Chaos to Cosmos
The path from chaos to cosmos was discovered by telling one's life story

Monday, 30 June 2008

Intellectual Television

The height of modernity.

Mother watches Corrie, Emmerdale, as well as Dad's Army repeats and every banal quiz program and she will NOT miss any of them, defending her viewing choices like her life and that of the planet depended on it. There's no point asking to see anything else, because her choice is "right" and "going against it" just provokes another of her tantrums that get more venomous by the day.

She hasn't actually ever seen a whole TV program at any time in my memory, because she falls asleep as soon as it switches on, but she won't let me have a TV in the bedroom, because, she says, I might fall asleep in front of it and that would be a danger. She won't let me watch her TV "unsupervised", despite my age (51), 30 years of living alone and never having had this dreaded mystery TV accident yet, but starts whining it's too late some time around 9 pm. Ignore that and she huffs and puffs and remarks how late it is all the way through a program, otherwise when she wants to go to bed, it goes off and the plug comes out.

One of the reasons I’m not allowed to watch her TV alone is because it isn’t hers, it’s rented. It’s been rented almost since John Logie Baird first invented it and is fit only for the skip. Who the f*ck rents a tele in the 21st Century? 

(When she died, the rental company did tell me just to chuck it!)

If I try to go to the living room to watch anything, the cats want to come with me (and they'd make a noise or scratch the carpet if I didn't let them), but I still don't see the program, because she talks incessantly and constantly shouts at the cats – even if they're doing nothing at all. (She wonders why they hide from her?)

A couple of times when I first got here, I started watching a program I fancied, but she demanded the remote (which I was not allowed to touch again) and when it was not something she'd already marked on her TV listing magazine, she either changed channel to what she wanted, or just switched the TV off, even if I was sitting there, clearly watching. There's usually some haughty comment about, "we don't want that" and, if I say “speak for yourself, I was watching it”, I get a diatribe about how awful and unsuitable it was. (This coming from someone with the "superior mind" to watch Corrie, Emmerdale AND game shows!)

Hence, I just don't go anywhere near her, the living room or the TV to avoid all that unpleasantness and the earache of her constant bitching. Not by choice, I saw a couple of minutes of local news (well, the insulting, dumbed down, wonderful Britain biased propaganda / infotainment crap) at meal time, otherwise, I've seen only one or two programs a week - "approved" exceptions that did not clash with her other choices - and the odd items via the BBC iplayer, but the "cheapo" broadband over the faulty telephone line won't always play them.

And, sadly, she's worked out that the computer works as a TV too, so now she's in and out of my room every five minutes just to make sure I haven't fallen asleep, so now I can't even relax and watch anything in peace in my room either. 

In the end I just told her that the computer switches itself off.

Things are a LOT worse than even the hell I imagined. Truly, this is nothing. The unprovoked attacks and venom have had me crying down the phone to friends more than once. Last week, for the second time, mother said that I and my cats can get out. Said she would have us thrown out in the street and just stood there screaming and pointing at the door, adding things about rotting in hell, not caring where I went or what happened to me, waving her finger in my face, calling me a liar, hurling more insults and telling me that I need a "brain doctor." 

Now she’s an expert on deciding who needs to a psych referral?

It must be a qualification she got from all that intellectual TV! 

Saturday, 28 June 2008

This is a recorded message

A dinosaur era telephone

On the night I landed in the UK, my friend and I had both tried, repeatedly, to ring my mother, but all we got was the answering machine. Turns out the line was off. When it eventually came back, the phone was quiet and crackly.

So, long story short, mother tells me that the next door neighbour says that the problems have been occurring since the other next door neighbour's pump for his fish pond started flooding the manhole that has the phone line down it. The pond pump is going all the time, but it isn’t flooding anything and the phone wires definitely wouldn’t be down there to begin with. It’s impossible to tell who dreamt up that fantasy, but, of course, it HAD to be someone else’s fault!

Nevertheless, I phoned BT, who have NO engineers of their own at all now, so they make you crawl around the floor to unplug or isolate everything and run tests yourself, before they will call a sub-contractor: they say that it's to avoid you unnecessary expense. No concession for disability making that difficult. 

Anyway, I did discover that the line was clearer and did not crackle, although it was still very quiet, using a corded phone plugged into the isolated test socket. 

Finally, because I was following BT's instructions, I was able to persuade mother that the fault was therefore INSIDE the house and that, having tested everything else, the issue was her 20+ year old cordless phone with the buzz and crackle.

Like we’d f*cking told her it was in the first place! 

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Caturday Curiosities ...

Well, I've made a(nother) rod for my own back! (Anyone surprised?) :-)

Because the two cats (aged 7) I've brought from Tenerife have never moved house before and, because they're really quite timid former ferals, I've been giving them "familiarization walks" in the garden on a harness and lead. This should allow them to get to know the place slowly and in relative safety and, hopefully make them less liable to bolt (in the wrong direction), when they encounter unfamiliar (and here, everything is) sights, smells and sounds.
"The problem with cats is that they get the exact same look on their face whether they see a moth or an ax-murderer." - Paula Poundstone
Compared to their natural habitat: a ridge well away from a main road, in the middle of a rural valley, with no neighbours, there's a lot to startle cats here. There's traffic noise and human noise - we're surrounded by houses and this is hover mower country - and then there's the constant screaming of seagulls overhead, as well as neighbour dogs, garden birds and new weird animals.

