Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Shifting Sands

Mrs P and I have different working lives. She is very much the 9 to 5, Monday to Friday office worker. I do shifts, Mondays to Saturdays and sometimes Sundays too. God may have declared it a day of rest, but the powers that be decided to pay good overtime rates for those of us who are willing to ignore orders from above. I’m willing to do just that, one Sunday out of four. I don’t much like working Sundays but it puts a smile on my face come pay day.

My hours are as variable as my places of work, at different stations down the line. Early shifts can start anywhere between 5.20 to 6.25am. Late shifts can end anywhere between 6.25 and 9pm. I prefer late shifts and always have. I like to be able to wake up when I wake up and not because an electronic device beside my bed insists that I wake up. But both earlies and lates have pros and cons.

I like driving along deserted roads in the early morn. I’ll maybe see foxes and deer. There are badgers about too, but if I see one of those it's likely dead, hit by a driver up even earlier than I. Ground hugging mist hovers over fields and rivers and glows as the first rays of the sun make landfall. It is a magical sight. I’ll hear bird song from the trees as I open up the ticket office. And I get to go home early. I’ll have a couple of hours to myself before I go to meet Mrs P in town when she arrives back after another long hard day at her office.

We have a long practiced routine. We’ll find each other somewhere near Debenhams. If I’m late, it’s not uncommon to find her trying on shoes at Clarks, just a couple of stores along. Then we’ll go to Pret A Manger and buy coffees. I’ll produce two collapsible plastic coffee mugs from my pockets. They save the environment from yet another pair of unrecyclable single use cups, and they save me 25p per coffee. It’s a win-win. And we’ll celebrate this double victory with a refreshing walk home along the beach. It takes between thirty minutes and an hour, depending upon our chosen pace. As I age, I’ve noticed that the walk gets a little less refreshing and a little more tiring as each year passes. 

Storm Ciara  has just blown through the UK. I have no idea how you pronounce Ciara. I don’t think many people do. But a girl named Ciara used Twitter to berate the world for not knowing how to say her name. Personally, I think she should berate her parents. It’s certainly not my fault she was given a name which defies phonetic logic. She might also berate herself a little, as she failed to take the opportunity to let the world in on the secret. I still do not know how to pronounce Ciara.

It was a pretty strong storm with winds not far off hurricane strength. As a result, mountains of sand have blown onto the promenade. But a path has been cut through by a tractor and the views across the beach and out to Old Harry Rocks are always worth the effort of the walk. There will no doubt come a time, as I age, that the effort required becomes greater than the reward. When the day comes, perhaps I'll buy a mobility scooter. With luck, that day is decades away and I'll be riding my scooter somewhere warmer. Somewhere like Mexico, perhaps.

If God is upset at my defiance in working Sundays, he seems to be the forgiving sort. No matter what I seem to do, he, she or it, deigns to paint a brand new heavenly picture in the skies every day for us to marvel at. We get double the value at low tide, when the view is reflected on the wet sand left behind by the receding sea. Needless to say, Mrs P is by far the more likely of us to actually thank any sort of god for this repeating miracle. I'm more likely to thank my lucky stars I was there to bear witness to the genius of the natural world. And, on the grey days, to thank the wonders of Adobe Lightroom or Pixelmator Pro.

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Friday, 7 February 2020

Leasehold Extensions

You live and learn. I certainly do, anyway. I’ve learned plenty since Mrs P and I bought our first home a few years ago. Some lessons come hard and fast. Within six weeks we learned that if you live in a ground floor flat, no matter how small you think a window might be, you leave it open at night at your own peril. You can see the offending window in the photo above. It’s the right hand one, as seen from the drivers seat of my car in its designated parking spot. I’d just come home from work. It’s February, so it’s still dark in the evenings. It was dark that 5am when the burglar climbed through that window.

We’ll never buy a ground floor flat again, because we quite like to ventilate our flat. But selling a property six weeks after buying it is a bit extreme. So we don’t leave windows open at night anymore. Except for the bathroom window, which I’ve put solid steel bars across, screwed in with heavy duty one way security screws. And I put in a smart alarm too, for good measure. Excess humidity is otherwise dealt with by a humidifier.

