18 November 2022

Jinxed.

My last post reported that my daughter Kay and her fiance Darcy have now finally acquired their first property near me  - a modest Edwardian terraced house needing a hell of a lot of modernisation and yet still costing an arm and a leg.  The joys of living in London with London prices! There is indeed a lot that needs doing to the house - nothing requiring urgent attention, but nevertheless needing doing over time. It was occupied for many decades by quite an eccentric old lady, who has now at the age of 96 gone into a care home. There are three ponds in the gardens - two at the rear and one in the front garden. Considering the front garden measures 10 feet by 4 feet, the pond takes up most of the garden!

rainwater harvesting

There is a rainwater harvesting system on the side of the house comprising three tiers of plastic water tanks. More on a roof terrace and more in the back garden. The rainwater harvesting tank is connected to a sump pump in the cellar which requires more tanks and pipes running through the house. There is a paucity of electric sockets - one in the dining room, two in the lounge (one of which is under a radiator which in turn is under the window!), two in the kitchen. Far too few for modern appliances these days.  There is no TV aerial socket or indeed no TV aerial on the roof- the old lady seems to have existed happily with radios - many of which were left behind for our "enjoyment".  Everything needs replacing from wiring to plumbing, floorboards to radiators. We knew this from the outset but now looking at the house in detail, it is hard to know where to start first, as many jobs are connected to another being done first. The house has been uninhabited for two years and is being sold by the old lady's equally elderly sister who was unable to answer many of the solicitor's questions about the property, as she lives in the North of England somewhere. 

The garden is an absolute wilderness - so much so, the larger pond in the back garden was only discovered when some creeper and brambles were cut back to get down the garden. We have also discovered a huge resident fox the size of a Labrador dog! He has obviously enjoyed uninterrupted peace for the last two years and now has to share his domain with Kay and Darcy. We don't know for how long! Virginia Creeper has taken a stronghold in the whole of the garden and is growing up the back walls of the house to roof height and is spreading across to the neighbour's house too. It has completely obliterated the view from the back bedroom and bathroom windows.

Kay and Darcy obtained the keys to the house last Wednesday. Kay had some leave for the move, but sadly Darcy could not get any, so on Thursday Kay and I set to, cleaning. We spent 10 hours that day, dusting, washing and vacuuming every surface on the ground floor. On Friday we continued with the upper storey spending another 8 hours of hard work. During that time a fridge/freezer was delivered, a locksmith came to change the locks and a central heating service was done.

The plan was to move the furniture and belongings in on the Saturday from their rental apartment. Darcy's parents and brother would help load up the rental van in the morning, reaching the house some time after midday. I would be at this end ready to receive them (Kay having given me a house key) and provide a picnic lunch for them all from Lidl, which is a mere 50 yards from their house. Everyone would then help unpack the van and arrange the contents in the house. That was the plan.

At midday, I left home in the car and parked several streets from their house. Their street has residential parking permits only, so I could not park in their road. I left my car, carrying a heavy bag full of bits and pieces that might be useful for the first day, plus I was hugging  some huge serving dishes for the picnic and a roll of wallpaper to line the kitchen drawers. I was walking along a road I had never walked along before  and failed to see a huge tree root which had pushed up the paving stones. Suddenly my right ankle rolled over and I went flying to the ground, hitting the paving with quite a force on my left knee, the contents of my arms and bag spewing all over the pavement. Feeling a right idiot, I quickly stood up and tried to continue, realising that my right ankle was killing me and my left knee was very sore. I hobbled some 200 yards or more along a couple of roads and let myself into the house, feeling very shaky. When I examined my ankle, I had a swelling the size of an egg coming up on it and could not weight-bear. My left knee was dripping with blood -despite wearing trousers, my knee was badly grazed. 

The clock was however ticking and I knew that five hungry people were about to arrive any minute wanting feeding. I had no choice but to limp along to Lidl and buy items for the picnic lunch. I added paracetamol and a bag of frozen peas to the list as necessary components to soothe my injuries. By the time everyone arrived with the van, I was sitting like a princess with the bag of frozen peas on my ankle, the swelling now growing in size to a grapefruit. I remained thus for the rest of the day, joking that I would do anything to get out of helping move the furniture!

I had made so many plans and promises to help with Kay's move and to help cut back the wilderness in the garden, but unfortunately my ankle has other plans. In the last week, it has got progressively worse and Kay has insisted on me visiting our local urgent care centre to get it xrayed to make sure it wasn't broken.  The good news is that it ISN'T broken, but is badly sprained. The swelling, bruising and pain is out of this world and the received wisdom is that it may take up to 6 weeks to mend. I have to rest it as best I can, ice it and elevate it. It has meant cancelling all my gym classes and foodbank shifts and I am relying on friends to ferry me to choir sessions and other engagements, as driving is out of the question too.  Resting it is a joke, as I live in a 6 half-storey modern townhouse with 5 staircases. I have three sets of stairs to get my meals each day and at least one to get to a toilet at any time of the day.

It also means any plans to help Kay in her house and garden will have to be shelved until further notice. To say I am cross is an understatement.  My dainty foot and leg looks like it's been transplanted from an elephant! We knew the house would cost an arm and a leg, but I didn't realise it would be mine!

elephantitis



12 November 2022

Calmer Days

The last few weeks (if not months) have been a bit chaotic here in Alcoholic Daze Towers. My organised routine has been somewhat overturned by events, resulting in disorganised chaos. I have tried to keep my head above water, but it has not been easy, but calmer waters are on the horizon.

My daughter Kay changed jobs in August. She is still a doctor, but has moved to the London region from Surrey. As a registrar doctor,  she has at least a four or five-year climb to get to consultant level. It involves working in a different hospital every year to gain experience of different regions and different types of hospital, such as a big teaching hospital or a small district general.  If she had stayed in Surrey, it is part of the Kent, Surrey, Sussex deanery and would have involved changing EACH YEAR to anywhere in that region - perhaps Brighton one year, Guildford the next, Dover another, Dartford another and so on. That makes commuting from home a challenge and impossible to buy property if you are not rooted in one place. So she decided to move to the London region instead, where commuting is much easier to and from most hospitals in that region, be they North, South , East or West London. 

