I don’t move so fast

Saturday June 28, 2008

Yesterday fizzled along softly after the excitement of the SOLD sign. I leafed through the five-part stack of forms to be sure I have all the information I need to process them tomorrow, and put them on one side ready to get them done and dusted this morning when I’ve finished here.

Today is going to have to be quiet, too, because I going to get that job done if it kills me.  It won’t of course, but I may well do serious damage to anyone who interrupts me once I get going.

I’ve started on a list of the things we need to do before completion.  High among them is to verify the status of the bungalow we liked so much–it’s still showing as ‘Sold subject to contract’ but that could have changed and we may still be in with a chance.  That would make our stay in the caravan very short indeed.

I do seriously need a quiet day to get these papers done, though.  There was a time when I’d have been able to zap through them between first and second coffees of the day.  I don’t move so fast now.


Promenade, Burnham-on-Sea
made for slow strolls


Now the whole world knows

Home from dropping Graham off at the caravan, to find a massive wad of papers waiting for me from the solicitor–forms to be read and ticked off.  It’ll take me all day tomorrow to fill that lot in.  Just my luck for them to arrive the day Graham takes himself off.  Now there’s no way I can fob the job off onto him.

I’ll have them all done and wrapped up together with the HIP and the other job ready for hand delivery on Monday.  It’ll make a good excuse for me to drive over to Minehead and, once there, to take a stroll along the front with a big, greasy bag of chips in my hand.

Then, tummy filled with my routine first day home alone lunch–rosti, egg, and fried tomatoes, I was just settling down when I heard a strange little noise outside.  The little man with the van had been outside pinning a ‘SOLD’ notice over the previous ‘For Sale’ sign.  Now the whole world knows.


Sold, probably

Not a bad day’s work, really

Friday June 27, 2008

I was in the shower when the phone rang.  Didn’t hear it so I was taken off my guard when Graham came along to tell me about it.

“Seems we’ve sold the house,” he said, looking a little shaky.

“Oh, really?”  I said.  “How much for, to whom, and by which of the two agents?”

The answers were not too clear at this stage.  Graham and the [fired] agent had some more negotiation to do before getting down to finalities.

When, after about half an hour, he was satisfied that the deal was worth serious consideration, Graham handed the phone over to me.  The price he’d pencilled in was at the very bottom end of acceptable, but a cool £25k over that put forward by the agent a week ago.  The first thing the agent said was that he’d got a little more than that, and plomped another £2k in my lap.  Clever that, making up to a guy you’ve offended enough for him to sack you is best done with cash.

“Will that be acceptable, John?” the agent asked.

“Probably,” I said.  “Talk me through the chain, mortgage and timings again, one more time, and from the top.”

He took a deep breath and gave me the details in an organised fashion.

“Ok,” I said. “Well done.  We have a deal.”

“Great.  Thanks.  I’ll get the details out to all parties promptly, and we can jump to the starting line.”

I put the phone down quietly and carefully.

That was when we did our “WE DUN IT” jig.

“Right,” I said.  “There’s no way I’m going to be up to fixing lunch today.  And I want to get out of the house, too.  What say you we go visit Burnham-on-Sea and find a seaside eatery?”

I was astonished at the response.  Not a word of argument.  He just put his coat on and stood tapping his feet while I struggled into my socks and shoes.  Two years I’ve been struggling to get a visit to Burnham-on-Sea out of him and what does it take?  A house sale, that’s what.

Anyway, keeping in mind that no house sale or purchase is a done deal until contracts have been signed and exchanged, and deposits paid, the likely sequence of event is this:

  • Two days before completion we shall move ourselves, Dolly, and the patio plants down to the caravan at West Quantoxhead.  I’m looking forward to seeing Dolly’s reaction to finding herself in the caravan once more–she’s always loved living in them.
  • On completion day our furniture and stuff will be moved into storage.  Life on the cliff-tops at West Quantoxhead will resume.
  • Somewhere along the way we shall have started the search for our new house, in the Swansea cachement area of South Wales.  There is no great rush;  we are reliably informed that prices are decreasing at about 1% per month, and likely to keep on doing so until the credit crunch is done. We have a short-list of about ten suitable properties, mostly bungalows, and all either empty or on the market with the promise of ‘no forward chain’.  That way, when we press the button, it’ll take a maximum of eight weeks before we move in.
  • The moving in steps will of course depend on the condition of the new property.  We may need to clean and decorate and, possibly, do a bit of fixing before we can take up residence and there’s no way of planning that until we get further along the path.

