The Displaced Nation

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LIBBY’S LIFE #75 – Glass houses

We’re house hunting again.

I meant to have a serious talk with Oliver about Sandra’s interior design efforts in our home in Milton Keynes, but before I could find the right moment (you have to pick the right moment to talk to Oliver about his mother) we had a sweet little note from our landlady.

She’s given us three months’ notice.

Now, we always knew the lease would finish this July, and after the scene at last year’s Christmas dinner, we’d been looking forward to leaving. It’s just that we’d have preferred to give notice in writing to Melissa before she got there first.

Following her letter, a call to a local realtor told us we should have started looking earlier for a new house, even if it had meant paying two lots of rent for a month or two to secure a place. The woman we spoke to must have attended the same realtor charm school as Melissa Harvey Connor, because she could hardly keep the laughter out of her voice when I asked what rental properties she had on her books. There was nothing to rent in Woodhaven, she informed me, when I listed our requirements.

“And certainly nothing with three or four bedrooms,” she said with a derisive little laugh, as if instead of requesting a modest family home with grubby, 1980s wallpaper I’d asked her for a Fifth Avenue penthouse with views over the Grand Canyon. “I have a one-bedroomed apartment, six hundred square feet. Would you like to look at that?”

One bedroom? Was she kidding? I know co-sleeping en famille is fashionable at the moment, especially among yummy-mummies who carry their babies everywhere in slings and breastfeed until their children are in high school, but it’s not for me. If forced to co-sleep with four sets of limbs, I know I’d get more quality rest if the limbs belonged to two octopi rather than the four humans I live with.

“I expect something will come on the market between now and July,” was Oliver’s comforting, if unsubstantiated, verdict as he channel surfed to find some English football. Soccer, he calls it now.

“And suppose it doesn’t?” I asked. “What then?”

He found an old game between Man U and Arsenal.

“We could always rent in another town,” he said. “We’re not forced to live in Woodhaven.”


Technically, he was right. We have no real ties to this town. Jack hasn’t started elementary school yet. But after nearly two years here, I was starting to feel as if I belonged. Moving even ten miles away would take me back to square one. If we were going to live here for another three years with Oliver’s new job, I would like to feel at home for all of it — not spend the first year making new friends and finding my way around again.
I picked up the local paper to flick through the property pages again, to see if I’d missed anything the first four times I’d read the paper.

“Or we could buy,” Oliver said, his eyes fixed on Wayne Rooney.

I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right.

“Buy? Buy a house, you mean?”

“Yeah. I’ve been promoted a few levels, so the company will subsidise a mortgage. I forgot until now.”

“How very male and forgetful of you,” I told him; he didn’t look very pleased with my assessment. “How very Oliver.”

*  *  *

I’ve spent the last few days poring over property websites and coming up with a list of houses in Woodhaven to look at; we’ve lived in the town long enough to know where is a good place to live and where you need to avoid because it’s near a noisy highway or next to a graveyard. Once I’ve got a shortlist together, I look for a suitable realtor to represent us, the buyers, because without one we’re restricted to gazing at the outside walls and gardens of the houses on that list. Only a realtor can get us through the front doors.

The system’s a bit different over here. There are two estate agents in a house sale transaction: one for the buyer and one for the seller. They share the 6% commission they charge the seller, which is why they can all wear designer suits and drive Lexus cars.

The big realty companies have mugshots of their realtors online, and I browse through them. The men have Italian surnames, woffly moustaches, and thick, wavy hair, while the women are dressed in power suits with pearls and bouffant up-dos, and are in the same awkward photographer’s pose with one shoulder hunched up to ear level. It looks most uncomfortable.

I can’t see any particular photo makes me feel confident in the model’s abilities to negotiate property sales, so I run the cursor around the screen while my eyes are shut, and select the photo where the cursor lands: the cyber equivalent of pulling a name out of a hat.

It’s a woman called Donna in a red jacket and big hair and Quasimodo shoulder pose, and she looks familiar — probably because the For Sale signs outside the houses around town have the same realtor photos on them, I think.

When I speak to her on the phone, though, her voice sounds familiar too. It’s only when she’s taken the details of the houses I want to view, and has made appointments for us to view them in a marathon session next Tuesday, that I realise why.

*  *  *

“I know it’s awkward but I think I should phone the office back and ask for a different realtor,” I say to Oliver. “This woman is a real ditz. She was taking Jack’s details at kindergarten registration and couldn’t understand why a British boy born in Britain wouldn’t have an American birth certificate. She probably has difficulty negotiating her way through the supermarket’s self-checkout, never mind legal contracts of for six-figure amounts. She—”

I see Oliver’s face, and stop talking. It’s the Libby-you’re-giving-me-a-headache face. Actually, if I’m honest, I’m giving myself a headache.

“She’s not that bright,” I finish, rather lamely. “But we’re going to see these eight houses on Tuesday afternoon.” I hand him the info sheets I’ve printed off the internet, each with an appointment time written in the top corner. I feel quite pleased with my efficiency.

Oliver gets his BlackBerry out, checks his calendar, and wrinkles his nose.

“What?” I ask. “Can’t you make it? I thought you said you were free on Tuesday.”

“I am,” he says. He waits a bit then asks, “Are you bringing the kids with us?”

“Probably,” I say. “I know it won’t be much fun for them, but it’s a bit much to ask Maggie to have three of them all afternoon. The twins are a handful now they’re both trying to walk. They’re at that age.”

Oliver flicks through the sheaf of house details.

“And what age would that be?” he asks.

He really is unbelievable. His memory’s getting worse.

“Honestly, Oliver. Don’t you know how old your own children are?”

He pauses, then says: “Of course. Do you?”

“Yes, they’re a year old on…”

I clap my hand over my mouth. I’ve just arranged to take Beth and George house hunting for six hours as their First Birthday treat.

“That’s why I said I would be free on Tuesday,” Oliver says. “ Cake, presents, candles. Not ditzy realtors and fusty basements.”

I’m mortified. Oliver grins at me.

“How very female and forgetful of you,” he says. “How very Libby.”


Next post: LIBBY’S LIFE #76 – This old house

Previous post: LIBBY’S LIFE #74  – Quarterly accounts

Read Libby’s Life from the first episode

Want to read more? Head on over to Kate Allison’s own site, where you can find out more about Libby and the characters of Woodhaven, and where you can buy Taking Flight, the first year of Libby’s Life — now available as an ebook.


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Image: Travel – Map of the World by Salvatore Vuono /

3 responses to “LIBBY’S LIFE #75 – Glass houses

  1. Janice April 20, 2013 at 10:41 am

    Poor Libby. Just when she thinks she has her ducks all in a row, reality hits in the form of a husband who actually remembered what Tuesday was. My husband could care less about all the details, but dates are a kdifferent matter. Mortgages, leases, house abroad, and now a birthday party to plan. This will be good!

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