Just like anyone else, the pandemic lockdown caused us to reevaluate everything. Even before lockdown, we began to see some things as being important that had never seemed important before. Having the option of commuting to work by train now seemed highly desirable. Living somewhere that would require us to buy a second car would put unwelcome pressure on the budget. With lockdown, new priorities emerged. For example, we learned to depend on home deliveries. Was a prospective house within the home delivery range of the local supermarket? We now started to look for houses that had a room suitable for being set up as an office for Pauline.
The goal posts were very much on the move and so was the exchange rate. In the first three months of the relocation process 10% of the Sterling sale price of our Co Antrim home was wiped off its Euro purchasing power. We were now going to have to take out a mortgage.
That quote may sound a bit pompous; the High’s are getting delusions of grandeur you may say. If we were to cut the verse down to the Northern Ireland Version paraphrase, it would simply read ‘God said to the High’s, “Go from your wee country… to the land I will show you”.’ We have not seen any dramatic visions or see any blinding lights. No maps of the Tullamore district have come floating down out of the heavens. We’ve just seen a sequence of decisions that we can hardly control, fall into place in a coherent plan which we believe to be God’s plan for us.
The move to Geashill is not a plan. It is, hopefully, the conclusion of a very long, and often frustrating, process that has been interwoven with all the complexities and anxieties of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Round 1 – Before Lockdown One
We have found the form of God’s call to Abram to be helpful in making sense of our journey. It can be paraphrased as ‘God said “Go from where you are, to where I will show you”‘. It does not say ‘Put this destination into Google maps and click on ‘Start’.’. So, at the start of our journey we had no more idea of where we were going than Abram had at the start of his.
We did have one advantage over Abram, we could go on weekend breaks to spy out the land. Our first break took place before Pauline was called for interview. We were testing out whether Pauline could commit to relocating closer to the Dublin office where the new job would be based. We stayed in Co Meath and explored as far as Co Wexford. This gave Michael an enthusiasm for where we might move to, but it gave Pauline a stronger appreciation of where we were moving from…
Undaunted, Pauline enjoyed her interview and was subsequently offered the job. We started to search the internet in earnest to get a feel for locations and to set a budget. We viewed one house from another weekend break in the Kells area. Whilst we decided not to make an offer on this one, but we were drawn back to the Kells area for the start of what we thought would be a speedy search. Pauline took a break between jobs in January 2020. We took advantage of this to line up a sequence of house viewings. The following map shows the four main contenders. The journey time to Pauline’s new work was much the same as the journey back to her mother in Co Down.
None of the houses were quite right and we were prepared to wait for something better.
On Christmas Day 2020, Michael posted this greeting to the WhatsApp group that he and Pauline shares with his two daughters.
Happy Christmas to you all, whatever the state of your packing or unpacking. This must be our most unsettled Christmas ever in terms of how we define ‘home’ .
WhatsApp message to the hbp family group, 25/12/20 10:21
The elder daughter and family had finally moved North from Brighton by 187 miles. The younger daughter and family had their house on the market, looking for a local move. We are sale agreed on our Glenavy home of fifteen years as we seek to move South by 140 miles. This may have been a rare coincidence, like the Christmas conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, but it is not unusual for the High’s. In the mid-nineteenth century Michael’s paternal ancestors moved from Salthouse, on the North Norfolk coast, towards London in search of work. At the same time his maternal ancestors moved for the same reason from Ulster to Glasgow and thence to Canada. Pauline’s paternal ancestors are from the Huguenot settlement established in Portarlington after the end of the Williamite wars. Her father moved up to Ulster in the 1960’s in search of work. The pattern continues to this day. The house in Geashill will be Michael’s sixth home after graduation. It will be Pauline’s third home as a graduate. The girls are either already in or trying to move to their fourth post-graduate homes.
We do not see this nomadic tradition as being unusual. It is simply what we and so many other families do. However, it is a lifestyle that is totally foreign to most of the friends that we have made during our fifteen years of calling Glenavy ‘home’. They mostly come from local patrician families who either continue to farm the family land or whose fathers farmed the land that they now rent out to others. For them, ‘home’ is a permanent concept that will outlast their generation. For us, ‘home’ is no less precious, but it is something that we hold lightly.