So, that’s the plan.

Lunch turned out to be a large platter of roast Welsh lamb with all the trimmings for me, and a Cornish pasty meal for Graham–he doesn’t do roast meals generally and certainly not mutton or lamb.

I sat back, patting my tummy and feeling virtuous.  Just as I’ve been saying all these years, a good, balanced meal of traditional ingredients is healthy and not overly-fattening.  There are rather a lot of red-faced doctors and dieticians about the place just now, having had their ‘healthy life-style’ theories thrown back at them.  When they started persuading us back in the seventies that we were eating all the wrong things, there were very, very few fat people around.  Now look at us.

Anyway. That is a more or less accurate account of how we came to take our lunch at the Bay View Cafe, looking out over the bay towards the Hinkley Point nuclear power station, and followed it with a pleasant stroll along the Promenade with ice cream treats half-way through. Not a bad day’s work, really.

Until tomorrow

Wednesday June 25, 2008

One of those days when, possibly because I’ve been shifted from pillar to post, all my time scurried off into the corners like mice disturbed at a midnight barn dance.

“You’ll have to move,”  Graham said.

“Beg pardon?”

“Come on, shift.  I want to paint the kitchen and you’re in the way.”

“Oh,” I said, sighing deeply.  “Give us a tiny tick to pick up my books.”

I’d been enjoying my mid-morning reading session by the open kitchen french doors.  To warm to close them, not quite warm enough to sit comfortably in the garden.

And so the day went, seemingly being shifted out of the way for this or that from then on.

I gave up mid afternoon and settled down for a good siesta.  Settled too hard, and woke shortly before seven as the Archers tuned up for another deathless fifteen minutes.  Don’t ask me what it was about.  Something organic to do with a garbage digestor and green energy.  Twaddle as usual.  I mean, what’s green about garbage when it’s been digested?

So no, just when I was thinking I’d be sitting down to write another segment of my ‘novel’, I’ve run out of evening and out of energy, green, brown, or purple.  Until tomorrow.

Painting the kitchen

Keeping the record

Keeping the record

Chapter one;  part one;  draft one

Note:   I’m engaged in writing a bit of a novel, in a piece-meal way.  It’s likely to be an auto-bio-fic with a varying degree of bio and fic for reasons which will hopefully become apparent.  I enjoy writing into this little text box on my computer screen, and welcome comments as I go along.  If I have the strength and tenacity to go on to some kind of finishing point in about 90,000-120,000 words, I’ll do what I can to review, edit and pull it together as a finished product.  Don’t nag me on this!  Meantime, as and when I feel in the mood, I’ll chuck a segment or two your way and see where we go.  Here’s the first 600-odd words.


When you’re young there’s a feeling of eternal life about your approach to record keeping. Plenty of time. No need to waste it now. Come back later.

So you get on with it, with enjoying what comes and with trying not to regret too much what doesn’t.  You sit around when your family meets, playing with the laces on uncle’s shoes, listening to the stories and sipping from glasses of dark beer when you think no-one is watching.

Life, even though there was a war on, and yes, I did know it, may have had a strange colour, taste and smell to it, but I didn’t know that it wasn’t really strange.  Seemed normal enough to me.  When you’re three or four years old the cru-u-u-mp of bombs falling in the night and the stac-ack-ack-ack-ack of the anti-aircraft guns that answered them are part of your world and the only frightening thing about them is the stories the grown-ups tell in an effort to comfort you.

Oh, the noise, when it got really loud and wall-shakingly close, the noise was alarming enough, drowning out the comfortable sound of the BBC and sifting solidity from the ceilings in a gentle drift of dry plaster dust.  Sometimes there was a coincidence between a particularly loud thump and the loss of power, turning out the lights and raising a curse from my mother as she scrabbled for matches and candles.  Bless her, for a woman who got things done, who managed a small family and a succession of homes through Blitz and botherations of all kinds, she wasn’t the most organised of people.  If she’d had her evening half-glass of brown ale it was sometimes that she’d laugh at Hitler, and take several long drags on her Player’s Weight, sparking the cinder to light until she found the errant saucer with its candle stub.

