Slate at the gate

So the slate came today:

 

 

And I think they’ve finished the painting but otherwise it’s been a twiddly thumbs sort of day on the build. Apparently the packet of screws and fixings didn’t arrive with the pocket sliding doors (think IKEA flatpacks) and they had to be chased.

But, fingers crossed, tomorrow is going to be a BIG DAY: the housing for the fireplace is to be fitted by Bad Nigel (some call him Terrible Nigel) and Dave the electrician should arrive to do the second fix electrics. Most excitingly, the DOORS should be here and installed by Ashley.

I feel twitchy because I’ve been here before: thinking things were on the verge of happening and then they didn’t. Haven’t we all been in situations like that, I suppose? Plus I’m having a car serviced and openings up a new bank account in India (I hope.) So it will be all go. Fingers crossed.

Slate at the gate

The very nice man who loved cars

 

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Once upon a time, my dears, there was a very nice man who loved cars.

He had had his own car for a while. It was safe and reliable, it might have been a Volvo but no-one entirely knew for sure. He drove in this car every day to work and then home again. Sometimes to his evening’s entertainment but he didn’t go out very much.

The man did not like his job and it exhausted him and sapped his energy. When he was at home, he worked on his house and on his garden. His car always seemed clean but no-one knows whether he cleaned it lovingly himself with soft chamois leather and pure soap or whether he simply left it outside when it rained and the car was cleaned by Mother Nature Herself.

Now, from time to time, the man passed a second hand car showroom on his way home from work. It was not actually on his route home, you understand, but the very nice man loved cars so much that sometimes he took a little diversion just for fun.

The very nice man would park his own safe, reliable family saloon a little way from the showroom and hurry there to view the cars that were parked on its shiny marble floor. Though they were not new cars, the showroom manager had made sure they were beautifully waxed and polished, that the worn leather of their seats had been treated with conditioning cream and that the pristine clean chrome spokes of their wheels sparkled under his starbright spotlights.

Seeing these beautifully maintained cars fanned out and glistening, inviting his approach,  gave the very nice man such a thrill. From time to time, when no-one was looking, he would run his soft, warm hands over the slightly sagging leather of the vintage station wagon and admire its burr walnut dashboard. (We need not concern ourselves here with the make and model of the cars, my dears, for that would be an irrelevant and distracting detail.)

He would stroke the polished chrome bumper of a sporty coupé with baby blue paintwork and he would slide open the door of an orange camper van that had been painted with peace signs and the yin and the yang and daisies, and climb inside and sit on the front bench, sliding the door shut with a satisfying “Thunk.” Once behind the wheel he would dream of distant shores and happy times: of sunsets and beach campfires and soft sand between his toes and flowers in his hair. And for five minutes he was happy, until the showroom manager came along to say that it was time to close up the showroom and for him to go home. As the manager switched off the bright lights one by one, the very nice man would linger and gaze longingly, one last look before he trundled off home.

We do not know why he chose this particular showroom, my dears, and not the place up the road that sold new cars. Perhaps the nice man was frightened that he would be tempted out of the depth of his wallet by the brand new cars. In any event, we need not concern ourselves with that thought.

One day the very nice man took his happy detour to the used car showroom and to his astonishment he saw a new car in the showroom. It was a convertible sports car, racing green with an ivory leather interior and a polished chrome rack on the back that was just the right size to carry the vintage leather suitcase that was now strapped there. I say to his astonishment, my dears, because he recognised this car. He had seen and admired it many years before, when he was much younger and it was new. And here it was again, beckoning to him seductively in the showroom, willing him to come and sit inside and lie back on the soft padded seats and dream.

This car was for sale, my dears, at a price he could afford, he thought, if he sold his old reliable, faithful car. The one that took him safely to work and took him home and which was now parked safely around the corner, out of sight.

How the nice man longed to sit at the wheel of this familiar green convertible and make the battered leather suitcase his own! How he desired to drive along narrow, winding country lanes all the while caressing its ivory upholstery and revving the engine just enough to let people know that he was there, that he was driving this car, that it, she, was his.

