Chagall, and how looking at art can make you feel a whole lot better

Chagall - I and the village

I and the village – Marc Chagall, 1911, oil on canvas

It’s been a tense couple of weeks, with one big up and an awful lot of downs. The big up is that Geoff has got a job – yeehah! One of the downs is that it’s in Nottingham so we have to move there, and quickly. I’ve now had time to get over the fact that if I had to pick one area of the UK where I’d choose not to live, the East Midlands would be a strong contender, one of the major reasons being that it’s as far as you can get from the sea in this country, and I need to get to the sea for stress release every so often.

Another reason I wasn’t keen is that the cities of the Midlands aren’t particularly attractive or appealing, and Nottingham has held the label of the crime capital of the UK for some time. It hasn’t helped that on researching Nottingham I came across official advice that instructed lone women who found themselves in the centre of Nottingham after 8.00pm to carry a rape alarm – mmmm…..

But anyway, we don’t actually have to live in Nottingham and its reputation for crime is, like many things, probably over-stated and sensationalised by the press. I cheered up a bit when we did a recce trip and found that the countryside and virtually all the little villages are extremely pretty (and safe), and that Newark is a nice little market town with an impressive ruined castle and riverside gardens and a 30-minute rail link to Nottingham. We were also very taken with Southwell – a quaint and pretty village with its own small cathedral and lots of interesting independent shops and cafes. Nice – very nice – although also very expensive and probably out of our price range. We decided to look at renting a house somewhere in a village between Newark and Lowdham (another lovely village with a train station).

We have pets, which in this country makes you a pariah in the eyes of letting agents, but despite that we’ve always managed to find something before without too much trouble. This time, not. Rental property that allows pets is scarce, and nice rental property that allows pets is scarcer, and we’ve had three trips to Notts now and found nothing – well nothing, that is, that we’ve been able to get.

I’ve sometimes had the feeling that Fate has got it in for us these days, and looking for somewhere to live has done nothing to destroy that illusion. On our first trip we saw a lot of houses that ranged from positively awful to nice-but-wouldn’t-work and then, an hour before we drove home again, we found the perfect house. Only trouble is, someone else was interested too. We were up at 6.00am the next morning, filling in the application forms, which demanded details about our lives extending to our shoe sizes and what we had for breakfast on weekdays. We sent it off and then had a very tense 24 hours of waiting. Then they came back to us – there was a problem, Geoff had only had temp work for the last few months and there was an employment gap (of one month!) before that. We would need a guarantor. No problem, we said, thinking there were several possibilities. However, it turned out that said guarantor would have to actually walk into the letting agent’s office, clutching his passport in his hand, to prove he wasn’t something we’d made up. Now that was a problem – our nearest possibility lives about 150 miles away and has a demanding job that would not leave him free to make a little trip to Newark in his – almost non-existent – spare time. A demanding job, incidentally, that was the reason he’d be able to act as guarantor in the first place. We offered to pay six months rent up front – but no, they didn’t like that. In the end, the house went to the other applicant.

Big sighs, a lot of cursing, and back to the drawing board. Another trip, this time a day trip – three hours drive there, view six houses in the afternoon, then three hours drive back, but worth it if we find something. After trying desperately to mentally fit our lifestyle and belongings into all the houses we saw, there was only one that would work. There was just one problem – in the details, it said it was available now, but when we went to view there was a very elderly, rather doddery, couple living in it. It turned out that they weren’t going to look for somewhere else to live until they knew the house was going to be rented. Of course we couldn’t commit to renting it until we knew when it would be available. Stalemate. We phoned and emailed several times to ask for a date, and nobody bothered to reply.

While all this was going on, Geoff was being harassed from all sides. The job agency were phoning every day to ask when he was going to start work, his new employer was emailing for the same reason, our landlord was phoning to find out when we were planning to move out, the removal men wanted to know if our provisional date could be confirmed – it went on and on. Every property we phoned about either wouldn’t allow pets, or had just been taken by someone else, or had no garden (essential for the rabbits), or something else that ruled it out. We were spending hours every day on Rightmove, hoping to somehow magic up a property we hadn’t seen before.

Eventually, a new one came on, one that looked perfect. We decided that, things being as they are, we’d just take it sight unseen. We phoned the letting agents. ‘You can’t do that’, they said, ‘you have to view it first before we can take an application. Oh, and other people are viewing today and tomorrow so if you’re interested you need to get here quickly.’ We contemplated jumping in the car, driving the three hours to view it, then another three hours home again, without any guarantee or even probability that we’d get it. We were wiped out, exhausted, irritable as hell, screaming at trifles, and tense as over-stretched rubber bands. We just couldn’t do it, not that day.

Something had to give. Ok, we thought, Geoff will just have to find a room so that he can start work and then he can look for a house while he’s there – it’s obvious that you have to be on the spot to get something decent. We searched for rooms to let, but they nearly all wanted a commitment of six months. Since we can barely afford to keep two places running for even one month, this wasn’t viable. Then we found somewhere that would take a rolling month’s rent and thought we’d got a solution but…… internet. No landline, no internet, and at the moment Geoff absolutely must have internet access. There was some talk of a dongle, but no certainty that it would work. We were tearing our hair out in frustration, minds obsessively looping round all the possible ways we might deal with things.

In the end, there was only one thing to do. ‘F**k it’, we said, ‘this is getting us nowhere – let’s go into Liverpool and go to the Chagall exhibition.’ It was absolutely the right decision. We looked at some fabulous art, forgot about the whole housing issue for a few hours, had a lovely lunch in the Tate café, and talked about other things. The knotted muscles began to loosen, tension headaches disappeared, life seemed good again. We laughed in the train on the way home, playing a silly game, and then when we got in, watched a film and drank some wine, and slept like logs.

And you know what? Things began to improve a little. We decided that Geoff would find somewhere to stay next week, even if it had to be a B&B, he’d view the desirable house on Monday and take the filled in rental application forms with him, hand them over to the letting agent in person, and then start work on Tuesday. The rent for the desirable house is well under budget, so we have the idea that we may offer to pay a bit more rent if they’ll choose us. It may work, it may not – I’m sure there’s probably a rule against this somewhere, but it’s worth a try. The agents for the house with the elderly couple phoned to say that they may have found a place to live, and if they have then we could have that house within two weeks. They’ll know for sure on Monday. Another possible house turned up, which perhaps Geoff can also view on Monday, although you have to fill in an application form simply to view it – they wouldn’t make a viewing appointment until he’d done that and by the time he’d done that they were closed for the weekend. But you never know, they may squeeze him in for a viewing on Monday and it could be another option.  Nothing is solved, but it’s looking a little more optimistic.

Having something to distract us from agonising over the situation obviously played a big part in making us feel better, but the uplifting quality of seeing some wonderful art had a lot to do with it too. Great art really does have the ability to lift us out of ourselves, and bring some sense of proportion back into life. It was a joy to see this exhibition, and just what we needed.

Thank you, Chagall – we owe you one.