Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Where the grass is greener

I'm one of those sad people who partakes in house porn. You know the type. We watch every episode of Relocation Relocation, Build a new life in the country, Escape to the Country and Grand Designs. We spend hours on Primelocation, searching different parts of the globe for houses that could potentially become our new dream home. We drive to Weymouth for a weekend just to see if it would be a good place to live. And if I didn't have children and did have slightly more bravery, I'd spend my weekends going to view houses for sale just because I'm nosy.

And it's not that I live in a tiny box fronting a motorway that has me searching for something more. In fact I live in a Grade 2 listed quintissentially English thatched cottage with a big garden and swimming pool, in an area of outstanding natural beauty. So why do I have the secret house porn fetish?

The truth is, I'm not looking for a new house per se. I'm scouting around for a potentially new lifestyle. I've always dreamed of living by the sea as that's where I grew up, so searching for seaside properties is an ongoing jihad. But I've scoured most of Britain and have yet to find a seaside location that works for us (mostly somewhere that allows my husband to still commute into London). Plus, living by the sea has less appeal when seaside visits require thermal underwear and sou'westers.

So I cast my eyes further afield.

I've spent many hours looking at the US as a possible option. We used to live there. I loved it. Could I go back there? If so where? East Coast. West Coast (certainly not the middle). I see the potential for a fantastic life, but I also see the lack of things that I missed when we lived there before. Like good pork sausages. And pubs that don't feel like a plastic chain. And cars so small you can almost fit in your handbag. Would I want American children? Sure summer camp looks great. But the schools give me the willies. Hmmm.

Where else?

Some of my family live in South Africa. My husband has just returned from a work visit there and waxed lyrical about us moving back. The weather. The education the kids could get (£3k a year for private schooling - that's the price of a nursery place for a few months here). The outdoor lifestyle. The vibracy. The entrepreneurship. The wildlife. The food. The wine. I was seduced. I spent many evenings - munching on biltong - surfing South African houses and drooling over the space (I particularly loved the way they'd advertise a house as having 5 bedrooms and then in fine print at the bottom would point out that it comes with separate 'staff accomodation' including another two bedrooms, sitting room and kitchen - like that wouldn't be shouted about at the top of a UK brochure).

But then I thought about the crime, the weak currency, the likelihood that our children would leave and we'd just repeat the cycle of a family living in different parts of the world. The fact that Johannesburg (which is where we'd have to live for a job) isn't next to the sea and is a big snarling city.

So I look towards Oz, where so many Brits emigrate to. And watching Phil Spencer search for houses Down Under has had me salivating. But I've never been there. My experience of Australian men has put me off the population as a whole (which I know is a gross sweeping statement but there you go).

The truth is, every time I look to greener pastures, I find that there are few that are quite as green as those in Blighty (probably because it never stops sodding raining). If we left here, I would miss those things that are so absolutely British: like going blackberrying, walks that involve stiles and rickety fences and gorse bushes, supermarkets that have fantastic food, Ocado, history, free healthcare, Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson. The fact that last night I walked back from our local pub (in the rain) with my boys waving a torch and hunting for owls and never once feeling unsafe. Simple things really, but things that I've grown to love.

But then there's the weather. The fact that every bank holiday is spent sitting in a car in a traffic queue before sitting on a pebbly beach in the rain, the cost of living, whinging politicians... and I talk myself out of staying all over again.

I have no solution. I guess I will just keep on with the house porn until a pasture presents itself that has just the right amount of green. If you have any suggestions, let me have them. I'm sure I could wile away a few more evenings surfing for the perfect location...


Heather said...

there's no harm in looking, is there?

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

I'm just as bad.

