Thursday, 19 February 2015

Cute Kitty Conspiracy

It was half past midnight and I'd been peacefully catching up on Facebook, having a quick look at who might be coming to the workshops and hafla this weekend, and finishing a couple of conversations, when Xena came in. She miaowed and pawed at my arm for attention, claws out the second time around. 'Okay', I said, 'I understand. Time for bed. Where's your brother?' She scampered off and I followed her into the kitchen, where I nearly stepped on a large rat.

'You cats! Whose is this?'

(It's a farm. There are rats. This was an adult rat and really quite well-fed and heavy. For scale, the floor tiles are 8x8"/20x20 cm. With apologies re the state of the photos, taken in a hurry while the cats were being cute, and to my friends who like rats!)

Still Searching ...

... for a place to buy, and trying very hard to see past the compromises to the positives and potential and not to feel despondent. It's not that there aren't some lovely properties on the market, but all the ones which make me say 'wow!' are well out of my price range. I'd settle for something which makes me say 'ooh!', but most of the time, the non-verbal accompaniment to a quick flick through the pics is more along the lines of 'Mm, hmm, okay, ah, oh dear, tut, no, ugh, aaargh!', (spot the reactions to large-patterned wallpaper, strangely-coloured bathroom suites, dark purple walls and black tiles in bathrooms and kitchens) with the occasional 'OMG, WTH?' and 'Come on, you have got to be kidding!'

There was an 'ooh' property which came up before I had the money to do anything about it, and was under offer almost as soon as it appeared. It still involved compromises, but I could see myself moving straight in. It was still shown as 'under offer' in the new year, so I sent a message to the estate agents to say that, were the offer or sale to fall through, please would they let me know immediately as I would be very interested. In the past week though, it has been removed from their website. I know the probability of the sale falling through is roughly the same as winning the lottery jackpot - it might happen, but it probably won't. Now, I find I subconsciously compare everything to that property, which makes things very difficult, because nothing else so far has been as good.

As for the rest, there are a few which have capability, but there's always some issue which feels like a compromise too far, such as fronting directly onto a main road, no garden, no parking, has been structurally vandalised (like, removing the chimney and chimney breasts), has a bus stop and/or street light right outside, requires major updating, damp, excessively slow broadband and no mobile signal. Of course, you have to look past cosmetic issues but the price has to be right; removing ghastly wallpaper and giving the walls a couple of coats of paint is not in the same league as replacing expensive, ineffective or no central heating, needing double glazing, new kitchen, new bathroom, new floor coverings, rewiring, getting the walls skimmed, removing terrible artexed ceilings, and so on.

From browsing the available properties for months now, it seems that being semi-detached or end-terrace easily adds up to £10,000 to the price, and for a detached property, add another £10,000 or more. My ideal property is detached, but in some cases it is definitely not worth the money. Many are built on small infill plots, with basically an air gap between one house and the next. I've come across a couple of instances where the gap is too small for anyone but the most slender to squeeze through, and I cannot think how the wall was built (from the inside?) or how any maintenance would be carried out on the side wall of the older house next door. At the back, the 'easily maintained courtyard garden' is just about big enough for a couple of chairs, a rotary washing line and a bin, but is shaded by walls and overlooked by other properties. This is also true of new terraced properties. Most Victorian terraces have bigger back yards, probably because they needed space for the outdoor privy, the mangle and to hang the washing out. As a friend pointed out, most people now have tumble dryers and these places are 'what people want'. I've heard that so often, but if it were really true, would there be such a flourishing number of house and garden magazines and property programmes on TV? No, the programmes and magazines are full of what people want. Most of the time, they settle for what's available, what they can afford and will hopefully match their needs.

Speaking of needs, I really need more income and therefore more work. After months of seeing no appropriate jobs, I've just applied for half a dozen. Tempting though it is to live somewhere on the coast, chances are that there will be a commute to work which could be as much as an 80 mile round-trip a day. I worked out, using the 45p a mile tax allowance, that this could effectively cost approximately £8,500 a year in fuel and wear on a vehicle (not to mention the two hours or so spent driving every day). The administrative jobs I'm looking at aren't highly paid, and this sum would represent at least 50% of income. Even a daily 40 mile round trip would represent 25% of income, which is still excessive. Something to think about, which creates a bit of a quandary. Do I wait for the spring flush of properties to come on the market and see whether I actually get one of these jobs, or do I just look at whatever's available and fairly central? What would you do?

Monday, 2 February 2015

Brass Monkeys

It's official - I really dislike January.

The deadline for online tax return filing looms over the month, stimulating a bout of sorting, filing and throwing-out, adrift in a sea of paperwork and fighting down feelings of guilt that yet again, I've left it all to the last minute.

The house search isn't very fruitful at the moment, as there is only a small trickle of properties coming onto the market, and I've been spoilt by the couple I've liked not being available. Now I keep comparing properties to those, and nothing as good has come up since.