But in order to make this car his own and take possession of that leather suitcase on its gleaming rack of chrome, this man would have to sell his own car. The one in which he kept his mints. The one with the air freshening tree hanging from the rear view mirror, with the little scratch on the door where he had caught it in traffic. The one with the slightly slipping clutch and the hole in the carpet by the accelerator pedal. This car had served him faithfully for several years and he wanted to make sure he received a good price and that it went to a good home. He was sentimental like that, you see. I told you before that he was a very nice man.

What to do? What to do? A car of this calibre, this vintage convertible, would require a level of maintenance to which he had become unaccustomed. He was not sure he had the time for it, what with his job and his garden and the house that always needed something done to it, as is the case with houses. The thought thrilled him and petrified him to the spot in equal measure.

Yet he continued to make his little excursions to the used car showroom, to caress the green convertible, to sit and dream about how life could be if he could only pluck up his courage, sell his old car and commit to loving the high maintenance new one.

He even took it for a test drive one day, relishing the way it hugged the curves of the road, the roar of its engine when he changed through the gears, this beautiful creature, yielding, compliant with every nuance of his right toe. And thereafter, he could not stop thinking about it.

The week following this sensuous test drive, the showroom manager, making polite conversation (for not only was he a formidable salesman but he was also a nice man,) nonchalantly informed our very nice man that someone was interested in the vintage racing green convertible, which plunged our very nice man into paroxysms of agony and guilt and longing and heartache.

How does the story end, my dears? Well, who says it has ended? How do YOU think it ends?

Photo by Stephen Hennessey

For a very nice man.

The very nice man who loved cars

On the slate…

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Twitter followers will be familiar with this story that seems to have turned into a saga.

We ordered some slate but, because our kitchen project was behind by a couple of weeks, we had to delay delivery. We’d already paid the deposit but the OH called up on Tuesday to pay the balance and arrange delivery, which he did for yesterday.

No slate arrived yesterday.

So we phoned up and spoke to the person who had dealt with the order all along but it was 4pm and he was obviously keen to leave the office so he span us a tale about our slate having been delivered and signed for on the 9th July. Our garden is small and currently so bare that very little could escape our attention, let along 140 sq metres of black riven slate suddenly arriving in it out of nowhere. And no-one had signed for it. Not even Oscar who, though intelligent, has no opposable thumbs to enable him to hold a pen.

We decided we would settle the matter today so, first having carefully prepared my morning coffee to ease myself into a Margo Leadbetter frame of mind, I dialled the number.

I spoke to an initially quite polite and very well spoken young man who repeated several times that he knew nothing about my order but that he would look through his colleagues’ things to see if anyone had made any notes. This was not an impressive start. Several thousand pounds worth of slate had gone missing, potentially sold on. If it could not be found, we would have had to wait for a new consignment to arrive from Brazil. I told him what I thought of that state of unprofessional malarky and eventually he agreed to try and sort out the problem.

I’m boring myself now so goodness knows what effect this is having on you, dear reader, but I had to chase the young man who initially sent an email to the wrong address because he did not listen when I spelt out my awkward-to-understand name. He had made an assumption that my initial was J instead of the G that I had spelled out. He thought it looked funny, apparently. When we eventually corrected this error, this is what he sent me:

Dear customer,

Delivery is confirmed for Monday,

Rock Unique.

So here is the email I sent him in reply:

Dear Young Man

I am glad to have received this email from you. I sympathise with you, having had to field calls from an irate customer whilst left on your own on a Saturday morning when your colleagues knew yesterday that a situation was about to develop and still left you with no information whatsoever to deal with it. I am grateful that you managed to track down the responsible person and rectify their mistake.

However, for future reference you might like to consider the following points:

My name is Mrs Beecroft
My address is 23 xxx, xxxxx
The order is for £xxxxxx of black riven slate, of two different kinds, and includes transportation costs to our house. The full amount was paid over the ‘phone by my husband, Mr xxxxx last Tuesday 21/7/15 and delivery was agreed for yesterday. That it did not arrive was not our fault. We had agreed it.

