We’ve moved! After months of waiting it all happened in a bit of a rush, but we are now moved and mostly unpacked (one box to go). The rooms look less like storage bunkers and more like living spaces. I have to admit it has been a hectic, grueling time. My husband Sem was very ill throughout the prep-and-execution of the house-move, including a week-long hospital stay. He was sprung free just in time for moving day but for a while there my days consisted of traveling to visit Sem during the day, then going back home to do some more sorting, packing, and move-preparation in the evenings. I would not like to do that over again.
Moving day was fraught, to put it mildly. I’d gotten up at 6am to get us both ready. Sem left for dialysis at 8am with our friend Al, who brought him there since I couldn’t be in two places at once. Sem’s son-in-law got to the house a short while later to disconnect various appliances for us as the movers arrived and packing began. The cat shot straight out of the house as soon as she got a clear path, and in about four hours everything was packed up.
By the time the movers were ready to head north Sem and his daughter (who had picked him up from dialysis) were at the new place waiting for them, which was good as I’d had to stay behind to coax the cat back into the house (and then into her hated carrier) after all the bad noisy men left. Yowls of anxiety echoed through the car all the way up the A9 (and the cat was pretty upset too, ha ha ha). There was a bit of snow but I made it up north in good time. The movers were great – quick, efficient, friendly – and everything was moved in by about 5:30pm. Since then, the movers have further endeared themselves to me by coming to collect all our empty boxes, saving me weeks of box break-down and recycling!
After everyone left, Sem and I were a bit stunned and the cat was in hiding. We went out to the local “chippy” to pick up fish and chips, after a trip to the big grocery/department store to buy some blankets (while I did have bedding set aside, I’d forgotten to leave a blanket somewhere handy – ditto pillows) and some mugs. Upon returning home we sat huddled under the new blankets eating our fish and chips. Why the blankets? Because we had no central heating, that first evening. We initially thought that the apartment was just cold because the doors had been open all day but we gradually realized that all the radiators were stone-cold, and nothing we did to the thermostat made any difference, though it had worked earlier in the day. That was a bad moment.
Here is the point in my story where I tell you about what is perhaps the biggest testament to the depth of my love for Sem. We’ve been through a lot together in the last decade. My transatlantic move, family stuff, Sem’s kidneys failing, multiple surgeries, two forms of dialysis, countless hours in hospitals and miles on roadways… I would say he is pretty certain of my love and devotion by now, but never moreso than that cold Friday evening when I could not find the electric kettle.
Let me explain about Brits and their electric kettles. They cannot live without them, or more specifically, cannot survive without their tea. No matter the circumstance, a cup of tea will make things better, or at least that’s the prevailing mindset. I was prepared, though! I’ve learned the importance of tea! I had tucked the electric kettle in a bag and put it straight into my car so that it would not get packed away. I felt so smart and on top of things! Except…
Sem’s daughter and son-in-law had helped me bring things in from the car – those things that I knew we would want to locate that first evening without having to dig for them. What I didn’t notice was that we all took our armloads of bags to different corners of the apartment – corners which became inaccessible due to mountains, heaps, and stacks of boxes shoved in front of them by our cheery movers.
The kettle was essentially gone. Not forever, but not within reach. By then I was back-sore, cold, drained, and emotionally at the very end of my tether. I knew it had to be there, somewhere, in a green bag; I even knew which corner it had to be in. Alas, to reach it I would have had to be as agile as a mountain goat, which I am not, even on my best day. Nor did I have the stamina to move literally half a roomful of boxes out into the hall just to get to a bag that I was 99.9% certain was right…back…there.
Sem was exhausted, not just post-dialysis but also from hanging around in a freezing apartment for so many long hours. The only thing that was going to help even a little bit, I knew, was for him to have a hot cup of tea. We looked for something to boil some water in, since Sem and his daughter had gone out during the move (mostly to warm up in the shop!) and bought milk and tea and a few other handy odds and ends. So we had the tea and the milk and even the new mugs; all we needed was boiling water. Easy, right?
