Move to France? May as well…

On the first day of December 2016 I got an email telling me we had to move out of our rented house by 31st January.  I burst into tears.

Not because I love the house. It’s a nice size, in a great place and we have fantastic neighbours, but I cried because of the stress I’d had finding the place. Landlords in Bristol hate cats. Or maybe it’s the agents, I don’t know. But if you have a cat and want to rent, you’d better be ready to live in a shit hole, or jump through a lot of hoops.

We’d begged and cajoled, written letters direct to landlords, argued and fought about how we were going to find a new place to live with two cats in the family. When the flat we’d previously rented was sold it had taken me the best part of three months – which we were fortunately granted – to find a decent house for us all. I couldn’t go through it again.

That night I lay in bed, tears dried, considering the new reality. I laughed to myself about the flippant comment I’d made back when we’d moved in, “I’m never doing that again in England,” I’d said, “If we got evicted from this house before we wanted to move I’d pull the kids from school and go to Barcelona and just work it out.”

And that, I realised, was exactly what I wanted to do.  Only… Barcelona? I wasn’t sure I was ready. So what were our options?

There was a house in Italy belonging to James’ late dad’s partner. It was on the market, but it didn’t look like selling in a hurry and I thought G would be happy for us to live there until it was. We’d visited twice and loved the village. Although James was the only one with any Italian. Hmmm. The village was pretty remote too. And the house didn’t have wifi, which we would need if we were going to work remotely. I dreaded to think how long it would take in a rather remote Italian village to get wifi installed…

Then there was our small studio high in the French Alps which we’d bought at Easter with some of James’ inheritance money. It was an investment – a holiday place for us we could rent out for some income – and so that our skiing holidays essentially paid for themselves. It was 29m2. Quite small. For a family of four.  With a cat and a hamster?  Hmmm.  For six months?  But on the plus side it was warm and cosy with a view of the mountains. We’d been to the village and surrounding area a few times before we’d bought the place for mountainbiking, and we’d been at least five times since, getting the flat rennovated and ready to rent out.  And going skiing! It had started to feel like our second home – we were all relaxed there – the girls would walk together through the village because it was small and safe and friendly. James and I both spoke French; the girls did a bit at school.  I felt my heart flutter. The idea sat well, something about it just felt good. I signed and knew that now I would sleep.  In the morning I would speak my idea out loud to James.  And then it would begin to happen.



leaf fall



i thought about us and the rain and wondered

when the leaves had fallen and if there was a tree somewhere still shedding

i could sit under and wait for you to fall leaf by leaf around me

in all the colours

© Naomi Madelin 2016



This is my favourite picture of me, by my youngest daughter. She’s done much fancier pictures, more detailed, more colourful – but I just love this.

I love that my girls associate me with running.  I love that they are growing up knowing that sometimes Mummy comes first, and running comes first. I love that they want to run too, and that we run together, and that it’s part of our shared joyfulness.

I was a kind-of-runner for years. On and off.  Here and there. Then during some tricky times a fabulous person pointed out that I was lost amidst the duties of family life – and that it wasn’t good for me, or anyone else. She told me that I had to put myself first sometimes, or I was no good to anyone. She made me make time for me, and along the way I discovered how much I really loved running.

So I run for me, but I run for my girls too. They see their dad support me by coming home in time for me to dash out and run with my group. They see me prioritise running by throwing myself out of the door some mornings before breakfast. And sometimes they say ‘Please stay home, please don’t go running today,’ and I say ‘It’s important to me to run, I love running.  I like to be fit – a fit mummy to run around with you!  I need to have time for me too – so I can be a good mummy, not a crazy one. It’s is my thing and it’s what I do.’

I want to give my children positive, hopeful, high expectations for their lives. By making time for ourselves, by asking for the support of our families and partners so that we can have that time, we’re presenting a whole package of goodness that feeds those expectations.

Take the time you need – no one will gift it to you. That’s the biggest lesson I learnt in the last decade!  That’s our best gift to ourselves, and our children. They learn from us how to be.

Be yourself.


Find support.

Be free.

