Larry the Cat sat on the tree stump in the dapple shade, enjoying scanning the woodland around him through his half-closed eyes. In front of him, on the other side of a wire fence, ran the East Coast Mainline from Kings Cross to the North of England and on to Edinburgh. Larry rather liked the elevated position this tree stump offered him. He loved watching the trains race by, accompanied by a rush of noise and then the silence of the wood returned broken by the song of birds and the occasional rustling of leaves in the undergrowth. There were field mice out there, but he was now too old to worry about chasing them. It took a huge effort these days just climbing up onto and jumping down from “his” tree stump.
Larry remembered well the various stages of his life. Starting with the nest in the London warehouse, his time in Battersea, moving to Number 10, the national joy when the Germans were beaten and that nice Mr Farage moved in, retiring to Jinnie’s house in Cambridge and spending holidays in Potters Bar. Finally this, probably the best time of all, living in the house in Hadley, on the edge of the common with open ground, woodland, a golf course, the railway line and Jinnie’s babies. He adored the babies and only hoped he lived long enough for them to join him in the woods. He somehow doubted he would, he had already outlived most cats and at his last checkup at the vets, he had heard him say to Jinnie that he was in remarkable condition for an old cat but he couldn’t go on for ever. On hearing that, Larry decided to make the most of every day and to try to be nicer to people other than Jinnie and her family.
Jinnie had confided in Emma, ‘C’s’ personal assistant, that the next day she intended dragging Paolo to the estate agent, to start house hunting in the Barnet/Hadley area. She had the money from the sale of the Cambridge house and now she was settled back in Vauxhall it made sense to buy. The chosen area was near her parents and her restaurant investment in Potters Bar. It was semi-rural being in the green belt. It was close to the shops of Barnet, Potters Bar and Cockfosters. It had good access to both the mainline trains and underground into London for work. As far as Jinnie was concerned it was a desirable place to live. Before Emma had been able to discuss it further with her the conversation had been interrupted by Jinnie’s mobile ringing and that had been that.
The following day, Saturday, Jinnie was just about to tackle Paolo about visiting some Barnet estate agents when her mobile rang. Jinnie didn’t recognise the number displayed and answered with a cautious “Hello” expecting a spam call. However, it was Emma, who was gabbling a little. Jinnie suggested she slow down and start again as she was struggling to understand her.
Emma explained that she had just got back from walking her dog, where she had bumped into a fellow dog walker who lived half a dozen houses away in a lovely old four-bedroom detached cottage overlooking Hadley Common. It had actually been two, two-bedroom semi-detached cottages that had been merged into one property years ago and consequently had a huge garden. Mrs Ballard, the neighbour, had explained that she probably wouldn’t be around much longer as her husband’s civil service job was being relocated to York and he had been offered promotion and a huge allowance to move.
Emma had asked if the house was on the market yet and the neighbour had replied no, the job offer had only been made the day before but they were both inclined to accept it. It meant more money, doing exactly the same job in a brand new office block. Furthermore, they had lots of relatives in the area around York and had always intended to retire there. This gave them the ideal opportunity for the Government to pay for the move years before they would have done it anyway. Emma had told the neighbour that she had a colleague who was house hunting in the area and could she put them in touch. The neighbour had thought for a moment and then said, “Yes, of course, if we don’t go through an estate agent we can save money on not having to pay their commission!”
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon when Jinnie turned her car into the quiet road that bordered Hadley Common. Paolo looked around him and said, “I like this location, I only hope the house lives up to it.” Emma was standing outside her house and Jinnie parked alongside her. Climbing out of the car, she said to Emma, “Well we really like the neighbourhood, which is the house?” Emma said, “It’s just down the road, I think it’s one of the best on street.” Together they all strolled to the house and on seeing it Jinnie said, “Wow, talk about street appeal.” The cottages had been converted beautifully and were fronted by an English cottage garden with a snaking path to the door. To one side was a big detached double garage which matched the house in style.
Emma introduced them to the owners and then accepted an invitation for a cold drink and wandered off with her friend the dog walker and her Cockapoo into the rear garden leaving them with the man of the house for the viewing. Inside the house was immaculate. It had been extended to the rear and the kitchen was huge and had an island with its own sink. The appliances were all built in including an American-style double fridge and a double sink under a wide window that overlooked the south-facing rear garden. There was ample room for a table and four chairs for casual dining away from the main dining room. The ground floor also had a utility room, a shower room/toilet and a living room with a wood burner. Everywhere was tastefully decorated and furnished. Upstairs there were two en-suite double rooms and two further bedrooms sharing a Jack and Jill bathroom. Jinnie just adored the house and had already started planning what furnishings she wanted.
They joined Emma and her dog walking friend, Mrs Ballard, in the garden and strolled around it. The flower beds were neat and tidy, the grass was short and in wonderful condition. At the bottom of the garden was a greenhouse, even bigger than her dad’s, next to a well-tended vegetable plot. There was even a Wendy house, slide, swing and sandpit, which Mrs Ballard explained were for the grandkids. Paolo commented that if they were to buy the house he didn’t think he would be able to maintain the garden in the perfect condition that it was in. Mr. Ballard chuckled and said, “Don’t worry, I will give you the name of the gardener we use to keep it looking this good.”
Jinnie was anxious to know what the asking price was, praying that it was within their reach but was scared to ask. Instead, she asked how two cottages came to have so much land. Mr Ballard explain that 25 years ago the farm that had been to one side and the rear of the cottages had been sold to make the golf course that was there now. However, they had been fortunate to purchase some surplus land from the golf course that had allowed them to expand the garden and later to build the garages and extend the house.
