Well, it’s now a week since we took possession of the farmhouse. We arrived last Friday afternoon at 13:45 for an inspection of the property before trooping off to the notary for the signing of the contract. The previous owners were at the house, together with representatives of their estate agents and ours. Neither of the reps had seen the house before – the people who had been involved in the sale had now moved on. The new reps were duly impressed with the farmhouse. One pointed out that in the attic, where you can clearly see the roof construction, that the original roof timbers have been left as an internal skeleton when the roof was enlarged some 35 years ago.
Then it was off to the notary, where the notary – who was in his twenties (I really feel old) – went through the formal proceedings. Everybody signed. Why is it that notaries have such flamboyant flourishes that they pass off as their signature whereas I have a miserable spider crawl? The previous owners presented us with a basket of local produce from a neighbouring farm and then sped off to their new home in Friesland.
We returned to our new home to find that the entrance had been decorated with streamers and balloons in our absence by a welcoming committee of friends. One of them had also painted a welcome sign, and on the back of the sign hung a series of eight nesting boxes for various species of bird. That evening we were seven for dinner (provided by the mother of our painter friend) – and quantities of champagne and wine were consumed.
The following morning we were expecting a visit from the plasterer and the carpenter so that we could discuss our redecoration plans. At 11am, they arrived, but so did their families, a dog, a large cake, coffee and beer. It was yet another excuse for a celebration, and Martin was kept busy with guided tours of the house and grounds – everyone was curious to see what we’d bought. Finally, we were presented with workmans’ clothes – a pair of workman’s jeans for Martin and a pair of overalls for me – together with Dutch farmer’s caps and scarves (mine were both in a fetching shade of pink). Toasts to our arrival were drunk in “Achterhoekse Champagne” (beer), and a good time was had by all.
Sunday, we visited some of the neighbours to say hello and to present them with Stroopwaffels (a sort of biscuit that is a speciality of Gouda). That involved a 2km walk passing four farmhouses in the vicinity. All the neighbours seem most pleasant and welcoming to the strange birds that have descended upon them.
This past week we’ve had a series of appointments with workmen to discuss what needs to be done. If we do this sort of thing in Gouda, it’s pure business. Here, we discover that they will expect to sit and chat with you about life in general. We’ve just had the attic space in the main house and the roof space of the outbuilding sprayed against woodworm and deathwatch beetle. It was a little worrying to see some of the ravaged timbers in the attic – in the course of nearly 200 years, deathwatch beetle has chewed away some sizable chunks. But then again, as the workman pointed out, the building is still standing, and there’s no evidence of recent activity.
Today, we’ve had the plasterer working on the living room – bare brick walls in the living room may have been the fashion in the 1970s, but it’s not to our taste. We will leave some of the original beams exposed as a testament to the history of the house, but walls will be plastered, thank you very much.
Next week we have the painters in and the main floor will be polished. We still have to get some wooden floors installed in some rooms, and I doubt whether we can do that before the removal men bring all our stuff from Gouda, so I expect that we will be living out of boxes for some time to come.
This is a real change of pace of life for us both. It is amazing to wake up at night and listen to the stillness. Equally amazing is that I’m writing this while gazing out at the front garden with a neighbouring farm off in the distance. To my left I can see the local woods – a 10 minute walk. A pheasant has just run across the lawn, and I see that a pair of hedge sparrows have started nesting in the nesting box in the tree 10 metres away in front of the window. I must find suitable places for the rest of those boxes.