This year marked a huge accomplishment in the long and winding road of our life and I’m not just talking about my new beard. Although it is rather impressive and adds a dark, broody dimension to my chiselled double chins, what we completed this year is even more astonishing.
The events of 2011 were put into motion almost a decade ago when Emma and I, still unbeaten by children and house-building stress, were looking for a nice country cottage with a bit of land in county Northumberland (that’s in the UK). Somewhere close enough to Newcastle to be commutable, far enough away that any offspring we might have could legitimately claim to not be Geordies or sound like some disastrous lovechild of Jimmy Nail and Spuggy. Not too ambitious a plan, which was probably why it never really stood a chance.
Now I’ve always loved and embraced technology. At age 7 or 8, Father Christmas brought me a 2XL robot complete with some cartridges and, being smarter than that knob Santa Claus, he even remembered the batteries. At ten or eleven years old, I got a Genie 1 computer with an astonishing 1K of RAM and never looked back. So, it was only natural that I used the new fangled internet to find the perfect country cottage Eschewing the commercial Yahoo! and Alta Vista searches, I choose the minimalist and “do no evil” Google to execute my search.
Through the vagaries of Google’s early search algorithm, I found farms in Northumberland, Ontario. Fairly predictably, I was quickly enamoured of the vast and, to be honest, the very affordable space available in Canada. Unlike the UK where you need a hereditary peerage and a bag of gold coins the size of a Highland Bull’s scrotum to purchase anything like 100 acres, that seemed to be the defacto minimum for a “hobby farm” in Canada. Of course, Emma put some practical limitations on what we could buy. Things that only women would think important, like being close to other people, or access to some shops and a hospital. For me, I was already lost in the dream of a new life in the New World and quite honestly would have accepted almost any constraints to seal the deal and move.
There have been a few false starts on the way, including a bloody awful house in Dunrobin. There were so many mosquitos in the woods around that house that you couldn’t see through the clouds of them at dusk. I swear they used to encircle the property like a gang of sharks hoping for something more substantial to eat than an egg and cress sandwich. Not just that, but those fuckers were so big I am pretty sure they were being used as a display of overwhelming airborne superiority by the ants in their continuing but undocumented War On Humans.
After Dunrobin and 6 months in a rental property in Kanata that’s best forgotten, we landed in the suburban blandness of Stonebridge, Barrhaven. For those of you not familiar with Stonebridge, imagine if you could taste, smell and poorly build astronomically priced houses for out of the colour beige. Then round up a bunch of image-conscious vacuous dullards with the personality of a polished turd and give them the attitude of a self-absorbed rapper. Imagine all that and then imagine it all packed so densely that my house only saw daylight if the neighbours opened their curtains. Perhaps you can then begin to glimpse the horror of Stonebridge. It’s more intolerable than Wigan. The final straw was when our property taxes rose to nearly $7,000 and I still couldn’t coax a decent crop of vegetables from the poxy garden without spending $500 on organic soil which kind of defeats the purpose. What’s a man to do but whinge like a three year old until he gets his way and the missus agrees to sell up?
Handily, our Egyptian neighbour was looking for a place to buy for his friend who for some bizarre reason wanted to swap the heat and wealth of Dubai for the cold of Canada. Never a man to turn my nose up at an Egytian offering me lots of money for very little effort, the deal was done over a very civilized cup of tea and a rich tea biscuit.
Since then, the Gods have been with us. We narrowly avoided buying a remote farm from a mad Swiss couple who thought that they were able to haggle from a position of strength in a recession after revealing they needed to sell quickly. In the end, the land we bought kind of found us. It wasn’t up for sale and wasn’t on the beaten track, but ticked every box we had and more. Now, after two and a bit months of living in our new farm house, it’s starting to feel like home.
I’ve still got a long list of jobs to do and a show-down with our electrical contractor to look forward to soon. It seems electricians aren’t like normal people. Like a slippery Belgian bureaucrat, they believe that a fixed price given for a job is just the starting point for negotiations. Actually doing useful things like wiring up a cooktop and some lights in the garage are optional extras worthy of additional cost. They also think they’re immune from consequence even after damaging said new farm’s polished concrete floors to the tune of $500 before we even moved in.
Well, I am fairly certain that there will be one electrician in Ottawa that will be surprised to discover what happens when the business end of my old 2XL is propelled with force, speed and malicious intent at their arse. Cartridge and batteries included. But I digress.
We’re in. It’s been a momentous year and an rollercoaster of a ride to get here. What comes next is anyone’s guess, but if I have my way it’ll be filled with lots of vegetables and a pig or two and, as my youngest boy likes to shout, absolutely “no heffalumps!”