Fortunately her first posting in London was to a district general not far from me, so she has been living with me during the week to help her commute and spending weekends at her rented flat in Surrey. Her boyfriend Darcy has also been living with us during the week over the last five weeks, as his work has brought him to London too. They are in the process of buying a house close to me but the purchase has dragged on longer than anticipated, as the solicitors (ours and the vendors) thrash it out between themselves. Kay and Darcy are first time buyers and the house they are buying belongs to an old lady now in a care home, so you would think the transaction would have been relatively easy, but, oh no.

As if that was not bad enough, some painter/decorators whom I had hired last November to  plaster Kay's bedroom ceiling and walls, paint them and also paint the top landing and sheer drop down the stairs, have been slow to get to me (it was originally planned for April) and could only start at the beginning of October.  The timing could not have been worse. It has meant Kay and Darcy have had to decamp from Kay's bedroom to a tiny box bedroom, hardly big enough for the bed, let alone anything else. Because my crazy 6-storey house has so many stairs, it has involved moving the rest of the bedroom furniture down a flight of stairs and storing in the study/bedroom. Nothing is where it should be and we have been very cramped. Add to that the fact that Kay was on nightshifts last week so the painters could not work while she was sleeping during the day and that has added to the timescale. Finally at the end of October we moved everything back into the newly decorated bedroom and Kay and Darcy had more room to spread out. Additionally I gained back my study! Just in time for them to move out altogether. Completion was on Tuesday and moving day is today!

Kay and I spent the last few days in her new house, trying to clean it. More of that later......

07 October 2022

Strangers in the Night

Yorkshire Pudding's recent post about a kindness done to him while on holiday in Greece reminded me of a similar story about a holiday we had in Greece back in the 1980s. We had many holidays during that decade visiting a number of Greek islands and one in particular has always stuck in my mind - that of Naxos. At that time Naxos did not have an airport and we had reached it by flying to nearby Mykonos and getting a ferry there. It was therefore at the time less touristy than most Greek islands, although many Germans had managed to get there somehow and put their towels on the deckchairs! English tourists were in the minority, which is why I suppose we liked it so much there.

One evening Greg and I were sitting at a harbour-front restaurant enjoying the sunset, when a group of Germans at a nearby table starting shouting and arguing very loudly.  Their inebriated conversations became more and more raucous and were clearly irritating a lot of the other diners. Suddenly a waiter appeared at our table with a bottle of wine which we had not ordered. When we said there must be some mistake, he said that it was courtesy of the man on the adjacent table - an elderly Greek man dining alone who looked remarkably like Anthony Quinn in the film Zorba the Greek. As we looked across he raised his glass at us.


We were thoroughly confused and the man asked in broken English if he could join us. We were intrigued and agreed. He told us that he had heard us speaking English and he was so sorry about the noisy Germans. His hatred of Germans became very apparent.  He said he had joined the Greek Resistance when Germany occupied the island in the Second World War and used to listen to the BBC World Service. When he discovered that Greg worked for the BBC World Service, he was beside himself and ordered a round of ouzo to thank us! He said that the British had helped liberate the island in 1945 and for that he would be eternally grateful. His English was not so great and our Greek only limited to a few pleasantries, but we spent a good hour chatting to him. We parted as if long lost friends, but of course we never saw him again. 

03 October 2022

Topsy-turvy


Autumn has arrived. The mornings are much cooler and the evenings are getting dark earlier and earlier.  Occasionally I wake to mist floating around the garden and condensation on the top of the car. In four weeks the clocks will go back and we will be plunged into winter mode. I have always preferred the Spring and the Summer seasons. I think I must have been a dormouse in a former life, as I don't seem so galvanised into doing things at this time of year.

However, a project I have been planning since last year - to have one of the bedrooms decorated - is coming to fruition in the next few weeks. The painter I had hired last November has only just got round to doing the job I'd planned for last Spring, as he has been so busy. The room needs replastering and the plasterer he has sub-contracted is coming on Wednesday. This weekend Kay, Darcy and I have been clearing the room of furniture. That is no mean feat as my house is on six levels, which means furniture and possessions have to not only be removed from a room for it to be decorated but taken down a flight of stairs too  and found a temporary home.  I'm sure it'll be worth it in the long run to have a lovely guest room, but the house currently looks a tip and I can't find anything!

16 September 2022

What a privilege

I am so glad I made it to Central London on Wednesday and stood for over two hours in this spot at Horseguards Parade.  They were 3-deep in front of me but I manage to see through the gaps between their shoulders to get a reasonable view. It felt great to be part of the atmosphere and to partake in such an historic event. By the time the procession started they were 8-deep behind me.



Suddenly we could hear bells tolling and cannon gunfire, so we knew the procession had started and after about 20 minutes, the procession passed by.



Then Her Majesty's coffin came into view. You could hear a pin drop, the crowd was so respectful. The soldiers were playing the very mournful funeral march.


All too soon, the procession passed through Horseguards Parade on its way to Whitehall and Westminster Hall. I was so pleased to be part of that historical moment.  If you zoom in to the left of the photo below you can see the Queen's children walking behind the coffin.





09 September 2022

Elizabeth the Great

HM Queen Elizabeth II
1926-2022
 
I feel totally bereft with the news that our lovely Queen Elizabeth II has died. We all knew it was  coming but just hoped that she would be somehow immortal or at least give us a few more years of her radiance. Two days before her death yesterday she was pictured shaking hands with the new Prime Minister Liz Truss. She looked frail, thin and had quite heavy bruising on her hand, but her smile and cheekiness was still there. How is it possible that two days later she was snuffed out like a candle flame in a breeze?