Taking them out on a lead seems like the natural thing to do: after all, their "mother" was a dog. Well, I say "them", but I've only taken Kitty out a couple times because she is clearly not keen. She was trembling and just wanted to dart off, so, in the meantime, we'll concentrate on Balu, who is Lovin' It(™) and, with luck, once he's comfortable with it, his confidence might rub off on his sister.

As the nice lady says in How to Walk a Cat on a Leash, it's easier to start when they're young. Thirty years ago, I did just that with my old cat, Tom, which proved to be a great boon over the years, because I could literally take him anywhere, like a dog. I would have done it again when Balu was small, but I couldn't find a suitable harness in Tenerife and anyway, he was then one of triplets and then I had three other cats too. I couldn't walk them all.

Could have tried harnessing them all up in a team, except ...
"Cats are smarter than dogs. You can't get eight cats to pull a sled through snow." - Jeff Valdez
Nor six or seven of them, as there were on occasion, I suppose.

Anyway, for the first few days, Balu's performance on the lead (no photos: one of us should be allowed to retain some dignity) was pretty much like the cat in the above video. He looked about as happy with the idea as this fluffball. As in all things, purrsistence (sic) pays and he now has me trained.

The curious thing is, he had been an indoor cat for a year or more in Tenerife, but more and larger windows, including patio doors (that are just like widescreen HD TV for cats) opening out onto the part of the garden where there's a bevy of birds and a surfeit of squirrels, must be tempting him outside. Hence, we've had some right tantrums and, trying everything; food, drink, litter tray cleaning, cuddles, et al, I found a short outing into the fresh air was sufficient to placate him and, ever since he's been insisting on it daily. Morning routine has now been set by his Royal Fluffiness; ablutions, breakfast (his: mine comes later), walk in garden, coffee. In that order. By command. Yes, the coffee is for me and I'd LIKE to have it first, before going out, but the whining kinda takes the edge off enjoying it. Balu is such a beautiful cat, until he opens his big fat gob. He has the most grating, screeching, whining and annoying meow I ever heard, which tends to encourage me to do something (anything) to shut him up, in the shortest time possible.

So, we've been going out promptly each morning and, you know how quickly they become creatures of habit. Yesterday, as soon as he'd eaten, he began moaning, came to where the lead is kept, stood there while I put his harness on, then led me to the back door. This morning, he "cut out the middle man" and just waited by the back door, letting me bring the harness to him. He's not bloody stupid, is he?

Today finally, he walked, leading me, right round the perimeter of the garden. He didn't flinch at the noises going on in the pigeon shed next door (it sounded to me like they were shagging), nor was he purrturbed (sic) by the robin sitting on an archway, shouting and swearing (s/he has babies in the holly bank.)

Next week, watch us stroll down the local main street (not!)

Friday, 20 June 2008

Busman's Holiday ...

Prices of bus fares in this country have left me gasping for breath. Actually, I don't suppose the Wilts & Dorset Bus Company are any better or worse than any other, but there are local rumblings that fares are set especially high (it's argued that they think that folk who can afford to live here, can afford the high fares, although that is not always true) and, that those who decide what to charge, where the routes go, etc., probably go to work (or the town hall) in their Rolls Royces and, hence, have probably never caught a bus in their lives.

They should be forced to do so.

They too would be shocked by having to pay £1.70, single, just for the 1.1 mile journey into the town center, £2.70 return to the local Tesco and back (1.4 mi) and a massive £5.40 return to the nearby town of Lymington (about 6 miles).

(And, of course those prices have risen again since.)

I don't even want to know how much it costs to get to Bournemouth, or further afield, because I simply have no money for any of these fares.

What should be an incredibly simple trip to Tesco is stupidly impractical, because, on top of the cost, there's the need to hit the ground running and tear through the store at 90 mph, in order to get done in time to catch the ONLY return bus, less than an hour later. This encourages people to just grab and buy any old packet crap. Such a restriction is not practical for someone who hasn't seen the inside of a British supermarket for 16 years and doesn't know what they sell, let alone where it is. It's too far to walk back carrying any shopping. One could get a taxi, of course, but for the amount one could carry still doing that, it makes far more economic sense to bulk buy once a month and have it delivered.

Except that's a totally alien concept to some old biddies, who think the devil is lurking on the internet (where the order would, necessarily, have to be placed) and, who have empty rooms and cupboards, store other people's stuff, but suddenly claim to have no space for a month's worth of toilet rolls.

They also claim to have no money to pay for deliveries or taxis, baulk at the price of healthy foods, but I notice they seem to have plenty of money for packets of cakes, biscuits and sweets.

