Monday, 3 June 2013

Sorry sorry sorry….

It’s all gone a bit Pete Tong here in N-o-T of late, hence my lengthy absence from the blogosphere, for which I apologise. I’m not apologising for not updating my own ramblings, but I have been unable to devote the time I would like to the much more enjoyable pastime of reading others’ updates.

When last I wrote, we were dipping our toes into the waters of house moves.  Well, those toes are now fully submerged, and I am hoping to be able to keep my airways clear as I sink inexorably under a mountain of “particulars” and try to cling to the wreckage of my happily married life. 

I exaggerate only slightly. TH and I have started conducting our conversations through rigid jaws and clenched teeth. It’s what moving house does to people, apparently. 

It’s like this: after putting our house on the market, and sitting back to wait, what actually happened was….nothing. And then, suddenly, people started wanting to have a look at it, just when I was beginning to think that our happy home had all the kerb appeal of a cave set in a dungheap. And, when they came, they made offers. 

The first potential buyer appeared to think we should pay him to buy our house, and throw in some Nectar points and our children. I have a feeling he believes that Phil Spencer is a wimp, and that making an offer on a house involves taking the asking price, halving it and then taking off 10% for his trouble. We politely declined his derisory offer, at which point he came back with his architect to elaborate upon his redevelopment plan for our home, and then reiterated his derisory offer as he was by this time convinced that we would wish to help him finance his extension. We politely declined a second time, at which point he advised our agent that he would see if our house was still available once he had sold his property, and perhaps make an offer again.  God loves a trier!

Fortunately, another buyer came along, obviating the need for buyer no.1 to renew his offer yet again. After some negotiations, we agreed a sale price. However, the only slight issue was that they wanted to move in during August if possible. The fact that they had actually viewed our house before buyer no.1, gone away and spent about six weeks messing about, and now want to move in within six weeks was a slight niggle. 

Having abandoned our own search pending being in a position to buy, we now find that there isn’t a house within a five mile radius of where we’d like to be that actually suits our needs or our budget. Hence the teeth-gritting and marriage breakdown issues. 

As the weather finally (and, no doubt, briefly) improves here in N-o-T, I find myself driving over hill and dale, sometimes with TH (in a silence which no-one would ever describe as “companionable”) past properties I’ve previously identified online, whilst TH hits the accelerator and mumbles “Nah” having seen the potential property in a blur at 45 mph from his rear-view mirror. If I’m alone, I take the time to stop, at least, before mumbling my own “Nah”. But that, of course, is different.

And, when I’m not getting lost somewhere in the hinterland of Guildford, I’m embarking on a new venture. 

I was fully intending to purchase a pottery kiln before TH announced his desire to move house. I then decided that it might be better to wait till after “the move”. However, I was then offered the chance to purchase a secondhand kiln, only a few months old, for a bargain price, so I HAD to go for it. Having made a significant investment, I now need to amortise this by actually selling some of my wares.

As a result, this weekend, I will be dipping my already sodden toes into yet another pool: this time, the pool of the Craft Fair. I’m doubly apprehensive. Not only will this be a test of the commercial potential of my crafts, it will be a waste of an entire Saturday that should, by rights, be devoted to house-hunting and jaw-gritting, in the passenger seat of TH’s speeding car.

I am sorry I’ve been so out of touch with the blogosphere. I promise I will try harder.

Aaaaaand breathe!

Oh, and Pee Ess: We got all scrubbed up and posh two weeks ago and went up to London for our Garden Party  with the neighbours. It was all very posh, and they even let us in through the front door, but I nearly died of hypothermia. Still, she does a nice round of sandwiches, and I couldn't fault the finger food, although after all these years I was expecting more than just a cup of tea. A small sherry for medicinal purposes would have gone down a treat.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

I also eat babies....

I love animals. I always have, I always will. As you may know, I’m currently being trained by two kittens, I have a tank full of fish which I saved from becoming a giant bouillabaisse, and I’ve managed not to commit GBH on Horrible Horace, the Dog Next Door. No, I’ve gritted my teeth (much like Horrible Horace did, but on that occasion he had a chunk of my leg between the two halves of his doggy dentition) and let him be, even though he’s probably the one animal I will never love.

I’ve fostered animals, rescued animals, raised money for them, loved them, paid their vet bills and generally conducted myself well in all matters animal related. However, I’m somewhat perplexed at the moment. Let me explain.

I flit and flutter around the interweb on a regular basis, popping  in on various forums, social networking sites and blogs. However, I’ve noticed of late that, almost everywhere I go, there seems to be little else to look at but a mass of adverts for rehoming, or, perhaps more worrying, lost and stolen dogs and cats.

