An Auction Lot

The promised e-mail came from Penyards this morning. It contained a formal apology with the bonus of an end of tenancy date of 31st March. I simply thanked the writer. I took no pleasure in this, for the emotional toll was such that it feels like a Pyrrhic victory.
After a small amount of filling the Morrisons’ boxes, Jackie drove us to Becky’s family’s home at Emsworth, where we collected some more.
Our daughter has decided it is time to auction her original vinyl Beatles collection.
Beatles records There were three L.P.s she felt she could not include in the lot. These were ‘The Beatles’, ‘The Beatles Beat, and ‘With The Beatles’. The first two, in my handwriting, bore her mother’s name; the third, mine. We thought we were ready to let them go.
We didn’t do much else after we returned home.

About Turn

Helen came over this morning to help with the packing. As we had run out of boxes we drove out to Morrisons, too early for any yet to have been available. A very helpful young woman who was filling shelves went ‘out the back’ to seek some out for us. Unfortunately the last of yesterday’s had already been baled up, so she had asked her colleagues to save some for us, suggesting we called back at about four o’clock.
When Jackie’s sister arrived we loaded her car with previously filled boxes of our more fragile or precious items. We followed her to Poulner where Bill assisted the rest of us to sore all these in their garden shed, which had been cleared for the purpose.
Penyards added another viewing for this afternoon. That made three. The first didn’t take long. A few minutes after the interested couple and Robert, the agent, had left, Robert returned to tell me the other two visits would not take place. This was because the flat had been let. I asked him what that meant. He replied that the couple who had just left had paid the deposit on the phone.
Whilst Jackie and I were reeling from this sudden about turn, I received a call from the young woman whose, shall we say, lack of clarity in the first place had set the ball rolling. She offered a sincere apology for putting us through such stress and for being ‘not clear enough’. I reminded her that she had said she had told me about the ‘subject to contract and references’ provision when in fact she hadn’t. She was not in the office at that moment, and consequently calling from a mobile phone, but promised to go in early to send me an e-mail at 8.30 a.m. in the morning.  I reminded her that she had promised an e-mail before, and I would very much like to receive this one. She took responsibility for the fiasco. I said her manager should share it. He too had made me promises he had not honoured, and he was ultimately in charge. Had Mr Davis listened to the recordings of our conversations he must have known I was telling the truth and should have adhered to the new agreement. I accepted the young woman’s apology, but regretted that this call had not been made before the flat was re-let.
At 4 p.m. we returned to Morrisons. There, a very pleasant young man named Karl, came out with one of their extra large trolleys loaded with a dozen banana boxes. He cheerfully towed them out to our car whilst Jackie took our trolley back to the rack. Had I remembered where our Modus was, Karl’s journey would have been less circuitous, and he and I may have reached our destination before Jackie did.
After taking the containers home and unloading them, Jackie drove us back to Poulner. She went off with Helen for an hour and I stayed with Bill, during which time we watched rugby, chatted, and listened to stunning recordings of Rachel Eales singing. Thai StartersThai main coursesAfter this we all dined at a Thai restaurant in Ringwood whose name I can’t remember. It was excellent and we had an enjoyable and stimulating evening.