The wall-to wall TV coverage on all main channels last night showed just how much she was revered. There were scenes of predominantly young people who flocked to Buckingham Palace in the pouring rain to soak up the atmosphere of grief, showing that it was like their favourite granny had died. 

For me, the most poignant footage was the rainbow over Windsor Castle. The sky wept for her and the heavens built a bridge for her. God bless you, Ma'am. You served us well.


picture courtesy of ftw.usatoday.com


30 August 2022

Money Money Money

My local High Street boasts four national banks and a handful of building societies. Until recently, that is. Two of the building societies (Santander and Halifax) have recently closed and the branch of the bank where I hold my main account (HSBC) is closing this week, meaning I shall have to go further afield to do any in-bank transactions or speak to a real person. 

Over the weekend, I had been going through my wardrobe and throwing out quite a lot of clothes I had not used in a decade or three - always hoping some items might come back into fashion, but now accepting that I would never wear them again.  In so doing, I came upon a single suit of Greg's that I had hung on to out of sentimental reasons and decided now was the time to give it away to charity. As I checked through the pockets I found an old £5 note. 

Today,  while I was in the High Street, I tried to exchange the  old £5 note for a valid one. I decided to pop into my bank for one last time, before it closes its doors. Sadly, my bank told me that whilst it would still be valid to exchange it, they no longer had the counter services to do so , just machines to pay in,  machines to pay out and machines to do minor transactions, so they could not help. I went to two other banks who said exactly the same. They no longer have counter services and only machines and therefore could not exchange the £5, although in theory they were still accepting them. They advised me to to go to a bigger bank in a busier part of London that still has counter services.

I read in the newspaper the other day that by 2027 cash will more than likely be phased out completely. Too many transactions are done now by debit card or credit card and since the  pandemic, cards have become more and more the way to pay.  Transactions are done online and there is no need for real money. It is fine for me as I am computer savvy, but for many elderly people it will cause immense problems. 

It got me musing that in future the grandchildren will not only ask, "Did you see any dinosaurs when you were little , Granny?" but also "Did you really pay for things with little metal coins and paper notes?" We have had cash for centuries and centuries, but it seems modern technology will eradicate that entirely.


16 August 2022

Fully fledged

I failed to post a couple of weeks ago that Kay became a fully fledged member of the Royal College of Physicians. To enter their hallowed portals, the doctors have to sit three very stringent and complicated exams. You cannot sit the second exam until you have passed the first and so on, and need to pass all three. Kay's friend has failed the first one six times and is stuck in limbo. I hasten to add that you have to pay an eye-watering fee to sit these exams. Kay managed to pass all three over a period of a few years, in between working hard as a junior doctor, and received the news  back in 2019 that she could now call herself a Member of the Royal College of Physicians and use the MRCP after her name. However, the official ceremony to welcome her into this honoured institution was due in  the summer of 2020 and was subsequently cancelled because of Covid restrictions. She has been waiting all this time for the ceremony to be scheduled and that was three weeks ago. Her fiance, Darcy, and I went along for moral support. The day was tinged slightly by the absence of her father, Greg, as I am sure he would have been chuffed to ribbons to be there. We just hope he was looking down on us and in fact there was an unusual line in the President's closing speech which Greg would often use, so we felt he was there.

The College is part modern (having been built by the same architect as the South Bank complex) and part old buildings in pristine condition rented out by the Royal Household. The Royal College was founded by Henry VIII in 1518 and has just celebrated its 504th anniversary. In the 1500s medical practice in England was poorly regulated. Many ‘physicians’ were working with no formal training or knowledge, and almost certainly killed as many patients as they cured. The leading physicians of the early 16th century wanted the Crown to grant licenses to those with actual qualifications and to standardise practice and so the Royal College was set up. God help anyone who crossed Henry VIII's path! Over the years, the College has been situated in different parts of London, including in the City of London, but now resides alongside Regent's Park.

Here are a few photos I took on the day.

The new

The old

A whole street, no less

Learn this information off by heart

The ceremony - spot Kay!

Old pharmacy jars


10 August 2022

WFH or WTF?

WFH. Another modern abbreviation creeping into our language. It stands for 'Working From Home', a concept born of necessity during the many Covid lockdowns we have had over the last few years. It has changed people's (and employer's) views about whether it is necessary to work in the workplace any more.  People have found they can move out of the cities and live in the countryside or even abroad and still carry out their work  from the comfort of their home.  Spare bedrooms have been converted into offices or grand outbuildings built at the end of the garden to house an office. One suspects that they work in their pyjamas, start their day at 11am instead of 9am, finish at 3pm instead of 5pm and have two hours for lunch or have half an eye on daytime TV. 

Of course there are some professions where it is not possible. Like Kay's for example - she is a hospital doctor - there is no way she can work from home.  She has been working in the hospital every week since the first mention of Covid back in early 2020.  Shopkeepers can't work from home. Nor can firemen, aeroplane pilots, plumbers, or public transport workers. There are many more who cannot stay at home to carry out their work.

However, Working From Home seems to suit a lot of office workers who just need a phone and a computer to connect to their work base and to the wider public. Among this motley crew are the civil servants of this realm. Now, I was a civil servant in my working career, so I know how things work and run in the Westminster corridors. In my day, I was a floor or two beneath the Ministers and would often have to pop up to brief them before their visits round the UK or abroad, if they needed  further questions answered. I suppose nowadays, they can get round that with an email and with zoom meetings instead, but even so, the response should be immediate. Which brings me on to my big grouse.... everything these days seems to take an age for what was once a simple procedure. It has been much widely publicised that various businesses and government departments (especially the Passport Office and DVLA) seem to take an age to process paperwork with the excuse that staff are working from home. We are supposed to forgive them, be patient and understand this delay. But why? Lockdowns are long gone, things are back to normal, we are being told masks are not really mandatory any more in shops or on public transport and we should go back to normal and live alongside Covid. So, if staff working from home are causing delays to the running of the system, then why have them working at home? We should not accept that an easy peasy lifestyle for the office worker will inconvenience the public or slow down an otherwise slick process.

