Why haven’t we left yet?

Our life has narrowed down to a very thin set of priorities now, as we try to wrangle a move prior to October with a desperate earnestness that no other party involved seems to share.

Everything you think will take an hour or two, takes a day. Everything you think will take a day, takes several days. People we pay money to seem in no rush to return calls or reply to emails. People whose job it is to interact with clients don’t seem to understand that clients might not know what they know, and that not knowing is itself sufficient to generate stress, even if what were to become known was not in itself stressful….

Despite their house languishing on the market for some five or six months, and despite their stated impatience at not selling, the vendors never thought it important to get all the paperwork together. And so there’s a 28-year-old extension that might not be built to buildings regulations—who knows?—and some later reinforcements in its extended roof that might be similar. And so we’re chasing, and if they can’t provide, we have to go back to our surveyors to get a revaluation, which the vendors might not accept, and see as gazundering….

At the behest of our solicitors, we sent them all the warranties for the boiler. Now our boiler is having hiccups. We can’t ring the manufacturers, because we don’t have our warranties. But we have to fix it, because we’ve asserted to our buyer that it’s fine in the property information forms. The forms which we gave to our solicitors. Which prompted our solicitors to ask us for the original documents. Which we now no longer have….

Meanwhile, K. and my twin conferences abroad, blocking out and blocking off the end of September, remain unbudgeable, daring the house-move timetable to make a flying leap over them. Daring it.

… I hope you can see at least some of the reasons why I’m not posting here much.

Posted in anger, buildings, emotions, experience, far_away, fear, fixing, future, hope, kaputt, law, location, meta, opinion, people, person, rants, responsibility, society, technology, time | 5 Comments

Establishing a trope

Well, moving house has finally become a set of rails, the switches of which are being directed by solicitors, agents and other higher powers. As of Thursday, we have a chain: our buyer, us, our seller. That’s about as simple as it could ever get for us. Nationwide did in their usual inept manner try to complicate things, but we’re hoping to find a way of making them irrelevant somehow.

Now that we’re—as a fellow gardener put it—“going to a better place,” I’m having to resist making changes around the garden. The rose that we trained into an arc over the back gate this year: its new growth could be trained over the same arc, for flowering next year. But to what end; for us, but also for the garden? What if the buyer doesn’t want that rose there? What if they quite like it in the first year, but then when it gets unwieldy the year afterwards they feel conned somehow into a maintenance task they didn’t ask for?

A gardener’s hope is always that the garden will outlive them. And I do rather hope that the biggest structural plants at least are left alone once K. and I have moved on. But there’s no guarantee: that, after all, is what house purchase means. Nothing about our garden is all that special, except to me. Posterity will not be particularly grateful for its preservation.

All the same… I’m taking that Brachyscome with me. And the ivy-leafed pellie. And the Stipa. It’s all I can do to leave the Heucherella where it is.

Posted in buildings, commerce, cotswolds, emotions, entertainment, environment, far_away, garden, gardening, here, hope, location, made_our_own_fun, occupation, ownership, person, sheffield, society | 2 Comments

At swim, one old bird

In my heart I’ve always loved swimming, but in public I’ve shied away from it. Extreme shortsightedness—and I do get discounts on my prescriptions—is a barrier in ways that I think most people don’t really think about: which end is the deep end? which way was the right changing-room? how do I find the people I came with, without staring at strangers in states of undress? Add to that a terrible body image and you can see why, in adulthood, I’ve usually avoided swimming pools.

Recently, though, K. convinced me to at least try the local municipal pool. It took some doing, but I can’t really remember in the end what her killer argument was. And like most Tory municipal things, it’s effectively privatized, of course, but I still had the worry that they’ll combine the extortion of the private sector with the dismalness of 1980s public-sector infrastructure (we are after all still using Victorian sewerage.)

It turns out—and this seemed to be the only way I could learn it—that one of the benefits of age is that your own body image simply becomes less of a concern, or that you become more aware of the irrelevance of strangers’ opinions at least. I’m not as thin as I was when I was 20 (although still slimmer than when I was 18) but somehow I’ve ceased to care either way; I’m also not as bothered about undressing in front of strangers, again maybe because I don’t care what they think.

In addition, experience has at least brought with it the mental wherewithal to come up with coping strategies for my disability, in advance. First I went into the pool room (if not the water) with my glasses on, and had a good look round, checking out signage and furniture; then I returned my glasses to my locker and blinked my way owlishly down the ladder and in I went.

