Well, there were seven of us in this chain, so it was a bit crowded, to paraphrase a princess.
We didn’t know there were seven. We thought there were five. Imagine my confusion, therefore, when my house sale and purchase didn’t go through day after day, despite all five lawyers being on the phone to each other in conference calls trying to exchange contracts, and the contracts just refusing to be exchanged.
Every day, at 5.30 p.m., my solicitor would call me and tell me it was no go. And the next morning I would ring the estate agents and say I couldn’t understand it.
I’ve been under offer since March 2016. My house has been packed up for more than a month. We sent for the mortgage funds twice, and had to send them back, losing them at one stage in the ether of a New Delhi call centre.
And then I worked it out. On the last night before my mortgage offer expired, my solicitor rang wearily to tell me, as usual, that we hadn’t exchanged.
‘No. It hasn’t gone through,’ he said, adding: ‘The solicitor at the top said he had to check his client’s funds were there.’
And he said the name of the client, which coincided like a starburst in my addled brain with an email my agent had sent me the previous day naming ‘the couple’ at the top of the chain. I had assumed this was a mistake.
But now the mismatch screamed out like a siren. Maybe it wasn’t a mistake. Reading the email again more carefully, I realised that it mentioned not only the couple but also someone they were buying from.
I asked my lawyer and he said he had never heard of either of them. Dear God, could it be true? Was there another invisible chain above the chain I was in?
All five of us have been locked in this grotesque dance with each other for months and we didn’t even know the worst thing about it: that there aren’t five of us, there are seven.
It turned out that the man we all thought was the top was not the top because he was, in fact, selling a property to someone who was buying from someone else. And they were the top. Or possibly they weren’t, and it just went on and on for ever, into insanity and beyond.
But in either case, all the hold-ups finally made sense. No wonder I’d been sitting in my living room with my possessions in boxes frantically calling British Gas, Thames Water and Sky to uncancel all the cancelling.
Why are we not surprised by any of this? Oh, I do so hate it when stereotypes are proved accurate. Why can’t the world surprise us and give us honest conveyancing, eh? Then malcontents like me could hang up our angry little boots and be happy at long last.
But no. I have to go and find a half invisible chain that someone must have known would resolve no faster than hell freezing over.
However, my own agent turned out to be the heroine of the piece because it was she who uncovered the rat’s nest of a mess and tried to bring it to my attention in that email, but I was too punch-drunk to see until now. The only hope was to break the chain.
‘You will never break the chain,’ said the agent for my purchase, waxing all Fleetwood Mac on me.
But two hours from the expiry time of my mortgage funds, we did break it. We pressed the nuclear button to exchange and complete in one go, and then I had three hours to get out. With the help of friends and the immense fortitude of the builder boyfriend, the house somehow got put into the back of a lorry and I arrived at the agents in Surrey five minutes before closing.
They were drinking Champagne as I walked through the door. ‘I’m glad you’re celebrating,’ I said, as they handed me the keys.
For the first time in a long time, I didn’t care how I felt. I had been warned that it would be such a shock to leave London I would hate it for months. But the second I stepped into the cottage with the spaniels — plural, I acquired another one — we all felt perfectly at home.
The next morning, the three of us stepped out of our front door straight on to the grass of the village green. As the dogs gambolled in glee, it was all immediately and completely worthwhile.
Just now, I opened the back window of my ramshackle kitchen and looked out on to a sun-drenched walled garden where the builder b is pulling up dead shrubs and weeds, clearing away the old to make way for the new.