My grouse is personal. I have been on the receiving end of this WFH malarkey.  Living alone and in a house with five flights of stairs, I am conscious that one false move could have me bouncing down stairs and ending in an unconscious gibbering heap for days on end. To that aim, back in the New Year, I decided it would be prudent to apply for Power of Attorney, so that, should anything ghastly happen to me, my daughter could make decisions about my health and finances.  I sent off for the two forms for Health and Finance, filled them out, got signatures witnessed, paid £164 to cover the two forms, and posted them on 31 January to the Office of the Public Guardian(OPG), the civil service body that deals with this. Bear that date in mind, because, dear reader, it will become very crucial to my story. So how long, do you think it takes to process this sort of application. A week? A month? Two months? Take a wild guess.

So, here I am on 10 August and still waiting. That's six and a half months!

The first indication that the application had even been received was around late February when the £164 came out of my bank account, so from that I assumed that they must have received everything, not that they bothered to tell me. Another couple of months went by and in April I tried to ring OPG to find out what was happening to my case.  The answerphone said I was 69 in the queue and every so often interjected to say that staff were working home from home and begged my patience to hold on. After 20 minutes I had made it to 67 in the queue and guessed I'd be on the phone all day at that rate, so hung up and emailed them. I received a holding email to say, again, that I should be patient  as staff were working from home yada yada and their reply would take 25 working days. Some 25 working days or even later, their email said they were working on it.

In mid May, both Kay (the person who would act for me in the event of my demise) and I received letters to say that the application would be approved, if nobody objected within 3 weeks. However, they had spelled Kay's surname incorrectly, despite it being correct on the application form and the same surname as mine. We felt we needed to draw their attention to that, as almost certainly some jobsworth in the future would say the document was not legally binding. Kay rang them up to discover she was 71 in the queue. Working in a hospital these days means she doesn't even have time for a toilet break, let alone to hang on the phone indefinitely, so she emailed OPG to point out the error. She received a reply that she would hear back from them in - you've guessed it - 25 working days. 

Finally, the OPG-registered authorisation of my application duly arrived at the beginning of June - with the incorrect spelling of Kay's surname. At that point I just blew a gasket. I emailed their complaints department and received a holding reply that they would answer within 10 working days. I am STILL WAITING for this some 40 days later. 

Ten days ago, I had had enough, I wrote a letter to the Chief Executive firing all the bullets I could muster. I'm still waiting for his/her response. Maybe he/she is working from home too.

01 August 2022

One of those days

Do you ever have one of those days when by 9am, you wish you'd stayed in bed?

I needed to go to the post office first thing this morning to post two parcels of things I had sold on ebay. As I had been using a local post office a lot recently and was embarrassed to go in yet again with a load of parcels, I decided to drive further afield to another post office about 2 miles away (and thereby charge the car battery). There is paid parking around that post office so I decided to park in the forecourt of the adjacent small Tesco petrol station, except, when I got there, the forecourt was roped off as a huge petrol tanker was there filling up the pumps. Rather disgruntled, I had to pay for parking after all and entered the post office as they opened.  As I got to the counter, the post mistress told me the computer was down and she could not take the parcels. I'd paid for parking for nothing!

I set off for the post office I usually go to and posted them there. I could have saved myself  time and money, going there in the first place after all.

Meanwhile I am still elated from last night's football game. I am always a bit on the fence when there are games with England v Germany, as I am half and half myself, but I was heartily pleased we won. We did much better than the men's team. Who said women aren't as good as men? To think a century ago we weren't even allowed to play!

23 July 2022

Concert season

I have been busy the last four weeks with no time for blogging. The main reason is that the two choirs I attend had two choir concerts with only two weeks between them to practise and learn off by heart the repertoire for each.

The first was more of a classical one. We sang, amongst other pieces, Haydn's Organ Mass which is in Latin and Greek and without any exaggeration challenging. Our choir master is quite a stickler for detail and pushed us relentlessly expecting perfection. To say we were dreading the concert is also no exaggeration, as we did not want to disappoint him, but it went surprisingly well and, with the accompaniment of a string octet, it made us sound amazing. I wish I could include a video, but we had not invited relatives to come along to watch as we thought it would be ghastly so had nobody we knew in the audience to film us.

The second concert last weekend was even more challenging. A completely different genre from the first, we sang excerpts from Dear Evan Hansen and Hamilton, both very modern pieces, the latter having a lot of rapping too.  There were other songs too and a youth choir also joined us to fill out the time a bit more more. The day was boiling hot at around 32C, the hall we were singing in was baking and no windows had been opened (or could be). The choir mistress in her wisdom did not want us to take water bottles on stage as it looks tacky, so we ran through a rehearsal from 4pm to 6.30 pm, grabbed a quick sandwich and the concert started at 7.30, by which time we were flagging. Add a hot sweaty audience and spotlights shining straight at me into the mix and you could have fried an egg on my back! We soldiered on but by the interval, one of my friends was feeling so faint and shaky, she decided to leave for home. twenty minutes into the second half, I too began to feel shaky and my heart was racing. I was terrified I would pass out in front of 300 or more people, particularly as I stood in a very prominent position, but managed to find inner strength from somewhere and made it through to the end. Here's a picture of us trying our hardest not to faint. After all, the show must go on!



30 June 2022

I do like to be beside the seaside

I've just been away. On holiday. By the seaside. I managed to escape my cage for a short break with my best friend of 53 years. I even went abroad - if you can count The Isle of Wight as abroad!