Be firm.

Be strong.



Cat owners – scourge of the planet

 Mitsi pic blog copy
“It’s estimated that 43% of the (UK) population currently own a pet and almost 5 million people live in privately rented accommodation in the UK . Yet few landlords will rent their properties to tenants with pets.” Publication on Renting to Pet Owners, from The Dogs Trust, UK.
In 2000 I bought a flat in London and did it up – stripped down the wooden beams, re-did the bathroom etc. I like my home to feel like my own. Pre-children and with a bit more disposable income I had a regular cleaner and kept the place nice. That’s me – house proud.
In 2003, now in New Zealand, my partner and I bought a somewhat ramshackle wooden villa in the countryside.We spent the eight years we owned our property ridding our three-quarters-of-an-acre of rural grassland of invasive alligator weed, making some attempt at putting in gardens, hacking down enormous weed patches with the farm-grade gardening equipment we purchased.  We trimmed and tamed trees, planted natives to improve the outlook.  Inside I stripped layer upon layer of ancient and peeling paint from woodwork and sanded it back to natural.  I taught myself to plaster and patched up walls.  We remodelled a little, had custom bookshelves built in, fitted the Schrieber wardrobes we’d taken with us from England and generally transformed a shabby old villa into a rather beautiful one.
Along the way we acquired two cats.  They were, in fact, a very early addition to the household.  Within a couple of weeks of us moving in the mice arrived too, so cats were a necessity.  There were plenty of unwanted kittens about and we quickly acquired two teeny black bundles – who were far too small to be good mousers.  Nonetheless, they soon grew and the mice got the message.  The cats didn’t, and often went out to find field mice and bring them in.  Alive.  Ho hum.  We got very adept at capturing said mice in a humane mouse trap, depositing them on our boundary and giving them the chance to be brought back in another day.