The Catering Service

We continued packing today until we ran out of boxes.
It is one of the conditions of our tenancy that we are required to ensure that smoke detectors are working and the batteries and all light bulbs are serviceable. I have written about and illustrated before the difficulty of reaching the light bulbs. Because they are virtually flush with the ceiling the detectors are even more impossible to stretch to. Indeed, they are marked on the incoming inventory as ‘not checked because too high to reach’.
The list of our responsibilities sent to us by Penyards makes it clear that we must pay for any of the above items that need replacement and if they have to carry out the task we will also be charged £30 per hour shopping time in addition to the cost. In fact one of the smoke detectors was letting us know it had a defunct battery as we moved in. When I replaced the battery I lodged the device on a shelf in order to avoid climbing up to stick it on the ceiling. When mentioning this to Penyards’ representative I was told if I didn’t put it back I would have to pay for it. I collected the large stepladder this morning and returned it to its high perch.
Wrestling with installing an internet security system this afternoon, I gave up and went for a walk. When setting out on the muddy terrain alongside Malwood Farm, I decided I wasn’t in the mood and came back home. Jackie then drove me to Curry’s in Christchurch where the technician there had more success than I had with the installation.
It was fortunate that the call from Penyards came on our way back, for I was in a better mood by then. The young lady who had been given the task of phoning me had been delegated to ask me to confirm not one, but two viewings tomorrow. Anyone following the Penyards saga may well wonder why more prospective new tenants should be being introduced at this stage.
Alan Davis, the Managing Director, had e-mailed me on Friday 21st to tell me he was working on a resolution to the issue and would ‘be back to me’ today. I had no contact from him, but first thing this morning I received one from Natasha saying they expected to complete the referencing process with the agreed new tenants by the end of the week, but could they bring others during this week. A short while later she sent me another requesting a viewing tomorrow afternoon.
I did not reply to these, but e-mailed the manager reminding him that he had undertaken to get back to me today, and asking if, in the light of the two e-mails I had received from his staff member, I was to expect direct contact from him. I said that Natasha still seemed to be pursuing the ‘provisional’ line and asked him what he had done about it.
By the afternoon the visits planned for tomorrow had doubled. I said the people could come but we wouldn’t guarantee to be in.
I had no contact from Mr Davis. This is the second time he has failed to ‘get back to’ me. That is 100% of the promises.
Although the quality of the food provided by Jackie at Castle Malwood Lodge remains as superb as ever, there are certain restraints currently imposed on its consumption. The dining table is surrounded by, and stacked with, filled storage boxes in one or the other of which lies most of the crockery. It is also rather difficult to wheel the patented serving trolley through the rather congested flat.
We must therefore serve ourselves from the kitchen, carry our plates through to the two armchairs that have a clear pathway and are not bearing supermarket fruit boxes loaded with the aforementioned crockery.
Chilli con carne
Today’s chilli con carne (recipe) with wild rice and peas was well worth the effort. You can see I served myself because of the streaks on the upper right edge of the plate. I drank a little more of the Languedoc.

Recycled Metals

DitchShadow over potholeAlthough the sky clouded over later, the sun gleamed over Minstead and its environs as I set off on the Matthew and Oddie walk this morning.
There must have been quite a lot of rain during the night, for water streamed off the fields and into the recently drier ditches. The pothole pools were replenished.
We had missed the Exbury camellias on 13th, but there are a number flourishing in the local gardens. CamelliasAs harbingers of spring, camellias are attractively striking shrubs, but the blooms do not last long, and soon turn unpleasant shades of brown before eventually littering the ground beneath them. It is for that reason that Jackie likes to grow clematis climbers of varieties that flower at different times so that there is always a good display twined among the host plants.
Packing continued at such a pace today that we ran out of bubble wrap. This afternoon we drove to Ringwood to buy some more. Not having found enough there, we stopped off at In-Excess on the way back where we increased our stocks still further.
Water buffalo sculpture
A magnificent water buffalo is firmly tethered by the ankles in the car park, from which one can look down over sloping fields containing ponies, alpacas, and a goat. Landscape from In-Excess car parkThe buffalo is one of an array of splendid recycled metal sculptures on sale in and around the store.
Helen popped over for a visit after we returned home.
Late this afternoon I received an e-mail from the Penyards Manager which gives some grounds for cautious optimism that some resolution may be found on Monday 24th.
Jackie and I dined on delicious sausage casserole (recipe) with crisp, colourful, vegetables of which Uncle Ben would disapprove. I finished the Merlot. Because the dining table is occupied by boxes, bubble wrap, and stuff, we are at the moment eating in our armchairs. When savouring a nice juicy casserole this has rather disastrous consequences for my shirts.
Bill Nighy is one of my favourite actors. I am told he is performing in a play which is now on BBC iPlayer, so we are about to settle down to watch it. I will no doubt have something to say about it tomorrow.

