Tuesday, August 17, 2010

York, England

Bootham Bar, York

"It will be difficult to find housing for your enormous family," the letting agent said. "Would you consider living in the depths of the country? There would be no central heating, of course, and it can get bitter in the thick of the winter."

Yorkshire Dales in the thick of the winter

Dee and I were in York, England to secure a place at the uni, and a place to live. Yorkshire has a delightful and picturesque language all it's own, to match it's beautiful countryside. Although we'd been to London a few times, and visited the south coast, we had never ventured anywhere else. York is a medieval, walled city, sometimes called the Capital of the North. The center of town is pedestrian only, with quaint cobblestones and ancient buildings. It's a fairytale setting and we felt like we were in one.

The Shambles, York

We were there for twelve days and visited several estate agents, but as soon as we said we had seven kids they declared us "impossible." One of them suggested we rent two flats next door to each other, "one for the children." We poured over the newspaper to no avail. At the chippy (fish and chips shop) we were advised to visit Nigel Naisch. "He'll have something brilliant." We only had two days left.

Did they leave out the "i"?

Feeling desperate and scared of his reaction to the whole truth, we told Nigel we had four children. (Well . . . we did have four . . .) He told us he was just ready to let a house to "some Saudis" for two months, but since we wanted a year, he'd rather let us have it. It turned out to be a Victorian mansion built in 1850, a ten minute walk from the center of town, and just outside the walls.

The couple who owned the house lived part-time in the main hall, and most of the time in London. They had turned the old servants quarters into a huge apartment. It was fully furnished down to the silverware and a hoover (vacuum), with an entry way like a small hotel. Actually, after you came through the front door, there was a small entryway and then a set of double doors to the main entry. From top to bottom there were six flights of stairs.

Our house was from the drainpipe to the left.

All the rooms were huge, with very high ceilings. The kitchen, formal dining room, and cloak room were on the entry floor. Behind the cloak room was a loo. It was a little room with a pull-chain toilet and basin, similar to a bathroom on a European train. It was lit by a skylight to a tiny window high above, so it was very dim at best. You had to be frantic to go in there!

Our kitchen

A few steps down from the kitchen was a box room. It housed potting and gardening supplies and had a big old-fashioned sink with counters all around. More stairs went down to a very spooky basement with a frightening boiler. I only went down there twice.

The backyard

Up a flight of stairs from the entry was a giant living room with a veranda leading to a park-like backyard. Another two flights of stairs took us to three bedrooms, all with basins and fireplaces (that weren't in use) and hulking carved wardrobes for closets. There was a bathroom for the bathtub, (no shower or toilet) and a separate water closet with a pull-chain toilet.

Pete in the WC

Two more flights led to the attic loft, off a little landing. This room had a strange, tiny basin with only a trickle of water, and was also missing part of it's window. (It was July, so we didn't notice that til later . . . we didn't notice a lot of things til later.)

Dee, wondering what we were doing

We could rent this massive place for £250, which was $320 a month! We signed it up. We didn't know about it's quirks.

To be continued . . .

Twenty five years ago this week we set off on a year abroad. It had always been our dream to take our family and live in another country, but we'd planned it to happen after we were rich. Luckily, we didn't wait.

When Dee decided to change careers and go back to his original plan of being a historian, we realized he'd need another degree. Going back to school with a family of nine sounded totally depressing. Since our circumstances would be changing anyway, it seemed a perfect time to create a family adventure; we sold everything and went off the grid.

It was an experience that defined us as a family. This week I'm remembering what we learned.


Christie said...

I am sure I have seen these pictures before, but I am still in awe. I cannot believe you pulled it off. Seven kids and a move across the world? You guys are awesome.

kenju said...

Interesting photos and I look forward to the test of the story!

Heidi said...

I went down into the creepy basement. Yikes. England was a huge sacrifice that totally paid off. I have amazing memories from my 7-8 year old perspective. It was awesome.

Anonymous said...

ooh, I can't wait to read the rest. That was always our dream too, but it never happened.

al + sar said...

What an amazing experience! I love all of these pictures. I wish I had the confidence and faith to do something like this! What a neat memory for you guys!

polly said...

when Nick and I went to York we stayed right across the street from your house. it looked so cool, although everything looks cool from the outside. what an adventure to live in that lovely city for a whole year!

Unknown said...

I know I haven't said it as of late, but I absolutely love your blog and your stories. Going from your adventures and reading Marta's blog, I sincerely wish I had been born into such a wonderful, creative, and intelligent family!

I'm studying to be a librarian so I've been getting my hands dirty in the archives and digitalization projects this summer. I've been inspired by you to work on my own family tree in my downtown and I've been grateful for the journey since I've been discovering amazing things.

Thank you.

Diane said...

I just love hearing about your life, and the way you jump right into adventure. I need to have a little of your adventure rub off onto me!