She only attacks mice, frogs and small birds

After eight years we finally decided to return to city life.  By then we had the two cats, and two children. We had become Mr and Mrs in a terribly conformist kind of way.  We had also decided to return to the UK so that our children might have more chance to be close to their grandparents, and that we might spend more time with our parents too, as no one was getting any younger.  It was a hard decision to make as we loved New Zealand, but family is family and we felt it was the right thing to do.   Nonetheless, the timing wasn’t right so we chose to sell our house and rent a home somewhere in Auckland for a year before re-emigrating to England.
I remember sitting at the computer looking at a map of Auckland choosing where we might like to live, then scrolling through properties for rent.  A cluster of houses in the suburb of Devonport were advertised as ‘cat friendly’ so that seemed like as good a place as any to start.  I arranged to see three homes.  The first was like a mausoleum. It was an incredible house; dark, imposing, painted blood red through much of its disturbing interior.  The second was a sketchy place on a dry patch of grass very close to a main road.  After three quarters of a rural acre I couldn’t quite go there.  The third place was in a quiet street close to the waterfront and near the ‘village’ of Devonport.  It had an open plan kitchen, a family dining area, two reception rooms, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a covered deck at the back and unpretentious good sized garden plus a car port. I said ‘yes’, signed a form. I think that was about it – aside from the obvious paying up of a reasonable deposit and month’s rent.
My girl cat has always been the most nervous of the two.  She’s a ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ looking fluff ball of a cat – and a savage hunter. Perhaps the stress of the hunt gets to her.  Who knows.  But she didn’t take the move so well.  After being confined to a room for a while we then allowed her to roam the house, but she started peeing in various places – which stunk and was generally unsanitary.  You couldn’t miss it. I remember she even peed in my daughter’s bed on one occasion. Revolting.  I quickly got fed up with the endless, unpleasant and pretty tricky cleaning up jobs (not to mention getting a bit OCD about checking for new pee spots and disinfecting everything).  I sought advice from the vet.  We re-confined her to a room and then let her out into parts of the house very slowly.  She got used to the new house and we had no more problems.
I’d like to point out here that yes, my cat peed in a rental home.  That was my home.  Our family home.  I didn’t own the house – so did I care that she’d peed on the carpet?  YES. I most certainly did.  It was still MY HOME. Aside from the smell, and the fact that it felt unsanitary, cat pee isn’t something I want to live with.  So I cleaned it up. Thoroughly.  Until there was no trace of it by sight or by smell.  Exactly as I would have if I owned the house.  That’s how we like to live.  Cleanly.
Why am I pointing this out?  Because in 2012 we moved back to the UK and needed to rent a home.  It didn’t take too long to find a flat.  Thankfully.  Now I realise how very lucky I was.  I saw the flat on a hot summer’s day (our second day of flat hunting) with my four and two-year-old in tow, and my mum along to lend a hand and some moral support.  We’d trailed around a few places.  Some weren’t appropriate, at least one that I wanted had just been taken by the person who viewed it before me.  The agents told me it was a fast market – and given how many people seemed to be traipsing in and out of the properties I was viewing, I believed them.  En route from place to place I was checking the internet on my phone and ringing agents to see if anything else had come up.  One told me of a garden flat that was about as close to the school I hoped to get my eldest into as anything we’d seen.  So we dragged the kids over and took a look.  They’d dropped the rent, we were told, due to a slightly troubled upstairs neighbour who’d put a few people off. The landlord might consider our cats… I felt a bit sorry for the unfortunate and afflicted neighbour and said I’d take it.  It had a lovely garden and I thought it would be fine at least for six months to a year.   No more multiple reception rooms, but there were two bedrooms, a study, a small kitchen we could squeeze a little table into and large reception/dining room.  It was brighter than many basement flats and we were tired.  I just didn’t want to look any more.
As with our rented home in Auckland, we cared for our flat.  The first thing I did was to get down on my hands and knees and scrub the tiled floor that ran through the kitchen, hallway and bathroom.  The grout was sunken and old and clung to dirt like poo to a sheep’s bottom.  Half the kitchen cupboards were missing handles.  Old as they were, I sourced matching handles and we fitted them.  We asked permission to put hooks on the backs of some doors and bought nice brass ones – to go with the brass door knobs – because the aesthetics of our home matter to us.  They weren’t expensive, but they were decent.
As with our Auckland home, we’d rented the flat unfurnished and so everything in the flat was ours.  We have nice hardwood sideboards, hand made bookshelves and chests of drawers, family heirlooms that aren’t worth a lot except sentimentally – and so we love and care for them.  The only thing we hand’t shipped was our three piece suite as it had cost eighty New Zealand dollars from a charity shop and had seen better days.  So we found a leather suite on ebay for an amazing price and treated ourselves.  To protect our furniture – and our laps – we started clipping the cats claws regularly on advice from their new vet.
Did I mention the overgrown garden we cut back, weeded, kept tidy and improved?  Our landlords were very appreciative – as were our neighbours.
Having been happy, attentive pet-owning tenants for more than two and a half years our absent landlords decided that the time had come to sell their old family home.  So we found ourselves seeking a new place to rent.
Apparently being amazing tenants, being house proud, handy, honest and hard working does not a good tenant make.  Not if you have cats.  No matter that those cats have been part of your family since before your children were born.  No matter that they are well-balanced, well-behaved neutered cats who have successfully failed to ruin two rental homes and one owned house.  No matter that you are better tenants than at least half of the non-cat-owning renters out there.  If you have a cat, you are persona non grata to most agents and landlords.

Don’t allow viscous creatures like this one into your house.