If you had been listening during our initial conversation, you would have written down my email address correctly the first time I spelt it out to you and also the details that I wished to be confirmed, rather than waiting for me to call you again to chase for this confirmation which, by the way contains none of the details I requested and would probably be useless if I were to pursue a claim in law. For your convenience I have listed the requisite details above.

So I shall expect delivery of the complete order on Monday 27th July 2015 to the above address.

Please contact me if any of the above is unclear

Regards

Mrs G Beecroft

 

You might be thinking: Gita, isn’t it a bit nasty to put this email on your blog? Has the young man not suffered enough already at the tip of your razor sharp tongue?

I’d reply that I have pointed out how he had been placed in an awkward situation by his colleagues but that customer service does actually involve listening to the customer. I hope he’ll learn from today’s exchange but I bear him no malice whatsoever. The way I see it, it’s a training requirement – for the whole company. As our very professional builder might remark, “With an attitude like that towards their customers, it’s a wonder they have a business at all.” I’m afraid to say that this is not the first time I’ve heard this particular piece of wisdom from him.

Getting anything at all done seems to be fraught with unnecessary difficulties because people seem to trust their own erroneous assumptions rather than actually listening to the client. If you’re a woman they tend  talk over you and you have to wait patiently until they might arrive at your conclusion after about 5 minutes.

People don’t check essential details like names, dates, addresses and then no-one can work out what has gone wrong or how to fix it. The shoddy and slapdash has become the norm and it’s so frustrating. No wonder the economic productivity of our country is so low: people don’t check for mistakes then obfuscate rather than correcting them. Ugh. I can feel my dander rising as I type.

What is wrong with people, that they can’t be bothered to write things down, or check dates and times? The man who had handled our order all along gave some feeble excuse that we had not paid the full amount and therefore our delivery had not been arranged but he must have known that this was a blatant untruth as he uttered those very words. It’s just a face-saving exercise. If the slate does not arrive on Monday as planned, I shall focus the remainder of my ire solely on him.

On the slate…

Boots

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Maison Margiela £515

Tonight, dear reader, you find me lusting after boots like this from Maison Margiela. Yes, I’m aware that they can’t function properly as boots, what with that inconvenient peep toe.

 

In fact I’ve seen similar sorts of footwear classified as sandals but they patently aren’t sandals because most of the foot is enclosed and they’d be too hot and sweaty for proper sandals wouldn’t they, on account of all that leather?

I initially pooh-poohed boots of this kind because of their sheer lack of functionality: boots are supposed to keep your tootsies warm and dry in the winter and it’s clear that these would do neither on an icy winter’s day.

And yet, and yet…I find myself drawn to them out of sheer frivolity. Don’t worry, I shan’t be buying them: look at the price tags (at Net-A-Porter in case you’re about to rush to your laptop.) They’re so pretty.

Here are a few more:

Boots

Nest

 

So there we were, the four of us, all in a little semicircular knot, gazing intently yet respectfully at this little disc of the wall. Patrick the builder; Dave the electrician; Peter the heating guy and me, we all stood there, willing this sexy, high tech piece of kit to connect to the wifi and do its magic.

It took a while to link to its partner on the other side of the wall that will form the partition between our new kitchen and our new living room. The first time I tried to enter my password, I made a mistake and it carried on regardless, in an infinite loop of pairing, destined never to complete. We turned it off and on again and Patrick worked out how I could re-enter my password and off we went on another seemingly interminable odyssey of waiting, watching, hoping.

And then: yes! There it was, paired and ready for action. Together with its partner on the other wall, the two Nest thermostats will control the newly-installed underfloor heating in the new build and ensure that never again will my feet freeze in winter. My habitually naked flesh will commune with the nuanced curves and undulating imperfections of the natural slate beneath them and I’ll know that I will have saved yet another pair of sheepskin slippers from their inevitable, grisly fate between the jaws of my flatcoated retriever.

Dave opined, “It’s not the technology that does the magic, it’s the humans,” which I considered a pretty profound thought, while Peter bemoaned the prospect of his final years before retirement being spent not in firing up boilers for a Ta-Da! moment of truth at the end of each day, but rather in waiting for software updates to kick in on the controllers. We all agreed, however, that the thermostats are a pretty sexy piece of kit to grace our living space.