There was a time, a few years ago, when starting classes in January was not too difficult, providing you waited a couple of weeks for those on Winter Sun holidays to come back. Now, it's a fight; the active minority already has too much on, and everyone else is suffering cash shortages after Christmas, either has a seasonal lurgy or is caring for someone with one (my goodness, the illnesses going round at the moment!), or just doesn't have the time or energy. New Year's Resolution to learn something new, get happy and healthy? Forget it! None of my classes have restarted, due to such low numbers, although I'll restart Narberth next week. A proposal for a workshop on feet and footwork in mid January was greeted enthusiastically in mid December, but in the end, only half of those who signed up for it actually came. It's the difference between making a reasonable profit and barely covering costs. I've never found asking people to pay in advance successful as few commit and then, if you decide you haven't enough to go ahead and cancel, you have pre-payments to return and cancellation of the venue to deal with. Chatting to teachers at Fantasia in December revealed that there are problems getting people in to all sorts of classes and it's Europe-wide, not just the UK.

I sympathise about the lack of readies, really, I do. The car always seems to need a service around this time of year and is due an MOT in February, an expense I could do without, except that I cannot do without a car. Living in West Wales without your own transport makes it very difficult to go anywhere and it's virtually impossible when you live out the back of beyond as I do. I know, I've tried it.

The year may have turned the corner a few weeks ago and the days are getting longer, but it's still a cold, dark month. I've been fighting the urge to hibernate for a couple of months, and feel so tired. Sleep is often disturbed by heavy rain and hail rattling against the windows and the roaring, howling and banging from gale force winds. My skin is dry, my nails split, and my hair becomes a tangled, frizzy mess from the static generated by wearing hats and scarves.

In previous years, I've had to deal with rationing the LPG and running out when the top-up has been delayed by bad weather and high seasonal demand. The gas company seems to have this sussed now, with smaller, more regular top-ups ahead of the worst of the weather. However, this year I've just had a week and a half with no heating in my cottage, except for a small fan heater which seemed to do little more than stir the cold air unless I sat right next to it, because the boiler tripped off and then wouldn't come back on.

I left messages for 11 plumbers asking for help, and put a job on the Rated People website, which got 45 or so views but no takers. Of the 11 plumbers, one phoned back and turned out not to do gas boilers, and another 2 got back and said they wouldn't attempt to fix it because it's old. One of those came out to look at it anyway and just started talking about replacing the whole system, including piping and radiators - within a couple of minutes, we were up to £2500 just for materials, never mind time and probably VAT. It seems that the location of the boiler here in the workroom is an issue because of the sink unit it's over; the distance from the boiler to the sink no longer conforms to building regulations and so the sink unit (or at least the taps) would have to be removed. Other furniture would have to be moved to access radiators and the disruption would be lengthy and total. And he was busy and couldn't fit me in, and in fact still hasn't got back with the written quote. The other said that the boiler make, Potterton, had been bought out by Baxi, and suggested I call their helpline. I did, and they tried to help, but admitted that the model was now obsolete and the best thing to do would be to have one of their engineers out. So the chap on the helpline did a search on their system, which helpfully supplied details of what it thought were the closest engineers to me - in Glasgow and Torquay. It turned out they have no engineers in West Wales. They also helpfully gave me a ball-park figure for a replacement system of £3500.

Messages to the remaining 8 plumbers have so far gone unanswered. I can understand at this time of year, they probably have more work than they know what to do with, want to work within their experience and don't want to mess with old, unfamiliar, conventional boilers, and it's not their problem that someone has no heating during a cold snap unless they take the job on. But leaving calls unanswered does them, and their industry, no credit at all. What if I had been a vulnerable adult?

In the meantime I was miserably, bone-achingly cold, despite layers of clothing, and the cats moped with their fur fluffed out. Xena was especially miserable, as she's a cat who likes her warmth and I had to stop her sitting right next to the fan heater. It took me a few days to track down a well-hidden switch to the immersion heater. All I wanted to do was huddle under blankets and feel grateful that at least I had a roof over my head, even if it was only just frost free. It made me even more determined that my new place should have a woodburner or fireplace, preferably the former as you can also cook on a nice woodburner with a flat top. The layers made even basic things like washing up difficult, as I was constantly trying to drag my sleeves out of the water. I went next door to moan about the situation and warm up, and my friendly ex listened to the same symptoms I'd relayed to the plumbers and decided it was probably an electro-mechanical cause, rather than the gas boiler itself. So he came over, found a reset button on the boiler to get that started, checked the pump and decided it was worn, then over the next couple of days bought a new pump and 3-way valve and fitted them. What a star! It turns out I didn't so much need a qualified and registered gas plumber as an experienced, electrician/handy man with a brain!

Now I am (relatively) warm again, but realised the physical effects of sitting huddled against the cold in my first yoga lesson. I was extremely stiff around my shoulders and down my sides. Being cold made my joints ache, particularly my knees and feet, and now only extreme warmth (hot water bottle, hot bath, hot jacuzzi, sauna, steam room) stops the ache.

The heating is valiantly trying to keep the cold at bay, but there's a light covering of snow outside now - only an inch at the deepest, but it's due to turn to ice tonight. Well, happy Imbolc, all. Only another 6 weeks until Spring!