, and the first car we’ve owned made this century. A 3-year-old Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid. It’s brown. We call it Dale. We like it a lot.
From then on, we’ve had a constant balance between work and nesting and trying to finish poor Elena and Dan’s wedding videos. Getting the news at the start of September that my Grandma’s house needed to be emptied of belongings by the 25th didn’t help.
Grandma lives around 160 miles from us, in a 3-bed semi-detached house that she’s rented since 1951. At 96, she’s finally become unable to live independently or even with the help of carers. We drove down on a Friday and slept on the living room floor, and by midnight on Saturday night, we were back at home, with my Brother and a van full of furniture. We were back down a couple of weeks later to visit Grandma in her care home, between a day out for dad’s 70th and a visit to Cambridge and London (where we got to do The Crystal Maze for my belated 40th celebration).
Life, as we know it
It may have been a hectic few months, but it has been entirely worth it. We can’t quite believe where we find ourselves now…
I have to mention our home. Properly.
We knew we weren’t looking for something ‘ordinary’. There were some stipulations. We wanted something semi-rural, but not too far from a train station where I could get into Edinburgh for work. Having a room that could be a home office, a dedicated guest bedroom, and a ‘social kitchen’ was important, and a utility room/second loo was desirable. We knew we wanted a garden, and to feel connected to nature. We also knew that we’d want to be able to charge a car, and had some dream features like space to exercise.
Of course, we also had a budget. We’d offered a certain amount on a place that fit so many of our tick-boxes in early May but not offered enough. It had us wary.
Dreaming of a country pile
Last summer, when I came home to Scotland, I spent some time exploring the grounds of a couple of local estate houses. I didn’t dream of living in the big houses, Floors Castle and Newton Don. What I dreamed of were the cottages that people lived in within the grounds, the small communities, and the beautiful green settings. But those, alas, are all rented and we wanted to own again. I was resigned to an interesting village house at best.
We viewed a couple of places that were interesting but just not right, mostly just to see what was out there. Then a very interesting place came up, in a conservation village 10 miles from my hometown that I’d never even heard of.
Drygrange is a small conservation area, on the old estate of Drygrange House, a baronial mansion built in the late 19th Century. The ‘big house’ became a seminary in the 1960s and is now a care home for the elderly. The rest of the estate buildings remain (like the gatehouses) or have been converted, mostly to residential use, except for the Tweed Foundation (a river conservation charity), who are our neighbours. There have also been a few newer buildings added.
We went to view the house. Things got weird. The viewing agent greeted us with “you must be Colin, the owner says he knows you!”. We have a rare surname, and it turns out the owner was a former colleague of Colin’s. And the house? It was more than everything we ever dreamed of. When the deadline for making an offer came, on 15 June, we gave it everything we could, and then some. It was scary, but we can’t imagine ever having any regrets. We moved in, for good, on 21 August.
Drygrange is a stunning setting. On our first drive, we passed through the South Gate, along the rhododendron-lined drive, and past Grange Hall with our jaws on the floor. We circled the beautifully kept stable block that is now the Tweed Foundation and associated cottages. And then we saw Grange House.
Outside is a large garden, south facing greenhouse and terrace, parking and steps to doors on both levels of a beautiful red sandstone building. Beyond the dry stone walls is a community orchard, then a stunning woodland walk along the Leader Water. The Black Hill sits in the background. A house truly surrounded by nature.
Grange House dates back to 1890 or so and is a Grade-C-listed building. The downstairs was originally built as a battery house, connected to a hydro-power plant on the nearby Leader Water. Or so we’re told – finding detail has been tricky. Upstairs was a cottage, some sources say for the engineer, and others say for the head groomsman on the estate. We don’t know when it was converted, but it now has a large living room and kitchen downstairs, plus a utility room and WC. Up a spiral staircase, the original cottage is now effectively 3 bedrooms, one of them ensuite, and a giant bathroom which has a door to both the hall and largest bedroom. There is also a large floored attic.
The previous owner had done a lot of work, recently upgrading the kitchen and utility room and adding the WC, and remodelling the large bathroom. He had also converted the attic into an office space, and undergone a huge landscaping project in the garden to the south.
We’ve continued his work. Since we moved in we’ve redecorated the three bedrooms and upstairs hall. One has had its carpet stripped out and we’ve sanded and varnished the floor to make our office. The others have had new carpets, and the hallway now has a Victorian-style tiled floor. Colin has started work on stripping back the overgrown parts of the garden, and we’re already looking at the listed building and planning consent needed to install a ground-source heat pump and solar panels. By next summer we hope to have that work done, and a new patio/dining/fire pit area finished.
Furnishing has been a huge effort, as all we owned was a bed and a couple of side tables. We’ve gone for an eclectic but mid-century-leaning look, based on the John Lewis sofa we liked when shopping. Some pieces are genuine mid-century – coffee and side tables from auction, a wardrobe and bedside tables and the old school science lab stools found on Etsy, or the sideboard and woven chair from my Grandma’s house. Some are older, like the Art Nouveau chair that was my Granny’s. Other items are new, but sourced from suppliers using reclaimed wood. Some were nicked – my dad’s hostess trolley and bookshelf. And some were wholly unexpected, like the pew being sold off by the church where dad goes to wine club.
Art, more art!