So much so that when Mark the other heating guy returns from holiday to sort out the mess of our upstairs heating system left in sabotaged chaos by Tom Philips Builders and signed off by Inside Out Architecture (You say you didn’t? So sue me,) we shall be clamouring for more Nest thermostats to control the underfloor upstairs. They light up when you pass them or approach, for goodness’ sake!

Apart from being tactile and hi-tech and gorgeous, we are hoping that the Nest system will provide a more efficient use of energy in heating our home. You install the thermostats and give them your details, create an account on the internet, download the app on your phone if you like and you can control them remotely. Today I was walking the boys on the local farm in Chislehurst and, just for lolz, I turned the kitchen heating down to 17.5C. BECAUSE I COULD! I could be in India, say and schedule the heating to turn itself up a bit just as my flight lands at Gatwick.

The Nest system works out a schedule of heating based on your usage requirements, the outside temperature in its locality and the inside temperature and humidity, all of which it displays in one of its sexy screens. And it does this all by itself, thinking about it for a a few days to make sure it gets it right.

If you turn the heating up, the screen will glow orange as it heats to the required temperature; if you turn it down to a level where you’re saving energy an ecologically-conscious green leaf will appear join the display to make you feel as smug as if you were outside hugging a tree. And it lights up as I pass or approach! It’s so jazz!

Nest

On smoking

 

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I am vehemently against smoking. I loathe, hate, detest this nasty, anti-social habit.

My dad smoked about 7 cigarettes every day for quite a lot of his life – everyone smoked when he arrived in the UK in 1952 – and every winter I witnessed my asthmatic mum almost at death’s door from bronchitis and asthma triggered and exacerbated by the cigarette fumes that lingered in the air. The first time I had to make Christmas lunch for about 10 guests I was about 10 years old and she was in bed for days. It was only when he finally stopped, prompted to do so by a lingering chest infection that caused his lungs to rattle and heave even when reclining in his favourite chair, that winters became a bit better for her.

I suffered the terrible pain of ear infection after ear infection. I was diagnosed with asthma at 7 years old and every morning it would take me about an hour of wheezing before I could breathe properly. My asthma is brought on by exercise too, and cold weather, and PE teacher had very little knowledge of this in those days so games and PE were a humiliating torture for me. Who would foresee that over thirty years later, with the help of a wonderful drug, I’d be running down along the Seine, 30km every week?

As I grew up my allergies and asthma became worse and I’ll never forget spending less than 5 minutes at a bar in Germany before starting to choke and wheeze and then spending the whole night before a friend’s wedding with a streaming eyes, coughing and unable to rest. And yet I was a deemed a party pooper for daring to suggest that I could not go into smoky places, and a miserable whinger for requesting that people did not smoke inside my house. How inconsiderate of me!

The only time I have ever been breathalysed was on returning, 8 months pregnant from a friend’s house where he had allowed some German friends to smoke. I was so wheezy that I had to leave and coughing so much that my 20mph drive home through an unlit wood was enough to generate suspicion in the police car behind me. Of course I hadn’t been drinking, but I was not well.

Such was, is, the sanctimony of far too many confirmed smokers. Luckily I have very few friends who smoke but I shan’t forget how the German wife of a friend took me to task for discreetly, silently, moving away from her cigarette smoke when we went to stay with her in Germany. Apparently there was no proof that her smoking did me any harm, despite my asthmatic wheezing and streaming eyes and nose. Her general defensiveness and aggression made me refuse to go and visit her again.

Over the years I learned to avoid smoky places but it was rare to be able to sit at a restaurant without people at the next table lighting up and blowing smoke away from each other but over me. Why do they do that, the smokers? They are already breathing in their smoke and that of their companion yet they hold their cigarette away from themselves so that it taints the air of those on the next table.

Smoking it noxious and I am allergic to it. It makes me very ill. Smokers may protest that it does not, but it’s my misery and I can attest that it does. Just last night one of the workmen was obviously smoking distractedly in my house. I think it must have been strong imported tobacco because within the space of a few minutes I was sneezing and my chest had tightened and I had to come upstairs and take an anti-histamine before I could go down and eat my supper. I don’t want to get heavy with builders but you should see the cigarette butts dotted around my garden ready to be sampled by my dogs and the local wildlife.