I looked and looked. I begged and cajaoled. My husband counselled me to lie about the cats and I refused – I could see conflict in the future down that path, and that’s not something I want.  When we were meant to be out of our flat in a week we’d been offered a single house – out of the probably twenty or more flats and houses we’ve been to see.  And that house was tiny and would have been a real compromise for us – a struggle to fit in among other things. And just because of our two lovely cats. Nothing else.
There were flats that looked good on paper, but I couldn’t get to see them because they were ‘not suitable for children’.  In other cases I was told ‘It’s not big enough for a family of four, you have to have three bedrooms.” I’m sorry? Would you like to try telling that to the massive proportion of the world’s population who house their family a space probably half the size at most?  “Oh,” say the agents “It’s because the landlords are worried about wear and tear.”  Bullshit.  Other agents had shown me places that were so small it would have been a challenge for us to live in them – but there was every expectation that we could.  And often there were already families of four living there (well, moving out of there….).  These arbitrary rules don’t actually serve anyone. What serves a landlord is a reference.  A good one.  Regardless of the size of the family or the cat they own.
So I can’t have some rental properties because I have children.  I can’t have others because I have too many children.  Call me fussy but I’d like a kitchen I can actually store food and crockery in and COOK, which has knocked a few places off my list even before I mentioned the cats… And no, just because I happen to own two cats I don’t want the house that stinks of dog with the threadbare carpets and artex ceilings that brush my husband’s head.  Sorry if I’m being fussy.
I am prepared to pay up to £1500 every month to live in and look after your investment Mrs or Mr Landlord. To perform small duties of care to it without troubling you or your cheque book.  To let you know the minute something goes awry that may affect the value of said investment.  I’m prepared to give over a significant chunk of money that you can KEEP until I move out just in case I overlook something or cause some damage to your property.  I’ll cut your grass, I’ll snip your hedges, I’ll clean your windows and sweep out your shed. Because that’s the way I roll.
I have a fantastic reference.  I have a lovely family I am bringing up to respect their own and other people’s possessions – and they do.  We are active, intelligent, fun.  You’d like us.
So what is the problem, exactly, with my lovely, beloved, ageing cats?

The furry members of our family

Really? You’d rather have the young professionals who haven’t quite worked out the cleaning rosta?  The family who rarely put out the rubbish and aren’t so hot on the cleaning either so the kitchen stinks and you have maggots at the back of your kitchen cupboards?  The people who trail in and out in their shoes tramping endless street dirt around your floors?
You’d rather have them?  Really?  Of course you would – they don’t have cats.


We managed to extend the rental on our flat while the sale of it went through – thank heavens. And by pratically living on ‘Right Move’ I finally spotted a little detaced house advertised as ‘pets welcome’ – pretty much the minute it was posted. We went to see it. It was quirky, but nice. It had a proper kitchen (albeit without a much-desired dishwasher, and a rather tiny fridge). The rent was the same as a dingy basement flat in our old neighbourhood – and it had a garage too!  We snapped it up.  The irony: Every other house I’d looked at had mostly wooden floors, perhaps a carpet in the bedrooms at most. This one is carpeted throughout in light cream or white – and yet the owners were happy to rent it to us with our two black cats!

Do we keep it clean? You betcha. Same as we always have. The landlords are more than happy with how we care for their property and we’re into our second year here.

Sadly our girl cat was diagnosed with diabetes in autumn 2015. She didn’t react well to insulin and was put to sleep shortly before Christmas. Our boy cat, now enjoying a raw meat diet (I will post about this another time) is more talkative than ever, craves our attention and chases his own tail – aged 13!


It’s a great shame that the Office of Fair Trading was dissolved in 2014. However, must of the advice they provided is still available online. Their document oft356 ‘Guidance on Unfair Terms in Tenancy Agreements’ includes a clause stating that:
Our objection is to blanket exclusions of pets without consideration of all the circumstances. Such a term has been considered unfair under comparable legislation in another EU member state because it could prevent a tenant keeping a goldfish.
Note “under comparable legislation in another EU member state”. That’s the polite way of saying “other EU countries are not so stupid”

The perils of re-immigration

British citizens who spend time living overseas then return to their motherland are penalised and disadvantaged on their return, says re-immigrant Naomi Madelin.

Credit ratings that have returned to zero, the inability to open a proper bank account, demands for huge deposits for rent payments, mobile phone contracts and no one offering advice on how the UK works are some of their criticisms.

After a decade living in New Zealand, Naomi and James Madelin decided to bring their Kiwi-born family, and successful entrepreneurial business back to the UK to be nearer ageing family and their main customer base.