Light would sputter, the wet-cell battery would continue pulling the BBC out of the aether, and the air-raid would rumble on.

That was the London end of our life, with my mother holding things up day by day and my father off for days and weeks at a time being a London fireman, Hero of the Universe.  Or so he was for me.

When my mother felt in need of a break from it she’d pack a couple of bags, buy a workman’s ticket on the train from Liverpool Street to Chelmsford, and take me off to join another group of survivors, centered on her own mother.  I’d smile, settle on the floor with a different set of legs, socks and lace-up shoes, and dreamily sip on unguarded glasses of ale and stout until I was rescued, washed, wrapped up, and lodged in the big feather bed in the front-room, safe until my mother slipped in beside me, and safer still as we slipped into sleep cuddled up together.


Tuesday June 24, 2008

A flat, featureless day, with little sun and less joy.  It’s always the same when I have to sack someone and even an estate agent is ‘someone’.  Darn it, I liked the bloke.

Doesn’t make it any easier when the ‘sackee’ doesn’t take well to being sacked.  Darn it, a professional man is supposed to behave in a dignified and professional manner.

Hey ho.  I was gentle.  And polite.  And, throughout, firm. He is gone.

Then, dragging and screaming protest all the way, Graham took me off to Bridgwater to select a replacement agent.  Being fair, he didn’t want to go either but, this once, his will was harder to set aside than mine.

We promenaded along the main drag, inspecting agency premises from the outside, trying very hard to get down to a short-list of one while, at my insistence, not ruling all the rest permanently out of court. “Just in case,” I said.  “You never know what may happen.”

The young lady from the new agency will come along on July 8 to “get the ball rolling.”

Hey ho.

We felt the need of decent coffee.

“Let’s go in Costa Coffee,”  Graham said.

“Well, ok.  Your coffee at home is better, though.”

“Thanks, but it’s not the same.”

So we had coffee that just didn’t taste right, wandered around the enormous, loud, garish ‘sports’ shop in search of a new t-shirt for me until I began to panic and adopted the big round eyes of a little boy who’s close to tears. I was promptly rescued.  We drove across town to Sainsbury’s, grabbed provisions, and then home.

“Hello, Dolly,” I said as I stepped through the door.  “You don’t know how lucky you are, old girl.”

She looked at me, a little puzzled but determined not to admit to it.

My lunch was a large piece of a cottage-style loaf, about an ounce and a half of best quality cheddar cheese, from Cheddar, and a small bowl of really tasty coarse-cut coleslaw.


“I suppose that a chap who has heroically faced the demons of Bridgwater estate agency wouldn’t have earned a glass of wine to go with his lunch?” I said.

“You suppose right.  You may have wine at lunch time when you’re seventy-nine.”

“I shall hold you to that.  You may think I’ll have forgotten it by then but I guarantee you I shall not.”

“You always did say I was good for you.”


Two glasses of local red

Monday June 23, 2008

One of those days when everything happens at once.

I had the day booked for going to the hospital at 15:00 for the results of my biopsy, and really didn’t want or expect anything much to happen otherwise.

Except.  10:15 the agent rang and after a long rigmarole of explanation and softening up told me that the military couple had finally secured an offer on their house and, in consequence, were now able to make us an offer.  Fully £35k less than our asking price.  I started breathing slow and easy, waiting for him to say something else.

“They may have some room for manoeuvre,” he said, eventually.

“Just as well,” I said, having asked him to repeat the amount.  “Please tell them that their offer is unacceptable.  Big time.”

“Are you sure about that?  I’ve been checking properties in Wales and they’ve dropped at last as much, from a lower start.”

“You do realize that if I accept this offer I am making a full £24k drop against the amount I paid for this house two years ago?  In cash?”

At this point Graham blew his top.

“We are NOT accepting that or anything LIKE that,” he bellowed.  “Tell ’em to get lost.”

“Did you hear that?” I asked the agent.

“Yes.  Shame, that.”

“I wouldn’t let Graham hear you say that.”

“Well, I advise you to think about it, do some price research in Wales, and then perhaps you’ll let me know what we should do.”

I was very pleased to put the phone down so I could cool Graham off, who’d heated himself to full-blown Welsh boiling point.  That “do not go gentle” has more than one shade of meaning to anyone who knows Swansea people.

