2018

Been a year where my fortunes seem to have changed with the weather.

Last Autumn I realised I had to draw the line financially. Hold it against day to day expenses which I wasn’t sure I could do. And so – in classic sods law fashion – as Autumn degraded into winter….

There was this ‘no brainer’ money saving electrical scheme, assured a friend and the head of my property maintainance company who was a good man. I accepted this only on their recommendation. I don’t like dealing with tradespeople, feeling out of the depth of my abilities and presenting myself as a likely target to be ripped off if they chose to. The two electricians excelled themselves, particularly the mouth and trousers one who opened up a totally unexpected new front of toil and trouble by accusing me of having asbestos on the premises! Adding insult to injury by pontificating on about the old and – without actually saying so – inferior property I owned. When I had the cheek to debate this in my own home by referring to a previous electrical scare story proved wrong I was told “Hey mate! I’m getting sick of your attitude!”

My response? “You’re getting sick of my attitude? GET OUT!”

I think my place shook when I roared that. Maybe a sign of its inferiority despite being fiercely defended. On the way out his mate – who looked like a weedier version of one of the vultures in Disneys’ ‘The Jungle Book’ – tried to cheer his colleague up by remarking my place would burn down soon anyway. After they’d gone I realised they’d forgotten their clipboard. I waited until they’d reached the end of a block of terraces next to my block before walking to my end and calling “Cooee. You forgot this.” Then dropped it so they’d have a long humiliating walk back.

I didn’t waste more time on them, going back inside. I’m kind to children and would rather be likewise or considerate to any half decent human being but if anyone associated with the overpriced property culture steps over the line I can respond like an SS bastard sadist. Oh yeah I’ll put my hand up to that.

It’s not that I’m against home ownership; it’s the appalling cost of the property status quo blighting and skewing the lives of millions in the UK around the tunnel vision that becomes necessary to pay the mortgage excluding of all else. And the attitude of many associated with property leaves much to be desired. Estate agents ignoring requests not to pester one with their leaflets, – I managed to set the police on to one company that did this – some in the construction industry displaying a certain arrogance when on ones property, occasionally perpetrating outrageous frauds with laddish contempt for any victim, not arriving on time to the nearest day and parking badly. I’d met another notable in charge of a lorry blocking a road – delivering crap for a building extension – by refusing to move it 4 feet. We were delayed picking up special needs children for school.

Then there was the other electrical crap my initial battle led to. The boss of the offenders assuring me he’d send me a quote and never doing so. Working my way through more electricians for a survey of opinions led to 2 more substandard ones – one of whom couldn’t talk properly – and finally to one condemning my place on safety grounds and me into financial hell with a several thousand pound job. Left me dangling with no quote too.

While this was going on I’d lost my passport while trying to apply to a new one, screwed up the paperwork and life had descended into a psychological equivalent of WW1. Stalemate on all fronts.

That was resolved by a heroine assistant head of the school I worked with sorting out the passport form and an electrician husband of a neighbour checking my electrics thoroughly and giving it the all clear with paperwork to that effect. He wouldn’t – understandably – judge the asbestos issue and we forgot about the money saving scheme but he stabilised what looked like a disaster there was no return from for nothing! Wouldn’t even accept beer from me, to my regret.

Since this still took in 2107 it’s fair to accuse me of ranting on about property related stuff in the wrong year; but what happened late in 2017 was relevant to the 2018 part of winter too: I learned in January that the head of the property maintainance company recommending the money saving scheme encountered trouble to the point of legal action with the same company over work not done and another negative wonder of an electrician I was persuaded to invite because of another money saving scheme failed to understand my electrics and expected sympathy!

And back in December there had been another very sad development. The day after the crises last year had been resolved I was hanging my washing on the line on a rare sunny day thinking my troubles were behind me when a neighbour told me Mike had had a heart attack.

Mike was my travel agent friend who’d organised my adventures. The heart attack was a bad one: a 50% chance of losing his life with the removal of a leg the blood supply was cut off from or calling it a day for this lifetime instead. That was the case for Christmas. I saw him for the last time in hospital, fled to my sisters’ in Cornwall forgetting Christmas cards and was faced with the prospect of starting 2018 with his death. The funeral was held at the end of January. I composed one of the obituaries.

The rest of the winter weather took place while there were problems – along with that other electrician – with a taxi driver at work and a dental appointment from hell involving root canal work which failed; along with the anesthetic!

To crown it all that spring ‘The Beast From the East’ inflicted freak unseasonal snow and freezing temperatures on London and the south east during a weekend and especially a Saturday night a friend had scheduled for a major birthday party where I would have seen people I hadn’t seen for a long time. I toughed out the weather from Gosport to a pub near London Bridge only to be told there that it had been cancelled! I was the only one the message hadn’t got through to. The retreat from London by bus reminded me of Napoleons’ retreat from Moscow but at least the bus didn’t get stuck or have an accident. On Sunday I consoled myself over this shitehole of a year with a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Spring was arriving though. And in line with the improving weather there were green shoots of improving fortunes: I could hold the line financially if I could remain free of what had happened during winter. The Liberal Democrats campaigned in Gosport and succeeded in everything short of taking over the council. I supported this by leaflet dropping and gained new friends. And another of the green shoots was literally that: a subtropical plant in my garden I was fond of appeared dead because of The Beast From the East; but about a month later green leaves emerged around the centre knocked out by frost. It’s now established a mini jungle outside my back door. Best of all the asbestos issue was eventually resolved with a report declaring there was no asbestos. Although that was not conclusive evidence of attempted fraud it certainly didn’t make that possibility any less likely! By the way I paid the lady – who carried out the test – more money than she asked for; assuring her that the money I was insisting she take was still a joke compared to what was threatened by those electricians, that had seemed so unescapable only several months before!

