Thursday, 31 October 2019

Neighbours Part Two

Our neighbours are moving out, exactly one year after they moved in. Apparently, the landlord is intending to sell the flat. But that's what we heard last time when the previous occupants moved out. Who knows. We'll find out soon. This isn't the first time I've mentioned the neighbours. I previously wrote about their unholy rows and the possibility of domestic violence. However, since I published that post, I don't think we've heard a single argument of note. Although two months ago somebody pinned up a poster on the communal noticeboard, titled 'Are you afraid of your partner?', with instructions on what to do if your answer is 'yes'. Perhaps someone else heard them screaming when we were out, and took indirect action. I do not know. I do know that I use it to jokingly threaten Mrs P if she carries on as she sometimes does. 

This isn't to say that they haven't caused any disturbances since. One afternoon in the summer, on a hot day when every window in the block was open to let fresh air in, they decided to have sex. Loud sex. We are talking the sort of noise levels that you would associate with a 70s German porn movie. Or so I've been told. Mrs P was mortified. I found it hilarious. I didn't ask the other tenants in the block what they thought. 

And then there's the cigarette inspired coughing fits that the gentleman treats us to. They aren't ordinary coughing fits. They are the deathly choking fits I'd associate with emphysema. He can't be much older than me. It's been going on a long time, but I'll bet he hasn't had it checked out. He won't, not till it's too late. He's that sort of bloke. Which isn't an insult. I reckon most of us are that sort of a bloke. 

As I sit here typing, there's a professional cleaning company inside the flat working their magic with noisy machinery and clever cleaning potions. I suspect they've got their work cut out. The ceiling will almost certainly need to be repainted to cover up the nicotine stains, although they will probably leave it to the next occupants. And once they're done and gone, we'll soon start to see people coming to view the apartment. Whether as tenants or owners, we'll have to wait to see. Will the next people be an improvement or neighbours from hell? We'll have to wait and see on that too.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

The Automotive Upgrade

Nearly five years ago, I passed my driving test. A month later, Mrs P and I went to buy our first car in the UK, from a dealer in east London. It was a four year old, low mileage red Mazda 3, and it served us very well. Reliable, easy to drive, comfortable and generally cheap to run. Nothing ever went wrong with it, beyond your normal wear and tear issues. And rust. Chronic, terminal rust. It is, I have since learned, a common problem with Mazda 3's from around that time and a problem that became noticeable on our motor about a year ago. It scraped through the last MOT. It would have needed substantial welding and other work to get it through the next one in April. That's expense that I'm not willing to invest in a twelve year old car. It was a shame, because were it not for that, I'd have kept it for a few years more.

I'd been looking at used cars since last April. The budget? I don't like taking on debt, but the choice was between borrowing big or bagging a banger. I didn't want a banger. So perhaps somewhere between £10,000 and £12,000. The car? Something reliable, easy to drive and comfortable. More of the same, really. Ideally about three years old, with less than 30,000 miles on the clock. Apple CarPlay would be a plus. But then something caught my eye. And I started looking at new cars. And doing the maths. It's always important to do the maths.

If you look hard and haggle harder, new car deals can start to look attractive. Even with the heavy depreciation. I used Carwow to gauge what sort of deal I could get. I became quite addicted to the process of choosing a car, specifying the extras and waiting for the offers to come in. I must have done hundreds, including cars I had no intention of buying. I didn't buy through Carwow, though. I bought from our local Mazda dealer. Because we really wanted another Mazda. But I used my best Carwow quotes to get a price match.

The maths told me that ultimately I would be paying more for a new car. Of course I would, or what state would the used car market be in? But not so extravagantly more, once I'd added in the extra costs of MOTing and maintenance. It's also a less risky purchase, with the chances of buying a dog of a car eliminated. And then there's the pleasure of having a brand new car. The smell of a new car.