There are two ways to buy a flat in the UK. You buy a lease or you buy a flat with a share of the freehold. Maybe it works the same world over. I don't know. Both options have pros and cons. Our flat is of the leasehold variety, bought with a healthy sounding 85 years remaining on it. I’ve learned a lot about leases in the last couple of years. I can tell you that 85 years isn’t as healthy as it sounds. One must extend the lease before it gets below 80 years, or you lose certain legal protections and the process to extend it becomes more costly and complicated. Even when you extend it before it dips below 80 years, it’s still a costly and complicated process.

Today, our lease was extended. The premiums have been paid, the legal documents signed and exchanged. And Mrs P and I are, according to our bank statement, much poorer for it. But it’s added value to the property and we will hopefully recoup the expenditure when we one day sell up. And it was a less bothersome process than I expected. Much less expensive that we budgeted for too. However, I may have shafted the other thirteen leaseholders in the block. I don’t feel a shred of guilt about that though.

I began the process of extending the lease at the end of last year. I intended to go the statutory route, which is legally protected, adds 90 years on to the existing lease and reduces the annual ground rent to nil. I invited several other leaseholders who I know to join me, to keep costs down. They, sadly, are ‘last minute’ type people. They ummed and ahhed. A couple will do it later. At the last minute. Another couple just never got back to me. No doubt they'll do it at the last minute too. So I went solo, the first in the whole block to get it done. It’s paid me dividends. 

There are three costs to be borne when extending a lease. Ones own legal costs. The extension premium. And the freeholders legal costs, which can alone run to several thousand. I did a deal with the freeholder. I paid a premium for the lease extension at the very top end of the valuation and they paid their own legal fees. We’re both happy. They have a precedent that they can use to extract the maximum premiums out of the remaining leaseholders. I got my lease extended in little over a month for a sum that totalled a couple thousand pounds less that it would likely have otherwise cost me. 

The main lesson I’ve learned, though, is to never buy a flat with a short lease again. It’s more hassle and stress than I really want to invite into my life. My fellow leaseholders will learn an expensive lesson about early birds and worms at some stage in the next couple of years.

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Saturday, 1 February 2020

Out to Sea

I no longer publish photos to Flickr. The subscription price increase was a bit rich for my liking. So my photos live in a more private Apple based silo these days. But I still upload some of my better photos to 500px. I like the site and it's free to upload a few photos a month. It's quite an active community too. My photos get a few likes over a 24 hour period after uploading. Then interest dies a death. Except for this photo. I've no idea why, but a week later and it's getting a couple of likes a day.

I like going to the pier on a quiet day. It's a good place to sit, think and reflect. Beyond the horizon is Europe. It would, perhaps, be amiss not to reflect on Brexit today. The UK signed up to join the EU (nee EEC) in 1972, formally entering the organisation on January 1st 1973 when I was 2 months and 23 days old. I've not know a UK outside of the EU. But today I am no longer an EU citizen. That loss  of citizenship isn't a notional concept. I've been summarily stripped of a number of rights, opportunities and freedoms.

Were I a journalist writing an objective summary on the UK's departure from the EU, I'd use the Five Ws to detail the event. Who? Right wing ideologues. What? Fear, prejudice. When? From 1994s Maastrict Treaty onwards. Where? The tabloid media. Why? And that's the $64 million question. Why, indeed. But it's done. We move on as best we can. 

One day we may rejoin. But first Brexit must be shown to be a mistake. And, I hope, the EU will also learn from this painful process and seek to reform into a community that the people of the UK will feel is something they wish to belong to. Alternatively, without the UK's obstructive presence, the EU may choose to use the opportunity to further integrate into a federal union that would be difficult to sell to the British.