Smoking makes you stink. This is fine if it’s what you want – most of you seem oblivious to it –  but I don’t see that you smokers have the right to make my clothes stink.

Smoking makes the air around you and behind you stink. You leave a noxious trail. You smokers might well have become inured to it and lost your sense of smell but, trust me, I haven’t. I can smell your smoke from a distance.

Smoking makes you lose your sense of taste. Again fine if that’s what you want but I have been to too many restaurants where the food is so salty that it must have been cooked by someone who has lost most of their sense of taste.

This is not even to go into the statistics about passive smoking and cancer and heart disease. Yes, I know you smokers pay tax but I wonder whether that actually covers the full cost to the NHS of your habit. And here I am trying, despite my asthma, to keep myself healthy and fit and within a reasonable weight.

Yes, it’s an addiction. But there is plenty of help out there if you need it. And these days it’s impossible to take up smoking without being aware of the risks to your health and that of your child or your unborn baby of anyone who shares you car or your pet cat. If you are still unaware than it’s due to your own wilful ignorance.

So, if you still want to smoke then fine but please don’t claim a right to do as you please if you are making me ill, if you are making my clothes stink of your filth, if you are forcing bar and restaurant staff to inhale it against their will. How is that an inalienable right? On what planet is it a courteous thing to do?

And please do not spin that guff about the equal effects of perfume or car pollution. If you are allergic to my perfume, I shan’t wear it. I won’t defend to the death my right to impose my fragrance on you. And I don’t like air pollution caused by car fumes or aircraft any more than you do. But that still doesn’t mean that you are justified in tainting the air I breathe with your own filthy, stinky poison.

So inside smoking bans have enabled me to go to pubs and restaurants without the constant anxiety that my evening will be ruined by self-satisfied rude morons. But it means that I am no longer free to breathe at, say, a pavement cafe or beer garden, overshadowed by clouds of the combustion products of whatever it is people smoke nowadays.

I couldn’t believe the tone of this article from the Guardian about outside smoking bans in Brighton. It’s illiberal and against civil rights is it? So what about my right to breathe air untainted by the 5,000 odd poisons in your smoke? So I’m all for outside smoking bans too. Let’s cut the total amount of air pollution and take some steps towards a healthier environment for all.

It seems to me that if smokers want to enjoy their habit, they should be allowed to do so in sealed smoking rooms that can be cleaned only by staff who are smokers. Let them. But they should leave in peace the other 80% of us who do not.

 

Photo by SmartSignBrooklyn

On smoking

Back to life

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I don’t intend to write much tonight. What’s that I hear? A sigh of relief rising from the homes of all 50-odd of my readers? How very rude.

Isn’t it funny how, when you’re on holiday, and your brain is allowed to float and think of nothing in particular, ideas bubble to the surface like iridescent goldfish breath and threaten to burst and perish there if you don’t act in time and cup them gently in your hand and nourish them with your attention? Back home, with the meals and the laundry and the shopping and all the other obligations, thoughts are crowded out. That’s why it’s important to be bored from time to time and let the mental goldfish swim.

I feel a little emotionally drained tonight. My lovely space cadet child has returned from Andalusia and departed for Normandy in the space of less than 24 hours. I miss her. I missed her last week and I’m going to miss her cheeky anecdotes and posturing this week.

Her absence is a reminder that her brother will be off in just over a month and that’s upsetting too because they are side effects of all the thought and care that has gone into nurturing them so that they can eventually stand for themselves, independent beings with their own opinions and their own lives. I find myself wishing that they were still toddlers: the BW the sunny temperamented singer of Sinatra and the far more serious MsDD, their soft skin and chubby little wrists. Full of promise, of my ideas for them. They’re still full of promise of course, but with their own ideas. Which is how it should be but it propels them away.

Ah wistful thoughts. Time for bed.