Holidays these days seem to be a rare option for me. Being a widow, with no siblings and with friends who are either married and have their own plans or live a million miles away so not geographically or socially close to arrange such things with me, means that I either contemplate a holiday alone or just don't go anywhere at all. When my recently-widowed best friend of 53 years (we met as 18-year-olds on our first day at uni at the hall of residence when we came out of our rooms to use the bathroom) suggested we go away somewhere together, I leapt at the chance. She lives about 80 miles from me, so all arrangements were done by phone or text.

When Kay was little,  my husband and I used to take her camping in the New Forest. The campsite there was run by the Forestry Commission and we had wild ponies wandering around our tent which was a real joy for a five-year-old. We visited the New Forest many times after that and came to love Hampshire and particularly Lymington by the coast. For that reason I yearned to return one day and my friend agreed  that was a lovely spot to centre our holiday.

Lymington is a lovely town full of Georgian houses built around the late 1700s or early 1800s. You half expect a heroine from a Jane Austen novel to come out of one of its front doors. Its long High Street leads downhill to a cobbled harbourside, where yachts and swans jostle for space and the lamp posts are decorated with brown-headed gulls or egrets resting their legs. I have always loved being close to water - be it sea or river or lake - as I always find it very calming for the soul. Sitting on the harbourside eating an ice cream was my idea of heaven. Of course, girls need to shop and Lymington did not disappoint with a variety of unique shops (and not the usual chain stores that you find in every High Street  just about everywhere). We ventured into the New Forest and saw expanses of heathland and grazing wild ponies who wander onto the road at a split second as you pass. You have to have your eyes on stalks to be prepared for them!

Lymington harbour

Lymington Harbour

Yachts galore at Lymington

One day we caught the Isle of Wight ferry to do a day-trip as foot passengers and went over from Lymington to Yarmouth, a quaint little "town" comprising of about two short streets of shops/pubs and no more. The ferry ride was again very relaxing and I seriously felt I was going "abroad". The weather was very sunny and balmy.


For our last day/night, we moved on to Christchurch in Dorset and again enjoyed walks by the river, seeing many yachts and hundreds of swans. The Priory and Priory gardens were amazing - mentioned in the Domesday book, the Priory is an amazing piece of architecture and as we wandered around we were treated to an organ demonstration being put on for some A-level music students who were visiting.

Christchurch Priory


Norman Hall of the Priory

Ship-shape town houses on the Christchurch waterfront. Price £1.3m.

Old ducking stool in Christchurch



As I had gone down by train and the trains drivers were striking that week, I was anxious whether my return journey would be affected, but in the event, the journey was not as ghastly as I had feared and I was home in the usual time. All in all just the break I needed to dust away some long mental cobwebs. 

10 June 2022

Things are going at a snail's pace.


Kay and her fiance's hunt for an affordable house in London continues. First of all most of the prices are completely unaffordable.  But that is not the only problem.  There just aren't enough properties for sale in the region they are looking at to be commutable to both their workplaces. In fact last weekend when she and her fiance went along the high street to introduce themselves to estate agents and see what was available, the agents just laughed and said they were one of thousands doing the same. Too many looking at too few properties. Which can mean only one thing - it is a seller's market!  The recent stamp duty moratorium has caused a rush and thus exhausted the stock for sale. Plus the fear of rising prices generally has now made people cautious to move at all.  Kay and her fiance are having to move to London to start new jobs as part of their training, so need to find something and as yet have never been able to stay in one place long enough to even contemplate buying, so have only ever rented.  As they are in their 30s now, they see this as their next proper home to settle down and raise a family. 

One very run-down three-bed terraced house needing lots of modernisation and hardly any garden was on offer in excess of £800,000. It's in a labyrinth of workers' houses built around the turn of the century - rows and rows and rows of them,  back to back. There is no way a young couple on the bottom of the housing ladder can afford that. Even the 10% deposit is out of most people's reach. Their search continues in the hope that more properties will come on the market. Meanwhile it is looking like they might both move in with me in August, when they start their new jobs, and put their furniture in storage until a house in their price-range miraculously appears. That or the bank of Mum will have to help them get on the housing ladder at all. 

26 May 2022

North-South divide.

Much has been said over the decades about the great North-South divide in this country. Most of its proponents from the North argue that Southerners have it all too easy, have the best jobs, houses, standard of living etc and those in the North are hard done by. Some Northerners carry their bitterness to the extreme. My daughter was bullied terribly in her first year at a university in the North by a Liverpudlian flatmate who saw it as her life's aim to reduce my daughter to a terrified wreck and completely ruined her university experience, purely because my daughter came from down south and had a London accent.

I would go as far as to say us Southerners don't have it all and are in many cases worse off for living in the South. Yes, there are plenty of jobs and plenty of housing, but our standard of living is not great.  I don't dispute there there is higher unemployment in the North, but I am merely comparing like-professionals with like-housing and travel costs. 

Rental property in the south is astronomical compared to that in the north. On the left of the two photos below,  look at this TWO-bedroom flat on the ground floor of an old house in Newcastle for £700 per month . Compare that with a similar property in London  (photo on the right) where you can  only get a ONE-bedroom ground floor flat for a massive £1250 a month The further into the centre of London you look, they are even more expensive. The one shown is in the suburbs. A similar ONE-bedroom flat closer to the centre is £1550 per month.

   


Kay and her partner Darcy are having to move to London, as their jobs now dictate a career move about which they have no choice,  as it is part of their training programme.  Up to now they have been renting a one-bedroom flat in a crumbling Victorian house in Surrey for £1000 per month, but want to get onto the ownership ladder, as they are both now in their 30s. 

