House-hunting a TARDIS

Dear …

It’s been so long since I wrote a post that I forgot how to start. Dear me.

Since the previous telegraphic message, our house boss (huisbaas in Dutch, way cooler than landlord) has allowed us access to the Interweb; but only after several hours of Bergmanesque sighing, silence and alternately staring at 300 metres of ethernet cable and a very large drill. I held my tongue, for the alternative was signing up for our own connection with a five-day approval delay and a year-long tie-in. The former was out because I had a big translation job screaming to start, and the latter just gets my goat. I’ve skipped contracts in Rome and Dakar and I’m willing to do it again, but still … they’re just plain wrong and shouldn’t be encouraged.

Prior to getting officially connected, I had had to climb up to the bathroom under the rafters, in the converted milking shed we find ourselves in, and turn and twist the laptop to pick up a weak unprotected wireless network. The day I got the big contract, of course, I couldn’t pick up anything at all and had to walk up and down the street at 11 pm in a freezing wind in order to get a good enough signal to reply and accept the job. (It’s actually quite reassuring to find so many unprotected networks around in these times.)

I mentioned our milking shed in passing, almost a cliché, pregnant and no room at the inn-thing, except there are no cows a-lowing or sheep a-baaing. No sah! We got cable!

Still, it’s a holiday rental, meant for warmer periods, with no heating in the bedrooms upstairs and no insulation anywhere. And with the high-season rent at 500 euros a week, we are running out of time — Easter holiday an’ all.

It was part of our grand plan to return to northern Europe and buy our first house. It’s a buyer’s market, we’re told. Time to make a killing. Offer 20% off the asking price and they’ll still say thank you …

Hmmm …

Not so much. The debate of whether the economic crisis is real or not is played out in the housing market; after all, that’s where it started. And after extensive research — my recent browsing history (CTRL+H) is Funda, huislijn and JAAP) — my considered opinion is that people don’t care if everyone is talking about a crisis if they’ve got a house to sell. The prices are not dropping. (real) Estate agents may be going bust (boo…ha!), but that’s just because people are sitting tight until they get what they want. No one is selling unless they have to. So we’re counting on the greying of the Netherlands (baby boomers leaving family houses) and divorces; even there I imagine the estranged husband trying to make amends just to maintain the value of the joint property: “Baby, I love you … Let’s try and make this work, until the prices go up again”.

We live in a town that boasts over 1,200 registered monuments, that is, historically ancient or significant buildings. Some of the houses we’ve been looking to buy are over 400 years old. Problem is, they tend to be spread over four very narrow floors, with poky bedrooms in the rafters. And with (soon) four kids under ten years old, we’re looking for more horizontal surface area, and are obsessed with finding “the fifth bedroom”.

We’ve seen beautifully restored townhouses with no yard or garden or place to park the bike; newly built villas with no soul or sense of space; 1920s semi-detached with most recent maintenance in 1970s (No more brown tiles! Ever!) … in short, we’re stumped.

When my son #1 took out Dr Who from the library, I realized that in our house-hunting, we were looking for a TARDIS, an example of perfect building in land-limited Netherlands — small surface area, but endless inner volume: did you know that inside that 4m² area, “apart from living quarters, the interior includes an art gallery (which is actually an ancillary power station), a greenhouse, a bathroom with a swimming pool (which was jettisoned by the Seventh Doctor in Paradise Towers after it sprang a leak), a medical bay, several brick-walled storage areas”.

To which my immediate reaction is, “dump the gallery, we got the fifth bedroom”.

I’m nothing if not a practical philistine.

P.S. I need more regular work to boost our mortgage rating. Not too fussy. Anything well-paid that can be done in school-time.

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