A kindly reader sent me an e-mail observing that I had seemed a little gloomy of late and wondering whether it was attributable to the distressing process of moving house. And I thought I had been so stoical and brave about it.
But it's done at last. By the time you read this I shall be in the depths of the Suffolk countryside. Obviously now that I am now longer at the hub of London's medialand, the style and format of this column will change drastically. In fact, I think from now it should be adorned with one of those pastiche woodcuts along the top of the page showing a wheelwright's shop or horse pulling a plough, accompanied by sheaves of corn and, well, sheaves of other things of the kind you see in the country. And the weekly article will have a title like "Country Matters" or "Nature Notes" and will be devoted to the habits of the vole or the first linnet of the year. (Note to editor: check if linnet really is a kind of bird; if not, substitute with name of other plausible-sounding bird, and make sure it's something less common than a robin or sparrow, in order to indicate growing sensitivity to nature in all its variety, etc.)
The other thing that people who live in the country always write about is "the view from my window" but, as it happens, the view from the high-up window in my parents' house where I've been working for the past month is one of the most interesting I've ever come across. For example, at the very moment I typed the "etc" above, I saw a naked person in one of the windows opposite. It was on the other side of frosted glass so I couldn't tell if it was male or female but there was clear evidence of buttocks.
There is also something slightly magical about the view, like looking through the square window or the round window that used to be in Play School. One of the reasons we had to move out of our old house before we could move into our new house is that X and Y, the people buying our house, were supposedly being forced out of their house by person Z. But person Z's previous house actually backs on to my parents' house, so I was able to sit at my desk seeing that she was still there. (Can you follow this without a diagram?) In fact, I seem to have all the ingredients of Hitchcock's Rear Window except for Grace Kelly.
Moving house in England and Wales (as against Scotland, which has a sane system) is like a poker game and poker, like other forms of violence, is something I like in films but not in real life. Most people, unless they are in the army or suffer from some psychological syndrome, only buy and sell houses two or three times in their lives, and the money is so great compared to anything else that they get hypnotised by it. People who give every impression of being sane and decent suddenly start behaving like a cross between Gordon Gekko in Wall Street and a haggler in a Middle Eastern bazaar.
A system in which you can make any number of low offers on houses in the hope that some poor person will accept it, or where you can suddenly drop your offer at the last minute, daring your vendor (I almost typed "your opponent") to refuse and bring down the whole network of arrangements, is, if nothing else, a temptation to be not nice.
There are problems with any system, but it's hard to imagine one worse than the current one. The most common suggestion at the moment is that sellers would have to pay for their own survey and offers would be made on the basis of that - which seems obviously sensible. In fact, the one piece of advice I would give someone who was putting their house on the market would be to commission their own survey anyway, even under the current chaotic system. You could then show this to anybody who was interested in making an offer. It wouldn't change anything legally, but it would discourage the current system in which the buyer's survey operates rather like the hole card in a game of stud poker.
The process has not been entirely beneficial. I've developed a strange twitch, but in a much more profound way the experience has been comforting, and this is the thought I would like to leave with you. If, as I feel to be true, death is the end and we suffer total extinction, then this also means that for all eternity, until the universe grows cold and beyond, we will never have to talk to another estate agent.