The house is so big that it’s swallowed what art and ornamentation we have, and then some. I’m up to close to 90 “things” on the walls if you take into account the 22-piece map installation in the office and the 13 flags above the stairs. And I’m not done – I’ve got 4 pieces from a charity sale and a porcelain wall sculpture set on the way, and we need to have a few things framed. We also need to have some art made from our time on Mirounga. There are also over 50 plants, and that’s just inside!
And, on the subject of culture, we have our own home cinema. Somehow, we managed to get a 75″ TV in through one of the velux windows in the attic. If anything was a demonstration of our sailing past, that was it. We could definitely have done with a spare halyard and some better lines to do the job… A rope slipped off while it was on the roof but Colin channelled his inner Bosun and clambered out to secure it. We have some fun decoration plans for the space, and the other end of the attic will gradually become a workout space, for the day when we have time. I had planned to do some yoga up there today… not gonna happen.
We’ve been lucky enough to have visitors, and to be starting to enjoy this space socially. So many people have commented on how quickly we’ve nested, but it’s who we are. We just can’t leave a project unaddressed. And as the leaves turn golden outside, we can’t wait for a cosy, relaxed winter here.
Work, for me at least, has been a revelation. The time away means I’ve gone back renewed and it’s been non-stop excitement.
I think, perhaps, that some people missed me even. I get asked to do and be a part of a LOT. It’s a good feeling. These days I’m a researcher without remit, but that means I’m doing varied projects which suits me. Some of what I’m doing is familiar, like Budget scrutiny or participation work, but I’m also doing a lot more in terms of management and strategic work.
I definitely struggle to turn down opportunities. When HRH The Queen died, I volunteered to support business when the Motion of Condolence took place at the Scottish Parliament. That was the first official engagement of the new King’s career. It was a blur, but Royalist or not, I can’t deny that it was a privilege to stand on the Canongate as the Queen’s cortege passed by. To greet guests attending the official proceedings, and to see the King meet the elected members I support. The eyes were on my workplace, and it was amazing to be a part of delivering an event that was so significant in our history. I ended up queuing overnight to see the Queen’s coffin in St Giles Cathedral, just to give my brain time to take it all in.
Always finding more
Beyond work? We had hoped to get into volunteering more. We’re already involved in the community orchard here and Colin helped collect apples for the local food bank last weekend and will do so again next week (while I’m working). I’m at the interview stage for a statutory voluntary role which I am so hopeful for.
I’ve just got through what might be the busiest week of my working life, and I’m tired, and ready for a break, but still wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve realised that I have a passion for leaving things better than I found them, in every part of life.
Which brings me to my brain…
I mentioned in my last blogs about being diagnosed with ADHD. I don’t want to dwell on this, but it really has been lifechanging. When we moved home I started medication, and I credit diagnosis and medication in part for being able to achieve what I have in only 6 months back in the UK.
A new focus (i.e. any)
I was driven before, yes. But I was one note. I would become wholly obsessed with one thing and nothing else mattered. Then I would become overloaded and shut down entirely. Now, I’m able to spread that dedication around. I’m more confident and believe in myself in a way I didn’t before. with the exception of when I’ve been sick and unable to take meds, I haven’t had a single disassociative episode in 6 months. I’ve been told that the change in me at work has been positive, and I feel more able to meet challenges. Friends have told me that I seem more at ease, happier. I AM happier.
In May/June I started blogging on Medium about my diagnosis, then found I just didn’t have time. I may go back to it, but at the moment I’m getting more from listening to others, on podcasts, etc, than I am talking about it myself. Yeah, I have the patience for podcasts now. That is HUGE.
Not wholly a new me
I know that it’s not just diagnosis etc that has changed me. It would be madness to think that giving up my career and spending a year travelling hasn’t also had a huge impact on who I am, how I see myself, and how I relate to people. The friends who saw those changes while we were sailing have helped me to keep that valuable perspective, and I owe a lot to them for reminding me of that during some recent struggles.
The last few months haven’t been without their mental health challenges. I’ve reached near-burnout a couple of times, and I know I’m due some rest. We’ve suffered the sudden death of one of our oldest friends, someone I couldn’t imagine not having contact with weekly. And there’s been some interpersonal conflict and trauma in our life, which we’re both struggling with, but we’re doing so in a much healthier, cohesive way than in the past. We just talk and listen to each other so much more than I ever thought possible.
A quiet life…
We have, somehow, managed to go through lockdown, a year of travel and adventure, then coming back home with all it entails, and come out stronger. We are closer. We are better as a team.
Our little cat, who seemed to be going a bit deaf or senile when we got her back, is now back to being a 17.5-year-old kitten. She LOVES this house. And we love nothing more than watching her climb up and down the attic ladder.
My dad now has his two Airbnbs, East Wing and West Wing, and is doing well. We’ve had valuable time with family this year, and can see more time for family and friends coming up. I’m feeling more dedicated and committed to friendships, after learning so much about putting myself out there while we were sailing.
We miss our sailing friends and hope to see some of them in 2023. Mirounga? We miss her in an abstract sense, but we haven’t once caught ourselves wishing ourselves back. Or regretting our time away. It’s been the perfect serendipity of having a great time away and growing through the experience, and being able to bring that growth back with us to have a new start in our old life.
We love where we are, in every sense of the word. Our home is better than a dream, our jobs are working out, and we’re finding time to exercise our creativity and care for others. As we get older we become less insular, less materialistic (house furnishing aside!), and more connected to core values of community, kindness, and as Cousin Anna would put it, ‘enough’.
We are lucky. And happy.
I hope you are too.