A lot of Kay's uni friends in the North have settled with their partners or husbands and bought their first properties. They can typically afford detached or semi-detached houses with a fair amount of garden in Yorkshire or Lancashire, such as this one below left at a bargain £240,000  Kay will be lucky to get a one-bedroom flat in a run-down area of London for that price. Compare that northern house price with the one in the photo on on the right to give you an idea what Kay would have to pay in London or anywhere in the Southern region for a whopping £650,000



Furthermore, If she wants to furnish it with nice things or decorate it, she will need to find the money over years and years, compared with her friends who have saved money on the house price and therefore can have it all at once and now.

The cost of travel and commuting around London and the South East doesn't come cheap either. With congestion charges of £15 to enter into the city centre or extortionate commuter train and bus fares  to get about the vast expanse of London and the SouthEast, it does not even get covered by the paltry London Weighting, which in no way makes up for the disparity of prices.

I have always argued that someone who is doing a similar job in the North to someone in the South is far better off. A teacher or civil servant or other professional will earn a similar salary, wherever they are,  but the one in the North will have their standard of living for a third of the price the southerner has to pay. They can therefore afford nicer cars, more exotic holidays, new furniture, kitchens and whatever they want to spend their spare cash on. The Southerner will have to make compromises or do without, as they have no spare cash.

The disparity does not stop there.  When buying a house, stamp duty rises according to house prices, so the southerner will always pay hefty stamp duty for a more modest house compared to their northern counterpart who, on the above examples, will pay very little stamp duty.  Even in death, if the house is passed to a southerner's children, they will be clobbered for 40% inheritance tax when they inherit a modest property, whereas the northern property (although far grander, but of far less value) will attract no inheritance tax at all.

It just aint fair. Incidentally, all of those photos shown above can be looked at in detail on Rightmove by clicking on the price tag links. 

08 May 2022

Food for thought

For the last four years I have volunteered at a foodbank which is run from a local church. It started a good few years before I joined, when somebody knocked on the vicar's door and begged for food, as they had not eaten in three days. The vicar raided his larder and produced some food. A few days later, the same person returned with a few others and the queue grew. Over time, the vicar set up a trust and the foodbank was born. 

It's main aim is to feed the local homeless, jobless, people of no fixed abode and sofa-surfers, but nobody is turned away.  Many feel quite embarrassed to be there in the first place, but you can tell they have no choice. Some are pensioners struggling to survive on a state pension, others have mental health issues, quite a few have lost jobs during the covid pandemic. The foodbank is open for a few hours every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.

The vicar, however, recognised that food alone was not the only answer to their problems so has, in addition to the three-weekly food collection days, set up:

  • advocacy to advise and help filling in benefit or housing applications
  • literacy to help with reading, writing and maths
  • clothing to replace torn clothes
  • sewing to repair clothes with more life to give
  • a cooked two-course meal on the Friday sessions 
  • a cafe to have a snack and meet friends on the Tuesday and Saturday sessions
  • a shower and washing machine for those with no fixed abode

I help out handing out food and I am the sole person to do the sewing repairs. I am gradually getting to know many of them and just chatting can help them open up and feel normal, when their life is often chaos and lonely. On the cooked meal day we can serve about 100 people, on the other days at least 40 or 50.

We rely on donations from the general public (both food and money) as well as generous donations from local supermarkets and shops when their goods are getting close to use-by dates. We do not accept fresh meat or fish, but prefer shelf goods such as tins or jars.  One local baker provides end-of-day unsold bread and we do accept eggs. We offer toiletries too and even dog or cat food, as many have pets.

Sadly, over the last few months donations have not been so forthcoming, as  our usual  donors have been hit by rising costs and inflation, so stocks in our container have  started to dwindle. With this in mind, the church held a plant and cake sale yesterday to raise funds for the foodbank. I made 10 slabs of cake (shown in the photo below) and each slab was sold for £4. I helped run the cafe and the local community poured in to buy cakes and hot drinks either to eat on the premises or take away. We didn't stop for two hours serving an endless stream of people. Outside the plants were flying off the stalls too.  By the end of the afternoon, we totted up the total and were thoroughly amazed that we had collected over £1,100. In just two hours! That will buy an awful lot of tins and toiletries to see us over the coming months until the Harvest Festivals in the autumn can swell our stores again. 





02 May 2022

Animal Mad


This picture shows an advertising board outside my local cafe. It made me laugh, but it also reminded me how we as a nation love our pets. You can usually tell someone from the way they treat animals.  I have noticed that, for example, hospitable and lovely as Greek people are, they treat their animals very badly. On my Greek travels over decades, I have never seen so many stray dogs and cats, let alone tethered goats and horses out in the searing midday sun with no shade.  Seeing the awful footage of the war in Ukraine, one thing has been evident. Not only are the poor people fleeing from their homes, but they carry their pets with them. It makes the Ukrainian people's plight even more heart-rending. It could be us.

23 April 2022

How high?

When you work for the NHS as a junior doctor, you are not supposed to have a life outside the hospital. That is, at least what is looks like to me. You are not supposed to have serious relationships, settle down to buy a house or raise children. When the NHS says "jump", you reply "how high?" They don't care that you have commitments that might affect your decision to follow their bidding.

Kay has been busy since before Christmas, applying for the next stage of her career and it has been so stressful, you would not believe it. She is applying for Registrar training and selecting the specialty she will practice for the rest of her life to get her to consultant level. She has chosen two specialities which will dovetail with one another, each taking four years to qualify, so a total of at least eight years ahead of her to get to consultant.

Kay is 30 years old and newly engaged, so naturally wants to consider marriage, buying her first property and having a family in the next eight years, but all of that is in jeopardy because of her job. She has just undergone two very gruelling interviews with the two specialty authorities. On paper, she has a lot of experience  and glowing references from her bosses, but 80% of her success depends on the 20-minute interview alone. Not good if you are nervous. There is a three-week wait for the results of the interviews when you find out your ranking out of the total number of people interviewed. (Obviously there are more interviewed than there are jobs available. In Kay's case, because she was made to do an extra year, when the Royal College randomly changed the rules, there is now a bottleneck of two academic years competing for one year of jobs, which makes it even more competitive). Once you have been successful at interview, you can then place the jobs available in order of preference, obviously ranking your first choices as close to where you live or want to settle, not that THAT matters a jot to the selection panel.