Thirty-four lengths later, I had to concede I was probably back in love with swimming.

This week I was back again with K, for an early-morning swim. It turns out that, much as I’m slower at jogging at that time of day, I’m also slower at swimming. But I still thrilled to the feeling of moving through the water, and there was the added bonus of it being an adult swim, with no yabber of children and everyone reasonably focussed (or as focussed as my eyes would let me be) on actually swimming.

So I think I’ve found a new hobby, although it’s early days yet. The local pool is actually quite airy and clean, and chlorination has changed since I was younger; but let’s see how I feel about getting in the water when our local services no longer cater for the nesh and the southern.

Posted in body, buildings, exercise, infirmity, location, person | 5 Comments

Here’s one they repaired earlier

There are primary and secondary reasons why we’re moving house. The primary reasons begin with being closer to elderly family, then include key factors like being in (and affording) a city with transport networks that don’t leave us feeling isolated. Secondary reasons include, among other things, a desire to find things we’d like to see set up already set up. In a city of reasonable size, this becomes a possibility.

My parents are about to lose two of their close friends from their little Spanish village. The same couple who set up and run the drama group and local English-language freesheet, and who are pivotal in the local choir, are returning to England partly in search of a greater arts scene, and one that they don’t have to always organize. Thespians for decades, they feel like they’ve swam against the local currents for too long now, and as they get older quite understandably prefer others to do some of the hard work of getting such things off the ground.

We know how they feel. Last time K. and I were viewing houses in Sheffield, we were walking between a clutch of possible properties and Heeley City Farm (staffed by volunteers, open all day, selling great coffee). On the way back up the hill, I spotted a poster on a noticeboard advertising some local recycle-y, green-y event or other. I pointed it out to K. and said: “hey, there’s a thing we can go to, that we won’t have to organize ourselves!” Over the physical effort of climbing one of Sheffield’s many hills, all those possibilities rolled out, like a blanket woven from pure relief.

Posted in art, arts_and_crafts, cliques, emotions, entertainment, environment, establishment, fixing, friends, hope, location, loss, made_our_own_fun, occupation, organisations, person, sheffield, society, volunteering | Leave a comment


(With apologies to the late Sir John Betjeman)

Come, friendly bombs, and lance Great Wen!
It isn’t fit for mortal Ken.
Let poor and hungry leave, and then
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and shatter in your blitz
Apartments owned by moneyed shits,
Owned bricks, owned roads, owned signs, owned glitz,
Owned minds, owned breath.

Mess up the mess they call Square Mile
Reduce to rubble, glass and tile
That aspirational lifestyle
For ever more

And get the men who broke the banks
Who see their wanton deeds as pranks
Who take, but find mere giving thanks
A kind of bore

And smash each privatizing scheme
And smash each priv’leged person’s dream
And thunder on, while they yet scream
How life’s unfair

But spare the underclass who toil
And thus become the rich man’s foil
It’s not their fault their efforts oil
Their own despair

It’s not their fault they do not know
They lost their city long ago
It’s not their fault they often go
To Brighton Pier

And talk of Top Gear or TOWIE
Ironically or straight, with glee
And do not think, while by the sea,
To stop, and hear

In homes they can’t quite leave, with care
Their children – Poppy, Oliver –
Infuriate the poor au-pair
Beyond belief

Come, friendly bombs, and lance Great Wen!
Reduce to Shards that old Big Ben
And find in your profound amen
Blessed relief

Posted in art, entertainment, location, london, made_our_own_fun, opinion, poetry, rants, tourism | 1 Comment

They take and they take and they take

I don’t know many entrepreneurs. If you count people who would routinely and unironically refer to themselves as such, I only really know one; he seems all right enough, as an acquaintance. But (a couple of years ago) that one introduced me to a second – we’ll call him G. – who after a couple of emails suggesting meeting up for drinks, went quiet for well over a month.

This was back when I was working at an agency, and I came in from coffee with a team in the other office next door to a slightly frowning message from the office administrator. “You’ve had a phone call while you were out. He was quite upset not to catch you; very brusque. Think his name was G.” Thus did he suddenly descend on me last week, acting as though I were avoiding his calls, though he had never rung me before, ever. Perhaps an hour or two later, during lunch, he rang again, and was again brusque to a co-worker, who put him through.