I don’t have many “friends” on Facebook, but in the last week alone, between them they’ve posted 15 photographs of injured or missing dogs and cats, from Land’s End to John O’Groats , together with various updates on the 15 including the occasional message of thanks when a pet is found. These latter, however, are quite rare.

So what’s my problem with all this? Well, I have a couple of problems with it, if I’m being honest.

Firstly, I’m getting beyond “compassion fatigue”. And the nature of social networking means that if someone loses a dog in Scotland, I’ll get to hear about it, even though the chances of said dog turning up anywhere near me are about as slim as those of me being elected to Parliament. 

Secondly, whilst I understand the power of social networking, I also think that this power is being hugely diluted by the sheer volume of these messages, and however heartless I may sound (and I’m not, really, I’m not) I don’t visit Facebook to read a list of missing animals.

Having vented my spleen, I have to say that my other problem is perhaps a bigger one. I simply don’t understand why so many dogs and cats appear to be being stolen. Who on earth is stealing them and for what reason? Maybe it’s best I don’t know, as I suspect the real reasons may be too awful to contemplate. Has this always been the case, or is the Facebook phenomenon highlighting an existing problem which never seemed to be large-scale because such instances were never brought together in one place? I’m sure a proportion of these animals have become lost, rather than having been stolen, but that does not detract from the (seemingly) many cases of people who saw someone actually steal their dog, and where the question of theft is not in doubt.

I should also say that it is a testament to the compassion of my friends on Facebook that so many of them do take the trouble to spread the word about missing animals.  It’s me. I know it is. 


Please post your hate mail below…..

Monday, 25 March 2013

Of Spring bedding, spring cleaning and kaleidoscopes

It's not been the best of weekends, and hopefully things are not going to get worse.

I have been spending a lot of time "tidying up". Normally, this would involve shoving stuff into what little space remains in the nearest available cupboard, but I am dreading the prospect that, come the moment when we open the doors of N-o-T  to prospective buyers, they may be killed as they try to investigate the storage space, only to be buried under an avalanche of things I was trying to hide. 

This has meant that I have been forced to tidy up not only the things I want to hide away, but also the places I want to hide them away IN. 

The whole house selling process is driving me loopy, and it's not just the tidying. 

I have never been good at dealing with winter, and this year it started early and seems to be dragging on. As a consequence, I leave the gardening to TH, who doesn't feel the cold. I took up a position adjacent to the log burner in October, and I intend to stay there until mid-April, if the long range weather forecast is even partially accurate. 

Well, that was the original plan, anyway. 

It seems only a couple of years since I was able to leave my summer bedding plants in their hanging baskets, and that they would happily survive the entire winter, bursting forth again in late spring and saving me a fortune in the process. I'd managed to hang on to many a geranium using this method until recently. However, the last few winters have been far too severe, and it's only been my refusal to garden in single-figure temperatures that has left the hanging baskets hanging around with a few decrepit twigs poking out. 

Needless to say, my attention was drawn to the fact that this was doing little to enhance the appearance of the house and, with the imminent arrival of a photographer, instructed (I suspect, given what the agent said) to ensure that everything is done to "sell" the virtues of our garden, I had to do something.

So. Saturday saw TH and me at the garden centre, in a blizzard of sleety rain, buying spring bedding plants, and Sunday saw me in similar conditions trying to replant the hanging baskets and pots to make the house look a bit less as though we had abandoned it.

As if that wasn't bad enough, I managed on Friday to break the screen on my laptop. I heard what I thought was TH shouting from the kitchen, so I leapt to my feet, which were tangled in the power cable, and the laptop crashed to the floor, where the screen, which only moments before was showing my e-mail inbox, had developed the appearance of a kaleidoscope. 

This means I am reduced once again to the iPad, and last time I tried to update my blog on my iPad I was locked out of Blogger for three months...

You may or may not read this, and, if you do, it may be my last blog post for a while. I'm hoping not, but who knows?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Stop me if I’m boring you, won’t you ?

Phase 99 of the plan to vacate Nowhere on Thames is already upon us. So, far, phases 1-98 have been either abortive or frustrating or both.

We teeter on the brink of deciding between Arthur Daley, Sebastian Pink-Scarf and Agent 3, with whom we both seemed to hit it off. Nobody can really seem to give us an accurate valuation on our house, though, as the spread is about £50K, with Sebastian Pink-Scarf trailing pitifully in third place. 