So I'd like to introduce the new member of our family. It's a Mazda 2 Sport Nav+ in Mica Crimson. It's a smaller car, but more than big enough for our purposes. It's very economical. It's extremely easy to drive. It's comfortable. It comes with Apple CarPlay. It's pretty much what we wanted. We're happy. And the maths worked out for us. In case you're wondering, the cost of buying new worked out to be between £50 and £60 a month more than buying a £12,000 used car based on my estimations. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

St Malo

Would you like me just for once to write a positive Brexit story? Well, I shall then. In June, Mrs P and I paid a quick visit to Malta on a Brexit-busting getaway, days before the UK was due to leave the EU. The grand departure from the union did not, of course, happen. It was postponed until the end of October. So we plotted another last minute Brexit-busting getaway to the EU. This time aboard the Bretagne, a Brittany ferry that crosses from Portsmouth to St Malo in France. It's a large ferry with plenty to do, see and buy on board. Although we'd highly recommend bringing your own food for lunch or dinner. The restaurants are neither cheap nor likely to feature in a Michelin guide.

We returned only to discover, much to our surprise*, that once again the UK's departure from the EU would be postponed. This time until, potentially, the end of January. We will need to plot another Brexit-busting trip before then. Although, as this extension is actually a flextension, the UK could actually leave earlier. Or we might not leave at all. Who really knows? If you ask about, everyone on both sides has a firm opinion, but I'd suggest you take them all with a generous pinch of salt. 

We shall plot another trip nonetheless. Although we will probably pick a different mode of transport. The English Channel can get rather rough in winter. It was rather rough on our way over to St Malo in October. However, as it was a night time crossing and we had a cabin with beds to lie down on, we survived without needing to make use of the seasickness bags provided to passengers. We did not get a wink of sleep though. It's not just the motion that keeps one awake. It's the constant, loud creaking and banging of the ship that really keeps you awake.

St Malo is a very pleasant little town. Full of history, cobbled streets, wonderful seafood restaurants, a picturesque beach and a stunning cathedral that sadly closed half an hour before we turned up to have a look inside. And there was also a four man troop of soldiers, armed with very smart looking assault rifles, on constant patrol. Mrs P found their presence to be disconcerting. I found them reassuring. Having watched the very moving Netflix documentary on the Bataclan attack, we both understood why they are considered necessary. I highly recommend watching the series.

Is there an actual purpose, a real benefit, for us Brits taking these Brexit-busting holidays before the UK leaves the EU? Not really. There will be changes. For example, we'll no longer have access to free health care. But then we have worldwide travel insurance anyway. But as the UK is not part of the Schengen area, passport control will not change. It might be more awkward to travel with pets. But duty free shopping with cheap booze and fags will return.

Our Brexit-busting holidays are entirely symbolic, travelling when we are still part of the EU family. Seeing the sights before we become outsiders. Foreigners. Immigrants. So there is our personal positive Brexit story. We're getting multiple holidays out of the fiasco. While we can. Vive le EU!

Thursday, 17 October 2019



Summer is over for another year.  It is as far as I'm concerned anyway. Different people in different places have different methods to determine when seasons begin and end. I like simplicity. December, January and February constitute winter. March, April and May make up spring. June, July and August are the summer months. September, October and November are reserved for autumn. In Mexico I used different seasonal standards. There was dry season, rainy season and Jacaranda season.

Summer and autumn are my favourite seasons. I like the first month of winter too, thanks to the Christmas lights and festive atmosphere. From January onwards, life is just bleak. Rural landscapes are grey and lifeless. Towns and cities are grey and wet. But the New Forest, just a few minutes drive from home, offers some respite from the misery of winter. It's a pine tree dominated part of the UK. If the skies are blue and you can overlook the brown mass of dead ferns and ignore the cold, then you can pretend it's summer for a while.

The photo was taken just a week or so ago, at the beginning of October. October is the month when our central heating system springs back to life and our summer duvet is swapped out for our thick winter duvet. Mrs P and I are not fond of the cold. At all. We have it on higher than most households. And we get choosy about who we visit in winter and for how long. Most households feel like caves to us. We are not fond of cave-like temperatures. At all.

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