Her answer: she will shop, daily if necessary, using her free bus pass, while I remain imprisoned in Camp Conservative 24/7/365, with no means of escape.

I'd hoped and intended to get out and be a tourist in this strange place, but at these prices, it simply isn't going to be possible very often and, being stuck up the end of a cul-de-sac, where ALL (yes, every single one) of the residents are of the silver haired variety - bar the bloke next door, who sports the Kojak look (and don't tell me that's a dated cultural reference, because, for here, it might actually be a bit too modern), I'm getting decidedly stir-crazy already.

The rest all have cars or have free OAP bus passes, of course.

What happened to all the friends and car driving helpers who covered shopping trips, etc: the very reason given for clinging onto this familiar, but outdated lifestyle in this ripoff country? This is what I would like to know, because unless they're invisible, I reckon they must be the figment of someone's imagination.

Cycling, or walking outside the town, just isn't possible either, because of roads with no pavements and the weight and speed of traffic. I've already watched as one cyclist had to jump off his bike, grab it and dive into the roadside to avoid death as the bus I was on made no allowance for him.

Yesterday, one of the neighbours joked that I only had 10 years to wait for my bus pass. Actually, it's only 9, but this is still incredibly small comfort: being stuck here for 9 (or so) days, let alone 9 years, has seemed far too long.

Back on the buses: The route to Lymington, so I'm told, was changed recently and the bus we caught went along a country route, which (illogically) has fewer stops, urban areas or opportunities to pick up paying customers than on other local roads. You know, it strikes me that if they went along a route where there actually were customers for it, they might be able to create enough demand to reduce prices, but who the hell am I to suggest logic as an option?

And people in Tenerife complain about the buses. They have no right to do so.

OK, I will concede that there probably aren't enough buses if you're in a hurry (I don't think anyone in Tenerife ever is), have appointments (not that anyone there is ever on time for them), or need to get to work, but a dozen buses a day passing through one of the island's most remote villages, sure beats the one or two only that come to this part of this over 20,000 inhabitant town.

In Tenerife, with a BONO ticket giving a 40% discount, the 3 km trip to the local town cost just 85 cents (around 65p with the now crap exchange rate) and 50 miles, right across the north of the island, cost only a couple of quid.

(If you ever go to Tenerife on holiday, you really should try their buses.)

The most striking difference in the "service" (not the most apt word) here, apart from the exorbitant, ripoff fares, is the lack of thought and organization.

In Tenerife, every conceivable change in buses (well, most anyway) has been synchronized so that passengers can change and carry on their journeys with the minimum of discomfort and waiting. The buses wait for each other to make it possible and, if there's a better way to do something (like catching a direct bus), the friendly staff will point this out to you (you don't even need to ask.)

Here, by complete contrast, you have no such considerations and inconvenient waits exist between one bus and the next. Even worse, particularly in an area full of wrinklies, in a country where the weather is consistently crap, is that shelters, or even seats at bus stops are conspicuous by their total absence.

Adding serious insult to age and infirmity, locals tell me that the bus company have also just changed the route the bus takes to Bournemouth hospital: a monotonously regular port of call for folk around here. Previously, the bus pulled in to the hospital grounds. Now, apparently, it stops some distance away and leaves people (imagine the over 80's with hip replacements and a multitude of other reasons why they can't move too well) to cross a 5 lane highway!

Obviously, for most, this now precludes the use of the bus for hospital trips.

These things are sinful and inhumane, especially considering the demographics of the local clientele (I will concede them one point for having buses with low footplates to provide easy access), but the fact that taxis are not much more expensive than bus fares and that the inconveniences are forcing people to use cars or get lifts, also makes this a serious crime against the environment.

If Britain wants to meet climate targets, here's an area that really needs looking at and is ripe for improvement, which would be to everyone's benefit.

The other thing, which as an expat, I knew and half explains the massive exodus (but you can't get through to the most resistant & hard headed), is that one is undoubtedly better off abroad, even in the "third world", because, even if services are almost nonexistent, they can't be much less frequent and, at least you aren't expected to pay a bloody fortune for so little value.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Fatty Fortress Britain ...

Gatwick International Arrivals

Gatwick airport may have just celebrated it's 50th Birthday, but the airport authority should spend the next 50 years getting the place consolidated: it's now so sprawling and disjointed, I felt like I'd walked to the UK from Tenerife. 

Then there was the interminable wait to be sneered at by the grumpy staff in passport control. We were, for all intents and purposes, a bog standard tourist flight full of (previously) happy holidaymakers; I was apparently returning to my own country even ... And yet we were lined up, told where to stand, eyed suspiciously and checked out like a bunch of criminals or illegal aliens. 

Welcome to F*cking Fortress Britain, I thought.

I reached out to grab my (relatively slim) suitcase off the carousel.

A coffee break ensued and I realized then immediately why the rate of obesity has quadrupled in the UK during the last 25 years. Just take the size of the coffee these days. What used to be served in cups, or even mugs (and those were probably overlarge), is now served in sodding great buckets.

