I always knew dad didn’t really want me to be a farmer.
64 years ago I came into this world, born at home in our little farmhouse on Swineham Moor near the tiny, and extremely rural, village of Knowstone in deepest Devon.
It was a cold, February morning, there was a thick covering of snow on the ground and soon after my arrival mum had a good, but doubtless unwanted, view out the window of dad emptying out the vivid, crimson contents of a white enamel bucket in the adjoining field. Things may have changed nowadays but farmers back then were indelicate sorts.
They were different times and the people were different too, farming stock. Locals apparently used to say that there were only ever two types of people found in Knowstone, ‘them that lives ‘ere and them that’s lost’. Legend has it that an unfamiliar face turned up one Saturday night at the Rackenford Club, a local pub in the nearby village of Rackenford (population 300). It transpired that this young chap had somehow found his way down there from London (reasons unknown) and it must have been something of an eye-opener for him. If you are familiar with the initial pub scene in the film American Warewolf in London that will give you a pretty good picture. It wasn’t long before one of the locals reputedly waltzed up to him and uttered the immortal words “Ello there. Aven’t seen you ‘ere befur. Wot part of Rackenford do you cum vrum?”
Unlike dad mum had had a formal education and she made sure that I for one knew that there was in fact a wider world out there. For many though it was very much a case of knowing that our neighbouring county of Somerset existed but ‘beyond that place there be dragons’.
The early years
Health and safety had not been invented in the 60s. 5 years was the starting age for cart-horse racing and by the age of 10 you were actively encouraged to take your gran for high speed thrill rides across grassy fields on motorcycles that were clearly not designed for purpose. Happily, it is difficult to fall off an animal with a back like a table and respect to my gran that she never once let on to mum on those several occasions when the bike got the better of me. All minor injuries sustained were always concealed convincingly.
Mine was an idyllic childhood by anyone’s reckoning but, as it turned out, I didn’t follow in dad’s footsteps even though I was the only son. Looking back, I don’t think I would have been any good at it anyway and dad’s view that I was not tough enough was, I’m sure, correct.
Mum and dad were undoubtedly very different people. Dad was the youngest of nine children and grew up in relative poverty having to fight his corner from the off. He left school at fourteen and was, to all intents and purposes, uneducated but he was as sharp as a razor and had a brain the size of a planet. Mum was an only child from a much more well-to-do background. Not exactly landed gentry but close to it. She had been formally educated at a convent and was set for greater things but at the tender age of sixteen she had fallen for this lowly-born, Erroll Flynn lookalike much to the chagrin of her parents and first my sister Suzanne and then yours truly arrived within the following three years. Suzanne and I were both young adults when those differences between our mum and dad inexorably led to divorce. Such of course is never an easy thing for anyone and much less so for a farmer. The farm was eventually sold, however, and as things turned out it was that far off place where that stranger had come from that Saturday night in the Rackenford Club that was later to become my home and place of work.
The gauntlet is cast down
I qualified as a chartered surveyor in 1986 and spent some time with the District Valuer’s Office of the Inland Revenue in North Devon before taking up a position in Birmingham as senior retail agency surveyor with Grimley & Son, latterly Grimley J R Eve and various other names since. Around the turn of the millennium I returned to live and work in London where I had earlier studied at the Polytechnic of Central London, now much more grandly known as the University of Westminster. For around eight years I carried out residential valuations all over the capital but left in 2007 and headed northward to Wickhambrook, a village in Suffolk which, as it turns out, is a flatter version of Devon. That’s pronounced ‘wick’ as in candle, ‘ham’ as in pig and ‘brook’ as in small meandering stream should you ever need to help anyone with the spelling. Because of the nature of my work now I can still run my London practice quite happily from a distance. I routinely value all residential property types for private clients across the whole of Greater and central London for taxation, leasehold enfranchisement and now sales purposes.
It was in 2015 when I first thought about adding estate agency to my repertoire. It is, after all, squarely within the remit of my profession and now, of course, with internet marketing having to all intents and purposes taken over the game, it sits perfectly well with my preferred, shop-less style of operations. I soon had a couple of London-based instructions through my existing client base, but it wasn’t long before I began to see that my hard-won reputation and seniority as a professional valuer didn’t necessarily bring people rushing to my door. On one occasion I recall a prospective vendor client for whom I had just provided some particularly complex, valuation advice confided in me quite candidly that she would prefer to go with “a more established agent”. Ouch!! I have visited a few hundred (literally) agents over the years during my working life and, not wishing to generalise or throw stones in any way, ‘established’ is not the first word that springs into my mind. In many ways though I should be grateful for that thinly veiled vote of no confidence because it so beautifully crystallised the obstacle that I was inevitably going to face if I were to pursue this bold endeavour. A rare challenge and no mistake about it.
Thanks mainly to the efforts of my lovely stepdaughter Katy down in Burgess Hill, our little enterprise has slowly but surely built up a bit of momentum. The time has come though to move up a gear and take up the challenge with a little more energy. ‘More established agent’ indeed! The property-selling public need to know that there is a better way to go about it and that, my valued reader, is where you come in.
In Chapter 2 I will be looking at why it is that estate agents have developed such a disastrous reputation for themselves over the years and why we are happily now seeing a radical evolution in this much maligned profession. All good news for us I should say as part of that vanguard of smaller, more personable agencies entering the fray. It could also very well be good news for you though when I explain how you can play your part in our future development and see some very meaningful benefit as a result.