We have to sell our house. Events conspired to bring an end to this period of our lives, running a bed and breakfast here. We’re ready for a different focus, but we are at the stage of looking back with both pleasure and sadness at the times we’ve had here, experiences we’ll never forget, and people we’ve met.
It is hard to leave both the house and the landscape, but leaving the town – that’s a bit easier, because we leave Kiruna at the same time it’s leaving us. Shops and businesses are moving into the new town centre this summer, and after that the original town will become a fenced-off, no-go area while all the buildings are demolished, and after that it will be covered with earth, and probably grass, ‘where sheep may safely graze’ – at least until the land finally collapses. It’s not that we don’t like the new town, but it isn’t one with which we share a history, and it was the old town that held the magic of its beginnings as a frontier town.
We’ve been trying to prepare for this, psychologically for a couple of years, and practically for about six months. We’ve been going through our collected papers, records of activities, projects, diaries, and interests, stored in books and pamphlets and magazines. A lot of paper and memorabilia we’ve thrown away, but plenty still sits there asking to be kept.
When we bought the house we had nothing much except a couple of beds and a chair, and a large non-functioning chest freezer, all left by the previous owners. Now we have a house full of furniture, and most of it will have go. These are not expensive items but they have value for us so it’s hard to say goodbye to them. Most are secondhand, gathered piece by piece, wherever and whenever we could, in the early days when we had a large empty house and a crazy plan to run a bed and breakfast.
That was only ten years ago but back then the secondhand market flourished in ways it doesn’t now. When we saw something advertised that might be useful we rang the person direct and went to have a look. These were our very first contacts in the town, people wanting to sell a table, a cupboard, a chair. They were friendly and helpful, and keen to have the furniture taken away almost regardless of the price. When we look around the house now we don’t just see furniture but also the people and places we bought them from.
We were lucky, the way suitable furniture appeared when we were looking for it. We saw an ad for a large table, exactly the dimensions we could fit in our front room and use for large groups for breakfast. When we went to see it we realised that even folded down it was far too large to fit in our car, and far too heavy for us to get into the house. ‘No problem,’ said the owners, ‘where do you live?’. They drove it over to us on a trailer and helped heave it into the house, with a smile and no extra charge. Another family urged us to take more items than we were buying – they were just keen to get them out the house and didn’t ask for any payment.
To supplement these finds we regularly visited a local secondhand shop. We were familiar and frequent customers, there most days hanging around looking for bargains. In this way we furnished the whole house, and the only items we bought new were beds, and a sofa, that arrived long-distance from IKEA. Even the recycling site – ‘the dump’ – yielded some prize items – a decorative blue bowl, for instance, which has sat on our living room table for years. I wonder who used to own that.
We will be taking what we can back to the secondhand shop and we hoping they get a new lease of life there. But first there is the event of the estate agent taking photos of the house, perhaps our furniture’s finest hour. The kitchen table got a sanding and polishing and glows now like never before. The chairs and side tables and bookshelves are all arranged carefully, set off with decorative pieces and bright cushions, looking their very best. We are looking for a new life, and so are they.
In my imagination local people are looking at houses for sale and when they see the photos of our rooms they think, ‘we used to have a table just like that’. And then they wonder if that could be their table. Or their chair. Or their cupboard. Perhaps the previous owners are intrigued to see their house on the market again and amazed to see some of their old furniture still in it.
People might even discover that other people in the town also recognise furniture of theirs in our house. It might become a topic of conversation between them – ‘do you think there’s anything in the house that isn’t secondhand?!’, and ‘I always liked that chair, perhaps we should have kept it?’, and ‘that cupboard looked much better where we used to have it’. Or perhaps they will just look wistfully at their old furniture, and keep quiet. Or maybe they’ll see it and feel really pleased they got rid of it.
We went back to the secondhand shop. I wasn’t supposed to be looking for things to buy, but my eye was caught by a bright yellow flower tealight holder. Not altogether in good taste, and very noticeable. Mainly noticeable to me because I used to have one, years ago. I wondered what had happened to it. Could I have donated it to the secondhand shop when we left Kiruna for a while, some years ago? It looked more battered than my old one, but then we’ve all aged a bit. I bought it, and brought it home.