It narks me, because there's no earthly way anyone needs coffee (or portions of anything) that size and, with millions starving, rising food prices, global food shortages, etc., it strikes me as criminally wasteful and gluttonous.

Please understand that I'm not dissing the coffee. Britain has, at least, learned to serve something half reasonable since I was last here, but the caffeine overload is a very worrying and they know how to charge for it too. Certainly wasn't surprised about the latter point, mind you. Subsequent observations of the Americanized "bottomless" this and "neverending" that everywhere and it's no wonder that around one in four men and one in three women in the UK are overweight, according to government statistics.

Well, hell, you don't need government statistics, you just need to look around. You hardly notice things when it's happening around you on an everyday basis, so maybe you won't have noticed how people in Britain have expanded, but after such a long absence, to me, it was shockingly obvious.

People are noticeably larger in the UK now and noticing people that large was something I'd not done since Disney World in Florida, back in 1980. And it was at Cypress Gardens in Florida that I'd first seen bucket sized soft drink servings. There has to be a connection between these things, you know.

Forget grumpy passport control. Just put the cafes before the entry point and make the doorways narrower. That should keep a lot of people out.

Actually, it's a wonder the obese don't die of heart attacks on the walkways!

On the other hand, remember the immense amount of paperwork I had to generate (with apologies to the entire forest of trees); another example of a "queue-creating, time-wasting, job-justifying madness" - this time on the part of the British - just to import two (quite portly) tabbies into the country ...

Well, we got lost, in the dark, trying to find Animal Aircare (somewhere in the arse end of the cargo sheds.) It's been moved to a new location apparently. We asked and were told that, it's 30 yards this way, then someone else told us it's 50 yards that way and, finally after walking back and forth among and along the cargo bays, balancing on ledges, a nice man took us to the right place. Well, I was still just looking for the place for the paperwork (release note), but we were taken straight to where the cats were and, were promptly handed them.

After all the performance and red tape, the animal control bloke said he hadn't even taken the cats out of the box, but that they "look alright". Indeed. 

Because, he said, "The little one's hissing at me." Is it any wonder?

Dunno about Kitty, but I felt like hissing at this point!

And then he gave me a "delivery note" for "TWO LIVE CATS".

Actually, I had specified tabbies and he said that was what I was going to get, 'coz that's all he had. Good to see British humour hasn't changed then!

Personally, I still reckon I should sue 'em under the Trade Descriptions Act. Since it's so bloody cold in this country, all the cats have done since they arrived is hide and curl up tightly under the bed covers. Were it not for the occasional snoring sound emanating from the corpulent one (that would be Balu), I'd say that LIVE was a most inappropriate term and a bit of a gross exaggeration!

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Winter in June

After 16 years in the sub-tropical Canary Islands climate, not surprisingly, I find it cold here. It may be June, but the temperatures are what I know as winter. Not to mention cold sensitivity because of being ill. But my mother won't make any concession. She merely snapped that "it's not that bad." Maybe not, to her. 

All I've been able to do to is pile on what clothes I have (not many: I was limited to a 20 kilo suitcase of clothes that are only suitable for that sub-tropical climate anyway) and stay in bed to try to keep warm. I can't go out, I can't afford bus fares; there are not many places one can safely walk. It's too cold anyway. 

The result is that the cats and I (except an odd walk in the garden) are mostly confined to one small room and we don't even get peace and privacy in that.

Saturday, 14 June 2008


Colourful kiosk

A quiet, unspoiled corner of Lymington

On Saturdays there's a bigger and better market in nearby Lymington (which also has more coffee shops than inhabitants), but don't let anyone complain about kiss-me-quick souvenir displays in places like Tenerife, after the utter ruination I've seen in what used to be quaint, beautiful old streets around Lymington quay.

There are some unspoiled, quiet corners still, but these appear to be few and far between today, now a more commercial style of tourism has encroached. It's a sin that so much; buckets and spades, tasteless postcards and placards selling ice cream, has been allowed to spill out onto the pavements.

At least the kiosk selling Isle of Wight ferry and excursion tickets seems to manage to maintain an attractive and "in keeping" look. Lymington has probably been no more spoiled than anywhere else where tourists go, either in Britain or abroad, but it's a shame we seem to feel the need to turn everywhere into Blackpool. 

And I find it hugely hypocritical that many Brits call those places tacky, but overlook the same excesses they criticise abroad, when they're at home. 

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

New Milton Cafe Culture

Pavement cafe in New Milton

New Milton doesn't have much to offer, especially not for a town of around 25,000 people, but it has at least half a dozen coffee shops. Quite why New Milton needs half a dozen coffee shops: the inhabitants of the town are predominantly old folk who don't drink coffee, let alone go out to do so, I have no idea. Does it think it's catering to a vast influx of tourists? Quite why most are pavement cafés as well, considering the usual climate here, is a total mystery too. 

