When sane people move house, they hire a removals firm. Us? We just hire a van (feel free to form your own conclusions here). We’ve done it many times before, even when it involved three children, a border collie, a cat, various hamsters, goldfish and stick insects . . . so surely just moving the two of us (even to Spain) would be a piece of cake?
That’s what I thought until Roger returned from the rental company with the van. At this point, I decided that perhaps we should have embraced maximum minimalism: there was no way – NO WAY – that all our things would fit in a Movano transit.
Fortunately, the other half of this partnership thinks as an engineer should; in fact, he quite enjoys grappling with this kind of challenge. The next few hours felt less like loading furniture on to a van and more like one of those frustrating puzzles where you build a cube from odd-shape pieces of wood. After two hours, I started to believe it might just be possible . . .
. . . and after four hours, everything was in, and there were even a few spaces left for some bonus plants. (If my friends from St George’s are reading this – please note the wheelbarrow box on the right!)
On to stage two: loading the trailer. This was primarily for the tractor but the high sides meant we could pack a few extras around it, including our bikes which we thought we would have to leave behind. Now came the only ‘ouch’ moment of the whole escapade. To load the tractor on to the trailer it required driving which required starting it which required the key which was packed in a box in the depths of the van . . .
Some time later, the trailer was full (even more extra plants squeezed in). We um-ed and ah-ed about covering everything with tarpaulin and went for it in the end, definitely the right decision as it turned out. That was us done, all ready for a 3am start for Portsmouth.
Thirty hours on a boat is a long time, although never having sailed to Spain before , it was interesting to sail along the Channel rather than across it and there was a pretty sunset as we cruised down the Breton coast. We had hoped for fairly calm weather on the second day over deep water in the hope of doing some whale-watching. No such luck, the Bay of Biscay lived up to its wild reputation; on the open car deck, the van and trailer bounced up and down relentlessly and everything was coated in salt (thank goodness for the tarp).
Despite the mighty waves, we managed to spot eight dolphins and Roger was lucky enough to see a whale; typically, I was in the cabin cleaning my teeth and missed it. Still, the disappointment didn’t last long as the waters soon calmed and sailing into Santander was breathtakingly beautiful.
We arrived at the house in warm evening sunshine. However, having caught the BBC world weather forecast which promised a deepening low set to rampage along the northern Spanish coast and track us back up France, we decided to unload the trailer on arrival – the less done in pouring rain, the better. The tractor already looked at home in its new home.
Next morning, we tackled the van. When we were house-hunting, I have to admit that the flight of fourteen steps up to the kitchen door was one of the features I really liked about this house; obviously, at the time, I wasn’t thinking about the consequences of carrying furniture up there. It certainly felt like a decent aerobic workout!
Thankfully, of the ‘big three’, the cooker and washing machine were going into temporary storage under the house, which just left the kitchen table to lug up the steps. It might not sound like an extreme piece of furniture but when we moved to France, it was too big to go through the doors and we ended up lifting it through a huge window. Spanish doors are obviously wider so it was installed in no time. Phew! Still no sign of that rain, either
In the afternoon, we grabbed some time in the garden. We knew that planting seeds at Easter was a bit of a gamble and that nature would have the upper hand from the start. The broad beans and potatoes were romping away but either the seed germination rate had been very poor or something had eaten pretty much everything as it came through the ground.
Snails. They are everywhere. They have another week of grace and then battle will commence . . . We planted a few seeds in trays in the hope they might be safer, and we will replant seriously once we are there – there is still plenty of time. We had a few showers through the afternoon, short and sharp, but it was so warm that as soon as they were over, the sun burst through and the garden steamed. It’s like living in a polytunnel: things will grow. Our last-minute propagator plants all survived the journey; the tomatoes went straight into the ground as they were just too big to leave in their pots for another week. I potted on the courgettes and squash, not wanting to risk them in snail-infested ground until I’m there to protect them.
Snails aside, there is the promise of good things to come in the shape of fruit. Tiny velvety fruits have set on the apricot/peach trees; the delicate pear blossom was in full bloom and the fig and kiwi have both burst into leaf.
There was colour everywhere, too. I have plans for flowers (of course I do) but there was no shortage of little beauties already. I just found time to scatter a few borage seeds in a bed of calendula: two of my absolute favourites, that gorgeous mix of orange and blue that spreads itself shamelessly around the garden.
All too soon and it was time to leave: a fourteen hour drive up to Mayenne in northern France, a quick overnight stop then on up through the beautiful Normandy apple orchards to Le Havre and the ferry back to Portsmouth. A round trip of about 2, 400 miles in five days. Job done.Three days back to collect the car and say goodbye to our family, then another cross-Channel ferry to catch. That ticket is one-way. ¡Vamos!