Kay wants to live closer to me, so I can help with childcare in the future, plus her fiance has no choice but to be based in London, so a job in London is key. She has already been putting out feelers to house prices in the area and working out with lenders what sort of mortgage they could expect. This week loomed as the week she would know whether she had been offered a job from next August and where. The offer came in on Tuesday and was not in London. In fact it was not even close. It would involve a two-hour commute each way on motorways. She was so upset to think that she may not be able to live with her fiance/husband during the working week for the next eight years, or start a family, let alone buy a house together, if she were to accept that job.  All her dreams came crashing down. It is not made easier by the fact that she has to change hospitals every year to gain a wider experience of different procedures, so for example getting a job in a region that covers two or three counties could involve a commute of up to 100 miles a day,  if you were bold enough to put down roots somewhere. After a stressful day or nightshift that is unthinkable. She had the choice to accept the offer, decline it or hold it in case it could be upgraded for a better offer. A better offer came in, but still not close to London and in a region that covers three counties. If she moves every year to be a reasonable distance from the hospital she is allocated, then she can say goodbye to a relationship, to kids and buying a house. It is so unfair. We are praying she gets upgraded to London, although there is no guarantee. It just depends on whether people, who have been allocated London, decide they don't want it and it can be offered to someone else. 

No wonder our doctors are stressed or go abroad. The whole system needs overhauling.  This is no way to treat staff. If you want to get an idea of what it is like being a junior doctor in the NHS, look no further than the BBC series This is Going to Hurt. It says it just like it is.

UPDATE: After a week of stress and nightmares, Kay has now been upgraded to an area of her choice. Why couldn't they have offered it to her in the first place?!

01 April 2022

Musical extravaganza

One of the choirs I attend at the local boys' school had its first concert of the year last weekend and its theme was loosely musicals. I say "loosely" as there was some other stuff in there too but we covered many medleys from My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, The Lion King and then added the theme tune to The Vicar of Dibley and Putting on the Ritz. Another choir joined us to cover songs from Cats, West Side Story and Les Miserables. At the end of the concert, we adjourned to the Refectory where some of the schoolboys played in a jazz band, a brass band and a pop group. They entertained the adults (both choir members and audience) while we sipped wine and bopped away. It was great evening. Kay was able to come along and watch and said we sounded great.  Here is a song or two from our performance kindly recorded by a friend who was in the audience. Spot me - I'm wearing a white top!!






21 March 2022

Garden of Hope

The weather here has recently been incredibly mild for March and today I was even able to walk around without a coat or even a cardigan. It was a lovely sunny day with clear blue skies. I suspect the weather patterns are still coming from the South. Last week, we had a fine dusting of Saharan sand over our cars and garden furniture. My window-cleaner came today and said it had made his job twice as long, as he kept having to change the water.

The fine weather has made me want to get out more and walk to do errands rather than drive.  Today I passed a sight that is a mere 50 yards from where I live and always makes me smile. It is a beacon of hope, amid the awful news coming from Ukraine, that there is basically good in the human race and good will eventually triumph over evil.

Someone along my road (let's call him Kevin) has taken it upon himself to plant a beautiful display on the common verge. Let me set the scene. This is what you see as you walk along my road. 



If you home in on the second tree furthest from you (beside a turquoise car) you will see plants around the tree. I have blogged about this before and it has been like this for quite a few years. I half-expected some jobsworth at the council to condemn it as being a health risk or something stupid, but it has remained and cheered up passers-by no end.

Unfortunately, during Storm Eunice a few weeks ago, branches of the tree came crashing down and fell beside the little impromptu garden. Council workers removed the branches from the road, but cut them up and  heartlessly dumped them on the flowerbeds until lorries could take them away. You can see the big scar on the tree where the branch once was.


Kevin was heartbroken about the way his good work had been trashed and put out an appeal on our local Facebook group for donations to fix it. I and many others contributed to his appeal and he raised a fair bit of money. This was the first thing to warm my heart that people appreciated what Kevin has been doing.  Kevin thanked us all personally via Facebook for our donations and he promised to get the site back up to its former glory.

Today, as I walked past Kevin had obviously been busy, for this is what I saw





He has even planted a little herb garden and invited passers-by to help themselves.


It really cheers me up every time I pass it and reassures me that there are more kind people in the world than there are Putins.

14 March 2022

Ukraine

My  sore thumb has continued to cause problems all week - it is difficult doing things one-handed, particularly doing up waistband buttons and washing up (I'm not supposed to get the steri-strips wet). You never realise how important a digit is, until you can't use it, particularly an opposing thumb. Hopefully the bandaging can come off today and I can inspect the wound. I have not used the car this  last week, as I did not want to cause an accident - grasping the gearstick with a gammy left hand was not so simple. Thank goodness for true friends who have ferried me about to choir sessions this week.

It's all small fry though, when considering what the poor people in Ukraine are going through.   The West stands paralysed while Putin tells lies as an excuse to perform even more uncivilised atrocities in "retaliation" (or so he explains it in his callous mind), including threatening the West with nuclear deterrents, bombing hospitals, schools and ordinary civilians' homes. 

I watched an interesting series on BBC2 about Hitler's war with Stalin (see here). It echoed many of the tactics used by Putin now and may explain what is going on in Putin's mind. I wish I knew how to copy the bit of the video here, but at 56 minutes 57 seconds on the second episode there is man talking about dictators in general and it sums up Putin to a T. 

However, I cannot believe that in 2022, some 80 years after the last World War, mankind has not learned a lesson - that war is futile and deliberate war crimes will not go unpunished.  My heart goes out to the Ukrainian people and I can only hope this terrible mess will be resolved quickly before more lives are lost and damage done. 