Back to life

Decisions…

The builders have worked from 7.30 this morning and Dermot, who’s fitting the underfloor heating, is still here tapping away, tap, tap tap to fit the pipes that will eventually contain warm water into their special housing mats. As I write it is 10.00pm.

It’s going to be a big week: finally the doors are supposed to arrive and be fitted on Thursday and then they’ll start tiling with the slates at the weekend. In theory, that is. We have yet to see what happens in practice.

And so I have been asked to choose a colour for the interior of the new building. I managed to restrain myself from running away and hiding in my wardrobe. Dulux alone has hundreds of colours (No, I’m not splashing out with Farrow and Ball. You seem surprised.)

Here are four colours for which I found match pots this afternoon when I rushed out to Homebase:

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Dulux colours: Chic Shadow; Cornflower White; Pebble Shore; White Cotton

I think there will be enough strong colour in the kitchen already as the floor and units are going to be dark grey, so White Cotton it will be. But the selection is bewildering and, if you’re like me, once you select one colour you can;t help mourning the opportunity cost of using that colour in terms of the other colours.

And here is a picture of the housing for the underfloor heating pipes:

There will be eight individually controllable heating zones, apparently. Already I find myself stressed by that amount of options.
There will be eight individually controllable heating zones, apparently. Already I find myself stressed by that amount of options.

Decisions…

Home sweet home!

Ah.

To be picked up almost without having to wait at the airport by the Boywonder in his little car!

And to come home to a house that has been fumigated and cleansed of all dust; the washing and ironing, unbidden, done and dusted. I have no idea why the Boywonder did all this, goodness knows no-one expected him to, but I’m so grateful for it.

Home to this:

Home sweet home!

Nerja and Motril

Nerja, where we went today, isn’t really our cup of tea but it’s home to some fantastic cave scenery that is well worth a look:

Yet more astounding vistas on what’s been a trip full of extraordinary sights. Some of the forms reminded me of some of the architectural feats I’ve seen in the last couple of days too.

And then it was on to Motril, where the BYCB were giving their final of the five concerts of this tour. They’ve played in formal auditoria and open air venues, such as the spectacular Antequera the other night, but it’s great that they also choose small squares in the middle of residential areas that are often quite run down.

In Granada on Tuesday night the band played to a packed concert hall of 1,000 people but today the audience of local people started floating in as Big Phat Brass, the excellent BYMT ensemble whose members also play in BYCB, kicked off proceedings. Tonight, as in Sicily last year, it was heartwarming to see tiny children inspired by the teenagers in front of them. The look in the eyes as they lit up at the music was unmistakeable: it was exactly the same look of my Boywonder then two years old, when he saw them perform at the then Glades in Bromley nearly 17 years ago, that made him want to be a trumpeter.

One of the reasons for the existence of the BYMT is to reach out and promote music of a high standard to less well off children like this and the band members are truly ambassadors for Bromley and the very best of British youth. I feel so incredibly proud of all of them.

They consistently win band prizes including Music for Youth and the World Music Festival at Kerkrade, they were invited to play in this year’s Granada Festival alongside ensembles such as the National Ballet Orchestra of Paris and the Vienna Staatsoper orchestra. The band were on television twice in the past week and fêted by their hosts in Spain.

And yet Bromley Council is happy to bask in their reflected glory whilst at the same time making plans to withdraw their remaining support (£150,000) from April next year. The following year they will lose the lease on the Music School. It’s lovely that other people around Europe appreciate our hardworking, self-disclined, talented children. It’s such a pity that their own Council cannot see this asset for what it is. They should be ashamed of themselves.

This being the last time that the Year 13 leavers will play with the band, there were a few high jinx this evening. The flutes dissolved in giggles at one point and our own Adam Richardson, former desk mate of the Boywonder and now off to study Theoretical Physics at university, saw fit to take a selfie in the middle of a solo section with Dan his Principal Trumpet. Trumpet boys will be trumpet boys!

The band are off to the Alhambra Palace tomorrow. It will be an eye opener for many of those who have never travelled before and those who have. I hope they’ve enjoyed their tour.

I’ll finish tonight’s post with some footage we took at the Antequera concert, the BYCB playing Granada.

Nerja and Motril