Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Splendid Isolation

The English countryside is full of small, strange structures. Follies, monuments, towers, turrets - call them what you will. Most of them seem abandoned and are there just to look at. Often from a distance. They are usually either on private land or at the end of a walk a bit too long to take my fancy. This little tower, however, is not abandoned. Far from it, in fact. Clavell Tower was rescued from a cliff edge just a few years ago, moved back to a safer location and renovated into a little holiday let. Four floors, one circular room on each floor with a fabulous balcony offering 360 degree views of Kimmeridge Bay and the surrounding countryside.

You can inspect the furnishings, fixtures and fittings on the Landmark Trust website. It looks rather well appointed. I’d call it cosy, rather than spacious. There’s room for two inside, no more. Although, to be honest, I’d rather like to stay a night or two as the sole occupier, on a wintry day. A spell of perfect solitude in an area of splendid isolation. The morning and afternoon would be for long coastal walks, with multiple coffee stops. A cream tea at about two would be nice. Maybe I’ll find somewhere selling fresh local fish, which I will take back to cook on the stove. It’ll probably be a modern cooker, but this is the sort of place where an oven is more properly referred to as a stove. Probably.

But the highlight for me will come as the sun sets, and the last few hikers depart for home, leaving me alone at the top of the cliff. I’d pick my dates carefully. One would want a full moon in the sky, so as to see the glimmering waves breaking as they approach the shore, and the cliffs of the Jurassic Coast silhouetted against the sea. Perhaps I’ll hear the wild calls of foxes and owls as their go about their nocturnal life. I’ll wrap up warm and sit out on the balcony for as long as my bones can withstand the cold, and survey the scene. I’ll read, perhaps some Thomas Hardy. He is associated with this tower.

When the cold gets too much, I’ll retreat inside and watch the night pass through a window. There’ll be no Netflix. For entertainment, I’ll listen to the wireless. It might be a modern Roberts DAB device, but this is the sort of place where a radio is more properly referred to as a wireless. I imagine it’s virtually compulsory to listen the the shipping forecast. I’ll knowingly nod along to the technical jargon, despite the lack of anyone to be impressed by my pretence that I’ve got a clue what any of it means.

I’ll get to bed at a reasonable time. It would be a travesty to miss the sun rise above the horizon at dawn. I’ll sit on the balcony, wrapped warm, holding a hot, freshly brewed coffee. I’ll read the morning edition of the Times. It’d be fitting to read the physical copy, but I suspect it’ll be quite a while before the paperboy gets this far along his round. So I’ll read the digital version on my iPad, occasionally gazing out to sea, until the first of the day’s hikers appear. Then I’ll retreat back inside to cook some eggs and bacon on the stove.

At least I’d like to do this. But I’ve checked the prices, and if I’m going to be honest, it’s a little bit rich for me. Which is a shame. Mrs P might also object to my going solo, and insist I make it a romantic getaway. But I can dream, and picture myself enjoying some well earned peace and quiet. And now you’ve seen the photos, you can too.

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.

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.

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.

Hotel Deals