07 March 2022

Fun and games

Kay and Darcy visited me for the weekend to celebrate their engagement officially. We went out on Saturday evening locally for a lovely Italian meal. They certainly make an attractive couple and I am so happy for them. It takes me back to when Greg and I were young and the world lay at our feet, full of excitement and we had lots of plans for the future.

The following day we laid flowers at the crematorium as it was the 12th anniversary since Greg died. We looked at his entry in the Book of Remembrance and "told" him about the engagement, "introduced" Darcy to him and "spoke" of the awful events unravelling in the Ukraine (Greg used to work for the BBC World Service newsroom, so, had he been still alive, this awful story would have  preoccupied him at work). It was a tearful visit for us all - even Darcy who would have loved to meet Greg. 

Afterwards, I was preparing lunch for us all and managed to slice a huge wedge into my thumb pad instead of an onion. It bled profusely down my thumb, hand and arm and took at least 20 minutes of gripping it tighty to stop the bleeding enough to apply a plaster. It continued to throb all afternoon until Kay took me to the local urgent care centre for it to be examined. Fortunately it didn't require stitches but they put steri-strips on it and bandaged it up again tightly, as it was still bleeding profusely. I have been told to keep the bandage dry and clean for seven days before I even attempt to remove it -  even then it won't have healed entirely. I was planning to do a lot of spring gardening this week as the weather was dry (for a change). It looks like that is not possible now, as well as several gym visits I had planned.   

24 February 2022

Listen, Do You Wanna Know A Secret?

For the past four months, I have been sitting on some very exciting news, but I was sworn to secrecy so couldn't tell anyone about it. I say "anyone" but I think I would have not survived four months if I had told absolutely nobody. Instead I told three people, whom I trusted implicitly and I knew they would not be able to spill the news accidentally, so that it got into the wrong hands. But now I can breathe at last and publish the news........

KAY HAS GOT ENGAGED!!

I have known since the end of October, but she didn't, hence the secrecy! At that time her boyfriend (for the sake of this blog and anonymity, let's call him Darcy - for he is indeed appropriately handsome and everything you could wish for, just like Jane Austen's hero character)  contacted me and asked if we could meet in secret, when Kay would be not around. Immediately bells starting ringing in my head, but I tried not to get too excited. A few weeks passed and a weekend came in early December, when Kay was up in Yorkshire visiting old uni friends. 

Darcy came over to see me on the Saturday evening and looked very nervous. He told me he had been with Kay for six years now, loved Kay very much and couldn't envisage life without her. He wanted to ask me two questions. The first was whether I would be happy if he asked Kay to marry him.  I was so touched by his old-fashioned approach of asking me first if I minded. Of course I said YES. The second question was whether I would help him choose the ring.  Kay has often given me ideas of what she likes and doesn't  like when choosing rings, as  recently we had been looking in jewellery  shops for me to buy her something to mark her 30th birthday last summer (six months have gone by since July and I still owe her a 30th present). We have often nonchalantly looked at engagement rings in the window as we  inevitably passed by them  and she had commented on exactly the kind she would like, if ever her relationship with Darcy got to that stage. So I had a pretty good idea and Darcy knew this.

In early January, Darcy and I arranged to meet one day in Hatton Garden in Central London. I had suggested this, as there are not many jewellers locally, and those that exist are often little niche boutiques and therefore the choice is pretty limited. I felt Hatton Garden would swamp us with shops and help us decide. Sure enough, there were zillions of jewellers not just in Hatton Garden street alone but in the labyrinth of backstreets too. If we so much as glanced in a window, someone would come rushing out to accost us, asking what we wanted and invite us inside so that they could show us all they had. We got very good at giving them a put-down and in the end restricted our search to four shops that had received good reviews online. 

I had already done my homework beforehand and felt quite the expert, reinforced by the talk  the various jewellers trotted out when we sat down. When choosing a diamond, you have to be aware of the four Cs:-

  • Cut - how well the craftsman has cut it so that it reflects light to its optimum.
  • Clarity - whether there are many imperfections in it - diamonds are naturally-mined stones and so will have some imperfections, but these are graded on a scale from none at all to many. These imperfections are not visible to the naked eye but will only be picked up by looking at the diamond with a spy glass.
  • Colour - from pure transparent sparkle through to a yellowy colour
  • Carat - the size and weight of the diamond.
All the while I felt like I was with my toyboy, so had to make it plain from the start in each shop that I was the mother-in-law from hell and not the bride!  That comment produced many a smile and somewhat eased the tension (and strange looks as we walked in).

We were shown many shapes, sizes and versions of the four Cs. There was one shop where Darcy and I felt it was the best of them all. We were pretty much decided on the perfect ring, but wanted time to think about it, so left contact details with the shop and said we'd get back to them after a few days.

A few days later, Darcy had made a decision and put a deposit down on that ring. We arranged to go back in late January to collect it, once it had been polished and its setting checked. Also the diamond had a unique ID number engraved into it (not visible to the naked eye) which means if the ring is ever stolen or lost, it could be traced back to its rightful registered owner. 

Now, Darcy had visions of when he wanted to propose. Not on their 6th anniversary in late December, nor on Valentine's Day, but in a place that meant a lot to them, but that could only be done while they were on holiday and that holiday was not until this week. So from late October to late February, I have been bursting to tell all and at the same time falling over myself not to spill the beans to Kay, every time I spoke to her, particularly as I was conferring with Darcy behind her back.  Darcy finally proposed to her on Tuesday  (an auspicious day as the date was 22.02.2022) on a romantic walk that meant a lot to them both and the secret is, well, no longer a secret! She said YES.

Now I can relax - but only for a bit. After all, I've now got wedding planning to do and, in the absence of Greg, who would certainly approve of Darcy,  of that I am certain,  I've got a father-of-the-bride speech to write. Wish me luck.