Hah! The stove wasn’t working, even though Sem’s son-in-law had wired it in for us. We didn’t know that he’d forgotten to switch the power back on at the fuse box. We had a look ourselves at that point but in our pathetic state (and in cramped conditions around the fuse box which is at just-above-floor level under a shelf in a closet) we both missed two key things: first, the stove switch being in the ‘off’ position, and second, another switch that had been tripped during the wiring-in, which was what had left us without heat. I still don’t know how we both missed it, but we did.
No electric kettle. No working stove. No heat. No tea! Sem sat in wretched despair. If it had just been me, I would have had some water to drink, or maybe a cup of milk, but it’s not that easy for someone who loves his tea, is frozen to the core, and who really, really needs a hot drink.
So here it is… the moment that defines my love and dedication to Sem. Rather than saying, “suck it up, buttercup,” at 8pm after an arduous day that was the culmination of a pretty horrible two weeks of non-stop stress, work, and exhaustion, I went back out again into the dark, frozen night nearly weeping with the effort and the desire to just be finished with Moving Day. It doesn’t sound like a big deal now but in that moment I think I would have paid a king’s ransom not to have to move from my chair at all, much less go back out into the cold for one… dang… kettle. But I looked at my Sem, and I knew there was nothing else for it. Out I went.
Who knew that £12.67 could bring such happiness to one man’s world? I came back with my prize and we had a cup of tea. It didn’t change my life but it sure did wonders for Sem. We cradled our mugs of hot, sustaining tea and were glad for the scant warmth of the electric heater I’d dug out, the lone source of heat on our first freezing night. It wasn’t long before we dragged ourselves to bed, our poor traumatized cat creeping out from hiding to join us.
From that cold and stressful start, our new adventure began. We’ve been here for almost a month now. We’ve met the human neighbors and the cat has eyed the feline population through the window, waiting impatiently for her outdoor privileges to be granted. It is good – very good – to be literally three minutes away from Sem’s dialysis unit, and to be able to come home while he’s getting treatment rather than sit waiting for hours in a cold hospital cafeteria. It has been good for Sem to be home within minutes rather than facing nearly another hour in the car, after sitting in an uncomfortable dialysis chair for such long stretches of time. I’ve gotten lots of stuff done, things that have surprised Sem and have even surprised me. For his part, Sem has been putting in Herculean efforts despite dialysis and still being unwell from the chest infection that hospitalized him. We aren’t settled in yet, but we will be, in time.
I miss our village. I miss being able to look out the window at the glittering, ever-changing sea. Here in Caithness I feel the loss of the Sutherland hills keenly, especially the two which embraced our wee house like giant bastions of safety, one gorse-covered and lush, the other barren and dark. The windows here just look out at other homes, other windows, and the only bit of green is our tiny back yard.
But living “in the toon” will have its own appeal, I think. Here there are family businesses tucked into side streets, and buildings of interesting architecture and style. It’s a short drive from here to very different vistas, from wind- and sea-hewn cliffs to gale-flattened land that goes on for miles beyond sight. We are even closer to the northernmost parts of Scotland now, places I have only visited once and in some cases not at all. There is much to see.
They’ve got lots of things “on” in the town; exhibits, talks, community events and the like. We are fairly close to all of it now, and the fact that we aren’t driving nearly a thousand miles a month solely for dialysis means that we might even have the energy and interest to get out and participate.
Right now normalcy still feels somewhat out of reach, as we get used to our surroundings and learn about life in a town rather than in a village. There’s a lot to take in, including upstairs neighbors who apparently run a bowling-alley-cum-hippo-racetrack throughout the day and evening, and a lingering, niggling scent of mildew, the source of which I am unable to identify (and thus eradicate), but I keep telling myself that things will settle… that life can, and will, get better.
We did find the “lost” electric kettle in the end. It was exactly where I knew it had to be, just not in a place I could easily reach. Life feels a little bit like that, right now. We are where we need to be, though still working on finding our place in all the newness. But better things are finally – I hope – within reach.