Then as the weather warmed up through May there was an event so brilliant and out of the blue it felt as confusing as a disaster.

I was checking and eliminating the horde of junk emails most of us have to deal with these days. Hang on though: one of them seemed genuine, referrring to the biggest planetary model I’d worked on. It was from the ‘group manager’ – no less – of the company I’d worked with. Apparently there’d been royalty discrepancies on the part of the photolibrary marketing the images of that planet. The message was terse, referring me to a fuller message I could see, sent in April. Both told me I was owed some money and I must have dismissed the first one as junk email!

It was nearly half past 5 so chances are there’s no one in the office. But overcome with curiosity I phoned the number given just in case and got straight through to the group manager. He’d thought I was off on one of my adventures abroad. Well…erm, how much money is owed to me then?

The figure led to semi incoherance on my part and the following:-

“So, I’ve made your day then.”

“Well I don’t know about that; it’s more a case of making my year!” (With a knock on effect on a few others.)

For what I was getting was enough to pay off the mortgage and ensure 2 future planned trips abroad, provided I continued watching it with day to day expenses and became – if anything – more alert with scams. After all, I’m the kind of person who’s unwise enough to declare this sort of luck here.

It all seemed so unreal and the man seemed so calm and unconcerned in contrast to my state of mind. So was it a scam after all? The number I’d phoned was a London one but the people I’d worked with were near Oxford. I rang them for verification. It all checked out!

Globe_edited-1

The timing of this surprise could not have been better. And it was down to my own efforts. The globe I’d produced above had enabled me to live on royalties for the late 90’s but they’d dwindled and ceased. There’d been no reason not to believe it was just history until now.

And there was more good news on the subject. I didn’t want to rock the boat so gathering my wits in haste I assured the group manager by email that I’d conform to their accounting procedures, expecting to wait until late summer for the money which is the kind of time lag I’d been used to. Not so. I’d get it the following day if I sent the invoice to…Incredible! I went out and posted the invoice. Got drunk with friends. Returned to realise that in copying the invoice from ones sent during the old days of employment I’d worded it wrongly and informed the group manager of that by way of apologetic phone message and email. No problem was the response, apart from a mild warning of “don’t spend it all at once.” And apart from it being a few days longer, not months.

So my fortunes now were in stunning contrast to winter and the weather matched that by developing into the June and July heatwave of the hottest summer on record.

Each school summer holiday since 2011 I’d been on the go with adventures abroad or sponsored walks and world SF conventions. I’d planned to take it easy this summer because of lack of wherewithal, to give that a chance to build up. In theory I now had enough money and just enough time to plan another long trip but I’d slackened off on exercise such as badminton, dancing, yoga and indoor climbing so I needed to build up my strength again and to tell the truth I was looking forward to 6 weeks of doing very little for a change. So the summer just gone was a relaxed one with small scale trips of a few days at the outside to Reading, London, Cornwall. And barbecues with friends.

Expanding my social circle I joined the Gosport Steampunk Society. Some of their inspiration came from classics such as ‘The Lost World’ and ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth.’ I think they forgave my lack of suitable attire because I was the closest thing to an ‘explorer’ that they’d experienced. What with rewriting Journey to the Centre of the Earth from my cave exploit in Vietnam and hunting dragons, albeit with a camera.

Myself, cold bath, fuel cuts, 3 months. 1950_edited-1

Meanwhile – speaking of nostalgia – I’ve been digitising old family photos. So since I usually include 7 photos in each short story of a blog I’ll end this one by adding 6 here to the globe featured earlier that has achieved so much for me this year. The caption for this first one above reads ‘Myself, cold bath, fuel cuts, 3 months. 1950.’ Grandad on Mums’ side of the family said my expression was one of “never seen anything like it in all my life.” It reminded him of a sergeant major. He’d been a sergeant in WW1.

In the back garden_edited-1

In the back garden with my sister when we lived in Cheam, on the edge of London.

Trebarwith_edited-1

On holiday at Trebarwith, near Tintagel, Cornwall, with my sister and mother. Saw my sister and brother in law at the end of the summer holiday and Trebarwith, where I bought them lunch in a pub that was only going to be habitable for another 15 years. Part of the cliff falling was falling into the sea nearby. Those slabs of rock in the photo are still around though. I also discovered that after all these years I had something new in common with my sister: a loathing of what she called “death adverts.” (Funeral plans and life insurance.) Adopting her term for it – credit where it’s due – I’ve used it ever since I got back here.

Birch Road garden during 63 winter_edited-2

The back garden during the severe winter of 1963 in Burghfield Common, near Reading. It was our first winter there after moving from Cheam on the edge of London. After London it was a real wilderness and adventure for me.

With the family_edited-1

With the family and Siamese cat in that same garden when I was at art college. We had a whole dynasty of Siamese cats along with tortoises, guinea pigs and the creepy crawlies I specialised in catching and keeping.

Yeombridge summer_edited-1

Finally a view of the beautiful valley from the lounge window of the luxury bungalow Mum & Dad retired to just north of Launceston, Cornwall.

© D Angus 09 18

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