Searching for a Property.
When we first arrived in England from South Africa we rented a small holiday cottage in the beautiful Kent countryside near Canterbury and began searching for a house to buy.
We started our search with light-hearted optimism, picturing a quaint period cottage in delightful rural surroundings that some dear old lady would want to sell for a song just because she liked the look of us.
Reality was a blow. It turned out that buying property was not the simple straight forward business that it is in South Africa; where the buyer signs a contract giving a written offer, the seller has a certain amount of time to accept the offer in writing, i.e. 48 hours, and once buyer and seller have signed, transfer is put in motion and the entire proceeding is quite painless.
We were dismayed when the first house we made an offer on was accepted, only for the sellers to change their minds a few weeks later. It was a blow, as up until that particular house, all the houses we had liked had cost at least four times more than we were able to pay.
Then one day, after weeks of fruitless search, I was going for a long walk in the lovely countryside when I came across a small hamlet that I had never seen before.
A few picturesque cottages, a couple of large houses, a school, an ancient church and next to the church an oblong, two storey cottage with three chimneys, its red brick walls mellow with age. There was an old orchard at the back and from the front were views across the downs to a distant manor house.
On closer inspection it was obvious that the cottage was empty, and that it had probably been empty for a long time. It looked sturdy and solid but would need a lot of renovation to make it livable. Perhaps it was empty because the owner had been unable to find a buyer. Perhaps he’d be willing to sell for a modest price.
There was a slate sign outside the church giving the name and telephone of the Vicar and the name and telephone of a person who also had keys to the church. A Mrs Bullard. I took out my mobile and tried the Vicars number first. There was no answer. I tried Mrs Bullard’ number, the phone was picked up on the third ring but it was obvious that the voice was not that of Mrs Bullard. It was male, very cultured and rather quavery. I asked to speak to Mrs Bullard. Quavery voice told me that his wife was out playing bridge. I gave my name and asked if he knew anything about the empty house next to the church. He said, “I didn’t know you were thinking of moving, Pearl”. I said, “No, no, my name isn’t Pearl”. He said, “Why didn’t you mention it when I came to the surgery yesterday” I said, “I think you are mistaking me for someone else”. He said, “Ivy Cottage would suit you but they have that sitting tenant. Woman won’t move”. I raised my voice as the mobile reception was not very good and said “I am looking for a house to buy. I am from South Africa and….”. He interrupted, “Of course you are Pearl, we all know where you are from”. I said loudly in to the phone, “My name is not Pearl. My name is Markey. I am not Pearl”. There was a short silence, then he said, “Well why did you pretend to be Pearl”. I said, “Mr Bullard, I did not pretend to be Pearl”. He said, “Yes you did. I’ve been calling you Pearl for the past ten minutes”. I said, “There has been a mistake. My name is Markey”. He said, “Are you related to Pearl? You sound just like her”. I told him that I did not know Pearl. I said, “Well I’ll ring off now Mr Bullard. Goodbye and thank you for your time”. He said, “Glad to have been of help my dear. I’ll tell Pearl you phoned”.
I put my mobile back in my pocket and glanced towards the school. A sensible looking woman was emerging from the office. I hurried over hoping that she would have the information I wanted. She listened to my enquiry and then said, almost accusingly, “You sound South African”. I said, “I am South African”. She said, “Pearl at the doctors surgery is South African”. I said, “I know she is”. She said, “Are you a friend of hers”. I said, “I’ve never met her”. She said, “Well how do you know she’s South African”.
I repeated my enquiry about the empty cottage. She told me that it had been sold to Londoners and would be their weekend cottage. She said, “Ivy Cottage is very nice but they have that sitting tenant”. I told her we needed a place we could live in. She said, “Properties rarely come on the market in this area but I wish you luck in your search”. I thanked her and hurried away before she offered to remember me to Pearl.
Our search for a property continued.