Meanwhile, on the purchase side, things are (in the words of the famous song title) a ball of confusion.  Epsom, or at least parts of it, is delightful. However, many parts of it seem to be up steep hills (and God only knows why all these steep hills should be called “downs” when they are mostly “ups”) and miles from even the nearest newsagent. I am currently fortunate enough to be able to gambol up hills like a mountain goat, but I have reached the time of life where I doubt that my dodgy knees will miraculously heal, and somehow the thought of a mile or so’s slog to the nearest purveyor of milk and newspapers has lost its appeal. Who knew we were so spoiled, with a railway station and a village centre in such close proximity to N-o-T? The idea that “I’m just popping out for some milk” would be the precursor to a cross-country marathon of some 2 miles or more, and the thought of being snowed in up a steep hill have somewhat dampened our initial enthusiasm.  So, the hunt is on for somewhere flatter, and preferably, not as “on Thames” as we’re used to, as my nerves really can’t take too much more of the regular automated phone calls from the Environment Agency, telling us we’re on flood alert.

The other thing is that, after never having lived in a new house in either of our respective lives, TH and I have rather suddenly concluded that it might be nice to experience  somewhere with windows that fit, a central heating system that actually heats the whole house and – another current fad that we’d never add on, but of which builders seem to be enamoured  – solar panels to heat the water.

The downside to new houses, apart from the current trend towards vast open spaces where once there were rooms, is the garden. Or lack thereof. Even in the smallest of new developments, builders seem to have adopted the approach that, if they just move that house a bit to the left, shove that one further back on its plot and push the two a bit closer together, hey presto, they can squeeze another one in on the end. I think we may be able to put the lawn mower on ebay if we go this route. I could probably manicure the lawn with a pair of scissors. And anyway, who wants to be gardening when they could be sitting in the kitchen-dining-family room looking out of the window at several yards of unbroken fencing? 

The other downside, which really surprised me, is that many of today’s developers seem to have had their show homes decorated by someone with a crack habit. No, seriously.  I remember once seeing Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen or someone of his ilk decorating a room by putting the wallpaper on the walls horizontally. However, that was in the 1990’s, and I’m guessing that it could be one of several reasons we don’t see much of him on TV these days.  I also recall him decorating someone’s living room in deepest suburbia in rather dramatic black and fuchsia floral wallpaper. There you go: another reason we probably don’t see him much on telly. However, I think we’ve found someone to whom he might have bequeathed his mood boards.  And, for crying out loud, does the builder really generate more sales by having a pile of towels tied with a ribbon sitting on top of the toilet seat? 

Whilst the rest of the world is being exhorted by a plethora of “experts” to declutter their homes and paint the walls in inoffensive neutral colours, new house builders seem to feel that we need drama in the form of a show home staged for sale by Hilda Ogden, with a tasteful Muriel or two papered to the walls. 

I am hoping that, in the event we locate our dream home, we can manage to get in in time, before anyone tampers with the interior d├ęcor. Maybe it’s a sign of age, but magnolia will do. Really, it will. If I want to hang wallpaper, I’d like it to be my own decision, and I’d really like (call me old-fashioned) to stick it on the walls vertically. And yes, I am sitting here typing this wearing my beige cardigan. There’s probably no hope.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Kitchen crisis

I have been forced to think quite a lot about kitchens this week. This has led me to a growing realisation that either:

a) I am deluded
b) I have been hoodwinked
c) My idea of entertaining is at odds with that of the majority.

Let me explain.

As the possibility of a house move looms ever larger, I have been forced to invite into our Nowhere on Thames abode that most reviled of creatures, the Estate Agent. Personally, I have nothing against them. I can even say that at least one of my good friends is one. However, the UK ones have something of an image problem, and the ones I’ve seen so far have tended to conform to the main stereotypes one always imagines when the words “Estate Agent” are mentioned.

On Monday, agent 1 came round. Wearing an Arthur Daley coat and a pleasant smile, he looked around our home, muttering “Lovely” “Great” and “Very nice” as I flung open the doors to the various inner sanctums of the On Thames household.

I had prepared for his visit by Googling myself into a stupor. If I should feel called to apply for the next series of “Mastermind” I am certainly equipped to choose “Property Prices and sales values achieved in Nowhere-on-Thames from 1991-2013” as my specialist subject.

He told me my house was worth far more than I know it really is, offered me numerous reductions and discounts to his fees and charges without me even having to give him a flash of my “I don’t think so” raised eyebrow, and attempted to flatter me and my home to within an inch of our respective lives. I was immune to his charms.