“Let’s forget it for a while and go get lunch,” I said.  It’s a helluva crisis that’s not cooled down with a nice English sandwich lunch.

Just then, the postman came, bearing several business-type envelopes, one in particular enclosing my new MasterCard from the bank.  I hadn’t noticed that the old one was close to expiry but it doesn’t get much use so there’s nothing strange there.  I checked the details carefully and all was well.  Applied to the front of the new card there was a sticky label instructing me to phone a special number to tell them I’d received it.  Turning my caution circuits to the max I dialled it.

All seemed well.  They wanted to know the serial number of the card.  That was ok.  They wanted to know my full name.  That was ok.  They wanted to know my daytime phone number in case of queries.  That was ok.  Then:  “Just a couple of security questions, Mr Bailey, and we’ll be done.”

“Ok, fine,” I said.  “What was my mother’s maiden name?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said:  What was my mother’s maiden name?”

“I don’t think you understand, Mr Bailey.  It’s you who needs to answer the security questions.”

“Oh, really?  But how do I know that you are not a phishing enterprise posing as the Bank?”

“Because we are the Bank,” he said.

“I don’t know that,” I said.  “You’re some enterprise claiming to be associated with the Bank.  Strikes me as perfectly reasonable that I should seek to validate the accuracy of that claim.”

“That’s not the way it works.”

“Well.  Ok.  Try me with one of your security questions.”

He was sounding a little rattled by now, and not a little weary.  “First, could you tell me your date of birth?”

“Why.  Don’t you know it already?  I’ve been a customer of the bank for almost fifty years.  You must have it on file, and on your database, surely?”

There was a long silence.  “I’m afraid I shall have to report your refusal to cooperate to our security section.”

“Fine.  Do that.  Phone me back when you’ve reached an acceptable way forward.”

Then I phoned my old friend, still working for the Bank, who once, long ago, looked after my personal banking and is now a very Big Wig Indeed at Head Office.

“The cheeky little shit,” she said.  “Did you get his name?”

I had made a note of it and gave her the details of the call number, time, etc.

“Right.  First off.  Fear not.  You are a customer in good standing with the Bank and shall remain so. Now.  I’m holding the little squirt’s manager on another line,  can you hang on while I deal with him?”


It didn’t take long.  The manager was dealt with, along with the little squirt, no doubt, and I was thanked for my vigilance. “It it were not for people like you, John, these petty dictators would give as a bad name.  When are you coming up to London so I can buy you lunch?”

“Oh, I’m too old and creaky for London lunches,” I said.  “How’s about us meeting up in a few months when we’ve moved back to Swansea and I’ll treat you to a Baguette du jour.

I do love to hear a lady Big Wig splutter.

So, then, off to the hospital where I got prodded and poked by a new consultant and assured that the biopsy on my enlarged boob revealed nothing but ‘perfectly normal’ results.  He agreed with me that one or other of my main cardiac medicines is almost 99% certain to be the cause and is to write to my G.P. to get a programme of controlled change and adjustment off the ground.  At last!  A result!

“What about the other 1%?” I asked.  “Is that something you might want to take the knife to?”

“No,” he said.  “No need for that. But I think I’ll book you in for a new technology ultra-sound scan as soon as we can claim a slot.”

“Great”  I said.  “I’ll go see my G.P. in about a fortnight to give you a chance to write to him, and I’ll wait to hear from the ultra-sound people.”

“You’ve done this before?” he asked.

“Oh, once or twice.  All I really know is that it’s nothing at all like Casualty.”

At the other end of the hospital, the quiet end, Graham was waiting for me and, having fetched me a coffee to wet my whistle, demanded the full story.  Which I related.  In detail.

Sometimes, if you don’t record the detail, you forget the way the story sounded.

Now, in the cool of the evening, I’m just about to pack up here and go demand the first glass of my evening wine.  We’ve already agreed that if Swansea doesn’t work out for us we’ll settle down once and for all in the Luberon, buy multi-geared bicycles, and finish our days sitting outside little Provencal cafes watching the world go by.  I have secured an agreement in advance that, in such an eventuality, I shall be permitted two glasses of local red with my lunch.

Tomorrow we sack the agent at start off fresh with a new one.  I reckon that, once we’ve done that, I shall have earned my two glasses of red, even if I do have to note them down against some future redemption date.