We woke up to a sinkhole in the patio that could swallow a child
My husband set his heart on a move to a seaside village but I worried we were making a mistake
Sunlight glinted on the water, sail boats drifted in and out of the marina...If the village had been charming even in the grey spring drizzle, on a balmy summer’s evening it was irresistible
Earlier this year, after we emerged from more than a decade of being trapped in negative equity in a Dublin suburb, I promised my husband we would fulfil his long-held dream of returning to the seaside village from which he hailed. But the more I thought about it, the more I worried that we might be making a mistake.
Firstly, it was statistically impossible that we would ever find another street as friendly as our little cul de sac. Secondly, we would be moving even further from my family in the midlands. Thirdly, our six-year-old had said she would “run away and live in the wild” if we moved. So, not ideal.
I came up with a plan. We would go on a mini-break to my husband’s village during the Easter holidays, ostensibly to test the waters, but really to prove my theory that life is pretty much the same everywhere on a cold wet Tuesday in March, so it’s not worth the risk of moving.
My ruse backfired. Yes it lashed rain, but in between showers we strolled from the hotel to the beach, and then to the red-bricked library, the bookshop, the French café, the play centre.
And as we whizzed from one tourist haunt to another, there was also the unexpected joy of spotting cousins and in-laws on the streets. It was cold and damp and grey, and it was our best family trip ever. The village had worked some kind of magic on us. We were sold. My husband tried not to look smug.
With the move back on in earnest, the plan was to let out our semi-d and rent a house for a year. We had to act fast if we were to stand any chance of securing a school place for our eldest for September, but there was only a handful of properties available in the catchment area. Of those just one looked family-friendly and it was too big and too expensive. We called the letting agent.
The viewing was on in the evening, which meant only one of us could go. We reasoned that a man in a suit would probably make a better impression than a frazzled woman with paint in her hair (long story). And so I wished my husband luck, helpfully reminding him that the course of our entire lives, and indeed our children’s, depended on his performance.
He returned with good and bad news: the house was even better than it looked online; a queue of other interested parties had turned up. The suit must have worked, though. Word came through the next day – the owner had picked us.
Then a nerve-wracking vetting process ensued. We scrambled about for employer references, proof of earnings, copies of ID and headshots, afraid that any sign of ditziness might put the owners off.
A woman from the letting agency rang. There was a slight problem. Instead of my husband’s picture I had sent through a photo of a chest of drawers I was trying to sell. She waited on the line while I quickly checked that I hadn’t put my husband up for sale on donedeal.ie. It didn’t get any ditzier than this. She had a question: “Which would you charge more for, your husband or the chest of drawers?”
Finally, at the end of a highly entertaining conversation, she said the rest of the paperwork looked fine.
The first time I set foot inside the house was the day we moved in. It was the embodiment of all my petit bourgeois aspirations: an extended kitchen, an attic conversion, and – praise be! – a downstairs toilet. The attic room was a big hit with the children, but they kept slipping down the vertiginous stairs, so we had to make that level off bounds.
The excitement transferred itself to the garden, but one morning we woke up to discover that the patio had subsided overnight, creating what looked like a sinkhole capable of sucking a large child into its maw. It turned out to be subsidence caused by a combination of recent drainage works and torrential rain – now the garden was off limits too.
And then (oh yes, there’s more) my husband developed a sudden and violent allergic reaction to the carpets in the house and, at 40 years of age, had to move back in with his ever-patient, ever-supportive parents for an undefined period.
The evening he left I sat in the white gloss kitchen with only my dream fridge for company. The TV wasn’t set up yet so I unpacked my boxes of books but I had read them all before.
Then I vacuumed the offending carpets several times in the hope that the noise might wake up our children and we could have a chat, but for once they didn’t stir. After several nights like this I logged onto AirBnB and booked an apartment in the village. Then I texted my mother and said I hoped she didn’t mind but I had arranged a birthday getaway for her.
On a hot July weekend my parents arrived. My brother turned up too, hopping in off the train from the city. Our whole family was together for the first time in months.
Sunlight glinted on the water, sail boats drifted in and out of the marina, our children frolicked atop an extremely dangerous and slippery mermaid statue on the green. If the village had been charming even in the grey spring drizzle, on a balmy summer’s evening it was irresistible.
Too soon the visit was over, but two weeks later I got a text from my mother with a photo attached: a “For Sale” sign on the side of a country road. I recognised the pillars – they stood outside my parents’ house where they had lived for more than 40 years, and where I had lived for 18. The magic had worked again; they were moving to the seaside too.
Caroline Madden is a freelance writer