Much to Jinnie’s relief, Mr Ballard broached the subject of cost by saying, “I’m sorry we can’t give you an asking price yet. House prices around here have gone up a bit since the War of Liberation, but I really have no idea what this house is worth. I propose we call in three local estate agents to give us estimates and we ask the average.” Paolo and Jinnie accepted the suggestion and got first option on the house. The Ballards promised not to put the house with an estate agent until Paolo and Jinnie had the chance to make an offer.
On the way back to their car, Emma told them that she and her partner had paid £450,000 for their house, but it was a 3 bedroom semi with half the land of the Ballard’s. Her guess was it would be about £750,000. Driving back to Potters Bar they discussed if they could afford 3/4 of a million. The conclusion was probably, but they would need a mortgage. Paolo said he would start investigating first thing on Monday morning. That evening Jinnie and Paolo told the rest of the family all about the house. Mr and Mrs Walsh were impressed and said it sounded wonderful.
Larry listened intently. He liked the sound of a big house with a big garden, but wondered what a golf course was. Jinnie whispered in his ear, “You would love it, Larry. Just over the road is a big open common leading to acres of woodland where you could wander to your heart’s content. If you don’t fancy crossing the road, the back garden is enormous, bigger than here, and over the fence is an 18-hole golf course with loads of trees and bushes. My friend Emma lives a few houses down the road and she loves cats.” Larry closed his eyes and remembered crossing the road to the park with his Mother Cat and wondered if a common was anything like a park.
On Monday evening, when Paolo arrived home from work, he had a massive grin on his face. He explained to Jinnie that he had told the First Secretary about the house they had viewed the day before and how they would love to buy it but didn’t know the price yet. He said he had told him he was going to ring around to see how much mortgage they could get because by his calculations they would probably have to look for £100,000 as Jinnie had a lot of money tied up in Trattoria Trevi that she couldn’t easily access. He said the First Secretary had smiled and asked if had ever heard of the Staff Loan Scheme. Apparently, staff could get an interest-free loan of four times their annual salary. Jinnie was delighted. Four times Paolo’s salary was miles more than they would ever need and with their combined wages they would be able to pay the loan back very quickly.
On Wednesday Paolo and Jinnie heard that the average price for the Hadley House was £760,000 and on a second visit shook hands on the deal. The Ballards put them in touch with their solicitors, but they hadn’t found a house yet. However, the Civil Service wanted Mr Ballard in York as soon as possible and were willing to pay for a rental home and furniture storage until they found a property. As both were unencumbered buyers the solicitors agreed that two weeks to exchange and another week to completion was the aim.
Jinnie was excited and wanted to go furniture shopping immediately. Her Mum said, “What’s the rush, you don’t have to move in on completion day. Why not get the furniture you want on order and stay on here until it’s delivered and the house is as you want it.” Which is exactly what they did. With an empty house, they took the opportunity to have several rooms re-carpeted, a cat flap installed and the company that did the builder’s clean at Trattoria Trevi were hired to do a deep clean to the kitchen, utility room, toilet/shower room and bathrooms and the central heating boiler was serviced.
It was nearly two months later when Jinnie and Paolo moved in. They had popped in several times and had already stowed linen, pots and pans and some clothes. They had ordered and had installed new TVs and a Sky box and had adjusted the position of the new furniture several times. Their first visitors were Emma and her partner Freddy who brought a huge bunch of flowers and a bottle of English sparkling wine. Despite the fact that the fighting in France had been over for some time, Champagne was still not in British Shops.
Larry quickly decided he liked the new house, but he missed the skewbald mare and her latest foal. He had become very fond of her during the extended stay in Potters Bar. There was only one thing wrong with the new house and garden, he very occasionally caught a faint odour of dog. Still, he had searched high and low in the house and garden and had come to the conclusion that it was the remnants of a long-gone resident. Having fully explored the house, Larry turned his attention to the garden and he fully approved. It was as big as Jinnie had told him it was going to be and the first time the gardener came they got on famously. Paolo found an old blanket and put it in the Wendy house and on cool, wet days Larry had taken to snuggling under the blanket and watching the birds in the garden through the slightly open door.
After a few days, Larry had ventured onto the golf course. He didn’t much like it. The golfers were generally not very friendly and there were several huge machines that roared around cutting the grass. He found where Jinnie’s friend Emma lived, but she had a big black Labrador called Timmy. However, for the first time in his life, Larry found a dog who was friendly and he could communicate with. Timmy was left in the house when Emma went to work and most days Larry came and chatted with him through the patio doors. Timmy was lonely and was beginning to enjoy his visits from Larry.
Larry decided it was time to cross the road and explore the Common and the woods. He remembered what his Mother Cat had taught him and crossed the road carefully. Fortunately, during the working day it was very quiet, it was only when the children were being dropped off at and collected from school that there was much traffic about. The common and woods were as nice as the golf course was horrible. On sunny days mothers and toddlers had picnics on blankets and the little ones were always pleased to see a “pussycat”. Slightly older children played in the woods and he got to know several who often fed him some of their crisps. He got to quite like some flavours but needless to say his favourite was chicken! He was really happy the day he found the tree stump with the view of the railway.
Larry was intrigued when he heard Jinnie and Paolo planning what they called “a housewarming party”. He knew what a party was but why did they need one to warm the house as far as he was concerned the central heating kept it warm enough. Jinnie sat at the kitchen table writing a long list of people they knew and intended to invite. Every so often she looked up and said a name and Paolo said yes or no. Occasionally they had a debate over a name. Many of them, like Dirk, Big Willie, Greta, Emma, Penny and Mr and Mrs Walsh he knew well but who was ‘C’? However, his ears really pricked up when he heard the name Mr Farage was going on the list. He would love to see his old boss one more time.
In Chapter 2 – The House warming party.
© WorthingGooner 2022