“When you’ve been gone for a decade you really feel like a stranger, but everyone assumes you understand how everything works,” Naomi explains. “With a huge re-immigration move like that, small children to care for, a new home to find, schools – not to mention a business to keep going so you keep your income – you just don’t think about going to the CAB or somewhere to say ‘Hey – I’m new here, tell me what I need to know.”

The couple says that UK Trade and Industry were keen for them to bring the business home, and offered to help.

“They were pretty much useless,” the couple agree. Affiliates in Auckland helped them to fast-track British passports for their children, but once in the UK they found any offered assistance pointless. “They offered to do stuff for us that we could easily do. It was the hard stuff over the next year or so that was difficult, and that no one seemed able to help us with.”

The family settled in Bristol, attracted by its more laid-back atmosphere, creative and entrepreneurial scene and easy access to the great outdoors.

“The problems started before we got back when I discovered that we couldn’t apply for a school place without a UK address in the right area,” says Naomi. She travelled to the UK with their two under-fives in June 2012 to find a place to live and try to secure a school place for their eldest. “I made a snap decision on a flat close to the school we wanted – house hunting in the summer with two jet-lagged children in tow was exhausting.” But they were told they would have to pay six months rent up front. “I was horrified. That was when I first discovered that my UK credit rating had been completely wiped out. I’d worked in the UK since my teens, had a good career through my twenties and a mortgage. Now I couldn’t so much as a get a store card.”

Welcome_GoAway_gnomes low

“We didn’t have six months’ rent available. It costs a lot of money to move from New Zealand…” Luckily the landlord of the flat also lived overseas and was understanding – Naomi managed to negotiate down to three months in advance.

Then she went to get a UK phone contract and was made to pay £150 as a ‘security deposit’, which EE said they would have to keep for two years.

“I felt so unwelcome in my own country. As though we were being punished for having been away. I just wanted to turn around and go back to NZ. I was refused for a joint account at the bank with my husband. One bank said they could give us an account as though we were new immigrants with no history in the UK at all and that was the best they could do.”

Two and a half years later , just as their credit ratings were back on track at last, the Madelins had yet another blow. No one had told them that they could claim Child Support for their two children, and they had missed out on around £2000.

“It cost us a small fortune to move back here. Relocating the business was agony – we had loads of poor advice, some dreadful accountants who mucked everything up so it had to be completely re-done. It’s not as if we really moved much business-wise. All our operations around the world stayed exactly the same, no product moved, no warehouses changed…We just had to do admin – close an NZ business and open the same thing in the UK. I can’t begin to tell you the stress, and the impact on our cashflow. Child Benefit would have been incredibly helpful. But no one at UKTI mentioned it. Or anywhere else. There isn’t a process for UK citizens who’ve lived overseas for a long time. No one helps you.”

Naomi has a few pieces of advice for those emigrating for the first time, and for those re-immigrating to the UK:

1/ Assume you know nothing! If you’re like us, your life is very different now to how it was when you left. We didn’t have children, or our own business back then. Your needs are different, and things have changed in the place you’re returning to as well.

2/ Keep a UK bank account when you’re overseas, and use it as much as you can – like when you come back to the UK for visits. It helps to keep your credit rating at least a bit better. If you can keep and use a UK credit card, even better.

2/ Ask your bank to share your information with credit agencies. Incredibly they may not do this automatically. It’s vital that they share your information or how can you get a credit rating?! You may need to talk to someone fairly high up in your bank before you find someone who knows what you’re talking about.

3/ Engage with other ex-pats who’ve moved around the world a lot – they’ve been there, done that and will have good advice.

4/ The problems you’ll face will be larger the longer you’ve been away. Plan! Have extra savings set aside for unexpected occurrences (like rent down-payments etc), and remember that you will feel more like a stranger than you expect.

5/ Be a stranger!  Go to Citizens’ Advice and explain that you’re essentially new in the country – what do you need to know. They might find it a bit odd, but when you explain that you’ve been away a long time and are feeling confused and displaced, they will help you.


Welcome/Go Away gnomes image thanks to Michael Coghlan,  used under Creative Commons licence. Original image on Flickr.

Featured image thanks to Pixaby.