Mum’s Ring

After a little more packing this morning we drove over to Shelly and Ron’s in Walkford to unload some of it for storage in their home before we move.
Burial Ground 1Just around the corner from Jackie’s sister and brother-in-law, the ashes of her much-loved mother lie buried in  Woodland Burial Ground.
The Walkford site is one of many ever more popular resting places for the remains of loved ones. Here people’s bodies are interred; or their ashes are either buried or scattered. Careful records are kept for posterity.
Burial Ground 2The regulations are such that nothing more than the small identification plates are put in place at the time of burial, and no flowers other than those expected to be found naturally in woodlands are to be planted to mark the spot. Bodies are buried in open spaces, and indigenous trees are planted by the plates. The ash burials are in already established copses. Mourners may set woodland flowers around those areas. Cultivated roses will be removed, although cultivated daffodils seem to be acceptable.
The idea is that the whole plantation eventually reverts to natural woodland.Pine Copse notice
The remains of Veronica Mancell Rivett lie beneath rich soil in the Pine Copse. Although bird droppings may be considered to keep the explanatory notice ‘as nature intended’, Jackie cleaned them off her mother’s marker. Mum R's plotAs she tenderly stroked the daffodils she had, along with the primroses soon to bloom, herself planted, her mother’s ring was displayed. This opal ring, which Jackie always wears, was first worn on our wedding day in 1968.
There was a funeral going on when we arrived, so we had to park at the far end of the designated area. Muscovy drakeThis alerted me to the presence of a lake of which I had been previously unaware, where muscovy drake enjoyed the company of a number of mallards.
It is now three full working days since Penyards Winchester office manager undertook to investigate the recorded phone conversations I had had with his staff, and get back to me. I have heard no more from him. This morning I posted at first class rate a letter to him repeating the details of the saga, stating that we regarded our tenancy as ending on 1st April, and that I had cancelled the standing order for rent payment with effect from 31st. March. By the same post I wrote to my bank instructing the cancellation.
This evening I e-mailed a copy of the Penyards letter to the addressee.
We dined on superb sausage casserole (recipe), mashed potato, carrots and green beans. And jolly good it was too. I drank Valle del Rapel Chilean Merlot 2012.

Why Do Estate Agents Have Such A Bad Press?