G. wasn’t asking to meet up: instead, he wanted to discuss how he’d seen the city advertising itself to the outside world, and how he had worked out that it was all wrong. It was nowhere near as organized as San Francisco’s web presence, he told me, which—rather than being something of a compliment—meant it needed fixing. I capitulated, but mentioned that there was already projects in place to improve these things, but that they were comparatively understaffed and needed support, and they’d love to hear from him.

That wasn’t of interest to G. at all. G. wanted to get people on board. He wanted to get things moving. He wanted to be involved. Great, I said; the existing projects would love your help; they’re desperate for people to actually develop what was there. I’ve been here for ages, I continued, and I’ve seen similar ideas come and go: events calendars; corporate directories; the tech is frequently built, but then the content dwindles, and the crowdsourcing never ignites as was hoped.

So they’d love to hear from you, I said, and I mentioned a couple of contacts to G, and offered to put him in touch with them. What did he think of this? “Right. Well. I won’t do anything then. Fine. OK, bye.” Brusquely, but oddly not angrily, the call seemed to finish itself of its own accord. I was left staring at the phone, bewildered and somewhat ruffled.

In retrospect it was clear that, throughout the entire call, G. was not interested in those existing projects. He couldn’t care less about anything that wasn’t his big idea. Not only that, but he wasn’t interested in realising that great idea himself: he wanted and expected to see other people noticeably enthused by the mere mention of that idea, as if on contact with an current-carrying wire; it frustrated him, that it wasn’t happening.

The next step ought to have been for such enthusiastic disciples to suggest back to him all sorts of synergetic next steps: to organize a project team on G’s behalf; for that team to go and build the very thing he had thought of, that was so smart. The suggestion that more social good might be done by the simple and unambitious expedient of helping with improving and maintaining: well, that was so ridiculous—almost nauseating—to G, that it only took a few mentions of it, to make it imperative for him to eject summarily from the social situation. Which he did.

A recently attempted slang term for this sort of person abbreviates their usual title to just ’preneurs: thinking about this, in the aftermath of my conversation with G, I could only savour the etymological irony.

Posted in charity, cliques, commerce, communication, development, diary, dickheads, experience, industry, mind, occupation, opinion, person, privilege, psychopath, rants, society, technology, telephony, volunteering | 2 Comments

Pussing through the Great Wen

I’d agreed to meet a new client at their offices in London, and yesterday was the day. I left the house at 8am, and didn’t get back until after 9pm: seven hours’ working; six hours’ travelling, of which three was on the bike, and over an hour of that through Westminster and Oval. Today I feel like death.

The journey out wasn’t too bad, mostly because it was both cool and planned: I sailed into Oxford past the queues of traffic. Sometimes I feel like the Swinford toll bridge is basically an art installation: demonstrating all the multifarious ways in which people can make terrible decisions and then convince themselves the outcomes are someone else’s fault; leavened by the occasional bus and cyclist.

When I got to Paddington, I’d mapped out a route which took me through the leafiest, coolest bits of Hyde Park, and was able to get in the right lane at Westminster, which tends to move at less than 20mph at the best of times. This, I thought, was how Kentown might have worked out if they’d kept him on. It was only near Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens that all the various unhelpful diversions suddenly started to make me uncertain of how I was going to get to my destination. But I arrived there, in time to freshen up in the clients’ toilets (and buy a deodorant in the Tesco next door: when will I learn?)

After seven or so hours of intense business-socializing, though, I set off to essentially retrace my journey: unplanned. I therefore managed to hit diversion after diversion, unseen on the way out but all too obvious on the way back. There was little or no assistance or advice at the diversions—certainly none suitable for cyclists—and only the muggy, smoggy heat that characterizes Borisville for company. I got lost four or five times, and at one point whacked my knee on my bicycle frame, dismounting awkwardly to try to avoid street furniture.

By the time I arrived back at Paddington—and boarded the slow train by mistake—I was close to tears. Slough was scarcely the worst of it: by the end, I was wishing that friendly bombs might fall on Twyford, Langley and—the final kick in the teeth—the tiny station, darling, that we just simply had to visit at Culham. “No one left and no one came/ On the bare platform.” Slowly, I reached the haven of Oxford: a mere, dizzyingly low-bloodsugar pedal home to safety.

The thing about living on the A40 corridor is that it’s so convenient, of course. Anyone want to buy our house?

Posted in body, cycles, discomfort, exercise, far_away, fatigue, fluids, freelance, location, london, occupation, oxford, person, provision, public, roads, tourism, trains, transport | Leave a comment