Formerly the best coffee shop in town

Among these coffee shops was one, newly opened (since closed), that belonged to a community project that collected old furniture for the poor disadvantaged. The local rightwingnuts have already voiced their concern that this will turn out to be a drop-in place for drug addicts and other undesirables (people like me?) The new cafe actually seemed to attract a better class of old codger (aging hippies, old blokes with silver hair in pony tails), sold organic and fair trade products and their carrot cake was not half bad! They were pushed out in the end.

A more traditional looking tearoom attracts locals

The Knowhere Guide (or, in the case of New Milton, maybe Nowhere Guide would have been more apt), summed things up best, with comments on local record shops like "Glen Miller only I'm afraid". On Clubs (Dance Music), they said, "There's the local Conservative club on the High Street, I saw someone move in there once. Does that count as a dance?" Otherwise, "... best you get on the train into Bournemouth matey! Be back by midnight too."

Entertainment was outlawed in New Milton in 1922, they said, not inaccurately. No, really, it's not just me saying it! There was nothing listed for events, because there aren't any, unless you want to go to a church, the conservative club, or a meeting of stamp collectors or other such anorak wearing types. And even for those, you need your own transport, so it's all off the menu.

Most telling was if you hit the link for "Alternative Lifestyle" in New Milton. The site didn't have any information, because any alternative would not be tolerated around here. Not reading the Daily Mail and not voting conservative would be viewed as rebellious. Most casual conversations with the natives will contain reference to "foreigners" coming to milk the NHS, or whatever is the latest fear and loathing that the media prescribed and they swallowed, wholesale.

You might think I'm being flippant, but I'm not. There really is the Conservative Club in the high street, I really have winced at numerous bigoted and ignorant comments and, if you go into newsagents, there'll be two racks displaying the Daily Mail, alongside which you will only find The Sun and local rags with similar leanings and headlines. Magazines offered are mostly a flag waving, English, patriotic variety. Most likely because this is all folk buy around here. 

Station Road on Market Day

Another telling fact is that the local department store (on the left of this shot where you see the Union Jacks flying), Smith Bradbeer & Co. Ltd., was established in 1837 - the same year Queen Victoria ascended to the throne. They have a website, but not much else has changed since that era.

The most exciting thing to happen all week in New Milton is the market on Wednesdays, with a dozen stalls along the main street. At least some of the stall holders appear to be under 40. Last week there was an Iranian man selling Persian goodies, Greek pastries and superb Turkish Delight (from Turkey.) The sad thing was that when I spoke to him, his initial defensive tone made it obvious that he expected racism and to be spoken to with a lack of respect. He was perfectly amiable once we did get chatting; gave me samples, etc. Although some of his goods were on display in the open, he'd served me using tongs. Some local residents, I discovered, don't "like" his stall, because he reputedly touches "other things" before serving. It's painfully obvious what they don't like really.

Charity shops outnumber almost everything else here, which is good, because these are the only places I can afford to shop. There are five in the main street and I've seen more in side streets I haven't yet combed. Everything else, that is, except estate agents, which, according to one internet search turned up an incredible 38 of them for this area. To cater to those wanting to leave? 

New Milton Station

This main line between London and Weymouth, with a quaint 1930's / model railway / Great Western feel to it, has hardly changed since it was built. 

In conclusion, don't be fooled by the new cafe culture "put on for the tourists", because New Milton, which has been called "new" ever since 1896 and, which has existed since before the Domesday Book, is just the town that time forgot!

Friday, 6 June 2008

The Longest Day ...

Storming the beach

Well, damn, I knew there was something significant about today's date and was thinking, thank goodness we didn't do this a couple of years ago (on 6/6/6), 'coz that really would have been a beastly, devil of a day.

Finally, the penny dropped when I was reminded that, it was on the 6th June 1944 that the allied troops had disembarked in Normandy. Duh!

So, what will I be doing 64 years later on 6th June 2008?

As you read this, I'll be "storming" Britain!

... along with two fat tabbies, who have to be checked in at 12:20 mid-day and, who will not clear the other end until 2 hours after our ETA of 19:45 hours. Add a couple of hours travel to and from the airports at both ends and you just could not find anything more apt than the description of The Longest Day ...

And, Britain has no idea what's about to hit it, does it? :-)

Monday, 2 June 2008

How landlords treat tenants in Tenerife ...

Damp in bedroom

After I received a threatening phone call, this is here "just for the record." Recent problems I've had to deal with; floods, every part of the plumbing breaking and the fact that I had to effect all the repairs (mostly through my insurance) and pay for them, is well documented already on this blog.

Terminal Damp 
The photos above were taken in the bedroom, behind the bed where I sleep. Could it be Stachybotrys chartarum a.k.a. Black MoldIt was one of many places in the house with similar damage and, even though pointed out, was never tackled.

Tenants have to inform landlords when there is something to repair, which I always have, yet sometimes, I've had to plead for years to get action.

Landlords have a responsibility to maintain and provide basic minimum services, so my legal advisors tell me. It's what tenants pay rent for, apparently! And there was me thinking it's just for the sheer fun of it!