As I reported yesterday, the promised telephone call from Penyards did not come. Hopefully giving him time to sort out his desk, early this morning, I phoned the manager. I asked him if he was familiar with the situation concerning our flat. He said he was and read out his briefing. ‘That’s her version’, I said. ‘Would you like to hear mine?’. Well, how could he refuse such a generous offer?
I told him the same story that I wrote in yesterday’s post. He listened, said it shouldn’t be as I described, and that he was sorry for our stress. Very diplomatic, he neither accepted nor rejected anything I said, but undertook to go through the recordings of the telephone conversations and get back to me. He didn’t. But then, tomorrow is another day.
After this I repeated yesterday’s walk, en route delivering a couple of prints to Mike, the gentleman I had met yesterday.
For once, deep in reflection about the situation in which we find ourselves, I didn’t really look around me much. It has all been rather sleep-depriving and depressing. This led me to think about the perhaps comparatively few estate agents with whom I have had the sometimes doubtful pleasure of dealing.
Derrick and Vivien 1960Photograph number 47 in the ‘through the ages’ series was taken in Vivien’s parents’ garden at Sidcup, probably by her brother Bernard. This was in the naive, trusting days of 1960, before I had ever bought a house or taken a tenancy. Brown suede shoes and trousers with turn-ups were all the rage. I remember a member of the Magic Circle who lived in Amity Grove and let us into one or two simple secrets, such as the disappearing penny that would, assisted by a hand in the pocket, slide down taut pressed trousers to vanish into the waiting turn-ups. The penny at that time, was a decent size and you could do a lot more with it.
The recording of my residential history was begun on 3rd January, and continued on 5th.
I do not remember the names of the agents who handled either my purchase or sale of 79 Ashcombe Road. Buying this very first owned home was a smooth and straightforward operation, possibly because there was no chain. When I came to sell the house I experienced my first, shall we say, sleight of tongue. The agent telephoned me to ask if the buyer could have access to the property between exchange and completion purely for the purposes of decorating. When, during this period, I arrived at my own front door, I was somewhat surprised to find six milk bottles on the doorstep. In those days milk was still delivered to households in returnable glass bottles. I used my key to enter and was confronted by a tribe of small wide-eyed children. There was no sign of any decorating or decorators’ materials. I left without making an issue of it.
There were again no difficulties over 76 Amity Grove, the first home I shared with Jackie. Maybe that is why I don’t remember who the agents were.
It wasn’t until Gracedale Road that I bought a house again, or indeed, used an agent to rent accommodation, this time jointly with Jessica. Our experience was the same as the previous one, as was the purchase of Lindum House in Newark.
The fun really began with the sale of the latter home. One reason it took more than two years to sell this was because of several months inactivity from Savills, the sole agents. They even placed their board behind a tree, repeatedly ignoring my requests for it to be moved because it could not be seen from the road.  When we received a speculative offer out of the blue from a developer, and discovered that Savills were also agents for that company, I became suspicious and passed on my thoughts to the manager. Eventually he came to the house and, denying any underhand dealings, after much gentle persuasion on my part, abandoned the hopeless defence of his staff-member and settled for telling me that the file had been set aside and forgotten for six months. A little more persistence led to one half % reduction in the agent’s fee when the house was finally sold.
AAARGH! is the title of the post in which I describe three weeks as a tenant in Hyde Park Square, courtesy of Chestertons. What I did not mention in that article is a matter of interest. It was the first time an agent had denied a statement made to me. It was also my first commercial tenancy so I did not realise that for the young woman to say that I would receive interest on my deposit at the end of the tenancy was unusual. When I finally asked for it I was alerted to a clause in the contract saying that it was not payable. I had to quote the provision in the laws of contract stating that representatives’ verbal statements override the written word. The young woman declared that she had not told me I would receive interest. It would have been my word against hers in court. I received a minuscule amount of interest.
The agents involved in tenancies in Ridgway and Links Avenue, respectively Letz Move and People in Property were exemplary, as were Spencers of The New Forest over our current purchase.
This afternoon Jackie drove me to Ringwood where I posted Malachi’s belated birthday present and transferred money to pay for the London move and storage. Such is my faith in Globe Removals that I was happy to do that in absentia for the work to be done tomorrow. It’s good to be able to rely on someone.
Later, desultorily, we half-filled the other three made-up boxes.Birch branches.
Branch in gardenWandering round the garden in the early evening, I focussed on branches. There was the shattered branch of a large tree on the verge in Running Hill extending above our fence and resting in the garden, and there was the fine filigree of the as yet naked birch we see from our living room window. Sky streaks above rooftop
A striated sky streamed above the silhouetted rooftops.
The hot chilli con carne for me and the more medium chicken curry for Jackie provided our evening sustenance. We both enjoyed pilau rice and salad and drank Hoegaarden.

Walking The Dogs

It takes quite a lot to make me incandescent with rage, but this morning Penyards estate agents Winchester office managed it, and maintained their efforts throughout the day. On 10th of this month a prospective new tenant was shown our flat. We had, as we were told we must, given two months notice. The following day I was asked if we would be prepared to leave on 31st, to enable the new tenant to move in. We agreed. After a number of phone calls it was agreed that we would move out on 31st and return on 1st April for the end of tenancy clean, the inventory check to take place on 2nd. I was told this had been put in an e-mail to me. This, of course, meant we had to change all our arrangements and would no longer have the whole month of April in which to transport our belongings and leave the place in good order. We would also save one month’s rent.
I never got the alleged e-mail. What we did receive, this morning, was a letter dated 13th, stating that the new date was ‘Subject to Contract and References for new tenancy’. At no time during the telephone conversations which fixed the departure date was any reference made to this proviso. 
Immediately upon its receipt, I left a message for the person whose name appeared at the foot of the letter. I was told she was on the telephone and would be asked to ring me straight back. She didn’t. This afternoon I asked to speak to the boss. He was in a meeting. I left a message for him. Later I received a call from the person with whom the new date had been agreed. The boss was now two and a half hours away. She claimed to have told me that it would be subject to the new tenancy contract. I was clear she hadn’t, and for good measure added that she had told me first of all that she had sent an e-mail detailing the new agreement, and that when I said I hadn’t received it she promised to send a copy. I said she hadn’t done either. She took  ‘personal responsibility’ for assuring me that I would receive a call by the end of the day. Needless to say, the call never came.
Whilst waiting for the first promised response I took a walk to the village shop, returning via the church path, The Splash, and Furzey Gardens.
Even on an overcast day, I was intrigued by the muted colours of the treescape from Seamans Corner.
Dog walkers
Seeing two small terriers dragging a woman on the ends of their leads down through Minstead, I quipped that it was difficult to know who was taking who for a walk. This began a pleasant conversation with a couple who moved to the village ten months ago and were greatly enjoying it. They were dog-sitting for a brother.
What I now realise is a family of donkeys were relaxing by the roadside on the way up from The Splash.
This afternoon we made up five large storage boxes and filled two of them. Neither of us felt much like doing it after the agent’s performance.
Fish and chips, mushy peas, gherkins, and pickled onions were what we had for dinner. I drank a little more of the rioja.