So, there is a sense in which we don’t see the need to ask or to answer the question “Why Move?”. Of course the question is asked, sometimes out of curiosity, sometimes out of concern for our wellbeing but always out of friendship. The easy answer points to Pauline’s working day for those few weeks when she commuted to the Rathmines office for five days a week. We left for Moira station at 6:30am and we generally got back home by 9:00pm. Of course, that answer begs the question as to why Pauline took up the new job and so the sequence of questions expands. Ultimately, the more questions that are put to us, the more it becomes obvious that folk are not convinced by our answers. All we can say is that we believe that for us, relocation is the right thing to do.
Why not move?
This is a much more interesting question for the Highs. Starting with the premise that ‘home’ is a particular location for a particular time, it becomes more important to discern whether the ‘home’ that has been the right place to commit to in the past, is the right place to commit to in the future. Many will see this as a recipe for insecurity. So let me explain. We take the words of Jesus seriously when he said that “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). He was not talking about some future existence or some particular place in the Middle East. He was taking about something that is so close you can almost touch it. It is not necessarily a home place that we speak of as ‘God’s own country’. It can be anywhere. But for us it has to be the place that God has chosen for us, for now.
This is where St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians kicks in. Read on past chapter 2 verse 8 were he reminds us that we are saved by God’s grace, through faith which is God’s gift to us. If you’re a staunch protestant, keep reading past verse 9, where he states that we are not saved by our good works. Read on to the punch line of verse 10 where he describes us God’s handiwork, created in Jesus ‘to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ (my emphasis). God plans a whole lifetime of good works for His people to do at a specific time and in a specific place. We have every confidence that God also has back up good works planned for those inevitable time when we screw things up! If God planned a major relocation for Abraham, if God planned the birth of Jesus to take place in temporary accommodation, why not move on some of His followers from time to time?
As the underlying answer to that question could simply be that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. So, we need to be sure that none of God’s pre-planned good works for the Highs in Glenavy would be left undone by a move. Indeed, one close friend asked us if we were running away from anything or anyone. It was a fair question which necessitated some actions on our part. It is in the nature of things to wish that some milestones had been achieved, but having lived through all of 2020 preparing for a move, we are more sure than ever that the time is right to move on. Pauline has a very strong vision for her new job and ten months of remote working has reinforced our feeling that the move is needed in order to realise that vision.
Why move for a job?
This question is a bit of an aside, but it does explain why Michael started this relocation process with a stronger motivation than Pauline. It is a matter of ‘pay back time’. Michael’s moves round the country were entirely driven by his employer’s location and it was assumed without question that where Michael went or was sent, his family would follow.
Michael grew up in Woodruff Avenue, Guildford. In 1972 he left home for university in Loughborough. Having graduated in 1975, his employer posted him to a new hospital contract in Ashford, Kent. After an eleven month spell living in a caravan on site, he married Jane from Loughborough and they moved into their first home in Bentley Road. In 1983 they moved with the two girls to Ashbourne Avenue, Bexleyheath for Michael’s new job at STC. After a brief spell living at Beechcroft Avenue, the family moved again to Northern Ireland in 1992, Michael having started a new job the previous year at the STC Monkstown plant.
Fast forward to 2019, where we find that so much has changed. The changes began in 2005, when Michael & Pauline moved to Glenavy. This was our first move as a married couple. We chose a new house that carried no history for either of us. It was Michael’s first move that was not driven by a new job. In October 2018, Michael became a pensioner and many would have assumed that there would be no more moves. Within twelve months, we were off on weekend breaks, exploring where we might move to if Pauline were to be successful in her application for a new job that is Dublin based but also entails regular travel throughout Ireland.
Pauline has a real vision for her new job, but with only a few weeks of working in Dublin, lockdown was declared and the rest is a succession of remote working and Zoom meetings. Her employer has been at pains to put no pressure on us to move. Indeed, Pauline was questioned at interview about Michael’s willingness to relocate. As remote working has been a technical success for Pauline, she did seriously consider abandoning the removal plans, but Michael had no such doubts. It could be said that he saw it as pay back time for all the drastic moves he had inflicted upon his family in the past. However, it is more a case that Michael gained an equally strong vision for Pauline’s new job, with his new role being as a house-husband, supporting her in her new work.