The water people, told me that the recent problems are not theirs (naturally) and that it's because the landlords should maintain things (which they should). The fact that I just had to have the new regulator fitted (and paid myself), that was the landlords' responsibility, proves they're failing in this duty.

The two-faced water people (we are not surprised) are apparently telling the landlady that the problem is not theirs (naturally) and that it's my fault, because - she claims - I hadn't told her that the toilet needed fixing.

In fact I had told her that the toilet cistern was faulty and needed fixing, around 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years ago, which earlier she had agreed with and, that I remember clearly, because it was while my mother was here for Christmas and I was concerned that it would cause additional inconvenience (pun intended) if there were two of us caught short without a working loo, during a holiday period. What got done about it? Absolutely sod all, of course. Now, the landlady is selectively forgetting that and trying to twist the blame round to me.

Apart from the recent problems, which had me mopping and waiting around for repair men for almost all of the month of April (and, I'll just mention that the plumber, eventually sent by the landlady, who is meant to be fixing the water heater, still hasn't come back and we are now in June), I've had a list floods, roofs leaking and things that didn't work during the 9 years I've lived here.

Just as an example, when the roof in the hallway began leaking (at the beginning it was just a drip: eventually, I needed to keep three bowls under various places whenever it rained), every month, I advised the landlords that it needed to be fixed. I did this for 18 months until ... it caved in.

Guess what? We had a storm, unbelievably heavy rain, the false ceiling filled with about a ton of water, bowed down like a giant saggy hammock, finally gave in and broke all over the floor, flooding the house, ruining another load of my possessions. The repairs took 11 months to complete and, during that time, someone would turn up whenever they felt like it and do a bit more, which meant I was often disturbed and hindered any attempts I made at getting back on track. The law is quite clear that where repairs take over 21 days, the tenant is allowed to deduct a proportion from the rent for the room(s) that are not available for use. Never did deduct anything for this, despite the entitlement. 

There's also the fact that my original contract had called for me to paint the interior of the house on leaving. Painting after a repair such as this was never my responsibility, but the mean landlady decided to use the interpretation that all "painting" was my province, full stop and, this was left to me. Well, actually, my mother painted it. Gotta wear out the old 'uns first!

When you see the extent of the damp here, it becomes obvious that the landlords must have already known about it; that it didn't suddenly become damp overnight and that, pretty obviously, it has been painted over before. They act in total denial whenever I mention damp, however.

To comply with the terms of the previous contract (the later, current, one does not include this requirement for painting), "someone" (clue, not the tenant) would have to prepare the walls for the said painting. At the very least this would require removing a lot of plaster and renewing it. To be honest, the only way you'd completely deal with this damp would be to demolish the house!

By coincidence, on the same day as the storm / flood, my then webhost screwed up with my then main site that had used to earn me around $2,000 a month. What do you do, sit in a puddle, working away at a computer (that's plugged into the electricity) to fix the website, or mop up and deal with the flood? Yes, obviously, in retrospect, I should have chosen the former, but I didn't and I've never been able to get back to that point in terms of traffic, earnings, etc., for a whole list of reasons, but the basic truth is, that if the landlords had fixed that roof when I began telling them, then this probably would not have happened and I probably would not have lost my main source of income overnight.

Let's be generous and say that was 5 years ago (it's more like 7) and that, maybe I'd have maintained half of that income (allowing for economic and other factors: and giving myself no credit for any improvement I might have made.) My calculations make that 5 x 12 x $1,000 = $60,000 (€38,664.)

Pretty much the same story can be repeated for this last set of plumbing breakages that could have been prevented by some simple maintenance that they are "legally required", but obviously not morally inclined to carry out.

The only difference this time was that I had very little left to lose!

On top of that, I have a yellowed scrap of paper here (that should tell you how long ago it was done), with calculations I'd made at the time, listing my financial losses and expenses due to floods, humidity, facilities not working, etc. These are, in euros, roughly: 1. Clothing, shoes, furniture, other possessions, paperwork, etc. €6,000 2. Loss of income from outside jobs. €7,500 3. Purchase of a dehumidifier. €450 4. Additional electricity for above. €600 5. Deduction for repairs. €264 Those 5 items come to a total of €14,814.

A more minor case of damp damage can be seen on a cabinet, which had belonged to me. This was caused merely through it having been kept in the damp house. You should have smelled it though! Shoes previously kept in that cabinet turned green and had to be thrown away.

The figures for losses are exceedingly generous in the landlords' favour (undervaluing my costs and losses by about 50%) and, were based on reasonable numbers (trust me, I'm an accountant) at the time. The clothing, furniture, etc., was based on purchase prices, not what they'd now cost to replace. Back in the day, I used to compere karaoke once a week, but owing to the lack of hot water (I've confirmed with the legal advisor that hot water is a basic requirement that landlords have a duty to provide), meant I could not prepare and present myself adequately to do this job (on stage, in public) and had to turn down bookings, which eventually dried up, because I was not reliably available.

Bang went my second source of income.

Shortly after moving here, I'd lost the main work I used to do for one of the newspapers.