In The Brearley Mould

As planned, yesterday lunchtime Jackie drove Flo, me and Scooby to Shelly and Ron’s for a most convivial lunch and afternoon which stretched into the early evening.  A storm raged throughout the journey, the Modus wheels sending up high waves on either side as it disturbed the numerous pools across the country roads.  Despite still recovering from a cold Shelly produced an excellent turkey and sweet leek pie inspired by Jamie Oliver.  I was particularly impressed my the lightness of the pastry, which I gather is quite difficult to attain.  Ron and I drank Malbec.  I’m not sure what those with a preference for white wine enjoyed.  An excellent apricot flan with ice cream and/or cream was to follow.  Port, Madiera, coffee, and mints brought up the rear.  Later came Christmas cake.
I had been misinformed about the likelihood of being prevailed upon to play Trivial Pursuit. Instead we played an hilarious game of Who?, What?, Where?.  For those who, like me, haven’t come across this before, the idea is that each participant wears a cardboard hat into which is slipped a ticket with a person, object, or place inscribed thereon.  The wearers, in order to establish their unseen identity, ask questions of the other players who may answer simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  If the answer is in the affirmative the victim may ask another question; if in the negative, the next person in a clockwise direction has their turn.  I was no better at this than I am at charades.  It would have helped if I hadn’t assumed that the hats bore some relevance to what was written on the tickets.  This, given that my hat was a deerstalker, caused me to waste two questions on Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.  I  managed to establish that I was a person no longer alive, then forgot that I was defunct.
All in all, mine was not a great performance.  That of Helen and Bill’s son John on the CD ‘John Eales Sings Christmas’, with which we were afterwards entertained, was somewhat better.
Fortunately Flo opted to spend another night with her grandparents, so we arrived home earlier than expected.  It wasn’t until rather later that we managed a little cheese and biscuits, after which I read Giles Foden’s introduction to Benjamin Cowburn’s ‘No Cloak, No Dagger’.
Rob, the ‘general handyman’ engaged by Penyards, who is extremely reliable, effective, and efficient, visited this dry morning, and confirmed our diagnosis that the leak from above was a matter for estate management, who are contracted by all the residents and landlords to look after the property as a whole.  Nevertheless, having been unable to gain access to the flat upstairs because no-one was in, Rob and his colleague obtained a ladder, mounted the balcony from the outside, and cleared a blocked gully.  Once the fuses were replaced the underfloor heating could be turned on to no ill effect.
In ‘Did You Mean The Off Break?’, I wrote of my initiation into Wimbledon College Under 14s cricket team. Derrick in Wimbledon College under 14s cricket team The team photograph taken in 1956 at a time when, at the end of the season, we had all reached fourteen, is number 40 in the ‘through the ages’ series.  Give the Persil-washed condition of our whites, I imagine it must have been before the start of a game.  Just in case anyone has trouble picking me out, I am third from the left of the viewer’s perspective in the back row.  I believe fourteen was the age at which I became a permanent fixture of that particular row in group photographs.  Next but one along stands Roger Layet, who I was, a year or so later, very pleased to persuade to play for Trinity Cricket Club.  A correct, if somewhat painstaking batsman, Roger was an asset to any side.
Iain Taylor, as captain, sits in the centre of the front row.  As  a captain and a cricketer, he was in the Mike Brearley mould.  Both intuitive and insightful characters who could make friends easily, they managed their players extremely well, yet neither was particularly outstanding as a player.  You may think I have a bit of a nerve to describe a man who could captain England (Brearley, not Taylor) in such a way.  Brearley was, however, probably the most outstanding captain this country ever had.  He could manage Ian Botham, for goodness sake.  It was in the Brearley years that our greatest all-rounder – famously aided and abetted by Bob Willis, particularly at Headingley in 1981 – performed his most miraculous feats.  Mike Brearley, indeed, a psychotherapist, was described by Australian opponent Rodney Hogg as having ‘a degree in people’.  And Iain could manage us.  He did, of course, recruit me, so his judgement must be sound.
On Ian’s right (from his perspective) sits Mike Miliffe.  Mike was the batsman who succumbed to my bowling as described in the above-mentioned post.  I was to learn, playing alongside him, how fortunate I had been to succeed against him in the nets.
Our skipper is flanked on his left by Bob Hessey.  Bob was an outstanding fast bowler.  His speed and accuracy was aided by an easy, athletic, run to the wicket and flowing action.  I could have done with that.
Flo is still with us, as is my friend Tony who arrived this evening.  He, Jackie and I dined at The Foresters Arms in Frogham.  In the dark and rain, stepping out of the car and walking to the pub gate, we found ourselves treading on what seemed like hard round balls.  On closer inspection they turned out to be Brussels sprouts, no doubt scattered for hungry ponies.  Unusually for a Thursday evening, we were the only diners.  This was no doubt because most people were partied out after the last few days.  We received our usual warm and friendly welcome.  Jackie and I enjoyed battered haddock and chips, whilst Tony chose sausages and mash.  He abstained from dessert whilst Jackie and I partook of sticky toffee pudding and ice cream.  I had a couple of glasses of Malbec; Tony drank Wadsworth’s 6X; and Jackie drank lager.

