I knew of Babington House before I came to Somerset. I had heard of the grand old manor house sitting in 8 glorious acres of woodland, surrounded by manicured lawns and peaceful lakes. I had also heard of the all-year-round outdoor swimming pool and the grass tennis courts, the croquet lawn and the cricket on Sundays. I had heard of famous rock stars and actors flying in from London by helicopter and the car parks filled with Bentleys and Jaguars. I also knew it was a members club, a members club I wanted to join. Ok, so my 30 year-old gold Toyota with its coat-hanger aerial and numerous dents might look a little out of place amidst the shiny supercars but I’d heard someone say, only last week, that, “Driving a new car in the country is so nouveau riche, the older the car, the better darling.” Well that’s all right then.
The application process, for such a house, is quite lengthy. You have to fill in a very detailed questionnaire and then write why you think you would be a good addition to the club, something I am terrible at. Self-promotion in general is very un-British and I have never been able to tell someone how brilliant I am, even when I’m trying to woo prospective clients, so I simply wrote that I was very friendly and liked meeting strangers, which on reflection, could similarly describe a family Labrador. I did, however, get nominated by two wonderful friends who wrote glowing recommendations and said things about me which I didn’t even know. Whatever happened in the committee meeting, they liked what they read and I was in. Hurrah. I was notified officially, a few days later by email. I was also notified that the application fee and my first month’s payment would be taken from my account the following morning. Let’s just say I hadn’t properly done my research and was unaware of a joining fee. Let’s also just say that I will never divulge exactly how much this fee was, only that it still gives me palpitations knowing that I may possibly have been able to upgrade my car for a similar amount.
But I have already – only 2 weeks into my membership – found it to be worth every penny. I am swimming most days and have signed myself up to pretty much every film screening and event that is on offer. This morning I did a life drawing class in the library. All the rooms are beautiful, a sort of upmarket shabby chic, but the library for me is a dream of a room. I live and breathe books so being surrounded by thousands of ancient and modern tombs whilst drawing a beautifully-lit nude model, draped over a chaise longue in the middle of the room, was really rather wonderful. There were only 5 of us and the teacher, who is also a brilliant local artist. I hadn’t done any life drawing in over ten years and was a little nervous where to start. Committing dark charcoal to white paper is scary but with his guidance and suggestions and his very astute understanding of what I wanted to achieve, I just let go. I would have paid a lot of money to get such focused teaching for 3 hours but this was free.... part of the perks of membership.
I could go on and on about how wonderful this place is but I won’t. I think it’s very easy to become a Babington Bore and that would be very tedious. It has, however, influenced me in a way that I hadn’t expected. My search for a house.
When I began house hunting in January I had a list of about 15 things that I wanted in my new home, everything from wood-burning stoves to garden sheds. Subsequently, my wish-list has been whittled down to 3. I call them my 3 P’s; Parking, privacy and peace & quiet. It doesn’t sound like much but you would be surprised how difficult it is to find. Here in Somerset, those 3 little P’s seem to be asking for the world. I am also exhausted with people telling me I have to compromise. Surely I can’t compromise on my 3 P’s, it’s all I have left.
Take for instance a property I saw yesterday. The estate agent had already warned me that he wasn’t sure it would be right for me because it was on a busy road in Frome. I wanted to see it anyway because with that damn C-word buzzing in my ears, I thought maybe a busy road could work as long as the bedroom was facing the back and the garden was quiet. The house was lovely and it ticked all my boxes... wooden floors, original sash windows, butler’s sink, a bath (don’t get me started on how many properties only have a shower room!) and there was even a wooden studio built in the garden. Ooooooh. I began to get excited. The bedroom was unfortunately road-side but maybe I could wear earplugs and get used to it. The owner asked me what I would compromise on and I rolled my eyes. I told her my 3 P’s and she looked crestfallen. I explained that I could probably deal with the road noise and she sighed and shook her head. “Do you like animals?” she asked. Oh God. I imagined she might begin telling me about noisy dogs or chickens but it was worse. The next door neighbour had turned the back room of their house into an apiary for their 4 parrots, and said parrots had a habit of imitating different mobile phone rings. Just then I heard a ‘Brrr, brrr” like an old fashioned telephone coming from next door. The owner said it took her 3 months to stop dashing inside to answer the landline, when it was in fact the bloody parrots. Again, to show willing I said I could probably get used to it until I heard a weird humming from the other neighbour’s garden. This humming was the sound of 3 large filter pumps attached to their 3 ponds. It sounded like a loud generator and was on, according to the owner, 24 hours a day. “Would you get used to that as well?” she said glumly. Only if I pretended I had permanent tinnitus.
I now think that my 3 P’s might have to go too. Having seen over 2 dozen properties in 6 months, it seems that none of them have even my basic needs. I’ve only had butterflies in one cottage which I offered on immediately, only to find out they’d accepted the offer right before mine. Timing is everything here. You need to see the properties before they are even listed to be in with a chance. So I’m going to slash my list again to only one thing. Parking? No. Privacy? No. Peace & quiet. No. My only requirement is that it’s close to Babington House.