With so many last-straw moments to choose from in my house-moving experience, it is a close call to pick the very, very last. But I think the absolute last straw happened like this.
I was sitting in my house surrounded by boxes, pretty much waiting for the removals lorry to turn up. With exchange only hours away, and completion two working days after that, my lawyer had phoned me a few hours earlier to make sure I had taken out buildings insurance on the new property. Yes, I told him. I had just put it on a credit card, a year’s worth paid up front, effective from that day.
I was now busy making my phone calls to British Gas, Thames Water, Sky and so on, to cut off my accounts and restart services in the new property.
Incidentally, this was just the seventh circle of hell I had imagined it to be. While British Gas was remarkably efficient, allowing a simple online procedure to be completed in minutes, the Sky call centre ate up three precious hours of my life that I can never get back.
First, they argued rather mysteriously that my TV and broadband package for the new house would be much more expensive on the basis that I could only have fibre-optic at that address, and not the ‘rubbish broadband’ (technical term) I had now. So I told them I would cancel and not have Sky any more. Whereupon they passed me to another department, who mysteriously denied everything the last department had told me. They informed me I could have any type of broadband I wanted, even the rubbish kind, and made me an offer for the same TV and broadband I have now. It was so much cheaper than my current package that I told them to stick it on the basis that they had now not only been lying to me for three hours; they had been lying to me for three years.
I think I may possibly have cancelled Sky with immediate effect, but I can’t be sure. It still seems to be working, despite various emails telling me I’ve done this and that to my TV and cancelled this and that on my phone line.
Whatever had happened, I then set about notifying the DVLA because the removals man told me that’s the one that always gets home movers into trouble. If the police pull you over and the address on your licence is wrong, it’s curtains.
People often read this column and say, ‘Yes, but none of that really happens to you, does it? No one can be that disaster prone.’
Well, I can assure you I make nothing up. I am that disaster prone. If the police are pulling anyone over to find the address on their licence is incorrect, believe me, they’re pulling me over.
So I changed the address on my driving licence. And then I had a quick exchange of fire with Lambeth council to see if I could notify them of my move, but their website was having none of it.
Everything else was in place, however, and my solicitor was sufficiently confident to go off and finish the exchange of contracts.
And then my phone rang again, and the cheery voice of the estate agent acting for the vendor of my dream house in the country came on the line and said: ‘Hey! So, how are you doing? Hmm? How are things?’
‘Why, in the name of jumping Jehoshaphat, are you sounding so self-consciously casual?’ I thought. I said: ‘Packing, remember?’
‘Oh right, yeah,’ he said. ‘About that…’ And there it was, in his voice, the slight waver. The nervous half-laugh. The little throat clear…
‘Yes?’ I said, thinking, ‘I’m going to kill someone today, I can feel it coming. Finally they will have to lock me up.’
‘It’s all looking good,’ he said.
‘Well, I should hope so,’ I said.
‘Yes, it’s all loo-king goooood,’ he went on, in full estate-agent Mr Smooth mode.
‘Well, it better had be.’
‘Yes, all looking goooood for exchange next week and completion two weeks after that.’
The sound I then made cannot be reproduced here, for grammatical and legal reasons.
Turns out that I and the five other people in the chain, and all our lawyers, have spontaneously and simultaneously suffered some collective freak outbreak of conveyancing mass hysteria to manifest, very much like a stigmata on our hands, a firm set of exchange and completion dates where there wasn’t one, and even a false trail of paperwork confirming this.
When I stopped screaming, I realised that if I worked my way back down the list, reversing each ‘to do’ item to mean the opposite, I might just pull it off.
So, starting at ‘Cancel British Gas’….