A Timeless Test

Last night I finished reading the Folio Society collection of ‘The Best of the Raconteurs‘.
Grill leak 2Grill leakWe have under floor electric heaters in our living room.  During one of the heavy storms just before Christmas we noticed a pool of water under the grill.  I telephoned Penyards, the owner’s agent, leaving a message as it was after hours.  I received a phone call the next day advising me to take out the relevant fuse.  The heaters themselves were, of course, switched off.  This meant a climb to the top of the stepladders to investigate the ancient box.  There were two appropriately marked fuses.  I pulled them out and reported back.  It is understood that this falls within the holiday period, however we have heard nothing since.  Today, more rain in daylight enabled us to investigate the source of the water dripping down the elongated window, through the grill, and into the pit below.  Jackie rigged up a catchment system and I left a message on Penyards’ answerphone. Buckets It is, of course, another holiday.  Watch this space. In the meantime we will try not to drive ourselves insane listening to the drip drip drip that had previously been quietened by its slow slide down the window pane.  The initial plastic receptacle was, perforce, replaced by a more adequate bucket.  And another, for there is now more than one entry point for the rain, and the deluge continues to fall.  The dining table and chairs were evacuated to what we hope will stay dry land.
Knowing that we were likely to have to pay for our lunch by playing Trivial Pursuit, as we prepared for a trip to Shelly and Ron’s I reminisced over the six hour marathon Matthew and I played against New Zealand in the form of Tess, her brother Warwick, and his now wife Lou.  This took place on Boxing Day four or five years ago, and is never to be forgotten.  It was rather like a Timeless Test match.
Until the cricket match between England and South Africa at Durban in 1939 tests were played out to their conclusion with no time limit.  After nine days that game was abandoned as a draw, otherwise the England team would have missed the boat home.  It was the last of its kind, and the longest ever played.  In those more sedate times, cricket teams spent six weeks each way on a boat, and were not required to arrive jet-lagged and immediately pick up a bat.
I really don’t recollect the outcome of the said England v. New Zealand test.  Did we abandon it as a draw?  Did anyone win?  Who cares?  Mat and I struggled to contain ourselves and not give the game away, as, time and time again, Lou came up with the right answer, and Warwick, debating it to the death, talked her and Tess out of it.  There was no time limit on these extensive discussions.  I would imagine that when it came to the last, central, question of choice, Mat and I probably selected a category for our opponents that we knew Warwick would like, just to let them score the winning runs.  But, as I say, I can’t remember.  I was probably asleep by then.
As mentioned above we will be enjoying one of Shelly’s delicious meals followed by after-dinner games.  After this we will return Flo and Scooby to Emsworth, with, if there is time before Jacqueline returns to Boston in Lincolnshire, a diversion to Mum’s where she has spent the New Year.  It is likely to be too late, and I to be too sated, to write anything more tonight, so, with this early post, I wish all my readers a Happy New Year.