We will see.
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Friday, 31 January 2020

Happy Times

That’s me, living the life of Riley in Mexico. They were Happy Times. When the photo was taken, nine years ago next month, the happy times were about to end. Within two days, I was on a Heathrow bound British Airways flight to resume life in Blighty. Mrs P and I still have happy times. But when we refer to the Mexicans variant, I like to capitalise the words to denote that the were the Happy Times and not just your run of the mill happy times. Also, because Donald Trump has made this sort of appalling use of grammar fashionable.

We’ve only once returned to Mexico since then. But we still have our plan to retire in Mexico. When exactly will this be? I’d like to say when I’m 60, if things go well. A bit later if they don’t. When I say ‘things’, I do, of course, refer to our finances. We want to have a minimum level of financial security before retiring. So that we don’t get caught short if our health should take a turn for the worse, for example.

Where in Mexico will we settle? We’d both prefer Queretaro. But circumstance is likely to place us in Mérida. I know. It’s hot in summer. Don’t worry for me. Worry for my Mexican family. They will struggle. I will hang out with the mad dogs and be just fine.

I have my own personal retirement plan. It’s pretty simple, and it goes like this. I’m going to wake up each morning, stretch, make myself a freshly brewed coffee and take it out onto the roof terrace. I’ll sit in my comfy hammock chair and read the morning edition of The Times. The original version from London, not the New York newcomer. I’ll do the puzzles. And I’ll take my time, because I’ll have time. All the time in the world.

I’m going to go for my daily walk. I like walking. I’ll take long walks, and I’ll take my camera. Some days I’ll take a bus to get somewhere for a new walk. Some days I may be gone all day. Some days I might just stroll around the block. I’ll still take my camera, just in case. Not least because I’ll need material for my blog. I’ll write a new post in my blog most evenings I reckon. And yes, I’ll still no doubt be bitching about Brexit. But probably not Trump. He’ll be dead by then. And buried in a prison cemetery if there’s any justice to be had.

On weekends I’ll go and see Merida’s football team play. I’ll no doubt sit in the stands wearing the latest replica club top. And cap, to keep the sun at bay. I’ll also watch Mexican wrestling on the TV and joyfully curse at the screen with everyone else. And in the evenings, we’ll eat out. Usually somewhere selling tacos. On Sundays I’ll spend extra time reading the Times. Because there’s about a half dozen sections to it. And because I’ll have time. All the time in the world.

We’ll go on holidays. To Mexico City every year, guaranteed, but not by bus. No sirree. We’ll fly. We’ go to Cuba and other Caribbean islands. We’ll go to Guatamala and Belize. And if ‘things’ have worked out really well, we’ll occasionally Congo back to Blighty, for a week or three.

Those are my plans. Mrs P, I suspect, hasn’t thought this far ahead yet. But she’ll no doubt come up with some plans of her own in good time. What will they be? I have no idea, but I know this. They’ll almost certainly ruin my plans.

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Monday, 27 January 2020

The Launderette

Mrs P and I share the household chores. That is how she would describe it. I feel that it would be more accurate to say that I am allocated chores, which must be completed in a specified manner within a specified timeframe. It is also safe to say that there are substantially more chores to do than there would be if I were in charge. But I’m not, so it’s best to just crack on and get them done.

One of my chores is to take the washing out of the machine at home and take it all up to the launderette for drying. I do not personally involve myself in the washing process. I would not divide the clothes into lights and coloureds correctly. And I wouldn’t use the correct amount of detergent, conditioner and bleach. Mrs P is Mexican, so of course there is bleach. Cleaning isn’t cleaning unless there’s bleach.

Our washing machine at home can also, in theory, dry the clothes too. But like any washer/dryer that I’ve ever come across, it’s next to useless at drying. It’d be quicker and more effective to dry each item by hand with a hairdryer. But that would still be too time consuming. So we don’t bother. I run the clothes and linen up to the laundrette to use their massive, purpose built dryers.

The laundrette is just a hundred metres up the road from us. So I often walk, unless we’ve been doing extra loads and it’s all a bit heavier to carry than I can be bothered with. The laundrette is very literally up the road. I wish it were down the road. It’s a lot easier to carry wet washing down and dry washing up than it is the other way round. But it is what it is.