The cost of the dehumidifier can be demonstrated by the receipt.

The electricity to run the dehumidifier was measured by the difference between the previous and next bill at that time and is a generous estimate, because I have merely multiplied that by the number of months for 5 years (again, it's probably 7) and, have not increased that with rises in electricity prices.

The deduction for repairs (for the fact that rooms were not available to me for 11 months, while the said repairs were carried out) is based on the legally allowed formula. It only counts one room too, while another was also used to store materials for the work and, whatever way you look at it, the figure is pathetically inadequate to compensate for the inconvenience it caused.

It actually took the landlords 4 years to install a water heater that consistently worked and, then only after a relative of theirs had told them that the one that was previously installed was of a type that would never work here. Which is what I'd said. They tried to tell me that it worked fine, while they could obviously see and feel a mere trickle of tepid water that any fool would be able to work out was not going to provide a shower. And that was on a good day. On the 364 days that the wind blows here, it wouldn't even light, because it's outside!

Then they also tried to tell me that it's "normal" to hang your clothes outdoors; like everyone does this, on some regular basis or, put the other way round, if you keep clothes in a wardrobe then they always go mouldy. News, isn't it? They also tried to tell me that I must have bought the stuff with me damp. Yeah, from the desert south of the island, on a day that was so hot you could hardly bear it ...

You could clearly see the damaged roof above the area where the wardrobe is, in Google Earth. This was since painted in 2003. Only painted. Otherwise, that roof just acts as a sponge.

There was another damp and damaged corner of the bathroom ceiling, above the toilet. The roof in the bathroom leaks to provide a free cold shower while using the loo in heavy rain.

The landlady has seen this ceiling on many occasions during the 9 years, but only painted the roof outside. She can't say she hasn't been aware of the problem. I've drawn attention to it, several times and I've stressed that I get wet when I sit on the loo when it rains. Still hasn't been fixed.

While the painters were working on that in November 2003, it rained, which provoked another flood: this time with the fresh red roof paint everywhere over a predominantly white / cream tiled bathroom. It looked just like a pig-lizard had turned inside out and exploded. I was left to clean this up.

When it came to paying for the additional repairs that the painters couldn't avoid having to do to attempt to seal the roof to take the paint, the landlords had tried to wriggle out of paying. I know this, because the painter told me. He also said that they are "muy mala gente" (very nasty people.)

Next door's workman on the outhouse roof

The corrugated roof on the Jerry-built slum of an outhouse at the back of the house, leaked from day one. This was once fixed and a bodge made to fill (with foam in a can) the leaking gap between the top of the wall and the roof.

That worked for, oh, all of five minutes, relatively. A workman was doing some work to the house next door, but, without consultation, did so standing on the roof of the outhouse to this house to do so. The weight of the man created a whole load of new leaks, where the roof was damaged or was pulled away from the wall (which took a couple of years of pleading and two more winters constantly mopping up floods to be repaired).

It also had the effect of squashing the foam in a tube stuff, so that the gap opened between the wall and the roof, which has still not been fixed, despite my constant requests and their constant promises that it will be "in summer." Depending on the wind direction or the strength of the rain, this leaks and forms an indoor lake.

There are three steps down from that outhouse into the house proper, so when it floods, I have no option but to stay out there mopping to avoid it coming indoors and causing greater damage. I have spent days and nights doing so in really bad weather, when the lake was refilling and I could fill a bucket every 15 minutes.

Nobody came to help, despite the emergency nature.

The effort, as well as the conditions, were making me very ill.

And we still haven't taken into account the amount I've spent (wisely, I think) on a household insurance policy (circa. €200 p.a.); on other small repairs and parts that I've just got on and dealt with (even if they had been the landlords' job); my time spent dealing with it all and constantly mopping, etc.

In October last year, I had to replace my washing machine (another €389), because it was old, but also because it was finished off by a previous surge in water pressure, that again, could not have happened if the landlords had correctly maintained the regulator. (This is something I could not have informed them about as a regulator does not show signs when it no longer works, is some distance away from and outside the property and, in any case is a responsibility of property owners who have the contract for the water supply.)

Then there's the fact that the rental came with a washing machine provided, listed in the inventory. The landlady took hers away, because I had my own, however, she made no allowance in the rental price for this.

Same deal with the fridge / freezer, which again is mine.

I've also had to replace both a double and a single mattress (€450).

Then there's the potentially, mildly venomous damp loving bugs. A previous tenant (happens to be my next door neighbour and the landlady's sister-in-law), tells me that this house has always attracted more of them. Yes, because it's more damp than other places, which again proves it was before my time and suggests something that the landlady could not have been unaware of.

Whilst breakages and misuse would be the tenants problem, wear and tear never is. The problem here is that, for these landlords, wear and tear does not exist. Nothing is ever their responsibility. It's always someone else's. They will even try to foist wear and tear, damp, age, etc., on me, saying I caused it somehow.

What would you dare plug in here with all that damp?