Proof Of Identity

Old Post House001

This has been a reading week.  I have managed French and German philosophy, and an English historical novel.  But when it came to the electricity meter my performance was subject to certain shocks.

In my experience, Southern Electric are the most reliable and understandable of the UK’s multiplicity of utility companies.  They give you a discount for paying promptly and have a fairly smooth system.  They do actually read the meters every six months.  Our current bill is estimated.  That document is easy enough to read, but I do like to pay for what we have actually used.  So I had to read the meter.

First of all, I had to find it.  There isn’t one in our flat, although there is a cobweb-filled fuse box, that on the estate agents inventory was marked as not inspected because it was too high up on the wall.  About ten feet in fact.

Electricity meter locationThere are two entrance halls in our huge building.  No meters were to be found in ours.  Using the trades entrance to the other side of Castle Malwood Lodge, Jackie found a vast cupboard over there full of meters, none of which was ours.  The ceilings are about 11 feet high.  Above the cupboards Jackie searched are two smaller, locked, ones.  Access to these required a perch on a long stepladder.

There are seventeen flats in our building (no number 13, so 1-18).  Each has its own meter.  Some of these are indicated by pencil or pen marks on the walls; some by ancient curled-up Dymo marker strips.  Ours is number 4.  It was therefore somewhat surprising to find that our meter was the only one in the top left cupboard.  Up I had climbed to the cupboard; unlocked it; climbed down and moved the ladder so I could open the door; climbed back up, opened the said door, and identified the number embossed on the curly Dymo strip as ours.

Electricity meterIt should have been straightforward from then on.  However, the device contained a window displaying three sets of numbers in rapidy changing turns.  Being on Economy 7 tariff our bill showed one total for Day use and another for Night use.  Two of the numbers with which I was confronted bore some resemblance to those on the bill.  The other didn’t.

It was time to telephone the supplier.  Going through the usual machine-led hoops, I eventually spoke to a very helpful woman who lives in a laird’s cottage in Scotland.  From this information you will know that we got on quite well.  Having kept me on hold while she sought advice, she abandoned trying to talk me through pressing buttons on the meter once I had managed to convey the logistics of making my way back to it with a phone in my hand.  I paid the estimated bill and the meter will be read next time.

But we may not be here then, for this afternoon we visited the bank in Ringwood where we gained a positive response to the possibility of a loan should we have a shortfall on the stamp duty on The Old Post House.  We forgot about this exorbitant tax on buying somewhere to live. Old Post House002 After this we drove to Spencer’s in Lymington to offer proof that we are who we said we were and that we live at the address we gave the agent.  Passports proved our identity, and it seemed appropriate to use the above-mentioned utility bill as evidence of residence.  I did apologise for having scribbled all over it.

Have I mentioned that one of the radiators for which we are paying rent doesn’t work?  I thought not.  Purely by coincidence, the manager of the electrical firm engaged to fix this, telephoned me when I was grappling with the meter problem.  He wanted to send someone this afternoon.  I said we were going out.  He suggested making another appointment.  Without actually quoting Oscar Wilde, I pointed out that the two previous appointments had been cancelled on the relevant days through someone calling in sick.  I didn’t mention that the great Irish epigrammatist may have thought this careless, but I did suggest we may not be able to rely on a third one.  He was somewhat chastened by this and undertook to send someone to be here when we returned home.  Two men did come, only ten minutes late, and having rung us to let us know.  They confirmed that the radiator doesn’t work, and, as for every other task needed in the flat, they have to go back to Penyards, the agent, for permission to do further work. I tried not to get too wired up about it.

The beautifully presented smoked haddock meal we enjoyed, and I photographed, on 2nd May, was repeated this evening.  The wine was the same except that it was Roc Saint Vincent 2011.