Still, I don’t mind doing the drying. Once I’m there, it’s just a matter of filling up a couple of machines, sticking £1.60 in each one and then relaxing while they do their thing. Sometimes I’ll read the news on my iPad, or play a game of backgammon. Or maybe I’ll take a photo. There’s something very photogenic about launderettes. Other times, if she’s about, I’ll chat to the lady who runs the launderette. We’ve been chatting for about five years now, so we’re on friendly terms. But I have no idea what her name is, and she doesn’t know mine. She’s a great source for local news and gossip though. 

Through her, I know that the guy who owns the pokiest shop on the small line of shops across the road actually owns most of the properties on the street. I know the Indian restaurant closed down in part because of a shocking hygiene problem. I learned about the new micro brewery next door long before it ever opened for business. And in return I’ll let her know the state of play on the railways. I don’t think she ever actually takes the train anywhere though.

The machines have my clothes dried in about half an hour. It can take that long again to fold them on the folding counter. Then I take them all home. Mrs P will chide me for taking so long. Then she will allocate me further chores. There are always more chores to do. Always.
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Sunday, 5 January 2020

Disconnected Railways

There's a lot wrong with the railways in Britain. I hear about it everyday from passengers. The prices are too high. The service too unreliable. The solution, I'm told, is to re-nationalise the whole system. As with politics, there's a disconnect in the publics mind as to what the cause of their complaints are. And thus the solutions they find will not likely work out for them.

Most of the reliability problems sit at the door of Network Rail, who are responsible for the infrastructure. Network Rail is already a state owned enterprise. And the high prices? Tickets are already subsidised by the taxpayer. Passengers don't pay for what they get as it is. But prices can be raised or lowered as a matter of government policy through the subsidies they pay into the system. Re-nationalisation is not a necessity.

Every now and then I'll engage with a passenger and offer my thoughts, if they seem genuinely interested and civil. But I know a confused look when I see one. My comments go in one ear, echo for a moment, then seep out of the other ear. It is just like politics, in more ways than one.

So most of the time, I just nod and smile. I do a lot of that these days. Nodding and smiling. In fact it's become my number one response when dealing with people. Sometimes I find myself nodding and smiling at people just a fraction too early, before they've even begun to speak. Without fail, they will justify my nodding and smiling. So I will nod and smile with more vigour and enthusiasm.

But the working day will come to an end. It always does. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this fact to help get through it. I will be paid handsomely for selling tickets, providing information. And for nodding and smiling. Then I will go for a walk. My favourite walk takes me past Bournemouth Pier. Perhaps I'll sit for a while and gaze out to sea. And nod and smile. Just for a moment.
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Saturday, 4 January 2020

Good Intentions

I'm not overly fixated on resolutions. Experience has taught me that they simply set you up for a fall. But still, I do start each year with good intentions and grand plans. Giving up smoking is normally one begun at midnight and bust before the first day is done. Not this year. My app tells me that it's been 1 month 18 days and 9 hours since I last had so much as a single puff. If it hadn't been for a slight hiccup, my app would boast longer still. There will be no more hiccups. I promise. And I shall report back in a years time with a screenshot from my app that I can be proud of.

There are travel plans. There are always travel plans. This year I have, in alphabetical order, China, Cambodia, Canada, Croatia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan in mind. You might assume that my list of visited countries is missing ones beginning with C and U, and that I've decided 2020 is the year to knock them off. But it's just coincidence. Generally, though, my goals as I've grown older have become more mundane. If I can get through the year happy, healthy and financially solvent, then all is good with the world. 

And then there are those little things that you keep meaning to do but have just never gotten round to. Like having a ride on the ferris wheel on Bournemouth's sea front. It's been there for years. I've walked past it dozens, maybe hundreds of time. Always thinking, I must stop and ride it one day. I can confirm that that day came on January 1st. There's no better day to start getting things ticked off lists.
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