There's also the fact that, the electrical wiring in this house (fitted, I am told by a son who is an electrician), is, at best dangerous.

There are shorts; the power often trips off for no apparent reason; light fittings that have burnt out, blow bulbs on a very regular basis, short when it rains and, to top it all, the contract they signed up for with electricity company, UNELCO, is for the lowest rate they offer. This is for small appliances only and is not rated for a washing machine, so potentially, this is illegal. Apart from the fact that I can only use the washing machine on cold (if I want the electricity to stay on) and, can use only one major appliance at a time.

There's also the fact that there are vines in the backyard, which someone comes to maintain, which interferes with my right to privacy and "quiet enjoyment." Chemicals are used regularly, which mean that I am unable to let my cats out.

The rent here is cheap, but compared to what's being asked for other properties available for rent in this valley, it's the normal rate for a property in good and working order in this area and the price certainly does not allow a discount for "putting up with" something like this. They didn't mention that the vines even existed in advance. Indeed, in the first year or so, they appeared abandoned, but nothing was said, when they began to maintain them.

There's also the fact that there are cables on the kitchen roof that had been ordered to be removed (by the town hall, I'm told) before I had even moved in here (yes, I have my informants too). A couple of years ago, they changed these from uninsulated cables that carried the electrical supply to the entire valley to insulated cables with just the supply for three houses. The landlady keeps telling me that those cables are about to be removed. It keeps not happening, of course.

Meanwhile, I have no idea if now, or particularly before, these cables could have had any effect on my health. Experts can't agree on the effects from exposure to the magnetic fields around electrical cables, I have no idea what voltage they were, but there are those who allege problems, such as "A University of Bristol (U.K.) study involving experiments on 2,000 pylons concluded that electric cables are responsible for tripling the effect of cancer-carrying pollutants in the air." My father died of liver cancer, my mother has leukaemia and I've already had microcalcifications found on a mammogram, which were declared to be of concern. Therefore, naturally, this concerns me too. Severe headaches, nausea, exhaustion and other symptoms that I'd suffered, suddenly and notably became less severe when the cables were changed.

By law, calor gas installations must be checked once every five years. I've been living here for 9 years. There has never been an inspection.

An old friend (since passed on, sadly) told me he had friends who lived in this house previously. He also told me that he knew it had been declared "uninhabitable", officially.

Finally, I have contracts and receipts, but I know that the rental is not registered officially and that no tax is being paid on the income from it.

At this point in time, after you deduct the parts (for which I have receipts) from the water bill that has so far been presented to the landlady (in her name and, for which I actually have no liability), then there is a difference she considers I should pay of around €20. And I owe her €200 in rent. A total of €220. (Not forgetting that she has my deposit to cover all of that.)

Even discounting most of the above that she would be sure to dispute (for those not keeping score, it came to a laughable grand total of €55,317 (£43,738), still doesn't cover anything - least of all my loss of sanity - and that she wouldn't even be able to cover even if she gave me the property) ...

She damn well knows I've done her far more than €220 worth of "favours" in 9 years. So phoning me this morning, shouting, arguing and demanding money; telling me I can leave, really redefines the meaning of "cutting off your nose to spite your face", doesn't it? Exactly the idiotic reaction I expected, mind you.

She also redefines meanness and taking money on false pretences, if you ask me, but at the end of the day, she should count herself very fortunate indeed that I have paid up and shut up (to keep a heavily leaking roof over my head for 9 years) and not, for example, responded to the electricity people who have queried my usage level and wanted the contract upgraded.

Or pressed the issue with her over the cables on the kitchen roof.

Or organized a gas inspection.

Nor spoken to lawyers, doctors, the housing department or the tax office ...

In case you didn't spot it in a previous post: these are BEST landlords I've found on this island, by the way. Most treat their fellow Canarians no better, but I do wonder if immigrants and "defenceless" single women get "special treatment". It certainly makes it specially stressful.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Synchronized Sunday ...

Kitty and Balu

At Artsy Catsy they do Synchronized Sunday Sleeping, quite elegantly. What do they do in my house? About 1 1/2 seconds after I'd filled it with clean litter, Fluffy bum, I mean Balu, found it necessary to use the feline bathroom facilities, which is one of those fairly common hooded litter trays, with a small opening and with, generally, only room for one adult cat to use it at a time. 

Long ago, 7 years ago in 2001, when they were kittens, I learned that they do pretty much everything together. Sleep, eat, wash, play, poop ... Rinse, repeat.

Meal times and ablution rituals were carried out in a manner not unlike working on an assembly line on the factory floor. Squirt milk in one end, hold kitten up for dog to lick clean at the other, next ... We lost the third one, Khan, in 2006, which just leaves the two fat tabbies, Balu and Kitty.

Anyway, so this afternoon, while Balu was in the poop box, Digging for Victory, along comes his sister Kitty, attracted by the sound. Walked straight towards the box and, before I could say, "You're not going to go in there too?", she did. Seven years and they still have to do absolutely everything together. 

Inelegant Synchronized Sunday Sh*tting!