But, since moving to Bosnia (where we have no intention of ever buying a house) I've been inundated with offers from people who want to feature us in there 'living your dream' type programmes, where they will follow us as we look for our dream house. Then there are the journalists who want to write an article on Bosnia: The next property hot spot (and I don't think they have actually been here...). I'm not saying that Bosnia isn't pretty spectacular, but there are some pretty serious issues, like very tense political situation and possible recurrence of conflict, landmines, bureaucracy like you have no idea, little concept of the rule of law, weak property laws, little planning, oh I could go on and on. You'd have to be Bosnian or mad to buy a property here. But that doesn't stop the property porn programmes. Which makes me have a whole other view on the ones that I now watch...

But South Africa would be lovely. Never been to Oz, they can't all be that bad. As an aside (this comment is going on forever but it might amuse you) my brother is a writer/actor and his show Earls of the Court, taking a dig at the whinging Ozzies that occupy most of London is going to be on Radio 4 next week.

Jenny Waites said...

Oh Melissa, if things were different, we (us ex-South Africans) know exactly where we want to live. I too have come to love my adopted country and city but my blood will always be green and the yearning for greener, or rather African, pastures will never be far away.

Alison said...

I do this too - all the time - sticking to the Uk am wondering if you've looked at Brighton, Hove etc?
For a longer hubby commute you could try the Norfolk coast?


nappy valley girl said...

Oh, I like to fantasise too - I have permanent wanderlust (why do you think we're here?) and in an ideal world would flit between four homes; a villa by the Med, one in a ski resort, a pied a terre in Hong Kong where I grew up and a smart London townhouse.

But in reality, I actually agree with you that Britain is a pretty good country - if only the weather was better. The US is great in some ways, but I'm not sure I could live here permanently; the healthcare insurance issues, the politics, the media all leave a lot to be desired, (and yes I do miss Waitrose too...). Here, I love the fact that we are so close to the city and yet by the sea - I'd love to find somewhere in the UK that's similar.

Home Office Mum said...

Heather - no harm at all. Good to keep an eye on the global property market I always say...

Brit in Bosnia - yeah, I don't think Bosnia will be on my list of places to move but you can always convince me ;-)

Jenny - I know. Once South African, always south african.

Alison - have looked at Brighton/Hove - but it's not the kind of seaside I want. Norfolk - need to investigate but think it would be too remote/cold. Good thoughts though

Nappy Valley - glad to know it's not just me. Agreed - a big city near the sea would be fab. Like Cape Town. Except no jobs for husband. Sigh

Bev said...

I live in South Africa and have looked for "greener grass", we looked at Oz and then New Zealand but each time when in came down to a final decision we couldn't leave home. We have been affeted by house breaking and crime but nothing very violent or perhaps we would have left. On the other hand I know people who have left because of crime and encounted greater crime in their "new home". I guess what is going to come our way will happen regardless.
I firmly believe home is not the buildings or the land but rather the people. The most important thing to me is having my family close. My brother lives in the UK and we all miss him dearly, he is now having his first child and to think the little one will never experience going to a cricket match with grandpa or granny and grandpa watching you swim in your first school gala..... there is nothing greener than that.

Home Office Mum said...

Bev - you're right. Home is where family is. Our problem is that our family is in SA, NZ, UK and Ireland. I guess maybe that's why I'm always looking for somewhere else - because I'm trying to find that thing you can only get when you have a network of family and old friends around you

Jenny Waites said...

My parents and my brother live within 5kms of me and yet I still have moments where I yearn for South Africa. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

Ooh yes, I absolutely subscribe to house porn. I agree with your comments about buying a 'lifestyle' when you buy a house. When we put our last house on the market I had a box of special items I would rush round the house putting out in time for a viewing; champagne in the fridge, untouched Molten Brown in the bathroom, little bottles of sparkling water by the bed... As soon as the viewing was over it all went back in the box and we reverted to the smeggy soap we usually use...

Nicola said...

Oh thank you so much for this post. It was just what I needed. I am definitely coming home after 10 years and now it has been agreed I am doubted myself. But after reading this I feel a little assured that I am doing the right thing. I mean I KNOW I am doing the right thing anyway...but it was good to read this and feel strangely reassured all the same.