Once he’d exhausted his sales pitch and paused for questions, I ventured one..
“So what’s wrong with this house?” I asked “Really, be honest, I have the skin of a rhino and it would be useful to know what lets the place down”
“Well…the kitchen” He ventured, his neck retreating into his Arthur Daley coat like a tortoise retreating into its shell.
“I know” I said, and he visibly relaxed.

I should explain. Our Victorian house retains its original footprint, and the kitchen is, indeed, small compared to all the other rooms in the house. We have never felt the need to enlarge it, as it provides adequate space to carry out any kitchen-related activity, and I like my privacy whilst I'm working myself into a culinary lather and clattering pans around.

And so to this morning. Agent 2 arrived. Late. His name really was Sebastian and his surname double barrelled, and he wore a pink cashmere scarf around his neck. Which is a sure sign of extortionate fees. The visit proceeded as previously, only there were many, many more “Greats”. The wardrobes, the windows, the glory hole under the stairs, the downstairs loo, the log burner, the stair rods and runners…all “Great”. By bedroom 4, a voice in my head was screaming “No, they’re NOT!” but I held back.

His final pitch involved a ten-minute recital of their annual sales figures by quarter, a brief history of the property market since (I don’t know since when, I wasn’t paying attention by this point), a polite but pointed insight into the shifty practices of “other agents” and veiled suggestions of what “they” might do to reel us in, before letting us down badly by Not Selling Our House, and, of course, a hasty sprint through their fees and charges which included the somewhat startling revelation that, on top of the not insignificant sum they would receive in the event of a sale, they would only charge us £200 to take photographs of our property. (Only…yeah…a snip…isn’t that part of the deal? If we don’t agree to pay for photos, do they draw a likeness on an available scrap of paper???)

He did, however, finally get round to his suggestion for a selling price, but just before he did, I asked my killer question about what was wrong with our house. “The kitchen” he said.

He then proceeded to give us a valuation figure. The amusing thing (as I am rhino-skinned, it was amusing, rather than making me want to cry or wear sackcloth and ashes) was that this agent is selling the house next door-but-one. It’s the same size and style of house, but their kitchen is (wait for it) about 1.5 square metres larger than ours (if that).  There are other differences of decoration or configuration between our two houses, but objectively, they’re the same. However, for the sin of having a smaller kitchen, Sebastian Pink-Scarf wants me to sell my house for somewhere between 15 and 20 THOUSAND POUNDS less than my neighbours!!!

And so to kitchens.

My kitchen IS too small. Not for me, I should add, but for potential buyers. They will, I am sure, all want “lifestyle” kitchens, because “I like to be able to talk to my guests when I’m cooking when we entertain” or “I really believe the kitchen is the heart of the home” and “It means I can keep an eye on the children as I’m preparing their supper”

OK, so why buy a house with 3 other reception rooms if all you want to do is spend your every waking moment in the bloody kitchen??? Why not buy a house with just a kitchen??? If you do want a kitchen where you can spend your every waking moment, then the rest of the house will be a waste of space, surely?

No one ever says “I like to keep an eye on the kids while I microwave their spaghetti hoops” or “I like to be able to talk to my guests whilst I remove the packaging from the Marks and Spencer  lemon torte I bought for dessert”, or even “I really love the fact that when we retire to the open-plan sitting room after dinner, the smell of the chicken vindaloo we shared earlier can permeate the entire open-plan kitchen-diner-living area”. Oh, no, when it comes to buying a home, everyone’s suddenly Nigella Lawson or Martha Stewart, and needs a kitchen the size of a tennis court even though it’s unlikely to make them cook any more (or any better) than a smaller one.

And, lest anyone think that I have a chip on my shoulder about having a small kitchen, the Nowhere-in-France house has a large kitchen, but I still like my guests to sit in the sitting room or the dining room rather than the kitchen, and if anywhere is the “heart” of that home, then it’s the chair nearest the log burner in winter, and a hammock in the garden in summer. The kitchen may be the engine room, but who wants to spend their every waking moment stoking the boiler??? 

The generation before mine put considerable time and effort into ensuring that women would be free, equal and no longer chained to the sink. Suddenly, it seems that "chained to the sink" is the new black.

There are four houses like ours in our road. The first sold about a year ago, and the new owners ripped out most of the interior and converted the largest reception room into a mega-kitchen. The second is the one with a kitchen a couple of feet larger than ours. The third had already been largely converted into one gigantic kitchen when it sold a couple of years ago, and yet the new owners still gutted it and started again. I am quite sure that, whoever takes on our house-with-the-tiny kitchen, they will rip out and rebuild whatever they wish, and to their heart's content. Should we gift them £20K to help them on their way, though? I'm not convinced.